Guest: Isobel Carr on Research and Writing

Hi friends! We’ve got author Isobel Carr sharing with us today. I kinda had a lot for her to address (too much), so then told her to ignore me and write what she wanted to. 😀 (I’m kinda stuck on the “marriageable age” for heroines in historicals. Everyone ” ” says they have to be so young and once they’re 21 they’re “so far on the shelf” but apparently that’s not true – and it’s what spawned this post, one of those conversations with Isobel.

Paranormal authors have to create their worlds from whole cloth. This can be incredibly challenging, but not, in my opinion, as challenging as creating a believable historical world. No one (sane) can come back at you with “facts” countering the supernatural rules of lycanthropy as imagined by you, but if you screw up a title, primogeniture, or some other factual aspect of history, you’re going to get crucified. Harder than solid facts, is getting the “feel” of the period right, especially as each author has an individual vision of that period, created by everything from their favorite novels, mini-series, and the research books they’ve chosen.

I’m an avowed research wonk. This means I have a lot of rather dry non-fiction on my shelves, and that I read—and re-read—a lot of my books. I want to absorb the nuances and ideas they contain so I can synthesize them into my understanding of the period in which I set my books.

I’m drawn to the naughtier, raunchier, wilder people I stumble across in my re-search (as anyone who’s read my books knows, LOL!). So my favorite biographies are books like The Lady in Red (about a great heiress who became an infamous divorcee), Courtesans (featuring the likes of Sophia Baddeley and Elizabeth Armistead), My Lady Scandalous (about a socialite turned royal mistress and eventually spy). But what this means is that *my* vision of late 18th century England might not conform with that of someone who’s main influences are Austen and Heyer and Our Tempestuous Day.

My shelves are also filled with texts like The Family, Sex, and Marriage (fabulous information about everything from the age of marriage among the upper class to general attitudes of sex and behavior),  Alienated Affections (divorce and separation in Scotland), and The Rise of the Egalitarian Family (which contains a study of the development of marrying for love as an ideal).

I know that many of us *believe* that during the late Georgian period women married when the word “girls” still applied and that by twenty-two said woman was “on the shelf”. But the data outlined by Stone in The Family, Sex, and Marriage doesn’t support that. Stone says this: “Daughters married on average at about twenty in the late sixteenth century, rising to about twenty-two to twenty-three in the seventieth and eighteenth.” So if they were making their debuts somewhere between seventeen and nineteen, they weren’t expected to marry in their first (or even their second) season. Stone further states that the date shows that close to twenty-five percent of daughters of the upper class never married (compared to about fifteen percent of sons).

Given these numbers, especially coupled with the high mortality rate of pregnancy, women must have been remarrying in fairly high numbers as around 15% of men were married more than once [thus making up for their bachelor brothers]). I find this especially interesting given the social pressures on both sexes not to remarry (as detailed in The Rise of the Egalitarian Family). Trumbach gives several reasons for this pressure, chief among them concerns about preserving the inheritance rights of the children of the first marriage. But even in cases where the marriage had produced no children, widows were often discouraged from remarrying due to families (both hers and her deceased husband’s) feeling that by doing so she was alienating her natural heirs (who they generally believed to be either her or his immediate relations).

How does this all play into my world building? Well, it helps me come up with plots that I hope are original and surprising, but still historically plausible (even if reviewers don’t always agree!). My upcoming book, Ripe for Seduction, was sparked by the story of Lady Mary Coke and Lord March. March as a young man couldn’t seem to stop himself from making indecent proposals to every pretty girl who crossed his path. When Lady Mary returned to town as a widow, he made one to her. Furious, she determined to teach him a lesson. She promptly presented herself to his parents as his betrothed, knowing full well the only people whose good opinion March cared about were his parents. March did eventually manage to secure his freedom … my hero of course will figure out that freedom is the last thing he wants.

I went by title and linked what I thought they were, so my apologies to Isobel if they’re wrong! I’m curious as to what you thought though. I find this fascinating, and accuracy/realism does affect my reading enjoyment!

0 thoughts on “Guest: Isobel Carr on Research and Writing

  1. JenniferK

    What a great article! I have always been interested in your books especially since Delilah Marvelle mentioned your name a time or two, so I will definitely pick this one up.

  2. mezzak

    I second the recm for Family, Sex and Marriage. It always intrigues me how much we assume we know about the past. One of the things that has always troubled my acceptance of an historical’s HEA is maternal death in child birth. I remember walking through a Tasmanian cemetary and seeing gravestones for women who died in the early 1800s who were aged in their late 20s and early 30s. There were so many of them.

  3. Robin Delany

    That’s such a fun story about Mary Coke. My favorite bits of history are those little stories you find in newspapers and books that are too fabulous for words, like the billiard ball duel. You must have had fun exploring the idea, and I’m sure I’ll have fun reading it.

  4. Cindy vonHentschel

    I like your descriptions on research and history, and I agree with you. I like your books, and can’t wait to read Ripe for Seduction. I like when the “gentlemen” gets his comeupance. 🙂

  5. anna cowan

    I have to admit that ever since we started conversing on twitter I’ve got this little Isobel Carr-like voice in my head questioning all my costume choices! I’ve just spent the past hour watching YouTube videos of women dressing in 18th Century dress, so now all the petticoat/hoop tapes in my book are tied on the OUTSIDE of the stays. I find research pretty daunting, because once you start, where do you stop? But it’s a massive help having other interesting people on the internet who love it.

    Oh, and Lady Mary? I think I would like to be her when I grow up.

  6. Louisa

    Great post, Isobel, as usual. And for those who have not read Isobel’s books you are missing a treat! witty, sensual and truly romantic! I definitely need to add The Family, Sex and Marriage to my research library.

  7. JoAnne

    I like books that are historically plausible as well. I like regency romances as well as those set in the west.
    Nice posting. I look forward to reading these. Thanks for sharing.
    jbcweiss AT sbcglobal DOT net

  8. Amy Pfaff

    I’ve always been awed by your knowledge of the period and hope someday to know 1/4th of what you do. Your books show your knowledge effortlessly and it’s part of what makes them such good reads.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m off to find a couple of those books you mentioned.



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