• Uncategorized

    Scholarly and Scandalous

    I do not at all pretend to be scholarly and I am way too boring to be scandalous, but I’ll use these words to write about what has captured my interest these last couple of days.

    First, take a look at this article in the New Haven Register, They’re Teaching a Romance Novel Course at Yale But It Is Not What You Think

    The course is being taught by our Regency Pals and Yale alumni, Andrea DaRif (Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott) and Lauren Willig.

    Description of the course from the college syllabus: The Regency romance tradition from the works of Jane Austen to modern permutations of the genre. Discussion of novels in textual, historical, and sociological context through examination of changing tropes and themes.

    The romance community has known about this course for some time (follow links in Andrea/Cara’s website), but it is fun to see it getting wider press. A Google search shows that lots of sites are picking up on the Register article.

    Sarah at Smart Bitches mentions the course, as well as a documentary film in progress about the making of romance novels being made for PBS’s American Experience (Can’t wait to hear more about that one!).

    One of the things I love about the Yale course is that it is focussing on REGENCY Romance, which I think is a first in the small but growing trend to include study of romance novels in Engligh programs. It is the first Ivy League school to have such a course. Apparently 80 people tried to sign up for the course, which only had 18 spaces.

    I was an English major in college and I would have loved to take such a course. I always thought reading my way through my major was the cushiest way to earn a degree, but it would have been even better to read what I loved. Even more, it would have been a delight to discuss the books I love in a serious, scholarly way.

    We’ll have to check in with Cara and Lauren at the end of the course to see how it went.

    While we are on the subject of academia, I also learned about a blog by a George Mason University Jane Austen scholar about Grace Dalrymple Elliot, the subject of Jo Manning’s wonderful biography, My Lady Scandalous. Moody both lauds Jo’s achievement, yet is dismayed by the book’s title and presentation, which seems to me to be designed for popular consumption.

    Moody particularly objects to the use of the word “scandalous” in the title, making the point that it depreciates Elliot as a strong woman of her time by defining her in terms of her sexual history rather than her own achievements. I’m sure I’m not representing her opinion accurately, but it was an interesting blog and and interesting debate with Jo Manning in the comments section.

    I do think it a truth that women of the late 18th-early 19th century who wound up as courtesans were considered scandalous at the time. Freedoms we modern women take for granted – being able to leave destructive marriages, having the freedom to have a sexual life, the right to earn a living and keep custody of our children – were not available to women in Regency times. Yet strong women like Grace Elliot still existed and managed to live amazing lives.

    If you were designing a course in Regency Romance what authors would you have the students read?

    Do you have a pet peeve about how historical women are viewed by us today?

    Visit Risky Regencies this Saturday, Feb 6, when our own Cara King returns to tell us about her Regency Ball!

    Check my website for my latest news, like the fact that The Wagering Widow, re-released in a double book, Regency High-Society Affairs Vol. 12 (free shipping from Book Depository and a discount, too). Plenty of time to enter my contest for a chance to win two copies of The Marriage Bargain, my Diane Perkins book.

  • Uncategorized

    Not-So-Secret Winner!

    Lana, you are the winner of a signed copy of Lauren Willig‘s latest book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine!

    Please email your info to riskies@yahoo.com to claim your delicious prize!

  • Uncategorized

    The Not-So-Secret Interview With Lauren Willig


    The Riskies are delighted to welcome Lauren Willig as our guest today!

    Lauren’s latest book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, has just been released, and continues the series begun in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. And it’s also just made the New York Times Extended Bestseller List! WTG, Lauren!

    Lauren has a lot of degrees, and if she weren’t such a lovely, funny person, you’d hate her because she is so multi-talented and smart. She’s returned to her native New York, and is writing full-time, having (gladly) given up her her career as a lawyer.

    Learn more about Lauren at www.laurenwillig.com.

    And enter a comment or question for Lauren by midnight Sunday, February 1 for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (winner to be chosen by the Riskies).

    Q. Tell us about how you came up with this series.

    In 2001, I was a second year grad student pursuing a PhD in English history. That April, I staggered home from my General Exams, tripped over a pile of library books, and vowed, as the microwave was my witness, that I wasn’t going to so much look at a seventeenth century manuscript until the following fall. I was sick of footnotes, sick of the basement of Widener Library, sick of… well, you get the idea. I settled down with a big pile of Julia Quinn novels and BBC costume dramas and decided it was an excellent time to write a romance novel.

    I toyed with the idea of a novel set around Luddite unrest in 1811 (since electronics break down as soon as I enter a room, I’d always felt a sneaking sympathy for the Luddites). But Fate stepped in, in the form of my DVD pile. I was watching the Anthony Andrews Scarlet Pimpernel, an old, old favorite of mine, while eating one of those miracles of haute grad school cuisine—a microwave hot dog adorned with squirty cheese. I watched with a connoisseur’s detachment as Sir Percy dispatched yet another round of gullible French guards. There was something wrong there. Not with Anthony Andrews (how can one not love Anthony Andrews as that demmed elusive Pimpernel?), but with the whole scenario. He had it too easy. His men all followed his commands without question; his wife mostly stayed out of the way; and the evil French spies all did exactly what evil French spies were supposed to do.

    Someone, I decided, enthusiastically squirting an extra round of cheese onto my hot dog, needed to mix things up a bit. What if you had a super-dashing English spy bedeviled, not by the French (they’re always so easy to thwart), but by a young lady set on tracking him down—so she can help him? Every spy’s worst nightmare! I bolted for my computer and thus the original Pink Carnation book was born.

    Q. Did you imagine, when you were writing your first book, that it would now be in its fifth installment?

    It seemed miracle enough that the first one made it into print! I knew how slim the odds were. I had sent off manuscripts before and had them promptly sent back. As I was working on The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, I was also teaching two sections of a class on the Second British Empire. I scribbled down wistful ideas for future books Pink books—including the 1803 rising in Ireland that became the basis of The Deception of the Emerald Ring, and the conflicts in India that provided the plot for the sixth book in the series—but I knew that it was all a pipe dream and the odds of my ever getting to use those notes were slim to nonexistent. I really can’t quite believe that I’m up past five books and, yes, I got to use my Irish rebellion and my India idea and I still get to go on writing more…. Excuse me. I need to go pinch myself again.

    Q. How long did it take? Was this an easy or difficult book to write?

    I wrote this book in a manic three month haze. I left my job as a lawyer at a large New York law firm in January; my deadline for The Temptation of the Night Jasmine was March 31st. I stocked up on food, permanently staked out my favorite table at my local Starbucks and wrote. All in all, I’d say this was one of the easiest books so far. I love both Charlotte and Robert and their story swept me along with it until I found myself, confused and gasping, back in a rainy New York March, wondering where the past few months had gone. I know I went on a book tour for The Seduction of the Crimson Rose at some point in the middle there. I must have eaten and slept and occasionally spoken to friends and all those other things, but I don’t really remember any of that. Those months galloped past in a blur of gilded palace antechambers and smoky hellfire caves. It was exhausting and wonderful.

    Q. Tell us more about your characters. What or who inspired them?

    As I was planning it, I jokingly called this book my Judith McNaught tribute book. My previous heroines have been cast along very different molds, but Charlotte, the heroine of Night Jasmine, is a McNaught girl—erudite and innocent all at the same time, perceptive about some things and very naïve about others. There is also a lot of me in her: a lifelong bookworm, Charlotte interprets the world around her through the plots of her favorite books, a practice that doesn’t always correspond to reality.

    As for Robert, the hero, he’s an amalgam of a number of literary influences, including Richard Sharpe and Tom Jones. What they all have in common is their uncomfortable place outside the usual societal framework, saddled with a disconnect between their upbringing and position. In Robert’s case, although a series of deaths rendered him a duke, he was raised by a brawling wastrel of a father in low circumstances and then ran off to join the army in India as a teenager. He finds himself at the apex of a society whose rules he doesn’t know and whose members he finds alien and a little intimidating. He admires—and is intimidated—by Charlotte’s easy familiarity with that world just as Charlotte admires and is intimidated by what she perceives as his worldliness.

    Q. Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

    This book has been one of my favorites to research. The hero, Robert, is on the trail of a traitor who murdered his mentor by shooting him in the back at the battle of Assaye. He manages to track the malefactor to the Hellfire Club, which meant that I had a fascinating time reading up on the practices of the mid-eighteenth century groups who set the Hellfire trope for generations to come. What surprised me there was how wrapped up in the governmental administrations of their day the early Hellfire groups were—and that they didn’t call themselves the Hellfire Club! The name was a later invention. The most famous of the earlier groups called themselves the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe or the Monks of Medmenham.

    Meanwhile, my heroine, Charlotte, is a maid of honor to Queen Charlotte, which gave me an excuse to read up on life in the royal court in 1804, the same year that George III went mad for the third time (the second time had been in 1801). Most of us have some idea, thanks to The Madness of King George, of how his illnesses went, but reading about the sheer agony of some of the remedies employed—bleeding, blistering, cupping, purging—was truly eye-opening. It’s a wonder that the cure didn’t drive him around the bend!

    Q. What is it about the period that interests you as a writer?

    My books so far have all been set in 1803/1804. The first madness of the French Revolution has died down—it has been a full decade since the Terror—but the French government keeps changing, their armies keep marching, Europe is in upheaval, manners and mores are in flux, and no one knows quite how it’s all going to fall out in the end (not unlike our own current period!). It’s an era that doesn’t quite belong to the eighteenth century, but hasn’t taken on the patterns we think of as belonging to the Regency a decade later. I love all that energy and uncertainty and the idiosyncratic cast of characters that goes with it: George III, who keeps lapsing into madness and recovering, sending the government into fits every time he does (I used that as the basis for Night Jasmine); Napoleon and his band of ridiculous relatives…. I could go on and on.

    Q. What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book? How do you feel about it?

    I felt like I was taking a big risk with the structure of this book, which divides into two segments. For the first quarter of the book, my hero and heroine seem to be dancing their way blithely towards happily ever after. It’s a self-contained segment in more ways that one, a Christmas house party at the ducal estate that lasts from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. While the darker notes are there, Charlotte and Robert use each other as a means of keeping unpleasant realities at bay for the duration of the Christmas season. Realities being realities, their mutual fantasy land falls apart on Twelfth Night, opening the door to the main body of the book, where they are forced to re-learn each other in a more realistic way. In the end, although I was worried about being able to pull it off, I think it was the only approach that would work for these particular characters. Each had to be forced to re-evaluate their priorities and prior convictions before they could come together in a real way. I like the contrast of the effortless happily ever after—the one that didn’t work out—with the hard won happily ever after that they finally achieve.

    Q. Is there anything you wanted to include in the book that you (or your CPs or editor) felt was too controversial and left out?

    Funnily enough, there was…. My editor was worried by the fact that the hero and heroine of this book are cousins. Although marriage between cousins wouldn’t have been uncommon at the time, she was concerned that a modern audience might be, well, grossed out by it. In order for the plot to work, the cousin thing couldn’t be taken out entirely—the hero, descended from a black sheep branch of the family, has come to reclaim his inheritance and has lots of guilt feelings about usurping what he doesn’t believe to be rightfully his—but we agreed that I would remove every place the hero and the heroine called each other “cousin” in the first few chapters. I was sad to see that go, since I felt that their transition from thinking of each other as “cousin” to first names signified their changing perceptions of each other, but I did see her point about it being potentially incestuous sounding.

    Q. What are you working on next?

    The answer to that is easy—another Pink Carnation book! I call this one my India book, since it’s set in Hyderabad in 1804. The heroine of this book, Penelope, managed to disgrace herself during Night Jasmine and was sent off to India, along with her new husband, to give the scandal time to die down. India in autumn of 1804, however, isn’t exactly a peaceful place to be. I had an amazing time reading travelers’ narratives and letters to get a sense of the English experience in India at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It differed markedly from the world of the Raj that developed later on—and it also made a very nice change from writing about Almack’s Assembly Rooms!

    Q. Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you or your books?

    All of the books have a modern framing character, a Harvard grad student researching her dissertation in London (all too familiar for me!), who comes upon a well-guarded cache of family papers and their handsome owner (sadly, not so familiar for me). I invented Eloise partly because it was fun to have a way to sound off about grad school and the vagaries of contemporary life. But one of the joys of using Eloise as a framing device is that—in theory, at any rate—the historical story is all filtered through her imagination. That meant I get to have my characters shout things like, “Follow that sedan chair!” or flip through The Cosmopolitan Lady’s Book for fan-wielding tips (in Night Jasmine, my hero went to a Hellfire Club event, but didn’t inhale). All complaints about historical inaccuracies should be addressed to Eloise in London, SW2….

    Thank you so much for allowing me to call on you here at Risky Regencies, and to natter on like this! It has been simply lovely. Warmest regards to all!

    Thank you, Lauren!

    And remember to post your comments by midnight today to get a chance to win a copy of Lauren’s latest book.

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