History Hoydens


6.28.14TracyEricSaturday night as part of my work for the Merola Opera Program, I had tremendous fun and the great privilege of interviewing the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Eric Owens, who is teaching at Merola this summer. Besides being an amazing artist (his Porgy in Porgy & Bess at San Francisco Opera is indelibly etched on my memory), he is a tremendously nice person. He had a lot of fascinating things to say about singing, young artist training, and a career in opera, including the importance of appreciating the moment and not constantly worrying about what’s coming next or where one wants to be in five or ten years. It really resonated with me as a writer. I remind myself to savor things like the fist glimpse of a book cover, the arrival of ARCs, publication day. And most of all to enjoy writing the book. Publishing is such a crazy, unpredictable business that it’s easy to get stressed out or worry about where one wants to be or thinks one should be and to lose sight of the magic of creating a story (not that there isn’t a lot of hard work mixed in with the magic :-)).  As soon as I finish this post, I’m going to try to do that with my WIP!

Hope everyone is managing to savor the summer a bit. For those of you in the states with a long holiday weekend for the 4th of July, hope you have a wonderful time. If you have a chance, head over to History Hoydens where I’m blogging this week about some of the fascinating historical figures within 6 Degrees of Harriet Granville, who has appeared in several of my books.

Monday I blogged on History Hoydens about some of Wellington’s aides-de-camp who appear as characters in Imperial Scandal. I thought it would be fun to repeat the post here as part of the Imperial Scandal back story.

For more on Fitzroy, Gordon, and the others, check out the letter I just added to the Fraser Correspondence, where Aline shares her thoughts on Wellington’s ADCs with Gisèle.

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This Friday, 15 June, is the 197th anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball at which the Duke of Wellington learned that Napoleon was attacking not from the west as Wellington had expected but on the Allied Army’s eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies. Poring over a map of Belgium in the Duke of Richmond’s study, Wellington is said to have declared, “Napoleon has humbugged me.” A number of officers joined their regiments straight from the ball and fought the next day at Quatre Bras in their ball dress. Monday, 18 June, is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo itself.

Both the ball and the battle figure prominently in my latest release, Imperial Scandal. My hero, Malcolm Rannoch, is a diplomat and intelligence agent, but Wellington presses him into servicein the battle delivering messages. I knew early on in the plotting process that I wanted to have Malcolm delivering messages during the battle, and I was very pleased to discover in my research that Wellington is actually said to have pressed civilians into service because so many of his aides-de-camp were wounded. Several of those aides-de-camp are characters in Imperial Scandal and in other fictional accounts of Waterloo, notably Georgette Heyer’s brilliant An Infamous Army. One of the challenges of writing Imperial Scandal was bringing them to life as characters who were at once unique to my story and true to the actual people. Here, in honor of the anniversary of Waterloo, are some brief notes about a few of them.

Lieutenant- Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon K.C.B. – younger brother of the diplomat Lord Aberdeen (later foreign secretary and prime minister). He was shot while remonstrating with Wellington to remove himself from fire. Gordon had his leg amputated and later died of his wounds in Wellington’s bedchamber at the inn in the village of Waterloo that Wellington had made his Headquarters. Dr. Hume reports that when he informed Wellington of Gordon’s death, Wellington said, “Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to win one with the loss of so many of one’s friends.”

Lord Fitzroy Somerset - youngest son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort. He joined Wellington’s staff in 1807 and became his military secretary in 1811. In August 1814 he married Emily Harriet Wellesley-Pole, Wellington’s niece. She was in Brussels with him and gave birth to a baby daughter just weeks before the battle. Fitzroy was shot in the arm during the battle when he and Wellington were just a hands breadth apart. Fiztroy’s right arm had to be amputated. Before they carried it off, he insisted on removing a ring his wife had given him. He quickly learned to write with his left hand and resumed his duties as Wellington’s secretary. He was created Baron Raglan in 1852 and given command of the British troops sent to the Crimea in 1854. He died there in 1855 from complications brought on by an attack of dysentery.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Fox Canning
– Third son of Stratford Canning. Died of a gunshot wound to the stomach in the arms of his friend Lord March late in the battle, a tragic scene which Heyer beautifully dramatizes in An Infamous Army and which I also attempted to recreate in Imperial Scandal.

Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March - eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond. He was an aide-de-camp to Wellington in the Peninsula and took a musket ball in the chest at Orthez which was never removed. During the Waterloo campaignl he was assigned to the Prince of Orange’s staff. He was present at his mother’s famous ball. After the news about the French, his sister Georgiana slipped off with him to help pack his things. At Waterloo, his friend Curzon died in his arms and then Colonel Canning later in the battle. Shortly after March carried the wounded Prince of Orange from the field. In 1817 he married Lady Caroline Paget, daughter of the Marquess of Anglesey (formerly the Earl of Uxbridge) who commanded the cavalry at Waterloo. March succeeded his father as Duke of Richmond and was active in Tory politics.

Have cameos by real historical figures in historical novels inspired you to research the real people? Writers, what particular challenges have you faced writing about historical figures who have also appeared in other historical novels?

I’ve been loving all the thoughtful comments on my Love & Protectiveness post. I blogged about the topic on History Hoydens as well this week. Isobel Carr commented, “It’s a fine line issue. I think PEOPLE (male and female) have a natural impulse to try and protect those they love. If the “hero” is willing to accept this from the “heroine”, and his own protection doesn’t simply come down to sidelining the heroine as though she were a child, then I think it can work either way.”

I’ve been working on the copy edits for Imperial Scandal, and in light of Isobel’s comment a particular exchange between Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne, shortly before the battle of Waterloo, jumped out at me.

“How long?” she asked, keeping her voice level. After all, she had known for months that this day would come.
“A few days at most, I should think.” His fingers tightened over her own. “Sweetheart, if you want to go to Antwerp–“
She jerked her hands from his clasp. “Don’t you dare suggest I run away.”
“I’m not. But your hands are like ice.”
She hugged her arms over her chest. “War is about to break out. I’m worried about our friends. I’m worried about my husband.”
“I’m not going to be anywhere near the fighting.”
“Liar.” Screams echoed in her ears. Blood glistened on the cobblestones before her eyes. “I’ve already gone through one war with you, don’t forget.”
His gaze moved over her face. “I can’t, Mel.”
“Can’t what?”
“Promise to stay here in Brussels with you.”
She swallowed. She’d made her choices a long time ago. She would have to live with them. “I wouldn’t ask that of you. Any more than you’d ask it of me.”
“Well then.” He touched her arm. “This is nothing we haven’t been through before.”
For a moment she was sitting beside a camp bed where her wounded husband lay a few months into their oddly begun marriage, holding Malcolm’s hand and staring at his ashen face, wondering if she’d ever have the chance to speak to him again. But even then– “It was different,” she said, her voice rough. “We weren’t– We didn’t– We mean more to each other now. We have more to lose.”

Later, during the hell of the battle, Charles/Malcolm has this exchange with Geoffrey Blackwell in the midst of a British infantry square filled with wounded men:

Blackwell cast a glance round the square. “I’d give a lot to have Suzanne here.”
“So would I. ” Charles shook his head. “Odd. A man should want to protect his wife from this.”
“Not a man who knows his wife as well as you do.”

Do you think protectiveness cuts both ways for heroes and heroines?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Geoffrey Blackwell to Lady Frances asking for Aline’s hand in marriage. It was a challenge to get into Geoffrey’s head to write what could not but be a difficult letter. Let me know what you think.

There’s a fascinating discussion going on at All About Romance just now about prostitute and courtesan heroines. It sent me back to a post I wrote here a couple of years ago and then reworked for History Hoydens. I thought this would be a good time to repost the reworked History Hoydens version. It’s especially timely as it hits on some issues I’ve been dealing with in Imperial Scandal (I’m finishing up the revisions over the weekend) where Suzanne/Mélanie’s past comes into play more.

[Spoiler warning: if you’ve only read Vienna Waltz and/or Beneath a Silent Moon, this post contains some spoilers].

There’s been a lot of discussion on e-lists I’m on and blogs and message boards lately about Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase. I love Loretta Chase’s writing. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it (update note: I’ve since read it and loved it; great characters, both with complicated, compromised pasts, and a compelling love story). Going back to a couple of recent posts on my own website posts about Deal-Breakers (things that keep one from even trying a book or make one put it down unfinished) and Deal-Makers (things that make one seek a book out), it combines two of my deal-makers–spies and and an experienced heroine. Francesca, the heroine of Your Scandalous Ways, is a divorced woman who’s become a courtesan (the book is set in Venice in the 1820s).

And that’s been the source of much of the discussion about the book. Some readers find the idea of a courtesan as a heroine wonderfully refreshing. Others are disturbed by the idea of a heroine who had sex for money. Some have suggested the a courtesan heroine glamorizes prostitution. Others have pointed out that there’s a world of difference between a prostitute walking the streets or working in a brothel and a courtesan. Both may have sex for their livelihood, but a courtesan had far more control over her life and her person. She might have sex for money, but she could choose who she slept with. In fact it could be argued that she had more control over who she went to bed with than a married woman did in the early nineteenth century. In Beneath a Silent Moon, Mélanie/Suzanne says to Charles/Malcolm:

“Legally you can take whatever you want from me.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“That’s marriage.”

“Not our marriage.”

No, it isn’t their marriage, but that’s thanks to the man Charles is. Legally Mélanie had more control over whom she slept with when she was a spy using her favors for information than she does as a married woman.

The courtesan heroine is almost an operatic staple, from Traviata to La Bohème (Mimi and Musetta both have wealthy protectors at various points in the story) to La Rondine.

Violetta celebrates the freedom of her life as a courtesan in “Sempre Libere”. Magda’s “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” in La Rondine plays on another paradox of the courtesan heroine. A courtesan is a sophisticated woman of the world who has had a number of lovers, yet though she has had the freedom to choose her lovers, there’s an economic element to all of them. She may never have actually been in love. In a sense, she’s the literary female counterpart to the rakish hero whose heart has remained untouched. Of course, rakish heroes get happy endings far more often than courtesan heroines. I was going to say that none of the love affairs end happily in La Traviata, La Rondine, and La Bohème, but in fact, Musetta and Marcello are back together at the end of La Bohème. One can argue, given their history, over how long it will last, but the romantic in me likes to think they’ve learned something and it will.

Back to my own books, Mélanie/Suzanne was never a courtesan precisely. She was a prostitute, an experience she revisits in Imperial Scandal in light of another character who’s both a prostitute and a spy, and also when she and Charles/Malcolm go to a brothel seeking information in Secrets of a Lady. It’s clear, I think, that her time in the brothel was fairly horrific. As she thinks in Secrets, In the past ten years she had known anger and fear and self-hatred. But since Raoul O’Roarke had taken her out of the door of the brothel in Léon, she had rarely felt powerless. It was one of the reasons she would be forever grateful to him. Later, though she didn’t sleep with men for money, she did so for information. I think it’s fair to say her feelings about this part of her life and about sex in general are more complicated. As she says to Charles in The Mask of Night:

“It can’t always be sublime communion, Charles. Not for me. It’s been too many other things. A tool. A weapon. A defense. An escape.” She pulled her dressing gown tight about her. “I told you once that my acting abilities deserted me in the bedchamber. That was true when I was in the brothel. I was too young to put on more than a crude show. But later– Sometimes it was sordid. Sometimes it was mechanical. But sometimes—slipping into a fictional skin, making love to someone for the night, knowing it’s just that night. There’s no freedom quite like it.”

Mélanie/Suzanne, however, is not an experienced woman who’s romantically untouched until she meets Charles/Malcolm. She was in love with Raoul up to when she met Charles and overlapping with her falling in love (against her better judgment) with her husband (those feelings are still present, if transmuted, in Imperial Scandal). That was a plot element I had in place very early in my planning of the book, before I had all the elements of the Charles/Melanie/Raoul triangle worked out. I hadn’t thought of it until I wrote this post, but I wonder now if I was subconsciously reacted against the archetype of the experienced heroine whose heart remains untouched until she meets the hero.

What do you think of courtesan heroines? Deal-maker, deal-breaker or neither? Any interesting examples to recommend? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve had sexual experiences but not for financial reasons? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve been prostitutes or who’ve been spies and slept with men for information? Does it make a difference to you if the heroine has or hasn’t been in love before she meets the hero?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is from Isobel Lydgate to her brother David about the rumors in England about Charles/Malcolm and Princess Tatiana.

Congratulations to Susan, who won the copy of Veronica Wolff’s Devil’s Own and to Sharon who won the ARC of Vienna Waltz. Susan and Sharon, watch for emails from me so I can get your mailing addresses.

As you may know from my posts on Facebook or Twitter, I just got back from a fabulous few day in New York. More on that next week or the week after. Meanwhile, since I’m still catching up, I thought I would revisit a post I did on History Hoydens a few weeks ago on love scenes. As I will through the month, I’ll give a copy of Vienna Waltz away to one of this week’s posters.

As I’ve blogged about before my attitude toward writing love scenes has evolved in the twenty some years I’ve been writing. In fact, I was talking about this last week in New York over a fabulous dinner with Lauren Willig and Cara Elliott. When I first began co-writing Regency romances with my mom, under the name Anthea Malcolm, my friends teased me that our books started very chaste and slowly got more explicit. In our first book, The Widow’s Gambit, the characters barely embraced. In the second, The Courting of Philippa, there were more detailed kisses. In the third, Frivolous Pretence, which focused on an estranged married couple, there was an actual sex scene, though it faded to black. Our fifth book, A Touch of Scandal, had ex-lovers who resumed an illicit affair. Sex scenes were part of the story. I told my mom she had to write them. Our sixth book, An Improper Proposal, was a marriage of convenience story. My mom said, “You have to write one of the sex scenes this time.” I wrote my first draft of the scene on a day when my mom was out shopping. And (this is true, thought it sounds so funny now), I turned down the screen on my computer, so I couldn’t look at the words as I typed them. When my mom got home that night, I said, “Okay, I wrote the scene. Go look at it and tell me what you think. But I don’t want to be there when you read it.”

Oddly enough, after that first scene I stopped being embarrassed about writing sex scenes. I got to find them quite a fun challenge, especially trying to make each one true to those particular characters and that stage in their relationship. But when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, it was quite obvious to me that after the opening interrupted sex scene, Charles and Mélanie were too focused on finding the Carevalo Ring and getting their son back to be stop to have sex. On top of the fact that their relationship is so strained that Charles finds it difficult even to look Mel in the face let alone make love to her. In fact one of the reasons I had Mélanie be attacked fairly early in the story is to break through some of the distance between them so that Charles at least touches her. Their physical contact slowly increases through their desperate adventures in search of the ring and Colin, though they don’t actually even kiss on the lips again.

In Beneath a Silent Moon, (which thematically is in many ways all about sex), Charles and Mélanie do make love fairly early in the story. When I wrote the scene, I automatically faded to black without thinking about it. I did the same with a later love scene in the book. When I posted one of those scenes as an excerpt, I called it an “almost love scene”. Some commenters responded that it actually was a love scene. Which I guess depends upon one’s definition of a love scene and how explicit it needs to be.

Vienna Waltz is also a book very much about sex with all the romantic intrigue going on at the Congress of Vienna. There are several pairs of real life ex-lovers in the book such as Tsarina Elisabeth and Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski and Prince Metternich and Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan. On a revision, I realized I needed to make their love affairs more vivid, so I added moments where the characters remember moments and images from their love affairs. I wanted to use tangible, sensual imagery to bring those past love affairs to life. But the actual love scenes in Vienna Waltz between Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne still fade to black.

Then in my current WIP, a sequel to Vienna Waltz set around the battle of Waterloo, I got to a love scene where without even thinking about it I didn’t fade to black. It still isn’t a very detailed scene, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was important to show how the scene progressed. I surprised myself, because I thought I was done writing love scenes with any detail. When I paused to think about it, I realized that in that scene the dynamic between the two characters was changing and shifting so much through out the scene and the very fact that they made love was so momentous that it was important to see how the scene played out.

How do you feel about sex scenes in the books you read? What makes them work or not? How detailed do you like them to be? Do you think some scenes require more detail than others because of plot and character dynamics? Writers, how do you approach writing sex scenes? Do you enjoy writing them or find them a chore? How much detail do you go into? Does the amount of detail very with the situation of the characters and plot? Has your approach to them changed through the years or with the type of books you write?

Also, be sure to check out another Fraser Correspondence letter from Lady Elizabeth, this time to the young Charles at Harrow.


I blogged this week on History Hoydens about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. The ball, in the midst of which British and Dutch-Belgian soldiers got the news that the French were on the march, is a key set piece in my Waterloo book (which I am currently buried in finishing). It occurs just as the mystery/spy plot and the various emotional dilemmas of the characters are coming to a head. I thought I’d repeat the post here, because I find the topic so interesting (and because I need to get back to revising my book :-).

I love parties. The picture above is from New Years Eve this year, when I spent a lovely evening drinking champagne and watching fireworks with some of my closest friends. But in my writing lately, I’ve been consumed with a much more more lavish party nearly two hundred years in the past. On 15 June 1815 the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball at the house in the Rue de Blanchisserie that she had her husband had taken in Brussels. Among the guests were many officers in the Allied Army, gathered in Belgium preparing for battle against Napoleon Bonaparte, recently escaped from exile on Elba and restored to power in France. A number of the aristocratic British ex-patriates who had taken up residence in Brussels that spring were present as well. So were a gilded assortment of diplomats, along with Belgian royals and dignitaries. Of course the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied Army, was on the guest list for the ball. He was an old friend of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, looked on as a sort of indulgent uncle by their large family of children. Three of the Richmonds’ sons were in the army.

The ballroom was a converted carriage house, where the Lennox children played battledore-and-shuttlecock and the youngest members of the family did their lessons. The duchess draped the rose trellis wallpaper with swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands. Ribbons, wreaths, and flowers garlanded the pillars. It was a warm evening ,but the younger Lennoxes threw open the French windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze. The duchess, a daughter of the Duke of Gordon, had engaged kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders to entertain the company with sword dances.

Rumors that the French were on the move swirled throughout the ballroom. Wellington was late, adding to the talk. By the time he arrived with a group of his aides-de-camp, as skilled at waltzing as they were at war, the duke had known for some hours that Napoleon has crossed the frontier from France. But he believed the reported attacks to the east were a feint. He thought the real attack would come from the west, to separate them from the sea and their supply lines. He needed confirmation before he could order the army to march. Meanwhile, he needed to forestall panic and also to confer with a number of his officers, who were conveniently gathered together at the ball.

Wellington confessed to the duchess’s daughter, Georgiana Lennox, that the army was off tomorrow, but he gave every appearance of sang-froid. As the company moved into the hall on the way to supper, a mud-spattered officer, Harry Webster, pushed his way through the crowd. He had a message for the Prince of Orange. The twenty-three-year-old prince, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army based on his birth not his experience, tucked the message away unread, but Wellington asked to see it. Wellington read the message and at once ordered Webster to summon four horses for the Prince of Orange’s carriage. The message, from Constant de Rebecque, whom the prince had left in charge at his headquarters, revealed that Bonaparte had crossed the Sambre river at Charleroi. He was attacking not from the west but on the Allies’ eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies.

Wellington maintained a cheerful demeanor through supper, laughing with young Georgiana Lennox and his Brussels flirt, Lady Frances Webster. But after supper, he asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a map of Belgium in the house. In the duke’s study, Wellington stared down at the map spread on the desk and declared that Bonaparte had humbugged him. He had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre Bras, but he feared he would not be able to hold the French there. He pressed his thumb against the small village near which he would then have to fight Napoleon. Waterloo.

Meanwhile in the hall and ballroom, the illusion that they were at an ordinary ball had well and truly broken. The front door banged open and shut. Soldiers called for their horses, girls darted across the floor shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanned the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles from outside. Georgiana Lennox slipped off to help her eldest brother, Lord March, pack up his things. She thought the young ladies still waltzing were “heartless,” but for many of them it would be the last chance to dance with husbands, sweethearts, and brothers.

The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has been dramatized by many novelists, including Thackeray in Vanity Fair, Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, and Bernard Cornwell, in Waterloo, part of the Richard Sharpe series. I wrote about the ball myself in one of my historical romances, Shores of Desire, and as I said above, it’s a key event in my current WIP. Even though this is the second time I’ve approached the ball, I was a bit intimidated by such an iconic historical event. I’m currently on my third draft, and I’m starting to be fairly happy with how the scenes are shaping up. I had to write them in layers. The historical details, the physical setting–from the glitter of the ball to the chaos it dissolved into–the more intimate emotional landscape of my characters, real and fictional, saying farewell to loved ones. It was particularly interesting to have both Mélanie and Raoul there, with the complex emotions both are feeling. Charles surprised me by turning into something more of an action hero in this book that he’s been before. He ended up being at the battlefield much of the time.

Have you read fictional accounts of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball or seen it dramatized on film? What party scenes stand out in your memory from historical fiction? Writers, is there an historical entertainment you both want to dramatize and find yourself intimidated by?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Raoul to Lady Frances in the Fraser Correspondence, inspired by JMM’s suggestion that Raoul would entrust to Frances any letters he left for Charles.

Two fascinating blogs this week, one by Jean on All About Romance and one by Lauren Willig on History Hoydens examined the tendency in historical fiction to write from the English perspective when it comes to British/French conflicts, particularly in regards to the Napoleonic Wars. Both post were very timely for me as this past week I finished the first draft of my Waterloo book (just making my self-imposed December 1 deadline :-)).

While most of the major characters in the book are British (whether real people like the Duke of Wellington, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, and Lady Caroline Lamb, or fictional characters such as Charles/Malcolm, Aline, David, and Simon), Mélanie/Suzanne is of course a French agent. The last third or so of the book takes place during the Battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo and moves between the battlefield and Brussels. Charles goes back and forth between the two. Mel is in Brussels, helping tend the wounded (their house resembles a makeshift hospital). David, Simon, Aline, and the other British characters are as on tenterhooks for news of the battle. So is Mélanie, but in a very different way. And then when everyone round her is celebrating victory, she’s dealing with the final end of a tarnished dream. Raoul is practically the only character she can talk to openly (it was interesting writing scenes between them when she’s still spying).

Waterloo is so iconic, but most of the fiction I’ve read about it is written from the British perspective. Though one of my historical romances, “Shores of Desire”, deals with Waterloo and had a French hero and a Scottish heroine. I thinking writing about Waterloo from a slightly different perspective is what gives me the guts to take on something that’s been written about so much and so well.

What do you think about the way English/French conflicts, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, are handled in historical fiction? What novels have you read that offer perspectives you find particularly interesting?

From now through the end of the year, I’ll be drawing the name of one commenting each week and giving away a copy of the gorgeous Advance Reading Copies of Vienna Waltz. I’ll post the winner next Saturday, December 11, so be sure to check back and then look for a new contest next week.

I’ve also just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Raoul to Mélanie.

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