Highlighting Historical Romance: this week Jude Knight shares some thoughts about women who choose the single life and shares an excerpt from her new release, Revealed in Mist, to illustrate her point.
By definition, the romance genre means a happy ending; happy ever after in most cases. And happy ever after in a romance means a marriage that the reader thinks will work—at least for the two main characters.
I write romance because I love happy endings, and I believe in happy marriages. But that isn’t to say that marriage is a happy ending for every person, and I hope my books reflect that, too.
Revealed in Mist, my latest release, is a case in point. My heroine has given up hope of marriage after an early disappointment. Several of the others are either in unhappy marriages or have chosen another course entirely. This is historically accurate. For a huge number of people in my chosen time period, the early 19th century, marriage was not on the cards.
For a start, out of a population of 16 million, more than 300,000 British men died in the Napoleonic wars between 1804 and 1815. That’s a huge number of men of marriageable age – probably close to 1 in 12. Men were also more likely to indulge in risk-taking behaviour in their leisure, and to belong to risky occupations, further increasing the gender imbalance.
And men were not subject to social stigma if they did not marry, and had easy access to many of the benefits of marriage (servants to keep house and cook, male-only clubs for company, and for the rest, one in five women in London, according to some researchers, earning their living from the sale of sex).
So even if our late Georgian miss wanted to marry, she may not have had the opportunity. Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra:
‘There is a great scarcity of Men in general, & a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much.’
Beyond that, though, our Miss may not have wished to marry. Married women had few rights.
Yet what is remarkable, unmarried women were more legally independent than the married ones. Single women could own property, pay taxes to the state, and vote in the local parish, none of which married women were allowed to do. [Women in the middle class in the 19th Century]
And the health risks of pregnancy concerned many women. With a maternal death rate of one in 1000 live births, and an average of five children per mother, women had a two or three percent chance of dying in or shortly after childbirth.
It’s hard to tell how many women were single. Marital status was not systematically collected in statistics until the middle of the century. In 1850, one in three women were not married. Florence Nightingale commented on the general belief that women had no more important role than to marry and have children.
Women are never supposed to have any occupation of sufficient importance not to be interrupted, except “suckling their fools”; and women themselves have accepted this, have written books to support it, and have trained themselves so as to consider whatever they do as not of such value to the world as others, but that they can throw it up at the first “claim of social life”. They have accustomed themselves to consider intellectual occupation as a merely selfish amusement, which it is their “duty” to give up for every trifler more selfish than themselves.
Women never have an half-hour in all their lives (except before and after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone. Why do people sit up late, or, more rarely, get up so early? Not because the day is not long enough, but because they have “no time in the day to themselves”.
The family? It is too narrow a field for the development of an immortal spirit, be that spirit male or female. The family uses people, not for what they are, not for what they are intended to be, but for what it wants for – its own uses. It thinks of them not as what God has made them, but as the something which it has arranged that they shall be. This system dooms some minds to incurable infancy, others to silent misery.
So, to be true to life, historical novels, even historical romances, need to consider the presence in Society and society of a great army of women who never married, many of whom may not have wished to do so.
About the Book
Prue’s job is to uncover secrets, but she hides a few of her own. When she is framed for murder and cast into Newgate, her one-time lover comes to her rescue. Will revealing what she knows help in their hunt for blackmailers, traitors, and murderers? Or threaten all she holds dear?
Enquiry agent David solves problems for the ton, but will never be one of them. When his latest case includes his legitimate half-brothers as well as the woman who left him months ago, he finds the past and the circumstances of his birth difficult to ignore. Danger to Prue makes it impossible.
David and Prudence continue their story in Concealed in Shadow. When Prue disappears, David goes after her. But finding her again may mean choosing between his country and his woman.
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2dCsbCg
Amazon (print): http://amzn.to/2hmIqHk
Amazon (ebook): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N7HI8IA/
Excerpt from Revealed in Mist
In the following excerpt, Prue is seeking help to find a refuge for her sister. Underpinning the conversation is the power husbands had over wives, and what some women thought about it.
At the Winshire mansion, Prue and Charity were escorted to one of the public reception rooms.
At three in the afternoon, the ladies had just begun receiving morning callers, but already a score of people sent up a buzz from several groups around the large, elegant room. When their names were announced, Lady Georgiana looked up from her conversation with two young girls, smiled, and beckoned Prue and Charity to join them.
She waved them to chairs facing the sofa on which she and the girls sat. “Mrs. Smith, Miss Virtue, may I make known to you my nieces, Lady Charlotte and Lady Sarah? The two girls stood to bob a polite curtsey. Their slightly shorter skirts, the neat plaits of hair, proclaimed them still in the schoolroom, but no more than a year or two from making their debut. Then, as the daughters of a ducal heir, they would take precedence, and commoners like Prue and Charity would be presented to them, if presented at all.
They were of an age and clearly sisters, though one had dark brown hair and mahogany eyes in a solemn oval of a face, and the other the same fair hair and blue-green eyes as Lord Elfingham, the Earl of Sutton’s son.
“Girls, when your mother has finished speaking with Lady Alice, you may let her know I wish to introduce her to someone. And I think your friend Lady Verity is anxiously waiting for your attention.”
The darker child, Lady Charlotte, looked with little favour across the room at a girl about their own age. Instead of the simple sprigged cotton gowns Lady Georgiana’s nieces wore, this one was dressed more like a fashion doll than a child, in a much-ruffled gown of pink muslin, blond ringlets spilling from her elegant pink bonnet. Gown and bonnet matched those of the woman beside her, and give or take twenty years and three stone, the child and the woman matched, too.
“Must we, Auntie George?” Lady Charlotte pitched her voice higher, a kind of purring whine. “‘Oh, Lady Charlotte, do you like my new dress? It is just like Mama’s. We look like twins. Do you not think we look like twins?’”
Lady Sarah giggled. “And then Lottie will say something cutting, and Verity will not even notice, and I shall laugh.” She chuckled at the thought, and her sister smiled and rose, without further protest, to obey her aunt’s command. Hand in hand the two crossed the room, and Lady Verity’s shrill greeting cut even through the buzz of conversation. “Oh, Lady Charlotte, do you like my new dress?”
The suppressed merriment dancing in her eyes took a decade off Lady Georgiana’s age. “I would like to hear the ‘something cutting’,” she confided, and Prue suppressed a laugh. “Your nieces are delightful, my lady.”
Lady Georgiana’s smile faded. “Yes. Clever, accomplished, attractive, and well connected. They shall make their come-out in two years, and Sutton shall have no trouble finding them wealthy husbands.” Her tone made her views clear, but Charity commented anyway.
“Surely that is what most girls want? To marry?”
“It is what girls have been told they should want,” Lady Georgiana replied. “And we marry them off young, before they discover most men are brutes and fools, and English law gives their wives no more rights than any other property.”
“Oh, but…” Charity’s voice trailed off, and her face turned bleak. Prue patted her sister’s hand.
Across the room, Lady Charlotte and Lady Sarah, trailed by Lady Verity, made their curtsey and spoke to a tall lady who had just farewelled a group of ladies and their daughters. She looked across at Lady Georgiana from the same mahogany eyes her daughter had inherited, and nodded before making her way towards them, stopping briefly as she crossed the room to speak to first one, and then another, of her callers.
“‘The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger’,” Lady Georgiana quoted.
“Mary Wollstonecraft,” Prue said. “I could never understand why, believing as she did, she still married.”
“You have not thought to marry yourself, Miss Virtue?” asked Lady Georgiana.
“Once, long ago. But I found the man did not intend marriage.” Aldridge was much on Prue’s mind today, him and his outrageous suggestion. And that she had not told David who had delivered the note.
“It is often so,” Lady Georgiana agreed. “Though few go to the lengths your sister has uncovered.”
Lady Sutton took a seat on the couch beside her sister-in-law.
“My sister has told me something of your situation,” she said, after Prue and Charity had been presented. “What wickedness! However,” she exchanged looks with Lady Georgiana, “we must be very careful who we allow into the village. Is there anyone in London who can vouch for the truth of what you told her?”
Charity’s eagerness faded. “No one, my lady.”
“David Wakefield,” Prudence said. “He is the person who made the investigations, my lady.”
“Do we know this David Wakefield?” Lady Sutton asked Lady Georgiana.
“He is a thief taker, Grace,” Lady Georgiana explained, and Lady Sutton screwed up her mouth, as if against something sour. “I meant someone reputable,” she said.
“I do not know how to answer you,” Prue said. “The other deceived wife is in… is not in London, and if you will not accept our word or that of our enquiry agent, I suppose we will need to… what? Take affidavits from witnesses who know the man as husband to both ladies? But he used a false name when he married my sister.”
Lady Sutton’s brow creased. “What do you think, Georgiana?” She turned back to the sisters and spread her hands, helplessly. “Please understand. Last year, we had a woman who falsely claimed to be a widow, and her husband found out where she was and brought down the constables. Sutton was most displeased. He threatened to close the village.”
“Poor woman,” Lady Georgiana said. It was unclear whether she referred to the false widow, Charity, or her sister-in-law. “Grace, surely we can take their word? Mr. Wakefield has an excellent reputation. And Miss Prudence Virtue is known to Eleanor.”
Lady Sutton studied Prue with new interest.
“Will Her Grace vouch for her?”
Prue had carried out commissions for Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford, whose given name was Eleanor, and whose sons were the Marquis of Aldridge and Lord Jonathan Grenford. But how did Lady Georgiana know?
“Yes. I am confident she will. As will Lord and Lady Penworth. She met them, Eleanor tells me, when undertaking a service for the duchess.” She must have seen Prue’s reaction, for she said, “Her Grace of Haverford is a dear friend, Miss Virtue.”
Very dear, indeed, to share the Penworths’ history and the part Prue played. Not a hint of their forced marriage, imprisonment, and rescue had hit the rumour mill, and Lady Wyvern’s drowning had raised barely a ripple.
Lady Sutton stiffened her jaw as she considered, then nodded. “Then you are vouching for them yourself, Georgie. Time is of the essence in these matters. Go and fetch your household, Mrs. Smith, and my sister and I shall check to see if these ladies will indeed stand your guarantors.”
“But what if they don’t?” Charity looked to Prue, rather than Lady Sutton.
“They will. And they shall vouch for Mr. Wakefield, too.” Both ladies had good cause to be grateful to Prue and David.
Lady Sutton spoke at the same time. “Then you shall be turned back from the village. But be of good cheer, Mrs. Smith. You are, I am confident, an honest woman, and so you have nothing to fear.”
Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.
Website and blog: http://judeknightauthor.com/