Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Little Overview

I have a not-so-secret habit of reading romance novels. Yes, that trash. *wink* I started reading them when I was in high school--as any high schooler does, because maybe, just maybe, it'll help you navigate hormones and boys--and of course, because they had *gasp* sex, but it was presented better than in porn.

Well, I've been reading a specific kind of romance novel since way back when: historical ones, usually set in the Regency era in England...and I had an idea last year that never really took flight that took place in that same time period. The idea was too expansive, it wasn't plausible (which isn't an excuse--most romance novel plots aren't plausible in the least), I would have to research this time period in order to write it well and I had just finished researching my thesis, blah, blah, blah.

Well, you know what? I'm writing it. I'm pretty far into the first story (I envision this as a trilogy) and instead of posting it and leaving it to your puzzled stares and snickers and "What? She's writing a story in 1815?!", I thought I'd give a little background instead, because I have found it to be a fascinating era. I  actually have a huge document of a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of all three stories...and the hard copy gets scribbled on as I find out more things about these characters.

Regency England

So, what the hell am I talking about here? Basically, as I'm sure we were all taught in high school somewhere along the line, King George III (the one we fought the Revolution against) was a little nuts.
George III, from Art Picture.org.uk

He became progressively more insane as time went on and, by the early 1800s, his son George IV was filling in for him as the reigning king in England. They called him the Prince Regent.

In 1811, George III was officially judged unfit to rule and the Regency became official. It lasted until 1820, when George III (dude on the right) died.

Now the thing is, the Regency was busy. There was a ton of change going on. The Industrial Revolution was rumbling along. Classical cultures like ancient Rome and Greece were being studied and appreciated, so art flourished. This is also the era of Jane Austen and the Romantic poets. Plus, there was a war going on.

Actually, wars, plural. Britain and the U.S. went at it in the War of 1812, which didn't end until 1814, and Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and practically every other European nation was fighting against Napoleon at this time (again--this war had been going on for decades at this point). Napoleon was defeated once in 1814 and sent away, but he escaped and wreaked havoc again until he got his ass kicked at Waterloo in 1815.

Add in those pretty Empire-waist dresses, aristocrats (when it actually still meant something) running around, and the influence of Jane Austen's books and there's plenty of material.

Plus, unlike a few decades earlier, men weren't wearing wigs or high-heeled shoes anymore. Women weren't wearing those ridiculously tall wigs or those wide dresses that couldn't fit through doorways anymore either. But unlike a few decades later, in the Victorian era, the corsets weren't as heavy or constricting, the dresses not as heavy, and the people not as prudish.

Summarizing

Miles Keegan is the fourth son in an aristocratic family, but he's very restless, runs away from school and becomes a sailor. A few years later, he's running a successful shipping company and doesn't need his snooty family's money anymore.

Miles travels everywhere--and his daughters are evidence of that. The older two are very close in age and look nothing alike; there's no way to hide that they don't have the same mother because they're different colors. Alexandra was born in Macau, China, where Miles' company is based, to Miles' Chinese concubine. Madeline was born to Miles' Barbados-born, free black wife. Miles and his wife raise his daughters together in Barbados, but when Madeline's mother dies, Miles moves the family back to England.

He remarries eventually, to a widow with a daughter of her own, and another Keegan daughter, a very blond white one, is added to the family.

Obviously, the girls face tons of challenges. Alexandra is illegitimate and doesn't know a thing about her birth mother. Madeline is fearful as a child (and the fear never really goes away) about slavery. They feel at home in England and yet not. They are very wealthy, but feel that that wealth will not help them find the kind of husbands they want--if, indeed, men like that exist at all.

Add in a jaded spy home from the war, a neighbor who went away as a soldier, a lord or two, and a wayward stepsister and 1814-1815 turns out to be a very conflicting, but rewarding year.

Madeline gets her story first. I'm only posting the opening chapter, as this story is far too long to post on a blog. But if I find anything really interesting in the research.

This portrait is from the 1770s or 1780s. The women are Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, a half black woman, who were cousins, both raised in the home of Lord Mansfield, their uncle, who was a judge. Dido gets a shout-out in the story.