Will couldn’t think of an appropriate response, so he tapped the pile of manuscript pages that lay before him. “I suggest that before we look closely at any given scene, we discuss the fact that your hero, Lord Xavier Hawtrey, loses his memory after being thrown from a horse and no longer remembers his own wife.”
“My readers will love it,” the duchess said instantly. And defensively.
“I have no doubt of it,” Will said, pitching his voice to a soothing tone. “But will they accept the fact that Lord Xavier miraculously remembers his wife’s face only once he believes his evil second cousin has murdered her? I think your readers would prefer that he at least attempt to save her life. From good will, if not because of the family connection.”
Her Grace sighed, and pulled the manuscript pages toward her. “I suppose you have a point. But we’ll have to figure out how to keep the scene in which he throws himself off the cliff in the throes of guilt. Chuffy adores that plunge, and you know that Chuffy is my best critic.”
Will chose his words carefully. “I am somewhat concerned that Lord Xavier would be dead before he could . . .”
And so it went.
If truth be told, the annual month during which Will Bucknell joined their family, editing her latest manuscript and arguing with Chuffy, was one of Her Grace’s favorites in the year as well.
Though a woman who loves so dearly, and is so dearly loved in return, can find joy in almost every moment. Certainly in every month.
And definitely during every consultation with her husband.
Romancing a Career, in 1800 and Thereafter
This novel owes a great deal to its sources, but even more to the readers who have celebrated my work, encouraging me to write an (astonishing to me) twenty-four novels to date. In creating a female author of romance novels around the turn of the nineteenth century, I wanted not only to depict how much fun it can be to plot and write romance, but also to honor the authors of the time. For the most part, the authors’ work is no longer in print, though their novels were enormously popular at the time. Authors like Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson supported themselves writing adventuresome fiction such as The Fugitive Countess (1807). Anna Maria Bennett began her long bestselling career with Anna (1785), whose first printing sold out in one day. The novels could be extremely lucrative: in 1796, Fanny Burney was paid 2,000 pounds for her novel Camilla, including its copyright, which would be over 100,000 in today’s pounds. That doesn’t mean their work was universally celebrated, of course. The review that plagued Mia so much that she can recite it from memory was real; it was published in Graham’s Lady’s Magazine in 1848, and the novel exhibiting “vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors” was Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
I invented the publishing firm of Brandy, Bucknell & Bendal, but in fact, the publisher of Lucibella’s books would likely have been Minerva Press. William Lane established the press in 1790 and thereafter published a constant stream of fiction, as well as operating a circulating library. He specialized in gothic horror-romance novels and would have welcomed Lucibella’s heroines-in-peril. While Lucibella’s prose echoes novels at the time, I took the inheritance plot of An Angel’s Form and a Devil’s Heart (a real novel, written by Selina Davenport and published by Minerva in 1818) from a Dorothy Parker short story called “The Standard of Living.”
To ensure they were accessible to the middle and working classes, novels of this type were typically bound in cardboard with leather labels on the spines. Jane Austen’s Emma (1816), for example, first appeared with “plain gray boards” and a title label made from stamped morocco leather. But Chuffy’s more luxurious bindings existed as well: the foremost bookbinder at the time was Roger Payne, who re-bound volumes in Russian leather with gold borders, embedded pearls, and even (on occasion) silk embroidery that reflected the book’s contents.
If Mia’s character was inspired by late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century female novelists, Sir Cuthbert owes his appearance and cheerful nature to one of Shakespeare’s great characters, Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Chuffy mischievously quotes from that play, as Mia recognizes, but my greater hope is that he brings with him the reckless joie de vivre of his predecessor. Talking of quotations, Mia’s much maligned poetry borrows from some of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s romantic poetry. Finally, young Master Charles Wallace possesses something of the preternatural intelligence of Madeleine L’Engle’s namesake character in A Wrinkle in Time, though arguably Charlie owes more to Charles Dickens’s earnest and captivating disabled child, Tiny Tim.