When the opportunity arose to sell my proposal for a Regency-set single title historical, Claimed By The Rogue, I jumped on it. For years I’d felt honor bound to provide a Happily Ever After for Lady Phoebe Tremont and her Mr. Robert Bellamy, two secondary characters from my very first book, A Rogue’s Pleasure.
Doing so would mean rediscovering the Regency era, an historical period I hadn’t touched as a writer since 2000. My subsequent British-set historicals had all taken place in various other periods, notably the late Victorian. And for the past several years, I’d been far more focused on writing contemporaries. Adding to my anxiety was the Indisputable Truth: Regency romance readers are among the most knowledgeable Anglophiles on the planet.
Could I really pull this off?
More than a decade later as I immersed myself once more in Austen Land, reacquainting myself with foolscap and tuzzy-muzzies and the myriad rules of Almack’s, I came to a new and dare I say it, more “mature” appreciation of the Regency. In an age of “Blurred Lines” and “Bieber Fever,” slipping back into a society of grace and manners with clearly codified rules, not a blurred line among them, holds a certain undeniable appeal.
I also made several new-to-me discoveries. One of the more fascinating has to do with the London Foundling Hospital where my heroine, Lady Phoebe, volunteers as a school mistress–not so likely in the Regency Real World but fun to fictionalize.
Long before Charles Dickens’ works trumpeted the need to redress social and class injustices, a well off sea captain-cum-merchant by the name of Thomas Coram (1668-1751) noted the vast numbers of abandoned children living on the London streets and decided to do something about it.
Like so many visionaries, Coram did not have an easy go of it. He spent 17 years petitioning for the establishment of a hospital for “foundlings,” painstakingly bending the ears of the influential. On October 17, 1739, the Hanoverian King George II signed the charter incorporating the Hospital for the “maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.” The London Foundling Hospital was born.
The Hospital received its first orphans in 1741. Between 1742 and 1745, the handsome red brick building with stone facings that would serve as its permanent home into the 1920’s was built in Bloomsbury. The hospital continued as an orphanage until the 1950s when public opinion and British law shifted to home-based alternatives to institutionalization.
In its early years, hospital policy governing admissions varied depending upon the degree to which Parliamentary funds were received. Initially only infants of up to twelve months of age were accepted. The child had to be deemed healthy and the mother unwed. Additionally, the child must be the fruit of the mother’s “first fall,” the belief being that surrendering her child would enable her to return to decency and make a fresh start.
On acceptance, children were sent to the countryside to be fostered. At four or five years of age, they were brought back to London and the Hospital, the girls to be trained for domestic service and the boys for a trade. Initially not only housing but also education was strictly sex-segregated, the boys and girls kept in separate wings.
From its onset, the Hospital attracted the patronage of the glitterati of the era, notably artists such as William Hogarth. one of the first governors. Hogarth donated several paintings to the Foundation including his handsome portrait of Coram, today displayed in the Foundling Hospital Museum’s permanent collection. Works by other great eighteenth century artists including Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds followed, festooning the walls of the elaborate Rococo-styled Governor’s Court Room. Small wonder that the London Foundling Hospital became the first art gallery open to the public.
Nor was patronage limited to visual artists. Handel permitted a benefit concert performance of his “Messiah” as well as donated the manuscript of the Hallelujah Chorus to the hospital. He also composed an anthem specially for a performance at the Hospital, now called “The Foundling Hospital Anthem.”
Alas, philanthropy in the eighteenth century was no more free from politics than are our contemporary institutions. Coram ran afoul of several of his fellow board members, who objected to his vocal criticisms. In 1741, he was ousted from the very institution he’d so selflessly created. Still, he continued his patronage, including weekly visits, until his death.
Happily Coram’s philanthropic legacy–and name-has more than borne time’s test. Today his charity, The Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, or simply Coram, continues, delivering services aimed at transforming the lives of underprivileged children.
A museum opened in 2004 on the site of the Hospital’s London headquarters at 40 Brunswick Square. It includes original eighteenth century interiors, furniture and fittings from the original London Hospital building including the Committee Room, the Picture Gallery, a staircase from the boys’ wing and the legendary Governors Court Room.
Perhaps most moving is the exhibit of foundling tokens–buttons, scraps of cloth and other everyday items–pinned by mothers to their baby’s clothes upon surrender. In the early days, children were baptized and renamed upon admission, so these simple tokens helped ensure correct identification, should a parent ever return to claim their child.
I hope to visit on my next trip to London. In the interim, much of the museum’s impressive programming and collections, including an absolutely fascinating project gathering the oral histories of former “orphans,” can be enjoyed online at its website: http://foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
Thanks to Megan Frampton and the other Riskies for having me here as a guest!
*Images courtesy of The London Foundling Hospital Museum.
Today, the Riskies are honored to welcome author Hope Tarr, a lovely person and a great writer. Hope lives in New York City, where she always looks fabulous (at least when I see her), is very involved in animal rescue projects and is one of the founders of Lady Jane’s Salon, a monthly romance novel gathering. Read the official deets at the bottom of the interview, and comment to win a signed copy of Hope’s Vanquished. Two commenters will be chosen for the prize!Hope has two books out for your pleasure; the first is the Victorian-set The Tutor, which is out now, and the other is a reissue of her novel A Rogue’s Pleasure, out in just a few days.What inspired you to write The Tutor?
When I concluded my “Men of Roxbury House” Victorian trilogy a few years ago, it occurred to me I’d left some loose ends dangling, two loose ends, to be exact. At the end of the final book in the series, UNTAMED, two secondary characters Lady Beatrice—Bea—Lindsey and former East London street rogue turned semi-respectable private secretary, Ralph Sylvester had begun falling for one another, landing squarely in the shadow land between lust and love. Only there hadn’t been time, or in my case, pages for me to devote to unfolding their story. And I thought that was rather a shame.
In THE TUTOR, Bea is all grown up and about to wed a decent but dull fellow whom she knows needs a map when it comes to taking a woman to bed. Determined to have decent sex if not love in her marriage, she turns to her secret crush, Ralph Sylvester for seven sexy nights of private lessons.
What intrigues you about the late Victorian period?
The short answer is: everything! If I had to focus on one aspect, I’d have to say the cultural contrasts, the glorious almost black-and-white differences between public morality and private behavior, the not always easy balance struck between innovation—the telegram, the typewriter, and even the telephone—and centuries’ old standards and conventions, and last but not least, the clothes!We love risky writing; share some of what makes your book so unusual.
In life as well as fiction I’m a big fan of not only self-made men but also self-made people in general, so even though British set historical romance is my first love, I rarely write heroes who are members of the peerage or even middle class by birth. In THE TUTOR, Ralph has a checkered past, to say the least. He’s the son of a prostitute. After his mother abandons him, he joins a “flash house,” a thieving den for young boys, and earns his keep by picking pockets and running street scams. That he manages to better himself, to become not only respectable but self-sufficient in a society where class distinctions bordered on a caste system, isn’t just laudable to me. It’s damn sexy.Did you come across any interesting research when you were writing the book?
Always. ☺ In this case, I had a lot of fun perusing The Kama Sutra, the original translated text by Sir Richard Burton (note: not the late actor). In THE TUTOR, Ralph uses the centuries’ old Indian sexual advice manual as a teaching…tool for his seven lessons with Bea. In keeping with that theme, I have each chapter start out by introducing the “lesson” along with a quote from Burton’s text.You and a couple other authors founded the highly successful Lady Jane’s Salon; tell us about it, and what its purpose is.
Thank you for asking! I’m enormously proud of Lady Jane’s and so any opportunity to brag about m/our brain child is most welcome.
Launched in February 2009, Lady Jane’s Salon is New York City’s first and so far only monthly reading series for romance fiction and like most “firsts” it was born in response to a need. One night in November 2008, I was sitting in Hudson Bar and Books in the West Village with romance authors Leanna Renee Hieber and Maya Rodale and book blogger, Ron Hogan. We’d just returned from a “literary fiction” reading and were lamenting the lack of any literary forum in the city where romance writers and readers could come together and share the books we love. Amidst scotch and cigars, we mapped out the Salon, which in the sober light of the next day still seemed like a really good idea. ☺Lady Jane’s meets on the first Monday of the month (unless otherwise noted) from 7-9 PM at Madame X (94 West Houston Street, Soho, New York). Admission is $5 or one gently-used paperback romance novel. Net proceeds support an end-of-the-year donation to a New York City women’s charity. With two articles in TIME OUT New York, a feature article in The New York Post, and author bookings through mid-2011, Lady Jane is going strong and ramping up for Her second birthday on Monday, February 7th. It promises to be quite a party.
Please check out our web site at www.LadyJaneSalon.com and chat with us on Twitter and Facebook.
What are you working on next?
My very first novella, Victorian-set, of course! “Tomorrow’s Destiny” is in A HARLEQUIN CHRISTMAS CAROL (November 10, 2010), a Christmas anthology based on the Dickens’ classic, with bestselling authors Betina Krahn and Jacquie D’Alessandro. It’s a very sweet trio of stories that I think readers of the genre as well as anyone who loves the winter holidays will both really enjoy.
Thanks so much for having me as a guest at the Riskies. What an honor! I hope visitors today will enjoy VANQUISHED and perhaps try out my two single-title historical romances out this summer: A ROGUE’S PLEASURE and MY LORD JACK, both originally published with Berkley and reissued as digital-first releases with Carina Press.
Hope Tarr is the award-winning author of thirteen historical and contemporary romance novels, one novella and numerous nonfiction articles on health and relationships, fashion, travel and leisure. Visit Hope online at www.HopeTarr.com where you can read her weekly blog and enter her regular and special contests. Photo by BizUrban.com.
I love the Regency era and feel that nothing could be better than spending my days in that world every day. I do understand that others (like Amanda!) love a variety of time periods, but, me, I’m a Regency Gal through and through.
So when my friend phoned me this evening and mentioned that one of her loops was discussing the “fact” that Victorian was the new Regency, I could not believe it.
Some of my friends–Hope Tarr, for example–write Victorian romance. That’s good! I love that Romance, especially Historical Romance, has such diversity. But apparently some people are predicting the demise of the Regency.
Didn’t we go through this a couple years ago when the “word” was Historical Is Dead? True, the traditional Regency lines closed but many of the trad authors have found other ways to continue writing Regency. Besides, traditional Regencies were a genre unto themselves. That event was separate from the fate of Regency Historicals.
Immediately my friend and I began listing Regency authors, starting with the Riskies and their guest authors, NYT best sellers, and so on. The list was looooonnnng.
Why is it when one genre rises, someone predicts another is dead? The rise in paranormals didn’t mean historicals were dead. I remember reading that the historical genre sales had dipped but only at the rate that all book sales had declined. So I suspect that Regency is still the most popular historical genre, but that readers are branching out to other time periods as well.
What do you think? Is Regency on the decline? Is Victorian the new Regency?
Here for your viewing pleasure AGAIN is my cover for Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, coming in December.