This week, Peggy posted on the Mask of Night page about discovering the Charles & Mélanie books. I’m always thrilled to know new readers are discovering my books. In this case, I was particularly fascinated because Peggy wrote that she read most of the Fraser Correspondence before reading either of the books. I have so much fun writing the Fraser Correspondence– it’s a great way to explore Charles and Mélanie’s world, to look at events from the perspective of different characters, to weave in different historical events and how they influenced the characters’ lives. I love to know that readers are reading the correspondence. But this was the first I’d heard from someone who’d read the correspondence before the actual books.

I’m intrigued, as I’ve blogged about before, about how each reader shapes the story they read. Though I deliberately wrote Secrets of a Lady and Beneath a Silent Moon so they could be read in either order, I think the reading experience is somewhat different depending on which order one reads them in. Reading the Fraser Correspondence first would add yet another layer. I try to make the letters mesh well with the books, but they contain information that hasn’t yet been revealed in the published books. Most of it is character nuances, but there are some revelations hidden in the Fraser Correspondence. Chloe Dacre-Hammond’s parentage for one thing. And the fact that Lady Frances and Raoul are in communication. I was very pleased that Peggy said she went back and re-read the letters concerning Raoul and Lady Frances.

I was also very pleased that Peggy wrote that “I definitely felt that the characters of Charles and Melanie were consistent with the correspondence.” Then she raised an interesting question: “However, I was bemused that Charles, who is supposed to be so emotionally restrained, is the partner most able to express his love. This seems to be especially true in the correspondence, even after he learns to ‘truth’ about Melanie’s past. I found myself wondering about Melanie’s reticence; does she have a harder time saying I love you because she feels unworthy of being loved, in addition to guilt over her duplicity?”

I’ve been mulling this over, because Mel being more emotionally reticent in the letters than Charles isn’t something I’d consciously considered. Now that Peggy pointed it out, I can definitely see if though (I love it when readers get me to look at my characters in a different light :-)). I do think that, to quote Lady Frances in Secrets, “Charles is more nurturing than most men, though one wouldn’t think it to look at him.” And, particularly after the revelations in Secrets, he’s at great pains to show Mel that he loves her and isn’t holding the past against her. I think Mel has a hard time expressing her feelings early in their marriage because of the deception she’s practicing on him and because she hasn’t yet even admitted her feelings to herself. Later, I think she may be afraid that by expressing her own feeling she’s putting some sort of emotional demand on Charles, asking for something he may not be able to give and something she isn’t sure she has a right to. In Beneath, she thinks of of just how much she wants such a declaration from him (“total surrender”) and at the same time recognizes “the selfish, desperate depths of her greed” in longing for it.

Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’d love to get some more feedback on the Fraser Correspondence from those of you who read it or who’ve read some of it:

Do you find the letters change or enrich your reading of the books?

Are there any revelations in the letters that have surprised you?

Did anyone else read any of the letters before reading the books?

Are there any particular characters you’d like to see letters from/to? Events you’d like to see dealt with? Times in the characters’ lives you’d like the letters to visit? Secrets not revealed in the books so far you’d like to see addressed? (Writing letters every week, I’m always looking for inspiration :-)).

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is an (originally coded) letter Mélanie writes to Raoul from the Congress of Vienna.