I have some concerns about rather boldly naming my latest book Sense and Sensuality as some may view the title as a crass effort to trade on Jane Austen’s laurels. However, I hope that when they read the book, they will see that it genuinely reflects the nature of the main characters in the story, in a way somewhat similar to that of the characters in Austen’s classic.
Sense and Sensibility deals with two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, who represent common ‘sense’, dedication to family and duty, and excessive ‘sensibility’ which we might refer to today as impulsiveness, romanticism, and overly emotional behavior. Each sister has relationships that are affected by the society she lives in and her own personality that resolve in different ways due to the characters of the men with whom they interact. Elinor and her undeclared love allow their sense of duty and societal conventions to overrule their feelings, while Marianne’s emotional turbulence leads her far astray.
In Sense and Sensuality, ‘sense’ is represented by Caroline, the calm, steady, full of common sense Countess of Eskmaine, who helped save the marriage of her brother Adam, the Duke of Gravesmere and his bride, Allegra, in my previous book, A Duchess Enraged. ‘Sensuality’ is represented by the hero, Tristan, who appeared in the previous novel as the rake Lord Gresham, and sought to ruin their marriage to avenge a slight he believed that Adam had done him.
In my story, as in Austen’s, Caroline’s devotion to duty and good sense threatens to make her old before her time and limit her emotional life. Her entire family depends on her to be the one to help out whenever needed, without any expectation of support herself. Tristan perhaps most closely resembles Willoughby, the thoughtless trifler who leaves Marianne heartbroken in the Austen novel.
Sense and Sensuality, like Sense and Sensibility, strives to show how people can change each other’s lives for the better, when as a couple, they create balance between these characteristics. It also uses the sexual relationship between Caroline and Tristan to foster the development of a deeper connection between them, leaving both characters changed. This is where there is a real break from Austen, who only obliquely referred to such matters, as for example, in Mansfield Park. However, her private correspondence reveals more direct and waspish commentary on the sexual mores of her time, as in a letter to her sister in which she mentioned that “Mrs. Powlett was at once expensively and nakedly dressed.”
It is important to me, as I’ve mentioned previously, that sex in my novels plays a role in a real relationship, rather than being merely an attempt to provide a titillating interlude for the reader (although let it be said that the goal is for the reader to find it hot, not boring). As I try to make clear, Caroline and Gresham’s liaison is not particularly shocking according to the social rules of their day; few 18th century marriages were contracted for love, and often, once the “heir and a spare” were produced, even married couples went their separate ways. A widow might take some pleasure discreetly without expecting significant social criticism. While both Caroline and Gresham undertake their affair for very different reasons, and with no expectation of anything more than an enjoyable dalliance, they find themselves falling in love, and transforming their empty lives into a fuller future.
They are a pair with much in common besides wealth and good breeding. Both are intelligent, acute but amused observers of the social scene, and are private about their inner lives. This has made Caroline a good mother, sister, daughter and wife. She is a capable manager of her own life, and the one that her relatives and friends seek out when theirs are in disarray. But her emotional life is nonexistent, and she feels the lack of it.
Tristan has gone in the opposite direction, one available only to a man, by becoming a rake and troublemaker. He indulges his every whim, whether it is for a beautiful woman or for a new coat, and causes mischief solely for the sake of alleviating his boredom. He understands the shallowness of the society around him, but has never bothered to question his own actions. It is only when his relationship with Caroline ventures past the physical to the emotional that he understands what he may have been missing.
In Sense and Sensibility, both Marianne and Elinor manage to find happiness, but also discover that they have to change in order for this to happen. Like them, Tristan and Caroline, the lovers in Sense and Sensuality, realize that a change in their rigid outlook, and the associated patterns of behavior, can lead to a fuller life.
This is a rather dry discussion of an author’s thoughts about the title of her book, so in closing, I want to add that Caroline and Tristan are definitely some of my favorites among the characters. Finding a path to happiness for them, and the story of how they travel it, has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope that my readers enjoy it as well.