Part of the romance of the English Regency lies in the elegant manners. People of the era seem more civil than we do today — at first glance, anyway. But in Jane Austen’s books you find aristocratic characters flinging insults at their less-privileged counterparts. We know from Georgette Heyer that if a debutante dances more than twice with the same guy in one night, she’s throwing herself at him (in the view of the ton) — and if she dances the waltz before getting permission from society leaders, well then she’s a strumpet.
It turns out that real fun comes in smashing up the formalities of the Regency. When Lizzie Bennet takes down Lady Catherine DeBourgh near the end of Pride and Prejudice, it’s one of the most satisfying moments in the book. (“I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.” Strong stuff!)
One way I’ve had fun pushing back at the social restrictions of the Regency in my romance novels is through gender-role reversal. In For the Love of Lila, Lila Covington has received a male’s education but not a male’s privileged place in London society. She rebels, deciding to move in with a “freethinking” (female) cousin in Paris. When she gets involved with Tristan Wyndam, a barrister with an eye on a political career, he is more concerned with his reputation than she is with hers. (Good luck with that, Tristan!) Read a more detailed description and sample chapters on this page.
My time-travel, As You Wish, explores what happens when a modern American woman mixes it up with a guy from Regency England. David Traymore is used to society’s restrictions, but, as the illegitimate son of a marquess, he’s often gotten the short end of the stick. Leah Cantrell has had some rough patches, but as far as she’s concerned, the world is their oyster. For the book blurb and sample chapters, please click here.
While big-name museums tend to house the most famous works — and, usually, they’re famous for good reason — I love the lesser-known places for the up-close access you get. Sure, it was fabulous seeing artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb when the tour came to the Franklin Institute, but you can see comparable finds in just as good condition at The Oriental Institute in Chicago, where you can stare as long as you want, or even take a picture (as you can see).
On one of our pilgrimages to places connected to people we admire, Hubby and I trekked to the Bournemouth area in southern England to visit Mary Shelley’s grave and a minor museum called The Shelley Rooms. It was one of those places where you walk in, you have the place practically to yourself, and an old guy who’s holding down the fort comes over and talks to you fondly about his favorite topic. (At this point, I always wish my grandfather had done that kind of thing.)
The Shelley Rooms, once the home of the Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s son, housed a small collection of memorabilia, once belonging to a friend of the family. The item I remember most vividly is a generous lock of the poet’s hair, taken when his flowing childhood locks were cropped for good. Talk about a personal effect! Considering that he was cremated, this is about as close to the man (physically) as you can get.
The experience was moving — more moving than seeing Mary’s grave, and I’m generally more an admirer of hers than his. (In fact, Mary makes a short appearance in my book For the Love of Lila, advising the heroine not to forsake love for liberation.)
From what little I can glean on the Web, The Shelley Rooms have been sold and are now part of a doctor’s office. (“Despair!”) So for an alternative Shelley experience, check out Vincent Price’s reading of his poem “Ozymandias” here.
A good friend of mine quit her job last week and is renting an apartment in a French city for the whole month of July. In the mornings, she’ll take language lessons. Afternoons, she’ll sit around in a cafe writing fiction. C’est si bon!
It’s just a coincidence that the lead character in my historical romance, For the Love of Lila, travels to France in pursuit of a freer lifestyle, while planning to support herself by writing and translating. And not surprising, really, because Paris has long been a magnet for creative types. Europe is so beautiful and culturally rich — a magic place.
In my college days, I dreamed of doing a grand tour — maybe a couple of months traveling around the Continent. Now I think I’d prefer a more modest itinerary. Since Italy is my current object of obsession, maybe a week outside of Naples, a week outside of Rome, one near Venice or Florence, maybe one in Sicily.
My friend’s plan seems perfect for her, though. I hope she gets everything she wants from it. And I hope I can pull off something similar. The question is when. Better get around to it soon.
Sometimes an idea for a single scene can grow into a whole book. That was definitely the case with For the Love of Lila, where the big scene, for me at least, is the parlor game that pretty much dissolves into an orgy.
In The Artful Miss Irvine, there’s a stand-out scene where the heroine is on a balcony at night reciting Shakespeare, and the hero walks up and responds with the next lines. (Oh, how I love characters that deftly quote the classics — or speak other languages with ease. Of course, they have me, the writer, to look things up on their behalf.)
In Lord St. Leger’s Find, my favorite scene is the visit to the Egyptian-tomb exhibit. It’s dark and moody, people are getting jostled around, women are pretending to be scared … it’s just enough chaos to crack open the reserve between the main characters.
I also have a fave scene I’ve written that has no story surrounding it (yet?). It emerged from an idea for a story, but the plot felt too complicated, and I didn’t really like where it was going. The scene takes place in a Babylonian temple in ancient times and also involves moody chaos. Maybe a story will evolve around it. I hope so.
Some of my fave scenes in other people’s books? In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout meets Boo Radley. In Pride And Prejudice, when Elizabeth’s father talks to her about Mr. Darcy asking for “her hand.” In Catch-22, when we find out what happened with Snowden on the plane. One thing I loved about the TV series “Lost” is that the writers often took a classic scene like the one in Catch-22 and inserted the theme into an episode. If only they’d done that with the series finale.
Originally, For the Love of Lila was titled The Liberation of Lila with a nod to feminism. When Leisure Books agreed to publish it, they wanted to change the title. I agreed because I liked the new title they suggested, and I could also see some people getting a heavy, unpalatable vibe from the word “liberation.”
An early, personal form of feminism is a strong theme in the story, though. In 19th-century England, Lila has been raised by an unconventional father who gave her a male’s education. When he dies, she’s shocked to learn that his will keeps her inheritance from her until she marries or turns 25. (She’s a little younger than that when the book begins.)
As we all know from Jane Austen, genteel women in Regency England had two basic economic choices: marry or become a servant — a governess, if they were lucky. But Lila plans to live independently, supplementing her inheritance (when she gets it) by writing and doing translations. Because marriage at the time meant a woman lost control of her money — and life — to her husband, she has vowed never to marry.
Does that mean she has to give up on love? Well, it’s a romance, so probably not! You can read the first couple of chapters of Lila’s story here. (Scroll down to the reader and click the right-hand arrow to “turn the page.”)