Jane Austen

Guest Kate Dolan

Our guest today is Kate Dolan who writes traditional Regency romances for Blush (formerly Cerridwen) Cotillion as well as a variety of other totally unrelated books and articles. Her third Regency, Deceptive Behavior, comes out today in ebook format. And she shares her home with both dogs and a rabbit. That’s her version, so I’ll add that she’s a brilliant and productive writer, a very well-informed historian, and a good friend and critique partner. The thing I love about Kate’s books is that she includes some very risky topics and that makes her a natural here.

So naturally she’s chosen a very non-PC topic. And, oh yes, she’s offering a free download of Deceptive Behavior or one of her print backlist to one lucky person.

For the third book in my “Love and Lunacy” series, I wanted a hero who was a bit different. The challenge was to devise characteristics that would make him seem odd and even unmanly to those in Regency society, but still masculine and appealing to modern readers. He needed to be athletic, but without engaging in the traditional exercise of gentleman, such as hunting and fencing.

I made him a fast runner, but Regency gentlemen did not compete in track meets, so I needed a reason for him to run – and chasing after the heroine didn’t count.

Then I remembered a sport introduced to my husband by one of his colleagues: beagling.

Definitely doesn’t sound very masculine, does it? The sport is very similar to fox hunting, but the quarry is a hare and it is usually chased on foot. So by making my hero a beagler, I gave him an opportunity to become a good runner.

Modern hunts tend to proceed rather slowly with the field walking along behind the beagles, but sources indicate that it used to be a running sport. The Trinity Foot Beagles, a history of a Cambridge club written in 1912, is full of cartoons of men running and the theme song of the group includes a verse that says “It’s the deuce of a run, And I’m pretty well done…It’s lucky by gad, For I think every lad, Has pretty well used up his breath.”

Beagling is now outlawed in the U.K. as a blood sport, but it still has aficionados in the U.S. While clubs such as the Roscommon Hounds proclaim that it “is a dark day if anything is ever killed” during a chase, that too was obviously not true in the past. The lines I deleted from the quote from the Trinity Foot Beagles song talk about the quarry being near its death, and later lines describe the hounds “breaking up” the “pussy,” which was apparently the term of affection for the rabbit that was chased and ripped to shreds.

While “pussy’s death knell” might have a place in some romance stories, it really didn’t fit a traditional Regency, so I was fortunate that in my story I never had to depict an actual outing. My hero did chase a rabbit for a few hundred yards, but then the rabbit stopped so there wasn’t much challenge after that. (Rabbits in my yard do this all the time. They run away frantically and then just stop in the middle of the yard, somehow thinking my dogs and I can no longer see them.)

The Trinity Beagles history describes a “most rotten joyless day” of chasing a hare through turnip patches in the November drizzle, losing the quarry twice and finally giving up after at least 45 minutes of running. “And yet,” the author notes philosophically, “where there is no disappointment, there is no sport. Good days are those which exceed expectation, or they would not be good; and the red letters of the good days would not stand out in bold relief were there not the deep black shadows of the rotten, joyless ones.”

This is of course true for more than just beagling, or any other sport—it applies to everything.
So I wish you many red letter days, but remember that there is an important purpose served by the “rotten, joyless days” as well.

Please weigh in on the advantages or disadvantages of having characters who engage in pursuits now no longer socially acceptable (and we don’t mean with each other), and how do you think this is best handled when writing about such a bloodthirsty age? Or, tell us your favorite dog or rabbit stories. We’ll pick a winner tomorrow!

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Janet Mullany
11 years ago

It’s always bothered me that the pursuits of Regency gents tend to be bloodthirsty and violent, but that was the age and all that testosterone knocking about.

Rabbits make great pets, I think. I used to have one called Mr Buns who was the sweetest and most docile creature and who would hop around the front yard eating things while I worked in the garden. Then we had Dawson the hysteric, who was much more of a real rabbit.

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

So funny! I have beagling mentioned as an option for my hero’s entertainment in my next book, LOL! And I’ve absolutely shown my characters hunting and shooting. Never once got a review or email complaining about the death of birds or hares or foxes (and I did expect to).

Eliza Knight
11 years ago

Excellent post ladies!

I had not heard of beagling. I love that you wanted your hero to be different, and brought up an activity that is not well known.

It has never bothered me using blood sports in my historical books, because that is how it was at the time–and I don’t mind reading about it either. Although, I do like to give my characters a modern perspective, such as in a medieval I’m working on the heroine was very disturbed by the excitement of the crowd during a bear-baiting display.

Thanks for sharing!!

11 years ago

Hi, Kate,

Interesting post. I’d never heard of Beagling. You do find interesting tidbits!

All the best with your latest book,

Laura (Davies Tilley)

Kate Dolan
11 years ago

Hey Isobel, maybe we can start a trend… or maybe not. Besides the whole “killing an innocent little creature” aspect, there’s the problem that it just sounds kind of lame. Like Charlie Brown following Snoopy to the baseball field on a hot day. But it was fun to learn about!

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

It’s kind of awesome IMO. I think I’ll do a freebee beagling epilogue for my upcoming book RIPE FOR SCANDAL. It might be fun to show my couple out enjoying their new estate.

@ElizaKnight: I’m not really sure that compassion for animals is out of the question or too modern for our characters. If you look at how people felt about the Tower menagerie, you’ll often find comments that are quite compassionate and modern in their sensibilities. I have a dog fancier magazine from 1819 that is quite emphatic against the horrors of baiting and dog fighting.

Artie Mesia
11 years ago

I think that in a past life my dog, Shabb, (a combination Blue Heeler/Shar Pei) was a Regency gentlemen. I say this because he likes blood sports…A LOT. The other day while he was outside doing his business he ran away and returned with a dead bunny in his mouth. I made him drop it and took it away. He kept coming outside looking for where he left it for days. I, apparently feeling bad for animals involved in blood sports normally, took the dead bunny to my uncle’s 300 acres and left it near a den full of baby foxes. Oh the irony that I now see in this act since I now know about Beagling.

I enjoy reading books where I learn new tidbits of information to store in my vast quantities of useless information. While reading traditional Regencies I always loved the comment “In my salad days.” I really wanted to bring it back into use and thought the Regency so clever for this saying, but recently while reading some Shakespeare I found out the phrase at actually come from Antony and Cleopatra. Who knew?

Looking forward to reading your books, Kate.

PS You should see Shabb fight a groundhog. He normally wins, but not without some scraps and scars. Groundhogs are mean and I’m from PA where we apparently love groundhogs. I do not encourage his blood-thirstiness, but have you ever tried to pull a dog away from an angry groundhog? No? I don’t recommend it if you are fond of your fingers and hands.

11 years ago

I have a pet rabbit that was abandoned in one of the state parks. I was out riding horses with a couple friends when we found a box with 3 floppy eared bunnies hopping around inside. So we each took one home and when my DH saw what I had “discovered “on my ride he says, “well there goes more money bunny”. So I named her Money and now she lives right along side my 3 bulldogs and has everyone in our home trained very well.

11 years ago

Hi Kate,

I really like the idea of hero as a beagler, and having never heard of a beagling before I learned something new today. I am all for unconventional heroes, even those who test the boundary of what is acceptable. They are what gives stories life, by personalizing it and that appeals to me. I have no qualms about a hero who engage in pursuits society might deemed unacceptable so long as it suits the story. If it’s a trait that’s put there for the sake for being unique it might not be a good idea because it won’t make sense to me. However, if it’s added in, perhaps give it purpose so the reader see the logic behind it. Great post!

11 years ago

I enjoy reading about pursuits that are no longer considered “acceptable”. I learn something new every day. Here in the low country of SC, some Hunt Clubs still have days where they let the dogs lose on the deer. It is a very popular day and has a very long waiting list. Some sort of blood sport will always remain. Just take a look at the popularity of UFC.

11 years ago

Well, I wouldn’t care to read about cockfighting but understand that was popular. Falconry would be interesting. Or pigeon fanciers/racers. 🙂 How’s that for a little odd. I suppose that in Regency England it might be a little hard to be a mountaineer, but maybe a rock/cliff climber. Or a spelunker? Passion for draft horse pulls (the regency equiv of tractor pulls!)? Yacht racing? Distance walkers (they were around competing with each other)? This is kinda fun brainstorming.

I didn’t know that Beagling was an event and that it was on foot.

This sounds interesting. Is this part of a series? I’ll have to check it out.

Diane M. Wylie
11 years ago

What an interesting activity for your hero, Kate. I love it! Very original. I admire anyone who tackles writing a Regency with all the rules of the day. Your book sounds amazing.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Welcome to the Riskies, Kate!

And count me in as one who learned something new today. Beagling.
Very creative!

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

, William and Dorothy Wordsworth went on marathon walks in the Lake District. Not quite rockclimbing, but certainly very strenuous hikes followed by poetry.

11 years ago

I don’t have a dog or rabbit story. Can I share a chicken story? (Really!)

My sister keeps hens for eggs and everytime she buys new hens it’s “choose the chook name” time. My bro-in-law was pitching for Helen Cluck; this was when Ms Helen Clark was the PM of New Zealand. My sis thought it was so not a good idea cos “what would the neighbours think should they hear us say “it’s time we butchered Helen Cluck” ?!” Of course now it’s even worst with Ms Clark holding the 3rd highest UN position.

Well I thought bro-in-law was most ingenious.

Georgie Lee
11 years ago

I had not heard of beagling. It is always great to learn new historical facts.

Kate Dolan
11 years ago

Wow, some great stories and ideas! I have never tried to pull a dog away from a groundhog but I wouldn’t want the opportunity to try. We periodically get racoons around here and they are mean and very smart. I love my dogs, but smart is not an adjective that readily comes to mind when I think of them. I don’t like their chances in a fight…

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