I spent most of the night of November 4th in front of the television, in tears much of the time, savoring the moment, wishing my parents were still alive to see it. As I blogged about last week, politics has been a fascination in my family for as long as I can remember. So it’s perhaps not surprising that I frequently write about politicians.
Charles, of course, is a Member of Parliament, as is David and their friend Oliver Lydgate, who has only been mentioned in the published books so far but who plays an important role in The Mask of Night along with his wife, Lady Isobel (David’s sister). Thinking back over my earlier books (including those I co-wrote with my mom), I realize I’ve written four heroes with active political careers. Of the others, three were diplomats (two of whom developed active parliamentary careers), one was a novelist and one a playwright (both with strong political views), one was a journalist, and one a soldier/spy who became a journalist. So in all cases, politics were there in one way or another.
Yet trying to think of other literary examples, I come up rather short. Which I think is too bad, because it’s a profession that offers such wonderful opportunities for characters who range from idealistic to conniving, visionary to myopic, generous to greedy–and very often all of them wrapped up together in fascinating shades of gray. Georgette Heyer’s tiltled heroes would sit in the House of Lords, but I don’t think any of them is actively involved in politics (in Frederica, Alverstoke’s secretary, Charles Trevor, regrets that his employer doesn’t take a more active role in politics). Robert Goddard has a wonderful early 20th century M.P. in his novel Past Caring, who falls in love with a suffragette and endangers his career (I picked bought that book on the strength of the premise and was not disappointed; Goddard became one of my favorite writers). Two of my favorite literary politicians are Robert Chiltern in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a fascinating look at ambition, ideals, and human frailty. And Guy in Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, who finds himself caught between his ambitions, honor, and the love of his life.
The Regency era offers a wonderful array of real-life politicians, many of whom have made appearances in my books. A few notes about just a few of them:
Charles James Fox, the leader of the liberal wing of the Whig party, a brilliant orator who spent much of his life out of office and died while trying to achieve peace with France.
Lord Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary for many years, a man of keen intellect if narrow vision, with whom Charles clashes in my books over his view that the way to peace and stability is to preserve the status quo at home and abroad. Tragically, Castlereagh suffered a breakdown and committed suicide in the 1820s.
George Canning, a long-time rival of Castlereagh’s, also a Tory but with more moderate views (his support for Catholic Emancipation was a source of strain between him and the Tory establishment). Castlereagh’s and Canning’s disagreements led them to actually fight a duel at one point. Canning eventually became Prime Minister in the 1820s, though his health failed and he died in office.
William Lamb, whose career in the Regency era seemed hampered by his unstable wife, Lady Caroline, but who would go on to become Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister.
Lord Palmerston, like Canning a Tory of the more moderate variety, who carried on a long-term love affair across party lines with William Lamb’s sister, Emily Cowper. Like many moderate Tories, he eventually joined the Liberal Party. He also married Emily after her husband’s death. Eventually he too became Prime Minister in the Victorian era. Palmerston appears in several of my books, particularly Dark Angel.
Henry Brougham, also a brilliant orator, called an opportunist by many but also a man of passionate beliefs. He defended Queen Caroline when George IV tried to divorce her before the House of Lords in 1820 (the centerpiece my mom’s and my Frivolous Pretence). He was one of Harriette Wilson’s lovers and she ultimately blackmailed him over her memoirs. He also ran off to the Continent with Caroline Lamb, not William Lamb’s wife but the wife of William’s younger brother George (George’s Caroline was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster). Emily Cowper had to to after Brougham and “Caro George” and bring her home. Brougham appears in several scenes in Rightfully His as a friend and confidant of the politician hero, Frank. They have a number of talks about political ideals and political expediency.
Do you like politics and politicians in historical novels? Any favorite examples to suggest? Any favorite real life historical politicians you’ve read novels about or would like to see in novels? Any political issues you’d like to see Charles, David, and Oliver confront in future books? Any real life historical politicians you’d like to see them interact with?
This week’s edition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter from Aspasia Newland to her sister Cressida Moreton, shortly after her marriage.