You guys!!! Today we have awesome authors Isobel Carr and Miranda Neville visiting with us! Both of them write historical romances, and they’re awesome, and a lot of fun. Isobel has been here before, but Miranda is a first time guest!
If you’ve ever wanted to know a little bit more about the genre, or get some background, today might provide some insight. I hope you enjoy!
Miranda Neville: It’s always a pleasure to chat with Isobel. We’ve shared many a good discussion about the historical basis for our books. Today I’ve been thinking about how historical reality sometimes clashes with reader ideas of acceptable behavior.
For example, Caro, the heroine of The Importance of Being Wicked, is not good with money. She’s the period equivalent of the girl who gets herself in a hole with her credit cards. She’s trying to dig her way out, but it’s not easy. Some readers have found this troubling, especially since many of the people Caro owes money to are merchants. Not Citibank or Capital One, but ordinary people trying to make a living. Caro’s attitude to money is typical of the upper classes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They spent money like water, regardless of cash flow, and ran up staggering debts. The records are full of unpaid bills for clothing, household expenses, even those socking great houses. (Read about how hard it was for Vanbrugh to get paid for the work at Blenheim Palace.) Of course you had to have means – or expectations – to be allowed credit. I strongly suspect that London merchants catering to the haut ton jacked up their prices like crazy, figuring those who settled their bills would cover the losses on the non-payers (kind of like modern American hospitals!)
Isobel Carr: Modern expectations and mores can be tricky when you’re writing historical characters. Since I mostly choose to write about the wilder aspects of the ton (like the Devonshire House set and the New Female Coterie) the behavior of my characters–while perfectly period–doesn’t always hit the right note with people who cut their historical teeth on Georgette Heyer or sweeter Regencies where a kiss meant marriage (I happen to think those mores are more late Victorian/Edwardian anyway, but that’s me).
I also find the gaming aspect of the English culture fascinating. The betting book at White’s is filled with some amazing and odd bets. Everything from when a hurried marriage would produce an heir or which rain drop would reach the bottom of the pane first! Roland, the hero of Ripe for Seduction, is the jokester of his circle, and true to their time and culture, they all love a good bet (the bet that sets the ball rolling was inspired by a book called Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawk [no, not the skater] that I highly recommend). And once the bet has been made, withdrawing would be as bad as failing to pay a debt of honor.
Miranda Neville: The huge sums that changed hands boggle the mind and make five dollar slots look like chicken feed. The fact that a man would leave his family penniless out of some notion of honor is something this twenty-first-century reader finds hard to take. I don’t think it’s an accident that usually a pusillanimous relative (Caro’s first husband in The Importance of Being Wicked) loses the family fortune. Writing a hero like that would be tough. That said, the inciting incident of the third book in my Wild Quartet series is a youthful gaming loss.
Still, I believe the concept of honor, duty to a higher calling than self-interest, is one of the great appeals of historical romance. The reform of a bad boy hero requires an acceptance of an honorable life as well as the love of the heroine.
Isobel Carr: I can easily see the reform of a gambler working too though. He’d really have something to repent of, and he’d have the added battle of what could well be an addiction (and the additional struggle to resist the pull of the social order, where gambling was very, very common). A drunken, youthful folly or way of life that go out of control would be great back story.
That was sort of what I was playing with in Ripe for Seduction. A bet that gets out of hand. The original idea for the bet itself was a real life indecent proposal that a young and dissolute peer made to a starchy widow. She was the daughter of a duke, and had made a very bad marriage. There was abandonment, imprisonment, refusal of marital rights, and eventually litigation and legal separation. After her husband died young and unlamented (at least by her), a noted rake had the temerity to send her a missive suggesting she become his mistress. Furious, the young widow went directly to his parents and announced herself as their future daughter-in-law, daring the offending young man to contradict her and thus force her to show his parents the letter he’d sent her. She eventually relented and broke off the engagement, but I always loved that she routed him so thoroughly and so effectively, and it was such a delicious set-up for a novel.
I had a great deal of fun writing a happy ending for that sad widow (who didn’t get much of one in real life) and for the abused bigamous wife from my last novel (I couldn’t leave poor Lady Olivia without an HEA, believe me, I got letters!). I love taking real stories and spinning them out into happy endings. It’s like resetting the world for good.
Miranda Neville: I haven’t had a chance to read Ripe for Seduction (I’m writing this on release day) and now I cannot wait. I’m thrilled to know that it was based on a true life incident. One of the side benefits of aimless historical research is finding inspiration. Actual events often fall into “you can’t make this stuff up” territory. I felt that way when I read the 1796 dirty book that I quoted from, verbatim, in The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (which, p.s. – the kindle edition is only 99¢!). I mean seriously, do you think I imagined a phrase like “deluge of spermy rapture?” Yet I think it came as a real surprise to some readers when they discovered in my author’s note that I’d been quoting from an eighteenth-century book.
Another area in which we have to adapt to modern sensibilities is social attitudes towards ordinary people. These aristocrats we love treated servants and social “inferiors” in ways we would find totally unacceptable. By the standards of 1800, everyone’s a liberal these days. I wrote a hero who owned a coal mine and to show his progressive views I had him voluntarily stop employing children under the age of nine. It was the best I could do as a compromise between historical accuracy and twenty-first-century decency. The awful thing is, the parents of those kids probably missed the money.
Isobel Carr: Don’t get me started on the “maid as the heroine’s BFF” thing. It makes me stabby! Servants were often little more than furniture, or something to brag about if you had say the fastest footman (yes, they ran races like horses, sometimes naked, even in the parks in London; imagine your heroine encountering that!). And unlike our ideal of the old family retainer, most servants moved about quite freely and no woman who wanted to keep anything secret from her husband would trust her maid (firstly, the maid knew who paid her, and secondly, they were very often the main witness called in crim con trials).
The whole idea of privacy as we know it was absent as well. People didn’t live alone. They often didn’t sleep alone! It was not considered strange to bunk two male or female guests together during a house party and have them share a bed.
Miranda Neville: That could put a damper on some of those secret trysts – though handy if one writes menage.
Isobel Carr: Overall, the late Georgian/Regency period is both close enough to feel familiar and remote enough to be utterly alien depending on how you come at it. My motto is “the magic is in the improbable but possible” and I aim to make the people I write about both true to their period and accessible to a modern reader. In the end, people are people, then and now, with the same desires, drives, worries, and needs. Getting to play with history on top of all that is just an additional bit of fun.
Miranda Neville: Well said, Isobel. Now let’s ask our readers if there are any common historical tropes that bug them – either because they seem too modern, or too weird for the contemporary stomach. There are no wrong answers – only an enjoyable discussion. We’ll each pick a random commenters to win a copy of our latest books, The Importance of Being Wicked and Ripe for Seduction.
I’m really curious about what tropes have caught your attention as well. Or, if you have any questions about the genre, facts, general life, etc. I mean, hey, if we’ve got Isobel and Miranda, who are founts of knowledge, why not pump them for information? ;D And to add some incentive… these are the books up for grabs:
The rules of society don’t apply to Caro and her coterie of bold men and daring women. But when passions flare, even the strongest will surrender to the law of love . . .
Thomas, Duke of Castleton, has every intention of wedding a prim and proper heiress. That is, until he sets eyes on the heiress’s cousin, easily the least proper woman he’s ever met. His devotion to family duty is no defense against the red-headed vixen whose greatest asset seems to be a talent for trouble . . .
Caroline Townsend has no patience for the oh-so-suitable (and boring) men of the ton. So when the handsome but stuffy duke arrives at her doorstep, she decides to put him to the test. But her scandalous exploits awaken a desire in Thomas he never knew he had. Suddenly Caro finds herself falling for this most proper duke…while Thomas discovers there’s a great deal of fun in a little bit of wickedness.
The League of Second Sons
A secret society of younger sons, sworn to aid and abet each other, no matter the scandal or cost . . .
After the scandalous demise of her marriage, Lady Olivia Carlow knows the rakes of the ton will think her fair game. So when a letter arrives bearing an indecent offer from the incorrigible Roland Devere, she seizes the opportunity. Turning the tables on the notorious rogue, she blackmails him into playing her betrothed for the season. But no matter how broad his shoulders or chiseled his features, she will never fall prey to his suave charm.
When Roland boasted he’d be the first into Lady Olivia’s bed, he couldn’t have imagined that behind those brilliant blue eyes lurked a vixen with a scheme of her own. Still, Roland is not about to abandon his original wager. If anything, learning that the lovely Olivia is as bold as she is beautiful makes him more determined to seduce her into never saying “never” again.
So spill. What tropes bother you? Or what might you want to know more about in historical romances? Questions and answers welcome here!