I’m delighted when my readers care enough about the characters in my stories to share their opinions of them. I’ve noticed that a number of you feel that Adam, the Duke of Gravesmere, in “A Most Unusual Situation/A Duchess Enraged” is not good enough for lovely and charming Allegra. There have been comments along the lines of “Why did she take him back?” and recommendations that she leave him. I’m now about to publish my second book. The title of the Traditional version is “The Secret Bluestocking,” and I have yet to settle on a title for the Naughty version, so your suggestions are welcome! In it, the heroine, Isobel refuses her charming, handsome and eligible suitor Francis, not once, but several times. I expect that readers may wonder why he doesn’t just give up on her.
Well, of course, the HEA demands that neither pair of lovers throw in the towel. But in addition, a historical romance needs to take into at least some account, the attitudes of the time it is set in towards marriage. Allegra and Adam are creatures of the 18th century. Their marriage was arranged by their fathers, and implemented without the consent of either, with the ceremony being their first meeting. This is based on actual events, and just as these circumstances are unthinkable today, in Allegra’s time, her need to resolve her difficulties with Adam would have been much higher than we can easily conceive of in our era. Thus we see her learning to love her somewhat immature husband. When they return in Caroline’s book, I expect we’ll find that her confidence in his potential was justified.
Even though “The Secret Bluestocking” is set only about 30-40 years later, Francis and Isobel live in a time in which significant change has occurred in societal views of marriage. While still largely a business transaction in the upper classes, the importance of at least affection and mutual respect was more regarded. This is evident in Jane Austen’s novels; think of Charlotte Lucas who marries the unappealing Mr. Collins to avoid poverty. Austen does not really approve of this choice, rather than holding out for something better as Lizzie Bennett does. Romantic love was still regarded with substantial suspicion, but was much written of in the popular fiction and poetry of the day. Since attitudes had changed a great deal by then, and Isobel Paley is independently wealthy, she has considerable ability to choose her own path.
In addition, a revolutionary fervor had swept not just the New World, but was also impacting the Old one at this time. The French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man had Tories in England worried about the stability of the political order. Mary Wollstonecraft had written her wonderful book about women’s rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
A fairly strong undercurrent of “free thinking” was going on, which included a healthy dose of sexual liberation. This, combined with a fairly general upper class view that once an heir and a spare had been delivered the partners could (discreetly) go their own ways, fostered a climate of greater sexual freedom. Isobel’s Naughty story, in particular, is animated by some of these considerations.
The Secret Bluestocking is the first novel I wrote; the traditional version was originally a straightforward effort to write a somewhat modernized Georgette Heyer style tale. There is a lot of dancing, and discussion of dancing in this book, which I will use to draw an analogy about Isobel’s story in comparison to Allegra’s and to the tale of my next heroine, Rowena. I think of Allegra as a waltz, Isobel as a minuet, and Rowena as a lively country dance or reel!