Marylee MacDonald

Award-winning author and writing coach

Jean NoŽl Turrelure, dit NoŽl, died on January 17, 1834, but the notaries didn't arrive till the 26th of March.

57 rue Menilmontant

A week into the trip, I've accumulated quite the stash of library cards.

In the Reading Room of the Archives nationales, you can examine the original records of quit claim deeds, property transfers, and death inventories. Here, I'm looking at the records for the carte de surete, a sort of internal passport all Frenchmen had to carry immediately after the Revolution.

With new information that NoŽl's name was actually Turelure, Dr. Emmanuel Schwartz, the Director of the art academy's library, turned to the records for 1766.

The light-filled atrium of the Academy of Beaux Arts

Documents from French notaries are in the Archives Nationales.

Chappe d'Autroche led a 1769 expedition to Baja California to study the Transit of Venus.

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The Vermillion Sea

"Le petit NoŽl"

July 29, 2014

Tags: Alexandre Jean NoŽl, artist, Chappe d'Auteroche, lost painting

My novel's hero, "le petit NoŽl," as the astronomer Chappe called NoŽl in his handwritten diary, may have been a person of "profound short stature." The phrase, "the little NoŽl," comes up again and again. I first thought it referred to NoŽl's age. He was the youngest member of the expedition. However, I now think the phrase refers to his size. He may have had a growth hormone deficiency or a congenital condition such as dwarfism. Whatever the reason, NoŽl was extremely short.

This revelation came to me when I first saw a picture that had been missing since the time it was first exhibited in 1778. The picture is called "The Death of Chappe d'Auteroche." The picture came up on art-auction website the week before Christmas, 2013, and I bid on it and won. No one bid against me. Not too many people want a picture of a dying man hanging above their fireplace, and the picture hadn't been seen in so many years that even art historians may not have realized its significance. In the world of astronomy, Chappe's death has always been viewed as a great tragedy, and here we have the whole tableau...all the major players, but one: Chappe's nemesis, the Spanish astronomer, Lt. Salvador de Medina. He himself was gravely ill and would not have been able to hobble over to Chappe's death bed.

NoŽl is the small figure in the center. I thought, wow, he's painted himself into the picture only as an afterthought, and he didn't do a very good job with the proportions. He's made himself too small, and what's with that old-looking face and the child's body.

The longer I stared at the picture, the more I thought about other possible explanations. NoŽl was a well trained artist. This tableau represents accurately what NoŽl witnessed, and though he may have used a mirror to paint his face (and, thus, been ten years older than he was when Chappe died), there is no doubt that NoŽl meant to make himself small.

Selected Works

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The Rug Bazaar features two unconventional love stories. Winner of the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Contest.
A novel about a mid-life mom who would do anything to protect her children from harm.
The true story of a fifteen-old girl's journey to motherhood.
A short personal essay about identity, writing, and adoption.
What does the world think about America in the aftermath of 9/11?