I love historical romances, both as a reader and writer. I’ve been a fan of them since I was twelve years old and my mother introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s Bath Tangle. I adored those alpha males and the strong and self-contained heroines interacted with them.
It’s why I like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice much more than Mansfield Park. Elizabeth Bennet is my kind of heroine. I know Fanny Price is strong in her own way, but it’s a passive strength. The kind of strength that involves subduing her personality to social norms.
I want to read and write about women who argued back, who took control of their lives when they could, who displayed courage and conviction. And I want to write about women who were not afraid of their own pleasure.
At the time I like to write about, respectable young women were often brought up to believe marital sex was their distasteful duty, to be endured in order to fulfil the social and economic bargain of marriage. Some of them may never have broken away from that belief… I don’t write about those women.
I want to read and write about the women who chafed under the restraints, who questioned and rejected their pre-ordained passivity, who seized life with both hands.
Opportunities to do so existed, even within the restrictive rules of the time. An astonishing amount of effort was spent socialising, and this included house parties, where sometimes twenty or more guests stayed at a country estate for an extended visit. These gatherings were notorious for bed-hopping and partner swapping. As long as appearances were maintained, and no innocents were debauched, what went on remained an open secret.
Marriages were economic and social alliances. Affaires were for love and passion. There was an unacknowledged acceptance, that with the right man, women of the time could and did find sex enjoyable. Which is hardly surprising. They were human after all.
Men could more openly acknowledge their desires. If the passionless couplings with their wives didn’t satisfy, or if they had so far evaded the Parson’s Mousetrap, they looked for mistresses, courtesans or soiled doves to indulge them. Bordellos thrived. Men of greater wealth, taste and perhaps caution, could attend private functions where the host would ensure that all tastes and sensual desires were catered for.
The women who attended these functions came from many different ranks. Some made sex their profession, certainly, but there were also widows, women whose husbands didn’t interest them and a few who were just extraordinarily daring. Not perhaps the first stare of respectability, and often disguised with mask and wig, but in attendance of their own free will.
The trouble arose when men, eager for a new experience, or terrified of disease, demanded the girls be young and fresh. Then, as now, human traffickers preyed on those who found themselves without means of support or protectors. Girls who were taken up for this purpose had little hope of rescue.
One such young woman is the subject of my latest short story. In Her Lord’s Table, Susan, the oldest daughter of a destitute widow, journeys to London to seek help to keep the family from starving. Instead of finding her step-brother, Susan falls into the hands of a procuress.
Sold to the notorious Lord Winslade, Susan is forced to prepare for a night of debauchery. Escape is impossible. Her fate depends entirely on the whim of a cynical aristocrat.
The sad truth is that at this time most women were powerless, dependent on the kindness and honesty of men. The male half of society controlled almost all the money, only men had the right to vote, women were regarded as chattels, belongings.
And here we have one of the reasons I love historical romances. Even with all this power, even with freedom from repercussions if they were cruel, there were still good men. Men who were protective, men of honour. Men who could take an innocent young girl and empower her. A man like my fictitious Lord Winslade who will lead Susan into a world of sensual pleasure.