When I wrote Emily and the Dark Angel back in the early nineties, I had no concerns about the Melton Mowbray setting, or about including fox hunting. It was such a central part of life for many upper class Regency men. I didn't get any negative feedback then, either, but this time around a few people have said they feel uncomfortable with it.
Writing historical fiction can involve interesting choices, can't it? It's usually possible to simply ignore or write around some things, like dentistry, for example, but to me hunting in the Shires is so central it's part of it all.
It's also fascinating, and full of great stories. For example, there was an inclusiveness to hunting then, for the men at least. If a man had a horse, he could hunt. There were local tradesmen hunting, and even a chimney sweep, complete with his brush. In the book I refer to the time a hot air balloon came down in the middle of a hunt, and that's true.
This image comes from 1st Art Gallery, where you can buy the print. No, I don't get a cut. I'm just giving fair credit.
Unless I've forgotten an instance, Jane Austen didn't mention fox hunting, but her books are all about the difficulties of finding a husband in her time, and fox hunting could have played a part in that.
The Regency period was truly a difficult one for women seeking husbands, and that informed Jane Austen's novels. The Napoleonic Wars had reduced the number of available gentlemen, and there were interesting demographic changes that added to the problems. Essentially, life expectancy was increasing in the upper classes, squeezing the income of gentry families by increased family size and long-lived widows, with their assured jointures. Younger sons couldn't afford to marry; daughters had reduced portions; even oldest sons who inherited decided not to marry so as not to bring another potential widow into the family.
But also, a lot of the men spent the winter and early spring in the Shires.
I have wondered if this is part of the reason that the Season moved to later spring in the Regency, when it previously began in January.
This has little to do with Emily Grantwich's predicament, as she lives in the Melton area. She finds the influx of hunting men makes her life difficult, and it's difficult enough already. Her father has been crippled in a foolish duel and her brother is missing in action in the war. She's trying to hold the family estates together, and now the neighboring estate has been inherited by a Mr. Piers Verderan. All her friends and neighbours hurry to warn her to have nothing to do with such a notorious rake. No wonder he's called the Dark Angel -- he's even killed men in duels, and he threatens to shoot someone before her very eyes, and means it.
But even if Emily had wanted to avoid him, it proves impossible, and then she's not sure she wants to anyway. At times, he seems the only sane person around, and he's wakening a part of her she'd never known existed.
Emily and the Dark Angel won a RITA award when it was first published, and the Best Regency Romance award from Romantic Times, which also declared it a classic of the genre.
The handsome trade paperback publication will be out soon, and there's an excerpt here.
The book should soon be on shelves in North America. If you have trouble finding it in the UK, I suggest buying it from the Book Depository.
All my other Regency Romances are now available in new editions. You can find out about them here.
For more information about my books, you can visit my website.