Sunday, July 25, 2010

Elizabeth and Darcy: The Iconic Romantic Couple

Laurel Ann from the fabulous Austenprose blog very kindly invited me to guest blog as part of her Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Group Read. If you've not been aware of all the fascinating posts do head on over there - there's something of interest for all fans of Pride and Prejudice. I was thrilled when Laurel Ann asked me if I'd write about the main hero and heroine of the novel especially as I've just finished a continuation of Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are perhaps Jane Austen’s most beloved characters. Pride and Prejudice was written more than two hundred years ago, yet these characters remain as fresh and irresistibly fascinating to us as they were for the first generations that read their tale, and remain the standard by which all other characters in a love story are judged. So, why do we love them so much?
Jane Austen tells their story through Elizabeth’s eyes so it’s easy to identify with this heroine who is lively, witty, and loveable as much for her faults as for her charms. We identify with her because we feel she is like us. She is capable of making mistakes, but having realised her errors, she changes and grows as a result. We see her character develop as the story enfolds. The first time we really meet Elizabeth it is at the Meryton Assembly where the proud Mr Darcy is also in attendance with his affable friend Mr Bingley. There is a lack of gentlemen at the ball, and Lizzy has to sit out for two dances. Mr Darcy is seen to be behaving in a particularly disagreeable manner. He only dances with Mr Bingley’s sisters and ignores everyone else in the room. Everyone has heard that he is a rich landowner, but his wealth and power coupled with his anti-social manners only serve to make him appear arrogant. He doesn’t seem to care that his words may be overheard or that his speech is insulting. In fact, he is almost goading Elizabeth whom he has heard described as a pretty girl. He actually makes sure that Lizzy is looking at him before he speaks. It’s almost as if he wants her to hear, and make her aware that he can attract, and have any woman in the room.
“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
It’s a real put down, and as an unsurprising consequence, she dislikes him instantly! At this stage, we also think he’s horrid, and I doubt there are many people who stop and wonder at the psychology behind his behaviour. It’s only when their relationship starts to develop that we think about the undeniable ‘chemistry’ between them, and question their attraction to one another from what seems such an unpromising start.
To our utter delight, Mr Darcy finds himself attracted to her even though he is determined to find fault with her, and when she refuses to stand up with him for a dance we rejoice at her opportunity for revenge. The lively banter that ensues between them is what makes their relationship so satisfying. In every respect, Elizabeth proves herself equal in intelligence. She is no simpering female. When they are thrown together at the Netherfield Ball, Darcy begins to enjoy Lizzy’s lively conversation and pert manners. Although she is determined to continue her dislike of him, she agrees to dance with him before she can help herself. The conversation that flies between them is an exercise in brilliant dialogue as each of them tries to better the other with a witty retort. Elizabeth is beginning to realize that however fixed her first impressions of Darcy seemed initially, her opinion of him is changing. She recognizes that they have similarities in their characters; they both like to think that they can use their intellect coupled with a wry sense of humour to win an argument or to make a point all meted out in an economy of language.
“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy - I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said. "Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent.”
“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?”
“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.” “Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?”
“Both,” replied Elizabeth archly; “for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.”
“This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure,” said he. “How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
” They behave for the most part as opposing forces that cannot help being attracted to the other. Elizabeth prides herself on reading the psychology of people – she likes to know what makes them tick. The infuriating thing is that she cannot make Darcy out, when she thinks she has the upper hand, he then seizes power to have the whip hand over Elizabeth. Just as we imagine that the couple is warming toward one another, something happens to make Lizzy despise Mr Darcy even more. She witnesses his snubbing of Mr Wickham and when the latter claims that Darcy has mistreated him she dislikes him even more. Elizabeth is swayed by Mr Wickham’s charming manner and has no reason to doubt his word. Darcy’s general behaviour has prejudiced her view of him, and so she takes Wickham’s part. One of the reasons we love Elizabeth is because she is fiercely independent and knows her own mind. When Mr Collins proposes, we know she should accept him, but she refuses to compromise on her principles being prepared to go against the wishes of her mother. Elizabeth knows her prospects to marry well are bleak due to her lack of a good dowry, and even though the likely outcome is that she will remain a spinster, she remains true to her beliefs unlike her friend Charlotte Lucas who ultimately marries Mr Collins. Elizabeth is determined to marry for love. We admire her because she is rebellious, but also because she recognizes her own faults. Elizabeth is not impressed by Darcy’s wealth and position alone, his character is what interests her, and initially she thinks he is rather shallow when he judges women by their accomplishments alone. He obviously thinks no woman is worthy of his consideration unless she is ‘accomplished’ and when he says he knows of only a half dozen women like this Elizabeth retaliates.
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
It is the continual sparring between Elizabeth and Darcy that we especially enjoy. One of them says something designed to provoke the other, and we wait with bated breath to hear their reaction. Darcy responds to Miss Bingley playing a Scotch air on the pianoforte by suggesting that Elizabeth might feel the impulse to dance a reel. Lizzy knows this is a veiled insult – he’s already mentioned that ‘every savage can dance’, and reels are generally danced by the lower orders.
Elizabeth replies, “…You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all - and now despise me if you dare.”
Of course, Mr Darcy does not dare. In order to fully understand Elizabeth’s character we must know something of the expected manners and customs of the time. Young women led sheltered lives amongst family members and had little freedom. Lizzy loves walking around Meryton and the surrounding area unchaperoned which at the time would have been seen as most inappropriate behaviour for a young lady. Walking through mud and jumping over stiles to visit her sister at Netherfield would not have been deemed as the correct way to conduct herself.
Darcy’s character is a composition in contrasts. On the one hand he exhibits reservations about the behaviour of certain Bennet family members, but Elizabeth’s own individual quirkiness and her efforts to go against convention only intrigue him. He likes what he sees as her athleticism, and when Miss Bingley tries to make Elizabeth appear less worthy in his eyes by pointing out her muddy petticoat, and the fact that he would not let his sister tramp about alone in the countryside, his increasing attraction to Elizabeth is observed when he remarks that ‘her eyes were brightened by the exercise.’ Mr Darcy famously refers to Elizabeth’s ‘fine eyes’, and indeed, Jane Austen uses eyes in many instances to show the growing attraction between the couple.
Here are a few instances: Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush.
Elizabeth could not help observing, as she turned over some music books that lay on the instrument, how frequently Mr. Darcy’s eyes were fixed on her.
They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
When Darcy realises he is so in love with Elizabeth that there’s no turning back, he asks her to marry him. His proposal is ungracious; he declares he is going against his own sense in asking her to be his wife. Lizzy, in true fashion throws his words and proposal back at him saying she cannot return his feelings, and declares her anger at the way he treated Wickham.
“…from the first moment, I may almost say - of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
We know that Elizabeth would be set up for life if she marries him but her principles are admirable. She is not going to marry a man simply because he is rich. She is prejudiced against him for the characteristics she deplores – his haughtiness, his pride, and because he has assumed that she will jump at the chance to be his wife. At this point Darcy is outraged. As far as he is concerned he thinks he is offering what any woman could possibly want to make their dreams come true – his estate at Pemberley, and his fortune. He also wants to put the record straight about Wickham. Darcy writes Elizabeth a letter, and this is an interesting illustration of his character. Why doesn’t he go and see her, to explain in person? Perhaps his pride prevents it. After all, she has rejected him. He may be good at a quick comeback, but he seems more reserved when it comes to expressing his feelings and thoughts. I think we begin to question whether his haughtiness is simply masking a real insecurity; perhaps he is reserved and a little shy in company. It maybe that his discomfort in society and his inability to be at ease in social situations makes him appear to be arrogant when this is not the case. We learn from Mrs Reynolds, his housekeeper, who has known him since he was a small boy that he is far from being an intimidating tyrant. She describes him as being good-natured, sweet-tempered and generous-hearted. Praise indeed! In her turn, when Lizzy reads the letter with the explanation that Wickham tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy, her first impressions are questioned. We see another side of Darcy when he and Elizabeth meet again at Pemberley. Mrs Reynolds’s warm appraisal, his changed manner, plus his beautiful house and grounds make Lizzy see him through new eyes. She is beginning to fall in love with him. He is pulling out all the stops to impress her. It’s clear he’s been thinking about what she said to him, and he is trying to change for the better. He is kind to her uncle and aunt, and does not display his former snobbishness toward them. Darcy goes out of his way to be sociable inviting them all to an evening party and introducing his sister.
After learning the truth about Wickham, Elizabeth realizes that there is always more than one way of looking at things. She comes to know the real Mr Darcy as he lets his guard down and when she discovers the quiet way in which he saves her sister Lydia from ruin hence making it possible for their eventual alliance, Elizabeth knows she has been wrong to judge him. Darcy falls in love eventually for all the right reasons – Elizabeth’s intelligence and lively ways have captivated him, and he enjoys the fact that she is not afraid of him or sycophantic toward him. They both change to suit the other because they really love one another unreservedly. Mr Darcy and Elizabeth both make mistakes, but try to put them right and because they admit to their shortcomings, we love them all the more! Laurel Ann contributed this wonderful passage which shows so perfectly how Mr Darcy has changed for the better by the end of the novel. “Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” Mr. Darcy, Chapter 58.

My novel, Mr Darcy's Secret will be published by Sourcebooks in February, 2011. My editor just sent me the cover today which is beautiful - I'm so excited, and can't wait to hold it in my hands!
After capturing the heart of the richest man in England, Elizabeth Darcy believes her happiness is complete until mysterious affairs involving Mr Darcy’s past, and concerns over his sister Georgiana’s own troubled path to happiness present Elizabeth with fresh challenges to test her integrity, honour, and sweet nature as she fights her old fears and feelings of pride and prejudice. However, nothing can daunt our sparkling and witty heroine or dim her sense of fun as Elizabeth and the powerful, compelling figure of Mr Darcy take centre stage in this romantic tale set against the dramatic backdrops of Regency Derbyshire and the Lakes amongst the characters we love so well.
Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

‘The Utterly Wonderful London Library’

The above quotation comes from the acknowledgements in a book by the highly-acclaimed children’s author, Mary Hoffman. And I have come across many similar tributes in books by other grateful members. Georgette Heyer, for example, was a member and found it invaluable when researching The Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army.

I added my own small tribute in Crossing the Tamar. I wrote: I could not have written this without the resources of the wonderful London Library – where else could I find The Times of 1808 and books on Cornish Mail coaches and a history of cock fighting all under the same roof?

So, what is the London Library (not to be confused with the British Library)? It is a members library in St James’s Square, just behind Piccadilly, founded in 1841 by the historian, Thomas Carlyle. 19th century members include Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Arthur Conan Doyle. 20th century members include Agatha Christie, John Betjeman and Jane Aiken Hodge. Current members include Tom Stoppard, Philippa Gregory and Diana Norman.

There are over one million books and over 8,500 new books are added annually. Of particular interest to historical novelists, are the literature (and fiction), history, biography, topography and arts sections. Personally, I love the quirky Science and Miscellaneous section, which has everything from smuggling, chocolate and costume to folk lore, cricket and sundials.

What I particularly like is that the library never discards books, so you can find – and borrow - an early 19th century guide to Dieppe, for example, or The Illustrated London News from 1860.

It’s a great place to work, too. There are several rooms to work in, including the original reading room with its deep leather armchairs, but, if you prefer, there are also desks tucked away in various odd corners all over the building. There is an outstanding reference library and free internet access through public terminals and Wi-Fi for laptop users.

If at home, or out of London, members have free, remote access to a wealth of resources, including JSTOR, the online archive. And the library will post books to members anywhere in the U.K. and Europe for just the cost of postage.

So, what does all this cost? The current annual subscription is £395. A lot, you may think, and, of course, it is. You can, however, pay monthly, which comes to just over £33 per month. Or, to put it another way, it’s a little over £1 a day – the cost of a daily newspaper. I was discussing this with a journalist I met there a week or so ago. She said, ‘An awful lot of other things would have to go first before I’d give up my membership.’

Judge for yourself.

(Pictures courtesy of The London Library)

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cuture Shock

Just now I am researching for a book set entirely in India in the late 18thc and writing a trilogy which begins there in the early 19thc, so the British experience is very much on my mind. A visit to the fabulous recent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - The Indian Portrait - gave a fascinating insight into the life, and mind-set, of the earlier British inhabitants, the officers of the East India Company who seem to have thrown themselves whole-heartedly into princely Indian culture.

A portrait of William Fullerton (c1764) shows him reclining on a terrace smoking a huqqa, just like many of the Indian noblemen in the exhibition. Fullerton is wearing his wig and black tricorne hat, his crimson coat and knee breeeches - he must have been sweltering! - but a similar scene depicting John Wombwell in the late 18thc shows him wearing Indian dress and he seems very comfortable sitting cross-legged with his pillows and huqqa.

The picture at the top is from a collection of old prints of India showing the life of these East India Company officials. This one reclines at his ease in a completely European setting - furniture, globe, even his tall hat left on the table. And yet he is listening with drowsy pleasure to a quartet of local musicians.

These earlier Europeans seem to have adapted well to life in India - if they lived long enough. When they succumbed to disease or the heat they even adapted the funery monuments of home to their new life, as this graceful figure on a tomb in St John's Chuch, Kolkata shows. Many took Indian wives, some converted to Islam or Hinduism without causing adverse comment, most seem to have adopted Indian dress for much of the time.

The culture shock must have been extreme but the approach appears to have been one of curiosity and interest as they settled down to trade, sending back the silks and embroideries, the Kashmir shawls, the ivory and gems that adorned the ladies of Georgian Society back home. What did they make of scenes such as this of the Red Fort in Delhi in a cloud of Black Kite?

You cannot romanticise their presence, of course. The British East India Company were in India to make money - and they did, in staggering quantities, while enjoying all the privileges of the princely rulers and without, it seems, a thought for the ordinary people. But I cannot help liking them far more than the Victorians who followed them and condemned their adoption of local ways and shunned the wives and children of their marriages.

I'll leave you with this image of Empire - Queen Victoria dominating the scene in front of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.

Louise Allen

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mazey Day

A couple of weeks ago we went down to Penzance for Mazey Day. This takes place on Saturday of the final weekend of the annual Golowan Festival, the midsummer feast of St John (Gol Jowan) celebrated by a week of events around the town. These include traditional dances, live music and street theatre. In Victorian times it also included blazing tar barrels and people racing through the strrets with flaming torches - activities that the mayor and corporation considered too danagerous. So Golowan was banned. Then in 1991 the festival was resurrected in the form we see today. For me, Mazey Day is particularly special. The main street is closed to traffic for the day, decorated with greenery freshly picked that morning, and lined with stalls. (Not a tar barrel or flaming torch in sight) The weather was glorious: bright sunshine with a hint of cooling breeze. Then at 11 0’clock the procession, accompanied by several bands of musicians, separated by a class of children in costume and featuring every primary school in the area, made its way through the town. After months working with their teachers and local artists, this was their opportunity to display their costumes and the huge and mind-blowing effigies they have created. Watching the children, seeing their pleasure and glowing pride, brought a huge lump to my throat, and I was surrounded by a forest of upstretched hands clutching cameras, mobile phones and videocameras, all anxious to capture the parade.

Jane Jackson.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Castlereagh and Mount Stewart

Most Regency fans will recognise the famous portrait of Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary from 1812, and Britain's representative at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815.

Viscount Castlereagh was a courtesy title only, since he was actually the heir to the Earl and (later) Marquess of Londonderry. Our marquess succeeded to the titles in 1821. (He died in 1822, without children, and was succeeded by his half-brother.)

The family seat is Mount Stewart, in Northern Ireland, close to Strangford Lough. This is the imposing front entrance which faces the park and the path to the huge lake.

This is the back of the house, looking over the formal garden.

Sadly, the splendid garden is modern, created in the 20th century, and much of the house celebrates the lives of the 20th century family. But you can see how magnificent the interior was. Here, for example, is the marble hall with the galleried landing above.
Some copies of Castlereagh memorabilia are still on view, including paintings, etchings and papers, as well as busts and miniatures. Perhaps most interesting are these chairs. There are 22 of them and they were used at the Congress of Vienna. They were later presented to Castlereagh's half-brother (the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry) as a tribute to the diplomatic achievements of both brothers.

I was disappointed to discover that the needlework is not original! It was done around the end of the 19th century by nuns in Nantes but it does depict the coats of arms of the delegates at the Congress and the countries they represented. And it still sent a shiver down my spine to look at them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hareton Hall

    I have a new book out this month. It’s the next Richard and Rose. This series, which started as a labour of love for me, has become my “flagship” series, the one I’m best known for. I’m still not sure how that happened.
    When I started Richard and Rose with “Yorkshire,” it was with a vague idea of publication, but mostly to tell the stories of the people who had been haunting me for years. I first “saw” them in my mind’s eye standing in a dilapidated courtyard, Richard wearing a gorgeous outfit more suited to London, his painted face a mask of hauteur, and Rose, in an outdated riding habit, slightly dishevelled from her long journey. Where they’d come from I had no idea, but I knew where they were and where they were going, because they’d fallen in love at first sight.
    I was rather surprised, as I wasn’t sure I believed in love at first sight, but this couple had certainly achieved it. And without either of them wanting it, either. Richard is sure, but Rose thinks he’s not serious at first, although she can’t believe the intensity of her feelings for him.
    I wanted to write about a couple’s developing relationship, not just meeting and falling in love, but marrying, maybe having a family, getting on with their lives. Marriage requires a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth it, and I wanted to celebrate it through this couple’s story. I’ve just finished writing book seven, and I haven’t finished yet, although Richard and Rose will probably take a break after book eight.
    “Hareton Hall,” originally titled “Darkwater” chronicles what happens when Richard and Rose go back to her home county of Devonshire (we call it Devon today) to attend the wedding of her beloved sister Lizzie. They meet far more than they expect, or want to, and old enemies appear, along with new ones.
    Writing about their lives has mean ta lot of research, and I’ve learned a huge amount about life in the 1750’s. This is my favourite part of the Georgian era, and most of my historical romances are set there.
    Anyway, without further ado, here are the details and a snippet of “Hareton Hall,” which comes out in e-book format on the 20th July. It’s out in print next year.
    The coach jolted as the driver pulled on the reins to stop the horses so abruptly I was thrown forward, but I saved myself by seizing the strap above my head.
    My husband grabbed me by the waist and restored me to my seat before he glanced out of the window. “It appears we’re being held up.” His voice sounded calm, but I knew him better than that and I noticed his note of alarm.
    “What? Highwaymen?”
    Almost without thinking I took off my ruby betrothal ring and slipped it down the front of my dress, but when I tried to take off the wedding ring, Richard put his hand over mine. “No. He’ll expect to see a wedding ring, and if he doesn’t find one he might go looking. I’ll buy you twenty more, but let that one be.”
    I saw the sense of that and did as he bade me. Richard reached up and took the pistol that hung in its holster above us. He thrust it into his coat pocket then spoke over the shouting that was going on outside. “Give him your purse and anything else of that nature he asks for. If he tries to go too far—I’ll deal with it.” He gave me a smile of encouragement as the door was wrenched open.
    Cold air rushed into the coach. A figure swathed in a greatcoat with a muffler covering most of his face stood silhouetted against the rain-spattered hedge and trees. He’d pulled his hat well down and had a pistol in each hand. His eyes were grey, but I couldn’t see any more of his face.
    I’d never gone through this experience before, but I’d read a lot about it in the papers. The country was currently at peace, the army mostly disbanded, and many disaffected soldiers had taken to crime. Highway robbery was on the increase, together with housebreaking and shoplifting, but we were usually better protected than this and hadn’t been touched before. I could only thank God that our daughter and her entourage were a few miles behind us.
    The man gestured, one pistol jerking towards us. “Get out.”
    Richard climbed down and held his hand out to help me down, then took a position slightly in front of me, shielding me as best he could.
    The two postboys stood by the front of the vehicle. The robber kept one pistol trained on them and one on us, but when he moved we saw he had more flintlocks thrust into his belt.
    “Your valuables, please. One person at a time.”
    He moved to the postboys and I examined him closer. He was a little shorter than Richard, and that glimpse of the weapons shoved into his belt also showed me his figure was actually quite slight. He might be young, but then highwaymen rarely lasted very long. They worked alone or in pairs, vulnerable to a determined person.
    He took the watches and purses the postboys offered him without demanding more, and moved on to us. Richard silently handed him his watch and some guineas from his pocket. He wasn’t wearing the diamond solitaire pin he used at his neckcloth, for which I was thankful. I’d have hated to see that go.
    I gave him my purse and the necklace I wore, part of an agate set I hadn’t owned for long. He pointedly stared at my hand, and reluctantly I slipped off my ring. It was a plain gold band, but it had been engraved inside for me. I was sad to lose it, but Richard was right. It wasn’t worth risking injury or abuse for. I handed the ring over, trying not to touch his hand. Highwaymen sometimes took more than items of monetary value. Rape and beating weren’t unusual. Richard would kill him if this man attempted that with me.
    I tried to meet his gaze steadily, although inside, fear was turning my stomach.
    “There’s more. Your pockets, if you please.”
    I’d hoped to keep it from him. Unlike some people, I didn’t carry two purses, one for the robber and another for me, so I had my handkerchief, my necessaire and the watch Richard’s brother, Gervase, had given to me, which was a fine item, a French enamelled repeater set with gems, but it wasn’t the value I’d miss. Gervase had bought it for me in Venice in thanks for the help I’d rendered him there.
    Reluctantly I handed the highwayman the watch. He turned it over in his palm to see both sides of the pretty toy. “Thank you. You can have this back.” He gave me my wedding ring.
    It hurt to thank the man who had just robbed us, but I managed it.
    He indicated a space away from the coach with the pistol he carried in his left hand. “Move over there.”
    “Hareton Hall,” by Lynne Connolly, out at Samhain Publishing, 20th July.
    The sixth Richard and Rose book
    Richard and Rose, in order
    Harley Street
    Hareton Hall


Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Continuity Continues -with help from a clothesline

I am delighted to welcome Christine Merrill as a guest today. Christine is one of the Continuistas - the six authors who together have produced the eight books of Regency Silk & Scandal. Find out more about Christine at

Last month I told you about the first in the series - my The Lord and the Wayward Lady. Christine's book, Paying the Virgin's Price, is this month's title and here is the gorgeous UK cover.

Christine, who writes one of the funniest blogs I have come across (, shares this insight into her working methods. Over to you, Christine -

I was a bit daunted in trying to come up with a good topic for this blog. My research for Paying the Virgin’s Price was kind of a lost cause. I did plenty of it. But for many topics, I would just have to write “And then I asked Louise Allen…” Which is actually a really short post.

While I also read a lot about Regency gambling, I will admit to being a horrible card player. I cannot seem to grasp the strategy involved in modern games, much less historical ones, and will always be the one at the table who is forgetting the difference between tricks and trumps, and cannot seem to guess the contents of her partner’s hands based on cards played.

This general cluelessness kind of plays into what I can tell you about. Some people are natural card players, outline projects, file notes, and read spread sheets. They also have clean desks and good senses of direction. Some people, like me, do not. I cannot tell you whether I am naturally left or right brained since I sometimes have trouble telling left from right. I am also convinced that left and right have something to do with compass points. This has resulted in my saying things like “If you are coming from the North, turn East. But if you are coming from the South, turn West…” (and circumnavigate the globe, apparently). It is an endless source of amusement to my family, who are all males with natural compasses.

So when we sat down to layout the entire plot arc for Regency Silk and Scandal, it got pretty confusing for me, pretty quickly. Since I was still learning the names of the other authors, and the accompanying pseudonyms, remembering fictional people was kind of a stretch for my limited brain cells. And there were a lot of characters, on a twenty year time line. We had a back story cast of eight or so, most of whom were dead by the time the books started. And these people all had several children, and in some cases, a second spouse and an illicit affair. And friends. And servants. And wards. And some of those had died as well. And then a few strangers wandered in to fill out the eight heroes and heroines.

Talking about them was like going to the reunion of a large family, and sitting down after a couple of rounds of drinks to try to remember exactly how many children Aunt Mabel had, who they had married, and which one of them got stung by the bee? (or in the case of our stories, married a Gypsy…)

Actually, it was like being a spouse at the reunion, and having knowledge of these people without having actually met any of them. Not only were these people imaginary, they could be the product of someone else’s imagination: literary second cousins, once removed from our own characters.

There were outlines and spreadsheets, family trees and a compendium of e-mail notes in the Files section of a Yahoo group. All the information was there, plain before me. And yet, I was still pretty fuzzy. Someone told me that the chronically left or right brained people have a different sort of organizational style, which is why they tend to leave things in piles on the desk, instead of neat folders. It looks like a mess, but really it isn’t. They want to see everything, at all times, to know it’s still there. Once it is filed, it is forgotten.This is definitely me. And I looked it up. I am right brain dominant. Creative. But spacey.

So I created my version of a multi-dimensional spreadsheet by cutting apart some of our existing organizational documents, and taping them to a white board, adding colored pins and strings to show relationships. Hey presto! It all became clear to me. The families were an interconnected organism, and the relationships balanced neatly once I could see them all at once. At the point I made the board in the attached picture, we were still coming up with names for some of the principals. A left brained person would have filled those in. But I stopped, the minute I had gotten what I needed from it. The goal was to create a working document that would keep me on track, not an archival history of the whole project.

I cannot show you the desk filing, research system, since I took it down. But imagine a seven foot long, bright orange clothesline, tied between two book cases, and hanging about 10 inches above the computer monitor. Now imagine a lot of printer paper attached to it by binder clips. At any given time, I had pictures of heroes, heroines, Gypsy camps, Rom vocabularies, Newgate and the Official Table of Drops for hangings (not in use for the Regency, but nice to know), floating just above my head, where I could find them on days when I remembered to look up.

If you try something similar, you will find that it clears up a lot of desk space for empty soda cans, breakfast dishes and cats. It will also prove to your family that you are hard at work, and seriously organized, and not just sitting at a messy desk and playing computer solitaire all day, as they might secretly suspect.
Thank you, Christine! I for one, am going straight out to buy a clothes line. Does it have to be orange?
Louise Allen

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Thanksgiving of George III

Whilst out walking recently in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire I came across this monument. It was originally built in 1781 by Thomas Bruce Earl of Ailesbury out of gratitude to his uncle who not only left him his estates but also procured for him the Barony of Tottenham. Later, in 1789, Thomas added a second inscription to the column. This one reads:

"In commemoration of a signal instance of heaven’s protecting providence over these kingdoms in the year 1789 by restoring to perfect Health from a long and afflicting disorder their excellent and belov'd sovereign George III this tablet was inspired by Thomas Bruce Earl of Ailesbury."

I hadn't come across such a public display of thanksgiving before but then Thomas Bruce had a great deal to be thankful for. It was George III who, apparently unsolicited, conferred upon him the earldom and who also visited Tottenham Park in 1784 and 1789. Once I had come across one instance of public thanksgiving for the recovery of George III I was curious to see if there were more and found some fascinating instances of celebration.

On the 26th February 1789 the King's physicians issued a bulletin announcing his recovery from his "malady." With the benefit of modern diagnosis we now know this to be porphyria, from which George III did not truly recover, but at the time his apparent restoration to health was a cause of great rejoicing, especially amongst the conservative political faction. It was decided that public thanksgiving should focus on St George's Day, 23rd April 1789. On that night the Bank of England and the surrounding buildings were lit up with 12 000 lamps. There were "transparencies" - paintings lit from behind - including a triumphant Britannia in her chariot.

There was also a host of celebratory fetes and balls and a brisk trade in commemorative items. A particularly popular item was "restoration gloves." The Spanish Ambassador commissioned a special dinner service from the famous Sèvres porcelain works in France to mark the occasion. The service is decorated with delicate gilded and enamelled borders, profile portraits of George III and the crowned letter 'G' encircled by a laurel wreath. Most pieces are inscribed with one of a number of different mottos written in a mixture of English, French, Spanish and Latin. The inscriptions include "Huzzah the King is Well", "Bless the King, The Patron of Arts", "God Save the King" and "The Best of Husbands". A few spelling mistakes or language mix-ups, such as The Exemple of Virtue and The Best of Fraters [sic], may be the result of hasty workmanship to meet the deadline for the gala that the Spanish had planned. Two thousand invitations were issued to the gala, which was held in the Rotunda of the Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea, and reputedly cost £12,000. The entertainment involved a display of dancing by Spanish children, a fire-works extravaganza, moving transparencies, a lottery with 600 prizes and supper served in oriental-style tents. Queen Charlotte, accompanied by her daughters, was the principal guest, and the Sèvres service was used at her table. The tea and coffee sets from the service, now in the Royal Collection, are thought to have been presented to Queen Charlotte the day after the festivities.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

When is a Regency not a Regency?

I must be feeling a little bored today, because I fear this may open a can of worms, but I am going to post it anyway!

My author copies of the large print edition of Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife arrived recently, prior to its publication in August, and looking at the cover gave me pause.

As a writer of historical romantic fiction, I pride myself on getting my history right, yet here I am with a book set in 1783, and the cover boldly carries the banner "Regency". I know that those who argue for total historical accuracy will be appalled, and to them I apologise, but this is business and one has to be pragmatic. (The illustration is not entirely accurate either, but one thing at a time).

George became Regent in 1811 and King in 1820 so technically, the Regency lasted only nine years, but readers will be aware that there are plenty of "Regency" romances that cover a much wider time-scale. The term Regency has become something of a brand, and when readers pick up a Regency Romance they know that what they will find between the covers is a story that is set somewhere between 1750 and the 1830's.

There is an argument for allowing the term "Regency" to span the period from 1795 until 1837 because this was a transition period between the Georgian and Victorian eras. Or perhaps we could stick with the term "Georgian" to cover the whole period, but then what do we do about poor William who came to the throne in 1830? So we could call it the Hanoverian period, but the differences in culture between the early eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are vast.

Maybe the period should be called The Long Regency, the way historians refer to the Long Eighteenth Century, which can run from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until the Battle of Waterloo.

My head hurts just thinking about all the possibilities.

Does it matter? I am undecided. Part of me would like to be accurate, but this is the entertainment business and as long as the public does not feel it is being misled, should I care?

What do you think? (But please, be nice - no blood-letting!)

Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond