Welcome to the drawing room today! I’ve been snowed in since Thursday (we don’t do snow in the Pacific Northwest–at least not like the midwest or northeast), so I’m thrilled to have company, even if it’s virtual. I was browsing the Duchess’s library for some inspiration (or maybe just to see how snazzy my new release looks next to all the other great books by my Duchess pals), and it’s evident we like to write about scoundrels and rogues who are wicked and scandalous. Not all of my heroes are rakes or reprobates, but I suppose they all have a sliver of something that makes them at least a teensy bit devilish (yes, I’m swiping words directly from duchess titles, what’s your point?). And of all my heroes, Ethan Jagger is by far the most devilish of the lot. In addition to being your classic romance novel bad boy, Ethan is a reformed villain–or so he hopes. I absolutely love, love, love watching a villain go from zero to hero. (Devil in Winter, anyone? Sigh.)
Scoundrel Ever After is the sixth and final book in my Secrets and Scandals series. It’s my first series conclusion, and I’m a bit sad. I loved creating this world and coming back to it for every book. I especially loved developing the character arcs of these two people in particular–the heroine, Audrey Cheswick, first appeared in the second book, His Wicked Heart, and Jagger debuted in the third book, To Seduce a Scoundrel (if you haven’t read them, never fear, there’s a giveaway!). Alas, because I simply can’t walk away, my next series (coming this summer), Regency Treasure Hunters, will take place in the same world and who knows, maybe some of the Secrets & Scandals characters will pop in for a visit.
I know every author approaches their writing differently and sometimes there are plans and there are hijacked plans. Writers might talk about characters taking over or somesuch nonsense, but I swear it’s true! I never really expected Audrey or even Lydia, the heroine from book five, Never Love a Scoundrel, to be heroines of their own books, but after introducing them as secondary characters in book two and then bringing them back in book three, they began to demand to have their stories told. My next series is planned as a prequel novella followed by three full length novels. But you know what happens to the best laid plans…
What are your favorite book series? What do you like best about a series–coming back to a familiar place, following a group of people, something else?
THREE lucky commenters will receive the first three Secrets & Scandals books in the Volume 1 boxed set. This is an ebook only giveaway and the format may be selected by the recipient. Comments entered prior to midnight EST on Thursday, February 13 are eligible. Winners will be announced on Friday, February 14–what better day to read a romance!
Pick up your copy of Scoundrel Ever After today for just $3.99! (As of this writing, it’s pending sale at Kobo and iTunes.)
Join me at my Scoundrel Ever After release party on Facebook this Thursday, February 13 from 7-10 pm EST! There will be fun guest authors (including fellow Duchess Leigh LaValle!) and giveaways galore!
As any Regency romance lover knows, Napoleon loomed large over most of the era, from his rise to power at the turn of the century to his downfall, spectacular return, and second downfall in 1814-5.
But if you’ll allow me to indulge in a bit of modern slang, I’ve got to say that I’m in love with reading about him because he’s so totally cray-cray. The dude is a big reason why we all learned from The Princess Bride to “never get involved in a land war in Asia”. He was a total megalomaniac who had some spectacular military successes, but was also able to fall back on constant conscription of one of the largest populations in Europe to fuel his war machine. He would do things like invade Malta, rewrite their entire constitution and judicial code and establish a bunch of schools, and then sail away a week later (leaving behind some French troops who were almost immediately besieged by the British and later forced to surrender). And his maddened love for Josephine, a woman who sometimes seemed to despise him, was truly epic; the British intercepted and gleefully published letters from him excoriating her for cheating on him while he was gone, which shows that the tabloids of the 1800s and the tabloids of today are more related than you’d normally guess.
In 1798, though, Napoleon’s cray-cray moments were mostly ahead of him. He was just a young, hugely ambitious military man with dreams of glory and enough steely-eyed insanity to drive him forward. The French Directoire had him by the tail – he was too popular and too valuable to get rid of, but too powerful and dangerous to have around. So, they allowed him to pursue the course he’d asked for – to mount an invasion of Egypt, overthrow the Mameluke government, and gain control of the Suez trade between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Napoleon didn’t intend to be satisfied with Egypt. For him, Egypt was a stepping stone toward his real ambition – rivaling Alexander the Great by ruling India. He wanted to claim Egypt and use it as a base for building ships and transporting troops from the Middle East to India, striking a critical blow to the British in the East. The British, of course, were highly suspicious when they found out Napoleon was headed for Egypt, and they did everything in their power to thwart his India ambitions.
But I digress. My favorite thing about the story of Napoleon going to Egypt wasn’t how many troops or ships he controlled, or how much he wanted to be Alexander, or how he sent those scathing (intercepted) letters to Josephine while also sleeping with the wife of one of his officers. It was that he decided to take 150 scientists, engineers, artists, and other men of learning with him on a voyage of war.
This group, called Napoleon’s ‘savants’, were enlisted to go to Egypt and help build a new society of learning there. Napoleon was in love with science, so much so that he claimed later that if he had not become an emperor, he would have been one of the best scientists of his day (ahem). So he convinced a bunch of the leading young minds of France to set out with him on a grand adventure across the sea and into the desert.Unfortunately for them, the emphasis was on ‘adventure’ instead of ‘grand’, and it was not a pretty voyage. The preeminent scientists spent the outward journey dining with Napoleon and engaging in philosophical discussions under the Mediterranean moon; the lower savants were stuck in other, more overcrowded ships being taunted by the soldiers and sailors they berthed with. When they got to Egypt, conditions were much bleaker than they had anticipated – and everything became more bleak when Nelson showed up and destroyed most of the French ships in the Battle of the Nile, taking out all of the scientific instruments and other possession they had yet to unload (not to mention most of Napoleon’s money, which blew up along with his flagship L’Orient when the powder magazine exploded).
Still, the savants spent the next three years making the first modern Western study of Egypt. They founded their own institute, set up the first printing press in Egypt, and put on programs and lectures even in the face of uprisings and major battles. In between more militaristic tasks like scouting for water and making maps, they drew landscapes and took engravings of ancient artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone. And all their findings would later go into a gigantic 23-volume publication that wasn’t finished until 1828.
Napoleon, of course, ultimately abandoned them (and the entire French army) when it became clear that his dreams of an Eastern empire had been thwarted. After a failed attempt to invade Syria, Napoleon retreated to Cairo, where he got word that the Directoire in France was on the verge of collapse. Not wanting to miss his chance at effecting a coup, he spirited himself out of Egypt without telling his troops, his mistress, or his savants, leaving them all to find out when his second-in-command announced it after his departure.
Napoleon went on to become Emperor. Everyone else on his expedition was stuck in Egypt for another two years, suffering from plague and disease and constant Mameluke attacks, until eventually surrendering to the British. The savants had a particularly hard time of it, since the French soldiers hated them and the British wanted to take all of their artifacts and work, but 80% of the savants survived the campaign and eventually made it back to Paris with most of their notes and drawings intact. It was their work that fueled the European fascination with ancient Egypt, kicking off the last two centuries of tomb raiding/scholarship/forgeries/archaeology.
If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern. Also, (shameless plug for my own book), my latest novel, The Earl Who Played With Fire, has a tangential connection to Napoleon’s savants, since it features a (fictional) cursed dagger that one of them found on the Egyptian campaign. If you have a favorite Napoleon story, I would love to hear about it in the comments!
Sara Ramsey is a Regency romance writer with great taste in Champagne and bad taste in movies. Her latest book, The Earl Who Played With Fire, is out now. Learn more at www.sararamsey.com.
This period only covers 28 years, not much longer than the Regency, but it might as well describe life on two different planets. And this could well mean a difference in the presentation of themes, style, and conflicts in historical romances.
At the beginning, you have the optimism of a new century. This is the century we were all born in, but it was a life far different than any we’ve known. (Unless your last name is Rockefeller or Windsor.) The year is 1901 and Edward VII is the new King of England following the death of his long reigning mother, Victoria.
Gone, once official mourning for Victoria is over, is the color black for women’s clothing. If you have money, there are new inventions to experiment with, such as the automobile and the aeroplane. Electric lights and the telephone bring changes to everyone’s lives.
For the aristocracy, there is still a social calendar unchanged for decades – presentation at Court and the social season in the spring and summer in London, grand country house parties in the fall and winter.
At this point, life for the rich hasn’t changed much in the past hundred years, and themes and conflicts won’t be much different from Regency reads. Meanwhile, the middle class is growing in prosperity with expanded leisure time. Industrial workers are organizing in unions. Servants are beginning to switch jobs more frequently in a search for better pay and shorter hours.
While fashions change, skirts lengths and very long hair on women are the same as they were in Victorian times. Very few women are going to university or working outside the home except as domestics. Suffragettes are the exception rather than the rule.
The Edwardian era lasted until August 1914, the last four years under the rule of Edward’s son, George V. People expected life to continue as it had.
It might have, too, if the politicians across Europe who kept war at bay by negotiation had continued to succeed. But the assassination of the Crown Prince of the Austrian Empire in Sarajevo touched off an explosion that diplomats and politicians weren’t ready for. Alliances that had been built up beginning in the 1890s forced countries to go to war whether they wanted to or not.
Britain had an alliance with France and Russia against Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The war between these two camps began in the summer of 1914 and didn’t end until the fall of 1918. Most of the time, the Western Front was two lines of trenches and cannon facing each other. Millions of men died in an attempt to gain a few hundred yards of real estate.
In a personal note, my great-grandfather was a draft dodger who came to the US rather than serve in the German Army. His son, my grandfather, fought on the Western Front in WWI and was gassed by men who could have been his cousins.
At the end of WWI, Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian royalty were removed from power, although some hung on to their lives. The German Kaiser was the oldest grandson of Queen Victoria and as such was a cousin of George V of England. The Russian Czar’s mother was the sister of George V’s mother. The Kaiser was replaced by a democracy; the Czar by the Communists. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up into many separate countries.
There was fear in England that the monarchy would be overthrown, but between the popularity of George V and the power of Parliament, this never happened. But life in England changed forever.
Millions were dead. Labor was scarce, leading to higher wages and a greater reliance of labor saving machinery. Many of the old aristocratic families lost an entire generation or died out. Some of the grand old houses were bought by the nouveau riche, men who’d made their money supplying the war effort.
War had brought great advances in chemistry and aviation. For four years, women from all walks of life had served as nurses and provided clerical help, freeing men for military life. Skirts were shortened, slightly, to be more practical for the work women were doing.
Men who’d survived four years in the trenches came back wounded in body and mind. PTSD was called “shell shock.” It was little wonder that the 1920s were a period of letting go, of living for today. Hope was scarce after all the carnage. Added to that, jobs were scarce even after women were forced out of the positions they’d held during the war.
In the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, skirts were shortened, hair was bobbed. Smoking in public. Drinking cocktails. Going to the pictures (movies). Dancing to jazz bands. Electric appliances. The widespread use of the automobile and trains, trams, and buses brought the end of the horse drawn vehicle in the ever enlarging cities. And in the impersonal cities, behavior that was frowned upon in small towns could be carried on with impunity.
Prohibition brought with it a change in US drinking habits, but not what was planned. The cocktail hour became a regular part of life. Another lasting change was the spread in women’s rights to vote.
See Downton Abbey Seasons 1 – 4 for a good example of these eras – Edwardian, WWI, and the Twenties. Each one had its own challenges, ripe for conflict in a historical romance.
On Thursday, February 13th, we’ll take a look at The Thirties and World War II.
So what is the Georgian Period, anyway?
The period refers to four successive kings, all named George. These monarchs held the English throne from 1714-1837* and were also Electors (princes) of the Hanover region of Germany. Georgian England is one of my favorite settings for Historical Romance because Georgians loosely defined morality, fashion was flamboyant and political intrigue abounded.
Hold on a minute! How did England come to be ruled by a succession of “German Georges”?
The answer is a snoozy slide through Stuart history which you can avoid by skipping this question and the next. This history, however, drove the age’s spirit.
In 1649, Charles I, who believed in the divine right of kings, lost his fight against the armies of the English and Scottish Parliaments and was beheaded. Note that Charles’ sister Elizabeth Stuart married Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine …but for now, back to England. Following a period known as the Interregnum, Parliament restored Charles I’s son, Charles II to the throne. Charles II died without issue, and his brother James II was crowned. James had two daughters, Mary and Anne, by his first wife, English protestant Anne Hyde. After she died, James II married the devoutly Catholic Mary of Modena. When this union produced a male heir (James, later known as The Pretender), Parliament feared a loss of power and a return to Catholicism. With the help Dutch armies loyal to Mary’s husband William III of Orange, Parliament forced James II to flee to France. Parliament jointly crowned William III and Mary II, but they died without issue and then the crown went to Mary’s sister Anne. None of Anne’s 17 pregnancies resulted in a surviving heir, so Parliament sorted through the remnants of the Stuart family tree in search of another protestant. The 1701 Act of Settlement declared Sophia of Hanover, daughter of Elizabeth Stuart (Remember her—sister to Charles I?) heir presumptive. Sophia died a few weeks before Anne, and her son, German-speaking George became both heir presumptive to the English throne and, through his father’s line, ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover).
Phew, that was a bit tangled. What happened to James and his heirs?
Well, James and his heirs did not go gently. Their supporters, called Jacobites (from the Latin “James”) believed that Parliament didn’t have the right to interfere with the line of succession. Several wars were fought, the two largest in 1715 (on behalf of James, The Pretender) and 1744 (on behalf The Pretender’s son, Charles, known as Bonny Prince Charlie). The Battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746) ended the final uprising, resulting in abolition of Scotland’s Clan system.
Interesting, but what I’m really interested in is how this all applies to Georgian **Romance**!
Ah yes, of course! Well, the deposition of James II (known as the Glorious Revolution) resulted in limited monarchy and an increase in Parliament’s authority. During George I’s reign, the Whig party began a domination of government that lasted until George III. Their power is the heartbeat of Georgian Romance. Constant political maneuvering among the aristocracy meant social clout=political power. Answering the correct invitations, displaying the informed slant of your education & belief system and, of course, making a marriage of alliance all became essential. Love could (and did) put everything at risk. A love match was such a threat, Parliament passed “An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage” in 1753, necessitating those infamous Grenta Green runs for lovers who could or would not wait for the banns to be read. If that wasn’t enough, rapid population expansion, industrialization and a dramatic increase in urban area added to the tension of the time.
Oh, sounds like that could lead to some interesting plots. What kinds of things did the Georgians read?
In 1695 the Licensing Act lapsed, ending pre-publication censorship. Pamphlet, newspaper and book publishing proliferated. ‘How to’ books provided instruction on anything, even (for our poor heartsick heros) how to write a love letter. Prints from engravings allowed even those who could not read to get involved in the hot topics of the day. For a quick (and often dark) education on daily life in early Georgian England, google William Hogarth, and you’ll find a visual chronicle of life in Georgian England that includes everything from political satire to warnings about the ruinous effects of Gin, wayward husbands and all manner of scandal.
But onto the most important reading material of all–the novel. The 18th century was the height of the enlightenment, an intellectual movement emphasizing reason and individualism. This sea-change in thought informed not only science but architecture (Robert Adam), landscaping (Lancelot “Capability” Brown) and even a “new” form of literature known as the novel. One school of Enlightenment thought known as Sensibility suggested knowledge grew from sensation, and those with more highly developed senses lived with greater truth & understanding. Although there was a backlash (think Marianne in Sense and Sensibility), many early English novels featured dramatic stories of heroines-in-peril that would certainly have made a Georgian heroine’s heart race. If you are interested, Samuel Richardson’s novels Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) are two novels of Sensibility.
How about the important stuff, like what they wore? Were the men dark and dashing?
Possibly, but the dark clothes associated with menswear didn’t come into vogue until the influence of Beau Brummell in the 1790s; the mid-Georgian hero was more likely to be colorfully dressed, with lace and stitching to show his wealth and status. Among the most outrageous dressers were the Regency Dandy’s forefathers, a ‘set’ known as the Macaroni, called so because the young men who expressed this over-the-top fashion had traveled to Italy on their Grand Tours. They wore curls and sported quizzing glasses and were always dressed a la mode, or as they would put it, very macaroni. Remember Yankee Doodle Dandy? The joke was that just because he stuck a feather in his hat, he thought he was fashionable and could call himself macaroni (poor deluded fellow). The hair powder tax didn’t come around until 1795, so both sexes powdered their hair or wore powdered wigs. Later in the century, hair design went to new heights, literally. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire wore her hair so high she had to travel sitting on the floor of her carriage. Also, if a lady wished to dazzle, panniers were a must. These hoops extended the width of a woman’s skirts, sometimes by several feet, while leaving the front and back flat. While a woman may not have had direct political influence, those hoops gave her a commanding presence!
Enough! This is getting to be too much information.
I hope I haven’t worn you out, dear Dashing Duchess readers, but I’ve grown to love exciting time in history (and I didn’t get to Henry Fielding and his Bow Street Runners, Dr. Samuel Johnson and his dictionary, or the Duke of Bridgewater and his Canals. Nor did I touch on the more important developments toward the end of the era like the American Revolution and the French Revolution). Just remember, in Georgian romance the dukes are deliciously ducal, the earls often enlightened and the learned ladies are certainly lovely.
If you have a favorite element found in Georgian Romance, please comment & share. If you are new to the era and are intrigued, my favorite Georgian romances include anything by the brilliant Elizabeth Hoyt, The Malloren Series, by Jo Beverley (also be sure to have a look at her awesome Georgian timeline), and The Desperate Duchesses series, by Eloisa James. Also, I recently read & enthusiastically recommend debut author Alison DeLaine’s A Gentleman ’til Midnight.
*this post focuses on the early-to-mid Georgian period up to George III’s first bout with madness in 1788, which eventually led to the Regency in 1811.
For this second installment of Historical Romance for Dummies, we are going to focus on those things you might commonly read about in a historical romance set in the Regency-Victorian eras in Britain (our apologies to those authors and readers who long for something less constricting – we understand dears, truly we do).
Any new historical romance reader picking up a Regency or Victorian-based book should start with a minimum understanding of the following terms, as they are scarcely ever defined in the books themselves.
Regency and Victorian Terms, A-Z
abigail: another name for a ladies’ personal maid.
Almacks: A rather stuffy dance venue to match up young men and women, that was nonetheless wildly popular. One could not be admitted without a “voucher” and these were tightly controlled by some very judgmental matrons. Interestingly, obtaining a voucher often depended more on what these matrons thoughts of your propriety and morals than simply social standing. Think: a VIP club pass in historical times, where only the good girls get past the velvet rope.
bluestocking: the name applied to a young woman with decidedly too-modern ideas for her time. A woman who supported suffrage (women’s voting rights) in the Victorian era would have been a decided bluestocking, as but one example.
cattle: A common term applied by boisterous young men about their horses.
chaperones: In both eras, young unmarried women were generally not permitted to move freely about without adequate supervision, although the requirement could vary based on a woman’s social standing, whether she was in London or in the country, and her family’s financial circumstances. The appointed chaperone was usually an older female companion of good character who could ensure said young heroine didn’t sneak off for a forbidden kiss… or worse. It was considered improper for a young unmarried woman to be in the company of any non-relative male without a chaperone. To be caught in a compromising position lacking a chaperone could spell social ruin for a woman of good breeding, and in many cases an absolute requirement for the man in question to “come up to scratch” and marry the young lady whose reputation has just been shredded.
chit: a young woman who might be a bit silly
coming of age: Twenty-one years of age. If a woman had inherited money, she did not come under control over it until this magical age. This was the age of consent, meaning a woman could then choose to marry without her parent’s or guardian’s permission.
courtesan: a high-class prostitute or mistress, one who was usually elevated in social status and entertained men of power
gaming hell: a place where men placed wagers and played cards, roulette, etc.
gel: a shortened form of “girl”, often delivered down the nose of a stuffy dowager duchess
Gretna Green: The first stop across the border into Scotland, where a marriage could take place without any of the time and waiting requirements of English law. A popular place for young couples in love to elope.
Mayfair: The fashionable district to live in near London during this time period.
mews: The set of stables in the back of a London home housing horses, and carriages, etc.
musicale: a social event featuring music and often some poor chit who couldn’t really sing
on-dit: a snarky or gossipy tidbit
peer: A peer was someone who held one of the hierarchical titles that defines British upper class society. These were hereditary titles, passed to the oldest son or otherwise closest male heir. Men, therefore, had to deal with the issues of estate management and political expectations that accompanied inheritance of one of these titles. Peers in the Regency and Victorian eras also carried some political weight: they sat in the House of Lords, and often operated by their own set of ethical and legal mores that were quite different from those of the lower and middle classes. **Note to the new reader: A man in possession of a title instantly elevated him as “marriageable material” in the Regency and Victorian eras, meaning women might be more inclined to pursue him with an eye toward marriage. Many books portray these men as trying to avoid the dreaded “marriage noose”, despite the fact that most would eventually need to marry to produce an heir (the point seems to be not to succumb too soon). Because understanding hierarchy is important to understanding British social structure, suffice it to say that those of higher order wield more power and respect (as well as get to sit at the head of the dinner table). So, in order, best to not-best, you have: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron, Baronet.
posting of the banns and special license: In England at the time, one could not marry without some prep work. A regular marriage required a posting of the banns in the church parish for three consecutive Sundays, which meant (at a minimum) a 3 week wait. If one was desperate, one could procure a special license signed by a bishop, which would let one marry immediately. Special licenses usually were only available for the wealthy, as you had to pay for them. A Special license also carried an air of “desperation”, and might promote gossip (see “ruin” below).
rake/rakehell: a young man bent on mischief and seduction
reticule: a ladies’ small bag or purse, often on a loop that hung from the wrist
ruin: Oh, the horror – the thing all young ladies feared (but secretly dreamed of). Quite simply put, this was the destruction of a young lady’s reputation and an alteration in her future ability to marry well. Ruin could happen in a myriad of ways: promiscuity, pregnancy, rumors of promiscuity or pregnancy (barring an actual event), being caught alone with an unmarried man, being a little different for the time… and oddly enough, most historical romance heroines are constantly courting this mythical “ruin”.
Season: This was an annual series of social events that coincided with the sitting of Parliament and necessity of the peerage to be in residence in London. It was characterized by parties, balls, and other opportunities to “see and be seen.” A Season was a woman’s time to be presented as “marriage-eligible”, and the social events were designed to ensure maximum exposure to men who might be a good match. A woman’s first Season was called “coming out”, usually around the time she turned 18. A woman might have several Seasons before she found a good match, but it was very expensive (think: new gowns, shoes, etc), and so women of more limited means were often desperate to maximize their chances with one Season. The timing of the Season usually spanned Easter-late summer, but the peak was May-July.
the ton: (also: bon ton, beau monde, Society, the upper ten thousand): The upper classes and peerage of Britain
waltz: A new (and at the time, scandalous) dance that was introduced in the Regency era. It required people to dance so close their bodies were almost touching (gasp!) At Almacks, a young unmarried woman could not waltz without permission being first granted by one of those stuffy matrons.
Whites: A famous gentleman’s club in London, frequented by peers and members of the upper crust of Society. A place for cards, wagers, male camaraderie. Women were not admitted. There was a famous betting book in Whites, with wagers placed from anything from “which horse would win which race” to “who would be married before the year was out.”
valet: a male servant whose job it was to dress a peer and care for his clothing.
The Duchesses hope you find this informative. Please feel free to share it with those poor, misguided souls who have not yet discovered the beauty of Regency and Victorian-set historical romance.
Disclaimer: We don’t really think any of our readers are dummies. In fact, we consider you quite intelligent for choosing to follow our blog!
Most authors struggle with some degree of unexpected interest from friends and work colleagues who—sad though it may be—have never read a historical romance in their life. Sometimes, we even feel as though we should offer something of a disclaimer to them.
“Keep in mind it’s a Romance,” we say to their enthusiastic claims of having pre-ordered it. “A historical romance.”
More often than not, they blink at us in happy confusion. “Great,” they say. “I like history.”
Errrm…. Yes. That will indubitably help.
But as most Duchesses can tell you, enjoying one’s high school lecture on Alexander the Great is not enough to ensure instant appreciation and understanding of historical romance. Don’t mistake us—we are thrilled to welcome some readers who might have only ever read, say, the odd Nicholas Sparks book, or 50 Shades of Grey. But such books are a far cry from historical romance, and because we eagerly embrace our role as ambassadors bringing the stories of by-gone eras to life, we wanted to assure you that there is more to discover, if given half the chance.
It occurs to us, however, that newcomers to the world of historical romance might be confused by one or two things in our books that we originally felt no need to explain. And that perhaps they would be more inclined to think favorably upon the book—and the genre—if they had a primer on some basic background information. So the Duchesses have planned a series of posts on the topic, which are intended to help ease the way for those new readers and hopefully keep them focused enough to appreciate all the amazing things historical romance has to offer.
Today, we shall start with the basics. After all, one must walk before one waltzes, and we don’t want skinned knees and tears right off the bat.
Romance: a genre of fiction whose central plotline is centered on the development of a romantic relationship. The standard story arc leads to a HAPPY ENDING. That doesn’t mean the author can’t put those characters through an emotional tailspin, just that those bits should be resolved by the time you reach “THE END.” If we are going to get specific, the most common and widely sold romance is m/f (male/female), but there is also a lively market for m/m and f/f romance should you care to investigate.
Historical Romance: a type of romance novel that is based on characters in the past. Most folks consider a historical anything up to about WWII. Many Duchesses would like to challenge this notion, especially as the WWII standard has been in place for something like 50 years… surely we can count the Korean War, Vietnam, and even the Cold War as historical eras worth writing about by now.
Bodice Ripper: a derogatory name sometimes applied to historical romances, based on an outdated perception of the overbearing heroes and meek females that were sometimes portrayed in older historicals. These days, the heroines tend to be much stronger, and more assertive of their individuality, and if a bodice is going to get ripped they are as likely to do it themselves, so some Duchesses don’t personally mind the term. But be warned–some authors will be all too willing to whack you over the head with their reticule (for those of you newbies in our audience, a form of purse or handbag) if you say this in their presence.
The Eras: These are important, because the social mores differed for each major period of history, and also differed based on the setting (i.e. British-set historicals vs. American or exotic settings). A good deal of conflict in historical romances is based on the societal expectations of the time and the main characters rubbing up against those constraints, so the political backdrop, views toward women, and views toward sexuality of a given time all heavily influence the tone of books.
Briefly (and bear in mind, these are largely convenience groupings, rather than an intentional history lesson):
Medieval Romance: These romances tend to be set in the 5th through the 14th century. BBC’s Merlin is a great example of the period. Think: Knights. Plague. The Crusades.
Renaissance: This is roughly the period from the 14th to 17th century. Think: Henry VIII, the Tudors, and everyone’s head getting chopped off.
Scottish Romance: There is a tremendously popular market for Scottish romance spanning both the Medieval and Renaissance areas. Think: Men in Kilts. Braveheart (before Mel Gibson got weird).
Georgian: Technically defined as the time under the rule of the Georges I-IV, this era stretches from 1714 to about 1811, and often is just broadly defined as “the 18th century”. This was a turbulent time in British society, with parties and debauchery a bit more accepted among both men and women. Think: Powdered wigs, breasts bulging over plunging necklines, and those funny wide hoops that made women turn sideways to get through doors. Remember that video Walking on Broken Glass? That is tres Georgian!
Regency: This is one of the most popular historical eras for historical novels. It was technically the time the Prince Regent was at the helm of Britain, 1811 to 1820, but is often extended to 1837, when Queen Victoria took the throne. The era saw the introduction of greater simplicity of fashion, but also, we think, more elegant social graces. There was a stiff set of expectations placed on upper class females: they were expected to marry, and to marry as well as they could for social power and financial security. Think: Country house parties, high-waisted gowns, Jane Austen, and those scintillating dances that involved standing across from one’s partner and bowing. Duchess Valerie has written at greater length on the topic here.
Victorian: A very long period in British history (1837 to 1901), mainly because the monarch, Queen Victoria, lived so long. Queen Victoria had firm views on propriety and the role of women, and this period of time was a bit more uptight than either the Georgian or Regency eras. Charlotte and Emily Bronte wrote during this period, and unlike Austen, their words tended to be darker, more dramatic. The movie The Piano is a hauntingly beautiful portrayal of both the period’s dress and expectations for women. Think: sexual repression, whalebone corsets, séances and an obsession with death and mourning.
Edwardian: The period when Edward, Victoria’s son, sat as king. Although he died in 1910, this period is often extended up until 1919, the end of World War I. Fashion lines became simpler, cleaner, with lots of ornate beading. Women began to emerge with greater independence, and access to education/learning, and also began to challenge traditional stereotypes. Think: Titanic, Downton Abbey, World War I.
Roaring twenties to WWII: The 1920 to about 1945. Think: the movie Chicago. Flappers. Prohibition. The Great Depression. World War II. This was definitely a time period where women broke out of older, traditional roles and their independence became more commonplace and accepted.
For the new reader, understanding which era their book is set in is the first step. Once they have that in-hand, they can begin the process of understanding more advanced details.
Be on the lookout for our next post on Historical Romance for Dummies, which will focus on terms for the new historical reader of Regency and Victorian fiction.
The Duchesses must offer this disclaimer: we are not history professors, nor do we pretend to be. We are first and foremost spinners of stories. If you notice any errors, or have new ideas that might be useful to share, please do contact us and let us know! We do believe, with these basics, most of the uninformed can safely tackle the wonderful world of historical romance.
There is still a chance to win a copy of The Rogue Returns!
See Tuesday’s post for details. I’ll announce winners on Sunday.
Best, Leigh LaValle, aka My Queen Peach
Excerpt from The Rogue Returns
“Why do you call me buttercup?”
“Because you are so sweet.”
“I am not that sweet,” she muttered. “Ugh, these tangles. I can’t get them—”
He slipped the burlap sac from her hand and examined the knotted strings. Calloused, patient fingers coaxed the tangles loose. She did not glance up when he placed the food bag on the rock.
“Yes, you are sweet.” He hooked his finger under her chin and nudged her head up. Their eyes met, then he dropped his gaze down to her lips. “Sweet and spicy and tempting as sin.”
It was a simple glance, but it left her hot.
Hot and achy and full of want.
This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. She arched away from his touch. “Tempting as sin? Really? How original.”
His lips tilted up. “I’ve wanted to kiss you all day.”
“And why would I let you kiss me?”
“Because I could make you feel wonderful. Exceptionally wonderful. ”
Please join me in welcoming debut author Jessica Jefferson to our lovely home today! Compromising Miss Tisdale, the first in her Regency Blooms series is a fun Regency romp, so she fits right in here amongst the Duchesses!
Compromising Miss Tisdale is the story of straight-laced Ambrosia Tisdale and the loose-living Duncan Maddox. She’s the oldest of four sisters and a rule follower. He’s a rake who has to settle down and find a respectable wife. The story isn’t just about two people falling in love, but also how the two of them are changed by love – not just the love between each other, but between their respective family members as well. It’s just a fun, sexy read.
Sounds delish! What is your favorite scene in this book? Did it come to you organically or did you have to work to get it just right?
My favorite scene is one at the very beginning where Ambrosia stumbles upon our hero in a library. It’s a little risqué but it was lots of fun to write. I had actually entered a contest without the scene and a judge gave me the most valuable critique I’ve ever received. To sum it up – more naked man, more kissing, and make it happen sooner in the novel. Not exactly an easy task given the restrictions of the Regency period, but I think I made it work.
There’s always room for risqué, I say. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I read everything I write out loud. And with a pitiful attempt at a British accent which I’ve learned from countless Merchant and Ivory films. (Sorry Merchant and Ivory). Because of this I have to write in seclusion for fear of my family taunting me forever.
I love that! (And Merchant and Ivory of course.) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your books? About yourself, history, or the process of publication?
One of the most surprising things for me was how much I did not know. I have to say without RWA, I don’t think I would have ever gotten published. I had seriously underestimated the importance of a strong critique partner and the value of social media. Now I know how crucial both these things are to a career in writing romance.
RWA was incredibly helpful to me as well and I simply cannot BREATHE without my CP. What’s your writing process?
I do my best binge writing – but only after I’ve plotted out the entire book. I use post-it notes to document the key elements and occurrences in the story. I actually put the post-its in order of events and even use different colored post-its to identify different characters and their specific information. I try to make it very visual and display it on a piece of butcher block paper in the area I do my writing in. This is actually something I learned from my day job where I often help map out processes that occur within the hospital. I would have never dreamed that my two careers would have such a similarity!
We have a similar process. I plot out and then binge write. Sometimes things veer a little off course, but the basic plot and the character arcs don’t. What did people do before Post-it notes?? What’s the typical day for Jessica Jefferson? And not just your workday – how do you unwind and find balance?
When I wrote Compromising Miss Tisdale, I did in my last couple months of finishing up my bachelor’s in nursing (I previously had an associate’s), working full time in a pretty demanding role in performance improvement for a healthcare organization (who at the time was undergoing an affiliation with another healthcare organization). I had a two year old and an eight year old, and a husband whose job requires some time away for business. It’s really hard to find balance and unwind with so much going on at once, but I think keeping a schedule helps. I come off as a pretty happy–go-lucky person, but in all honesty I’m actually fairly regimented. Writing was my hobby, and now it’s a career so as much as I enjoy it I know I have to walk away sometimes and simply sit on the couch – without Facebook! I schedule family time, I schedule downtime – it sounds crazy, but it’s worked for me.
Oh, Facebook, you minx! Good for you for scheduling the important stuff! Work/life balance is such a challenge. What’s next?
Taming Miss Tisdale is the next installment in the Regency Blooms series and its due for release in April 2014 from Soul Mate Publishing. It’s important for me that each book stands on its own, but that they also share commonalities so all the books still fit together. This is the story of the “heathen” sister Tamsin and her own misadventures in love.
Thank you so much for being with us today, Jessica! And now, it’s time for a teaser from Compromising Miss Tisdale:
He moaned against her mouth, a primal sort of groan. The sound was unfamiliar, filling her with fear and logic all at the same time, breaking the trance.
What had she done?
She was acting like a complete henwit! How could she have allowed some man, not even a gentleman, but a common man to reduce her to a weak-kneed, blabbering mess? Not even Amelia’s brother, James, with his roaming hands and sugary words, dripping with guile, had earned such a response from her.
Without warning, Ambrosia pushed him away with all the force her body could muster, sending him stumbling backward.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she shrieked.
He balked. Remnants of the passion shared just a moment ago lingering in his eyes, in his pained expression, in the tension in his body, and most prominently in his breeches. “I was kissing you. Surely, it’s obvious.”
“Why on earth would you do something like that?” Ambrosia took a step away from the door, arms akimbo.
“You said you’d rather not talk, and there aren’t that many alternatives. It made perfect sense at the time and I assumed you wouldn’t mind.”
She gaped at the absurdity of his words. “Why ever would you assume that?”
He shrugged. “You’re obviously not some young chit out for her debut. And you’re the one who found me. Naturally, I assumed-”
“Well you assumed wrong! I am a virtuous, young lady.”
“If you were that virtuous, you would have turned around as soon as you saw me.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. He had a point, but she wasn’t about to let him know that.
“You, sir, are a danger to women.”
He smiled. “I’ve always thought of myself as more of a gift, really.”
Jessica Jefferson makes her home in northern Indiana, or as she likes to think of it—almost Chicago. She is heavily inspired by classic sweeping, historical romance novels, but aims to take those key emotional elements and inject a fresh blend of quick dialogue and comedy. Visit her at http://www.jessicajefferson.com for more of her random romance musings. Be sure to like Jess on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Jefferson/ and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/authorJessicaJ/.
FIVE lucky commenters will receive a digital copy of Compromising Miss Tisdale from Amazon (this giveaway is for Kindle users only). Winners will be posted Saturday, January 18.