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Regency folks in a cloakroom. A larger room than you'd think.

I didn’t mean to talk more about Harriet, Countess Granville’s letters, but this bit really spoke to me. She wrote this while she living in Paris, where her husband was serving as ambassador, complaining to her sister about a certain set of French women she dealt with in her duties as diplomatic hostess.

“…it is the woman made by Herbault, Victorine and Alexandre (dressmakers and a hairdresser), the woman who looks to see if you have six curls or five on the side of your head, the woman who talks, dictates, condescends and sneers at me—quos ego. It is odd that their effect upon me is to crush me with the sense of my inferiority whilst I am absolutely gasping with the sense of my superiority.”

I can so relate to this feeling! I know a few women like that, who always look perfect, who never have a tag sticking out, and who dominate every social situation. Even when I know their appearance of perfection is a sham (their relationships and family life are often a mess), they still somehow get to that nerdy kid inside me, the one their counterparts snubbed in high school. But like Harriet, I know that ultimately I’m happier than they are.

Blanche
This is a classic theme in romance, going back at least as far as Jane Eyre versus Blanche Ingram. It works well, though the mousy but goodhearted governess versus the fashionable schemer has become a very common trope, verging on stereotyping. There’s no reason a heroine couldn’t have style and poise and a warm heart, too. An evil governess might make for an intriguing switch-up, too, come to think of it.

I also think it’s interesting when authors show sympathy for the character who puts so much effort into appearances. For one thing, it is probably exhausting. I suspect taking fashion so seriously would take a lot of the fun out of it! More importantly, why does she feel compelled to appear so powerful, so perfect? The answer could make her a more nuanced villain or even into a heroine, hiding trauma under a glamorous exterior. This is why I listed Melanthe (from For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale) as one of my favorite heroines in Carolyn’s recent quiz.
What do you think about “perfect” women in romance?  Who are some of the most interesting?

Cover of Perilous Journey by Gail Eastwood
Also, make sure to stop back next Sunday, when I will interview my good friend, the very talented Gail Eastwood, about the current and upcoming ebook reissues of her award-winning Regencies, starting with A Perilous Journey, available now on Nook and Kindle.

Elena


I’ve been reading the Letters of Harriet Countess Granville, daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who married Viscount (later Earl) Granville. She moved in the highest circles, lived an active social life in England and abroad, for her husband served as ambassador to France for intervals between 1824 and 1841. There are lots of interesting tidbits in her letters and I’ll probably talk more about them in future posts.

This week I’d like to talk about how often she wrote about the dangers of carriage travel.

At one point she writes to her sister:

“Let me warn you of Alconbury Hill, that is, of a horse there that will not back. Off we pelted from the middle of a hill with a curl at the bottom, and would not stop for ages. In short, Granville owns that we were run away with. I never met with such a dreadful danger before.”

In another letter she writes:

 

“As I was turning into Berkeley Square I met four soldiers carrying a litter covered with a sheet. I asked Samuel what it was. He said they were carrying a dead man home. I tried to avoid it, but the people got round me and I was obliged to stop whilst they passed quite close to me. I asked one of the crowd how it had
happened and he said he had been squeezed by a mob in Pall Mall. A sort of nervous horror made me scarcely able to get on, when I saw Granville Somerset galloping up to me. He said, ‘You must have seen Worcester’. ‘No.’ ‘You must, they were taking him this way.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘They say he has had a dreadful accident, and I am going to my mother.’ I leave you to imagine with what feelings I almost ran to Brook Street. Here I found the lobby full of soldiers and servants, the men standing by the litter, and the Duke of Beaufort above, leaning his arms and head on the banisters. To end my story, they found him on examination only stunned, and severely bruised, but not dangerously hurt. I staid whilst they shaved and probed the head. He had been bled on the spot eighteen ounces by a surgeon who fortunately passed at the time. My first account was incorrect. His horse took a fright, ran away and threw him out of his gig against a door-post.”

I’m not sure which is scarier, the thought of being crushed in a mob, thrown from a gig, or being bled 18 ounces. It’s clear that life in London was not all balls and lobster patties.

In historical romance, we authors sometimes use carriage accidents to kill people off, usually so someone can inherit something: a title, wealth, debts or other serious responsibilities. I’ll admit to killing off the hero’s parents in one book, in an accident going down Kirkstone Pass in the Lake District. My husband and I drove down that pass while on vacation. Later, when I read a historical account of an accident there, I wasn’t surprised. It must have been quite treacherous during the Regency and probably still is, in bad weather.

Other times we use carriage accidents in a more fun way, to force our characters into situations where they’re forced to get to know one another better. Georgette Heyer used the combination of a snowstorm, a curricle-and-pair and a donkey to strand the hero and heroine of Sylvester at a secluded country inn.

What I think is great about these plot devices is they are totally believable. Much as I love horses—I used to ride regularly—some can be a bit nuts, and even the gentlest horse can be spooked. I’ve only once been run away with. Though I managed to stay calm and in the saddle until the horse tired, but it brought home the dangers of the sport to me in a very real way.

To me, the occasional horse-related accident in romance feels realistic, far more so than scenarios in which the hero’s black stallion gallops for hours without rest or teams of horses transport characters from London to Cornwall in less than a day.

Here’s a great page I found at the Regency Collection on the dangers of carriage travel, which apparently ranged from floods and snow to escaped lionesses.

What do you think of horse-related accidents in romance? Do you find them realistic, or do you think they’re overused? Any favorites?

Elena
www.elenagreene.com
www.facebook.com/ElenaGreene

I’ve been continuing to work my way through the Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville. She was the daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and the famous Duchess, Georgiana and her letters are full of interesting tidbits. However, they’re not an easy read, because she used so much French (alas, I took Spanish in high school) and there are gaps in the story (when she was together with her siblings there was no need to write letters). I also wish there were more explanatory footnotes. Since she wrote mostly to family, she used a lot of nicknames. I know some of them: “Hart” is her brother, who became the 6th Duke of Devonshire, “Silence” is Lady Jersey, “Poodle” must be the dandy Poodle Byng, etc… But there are still places I get confused about persons or events she writes about, which would have been clear to the friends and family with whom she corresponded.

But despite that, I really like Harriet and I can easily relate to her feelings about family and society. Born into high society and then married to Lord Granville, a politician and diplomat, she did quite a bit of entertaining and seemed to enjoy it to some degree.

Here’s a snippet from a letter from London in 1819:

“My ball was as pretty and successful as possible. My front room was as light as day and the back all pink muslin and flowers. The two large rooms below were filled with little round supper tables, and all the flirtations went down to back their sentiments with soup and entrees. They danced with spirit till six o’clock, when Colinet said he could play no more.”

But it’s also clear that she found the pace of fashionable life wearisome at times. Here she writes about a day spent with Lady Jersey in Paris:

“At two o’clock yesterday morning Lady Jersey called for me, and we never stopped to take breath till eleven o’clock at night, when she set me down here more dead than alive, she was going to end her day with the Hollands.

We began by a bonbon shop, where she spent much time and money. Then to a china shop, ditto. Then to St. Mande, where we found the Morleys in great spirits… Our next move was to the Cadran Bleu, where we found Granville and Lord Jersey waiting for us, and where we had an excellent dinner, which being swallowed, we ran across to the Theatre de la Gaite, saw ‘Le Bouquet des Poissardes’, a gay sort of melodrame, and then got in time for the ballet at the Opera, and Lady Granville said, ‘Can this be I’?”

Everything does sound fun, but a bit much for one day!

Harriet’s marriage was a happy one. She loved her five children dearly and missed them when parted due to social and political obligations. Here she writes from the country before departing for London for a fall session of Parliament:

“I cannot endure the thoughts of Monday fortnight. I am so happy here. My health also seems to profit by every mouthful of air, and the misfortune is that there is scarcely anything in London to weight against all I enjoy here. Breakfast by candlelight in a fog, no interest strong enough to make society piquant, no time for air and exercise, away from my chicks.”

She enjoyed the slower pace of life in the Hague (in the Netherlands), where her husband served as ambassador.

“Yesterday was a happy day. In the morning early I walked with my blooming daughters on the Vijjverberg, where we had the whole advantage of bright sun and air soft was May. I then came home and received a cadeau of three plover’s eggs in a little box… At two we drove in the curricle (Granville having for fifty sovereigns bought two little grey horses), to the sea and walked on the sands.”

Apparently this life made her reflect on the London season, as she wrote to her sister:

“…I did not know myself what a London spring was to me. You have never had to encounter it in all its plenitude, and the unwearied dissipation and nightly sittings through it all. The little pleasure and the gnawing anxieties must be looked at afar to see them in their proper light.”

I feel a sort of sympathy with this attitude. I like the occasional concert or party but I truly love quiet times with family and close friends, the sort of thing that would be boring to write too much about, but a major part of my characters’ happy endings. This picture of the Granvilles at the top epitomizes that to me.

If you were a Regency heroine, what would be your ideal life: a fashionable whirl, a quiet life in the country, or some sort of mix?

Elena
www.elenagreene.com
www.facebook.com/ElenaGreene

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