Yesterday I guest blogged on the Avon Romance Blog about themes in Beneath a Silent Moon. It was a fun and thought-provoking blog to write. I thought I’d repeat it here for this week’s Dear Reader post, with some additional thoughts stirred by the discussion around the post on the Avon Blog.
When I was plotting Beneath a Silent Moon, my good friend and critique partner Penelope Williamson said, “This book is all about sex.” That brought me up short. The book I was plotting was a spy story, a love story, a family drama. At its thematic heart, I saw it as a book about characters reacting to the manners and mores of the Regency, which all have to do with–
Well… Yes. Penny had a point. So many of the intricate social codes of the era relate to sex in one way or another. How many times an unmarried couple can dance together. Not waltzing at Almack’s without permission from a patroness. What constitutes being compromised. A husband and wife not living in each other’s pockets. A gentleman not dallying with another gentleman’s wife until she’s given him a legitimate heir.
In Beneath a Silent Moon, Mélanie is struggling to make sense of these unwritten rules and what they say about the elusive emotional truth at the heart of her marriage to aristocratic Charles Fraser, who grew up in this world and is connected to the most powerful families in Britain. French-Spanish Mélanie met and married Charles (a British spy) in the crucible of the Napoleonic Wars. Now, with the end of the war, they’ve settled in London. Unlike many couples in the haut ton, they share a bedchamber (breaking one of those unwritten rules), but Mélanie is not at all sure she really knows her husband. Nor is Charles sure he can define what lies between him and the woman he married out of honor and necessity. Passion isn’t the same as love or intimacy, as Charles knows to his cost, having grown up in a world in which marriage is to cement alliances and produce heirs, love is a game, and seduction a sport. As he thinks at one point, “How poorly demarcated was the line between want and need, between lust and tenderness, between giving a lover pleasure and using her for it. When did desire become manipulation and honesty give way to deceit?”
The older generation in the novel–Charles’s father and aunt and their friends, “the Glenister House set”–still play at love by the rules of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in which seductions are strategized with the cool calculation of a chess game. Charles’s younger sister Gisèle chafes against the constraints placed on an unmarried girl in this hothouse of romantic intrigues. “Everyone else in the Glenister House set has a lover,” she points out. “Or two. Except the unmarried girls. It’s so boring being a virgin.” Honoria Talbot, the girl Charles almost married, has decided to treat love and passion with a cooler, more calculating eye and makes a surprising choice of husband. Charles’s best friend David is a serious young man who takes the gentleman’s code seriously but has failed to do his duty to his family by marrying and producing an heir, because the love of his life happens to be another man.
Charles, Mélanie, and the other characters gather together for a house party at Dunmykel, the Fraser family castle on the Scottish coast. Espionage intertwines with romantic intrigues until it is difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Past sins, personal and political, reverberate through the present. An assassination is plotted, secret councils take place, and lovers find and lose each other beneath a silent moon. When I read through the galleys I was pleased that the book seemed to me to hold together well thematically. And Penny was right. It’s all about sex ☺.
Commenting on the blog, my friend Monica McCarty said, “I totally agree with what Penny said, but didn’t make the connection when I read it the first time.” I didn’t make the connection until Penny made the comment either, but since that was early in the writing process, I was then aware of it when I was writing the book. But even before that I think the theme had been in my subconscious as I plotted. I think we often develop stories with thematic threads without consciously realizing it, at least in the early stages of writing a book. I remember my mom and me realizing in the second draft that one of our books (A Touch of Scandal) was all about relationships between parents and children. On the other hand with Secrets of a Lady, I knew from the start that the book revolved around fidelity and betrayal and the elusive nature of truth.
If you’ve read Beneath a Silent Moon, did you notice that many of the plot threads were “all about sex”? Do you notice themes in general when you read? Writers, do you think in terms of themes? Do you start out with a theme in mind or do you realize in the writing process that there are thematic threads running through the story you’ve developed? Have your friends ever noticed something in your work that surprised you?
This week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter from Lord Carfax (Charles’s former intelligence chief who appeared in last week’s excerpt from The Mask of Night) to his son David, dealing with an issue mentioned in this post–David’s failure to marry and produce an heir.
7 May Update: I’m blogging on History Hoydens today about epistolary novels and the Fraser Correspondence. Do stop by!