One of the things I love about doing book release interviews (aside from the sheer delight of the chance to babble on about my own books) is how the questions can cause me to think about my own books in a fresh light. In the very fun interview about The Paris Affair that I did with her recently on Word Wenches, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose asked some wonderful questions, in particular about the themes of loyalty and betrayal that run through my books and why I chose the Napoleonic Wars as a setting for those stories. Meditating on those questions turned into a post on History Hoydens that I thought was worth reworking here.
I first gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.
I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.
Or so Suzanne might argue. Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn’t a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. It’s a question that continues to haunt both of them in The Paris Affair and to fascinate me as a writer.
Which brings me to one of the discussion questions for The Paris Affair. Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together
On another note, you may have noticed that the site has a new For Teachers section with information for teachers and anyone interested in a structured read of the Malcolm & Suzanne books with additional materials. It repeats the Historical Notes and Reading Group Discussion Questions found on the detail pages for each book and also includes new Quizzes for each book. These were a lot of fun to put togehter and are a fun way to test your knowledge of all things Malcolm & Suzanne – though be ware, they definitley contain spoilers.