Friday, April 13, 2012

An Autumn Duchess in Georgian England: An interview with Lucinda Brant

Today I'm talking with Georgian period author Lucinda Brant, one of my associates from the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog.

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1) Tell us about your most recent book.

AUTUMN DUCHESS: A Georgian Historical Romance is the third in my Roxton Series (though it can be read as a stand alone). The story revolves around the widowed Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, and how she overcomes the devastating loss of the love of her life to find love again. It’s three years since the death of the Duke and she’s still wearing mourning. Her son is worried for her sanity. Bursting into Antonia’s life is East India Merchant Jonathon Strang, a man who has great self-belief. He knows what he wants and will do what it takes to get it. He’s a self-made man who doesn’t conform to Polite Society’s rules and doesn’t care what others think of him. Antonia instantly captivates him, and her happiness becomes paramount to all other considerations.

Antonia is the heroine of NOBLE SATYR, Book 1 in the Roxton Series, so readers tell me I was very brave to write Antonia’s story after the death of her beloved Duke, but also, they have thanked me for doing so. I felt compelled to write her story because I always wondered in stories where the heroine is much younger than the hero, as is the case in NOBLE SATYR, what happens when the much older hero dies and she is left alone? In AUTUMN DUCHESS, the situation is reversed; Antonia has this younger man falling at her feet, and she is all at sea!

2) Can you tell us a little about how you went about developing your female lead, Antonia? Did you have a particular inspiration for her?

In NOBLE SATYR Antonia is much younger than her first husband, the Duke of Roxton. She is full of life and optimism, and in love with the Duke. She wants him and won’t hear any argument against the union. She believes their marriage is fated. In Book 2 MIDNIGHT MARRIAGE, which is about Antonia and Roxton’s eldest son Julian and his arranged marriage to an heiress, Antonia is a confident, mature woman – a duchess, a wife and a mother, but she is still playful and joyous and is the glue that binds the family together. Despite the Duke’s ailing health, she believes he is an unstoppable force. So by Book 3, AUTUMN DUCHESS, three years after her Duke’s death, Antonia’s life has unraveled completely and she is in a very dark place. It takes a very special hero to bring her back into the light.

3) This is the third book in your Roxton series. Can you tell us a little about the series? Does a reader need to start with book 1 or can they step into book 3?

There are 6 or 7 books planned for the Roxton Series, which follows the lives of one aristocratic family, their cousins and friends from the 1740s up until the mid 1780s. I will stop short of the French Revolution, which I don’t like at all. Each book can be read as a standalone. You don’t need to read them in order either. But to have the total “Roxton immersive experience” read them in order. I have had readers begin with Book 2 MIDNIGHT MARRIAGE and also begin with BOOK 3 AUTUMN DUCHESS, and then read the other books in the series, and it hasn’t interfered with their reading enjoyment.

4) You've written five books in Georgian England. What is it about Georgian England that you find so appealing?

You think this would be the easiest question to answer for a Georgian Junkie such as myself, but it isn’t! I have always loved history and studied to be a historian/political scientist at university but from a young age it was the Georgian era that had me hooked. Perhaps I lived there in a previous life? 

The 18th Century is a time of great change and adventure. Continents were being discovered; there were still unchartered waters. Steam power, the birth of manufacturing – mass production, the beginning of the consumerist society, people moving to cities yet it was still an agrarian society, so there was still lots of green spaces surrounding London and Paris. It was the birth of humanism, naturalists and naturalism, science experimentation, societies for arts, sciences and literature were founded at this time. New plants, animals and food were being discovered. Oh and I must mention the clothes! Absolutely gorgeous fabrics, wonderful shoes, men in lace, velvet and high-heeled shoes – the first truly metrosexual males, and those outrageous wigs! What fun!

5) We live in a populist age. Status and titles are often viewed with a critical eye. Despite that, readers continue to gobble up tales of the past about titled aristocrats. Why do you think that is?

Escapism. Titled aristocrats had money, mansions and nothing better to do with their time than spend their fortunes and swan about at each other’s parties. Everyone knew everyone else, servants took care of your every need and tenants took care of farming your land and bringing in an income. Use historical facts wisely, add a dash of high drama, beautiful clothes and a lovely romance and there’s the mix for an historical romance.

Today, Celebrity is the new aristocracy as far as people watching is concerned. Celebs have lifestyles most of us can only dream about – so too with the aristocracy in the 18th Century Fabulous houses, fabulous furniture, and fabulous clothes, being waited on and pandered to. We expect celebrities to act in a certain way too. We want them to be always smiling for the camera, being gracious, signing every photo put in front of them; so, too, in the 1700s when aristocrats, particularly at the French Court, were expected to dress and behave in a particular way. When Marie Antoinette decided she did not want to deal with Court etiquette and took time out at her Petite Trianon, it wasn’t only the aristocrats at Court who complained, but the people in Paris saw this as a dereliction of her duty as a Queen of France. She was letting down the entire population. So too when celebrities decide they want to be left alone – the media complains, you read about it in magazines and it sometimes even makes the 6 o’clock news! There is that expectation that public performance is a requirement of status.

6) The Georgians were like us in many ways, but also different. In the course of doing research for your various novels, what is the single most bizarre thing you learned about Georgian England?

You can’t get more bizarre than shaving off your eyebrows and wearing false eyebrows made of mouse fur! Thick eyebrows were the go in the 1700s and so if your eyebrows were too thin or were patchy then you would thicken them up by pasting on a strip of mouse fur. Charming!

And then there is the wearing of a merkin (pubic toupee). Merkins date to the mid 1400s and were quite common in the 1700s. Merkins, too, were made from mouse fur. Pubic lice were rife and so many a lady, fed up with constant itching, would shave off their pubic hair and wear a merkin to cover their modesty (remember this is the era before underpants!). Prostitutes were frequent wearers of merkins, used to cover the signs of a sexually transmitted disease, gonorrheal warts or syphilitic pustules. And in the days before penicillin, mercury was used as a cure, which lead to hair loss. So merkins covered a multitude of sins!

Since the late 20th century and beyond with Brazilian waxing now quite common, merkins are more widely known and used, particularly in the film industry where actors and actresses may be required to wear a merkin to add body hair if the film requires it, or just to cover their modesty.

Of course I write historical romance, so although I strive for historical accuracy is many areas I can be elastic and choose to use a 21st Century lens to filter out other less savory aspects of Georgian society. However, I do allow the seedier side of Georgian life to creep into my historical mysteries.

7) Other than the bizarre, is there anything you found that surprised you or was rather unexpected given the context of the time?

Very early on in my days of researching the 1700s I was surprised by the lack of understanding of the stages of growth from child to adulthood. If you survived to the age of 5 you then instantly became a little adult and were expected to act and dress like an adult. There was no concept of childhood and the teenage years, as we know it. Boys were breeched at age 7 and put into miniature versions of an adult male’s clothes – frockcoat, breeches and stockings. Girls were put into stays and gowns from around the age of 5. If you were a child from a poor family, at the age of 5 you were sent out to work with your older brothers and sisters; there was no expectation of playtime and no schooling. Naturally, many parents and families loved their children dearly, but still there was a lack of understanding of a child’s development. One theory for why parents treated children in a distant way was the high mortality rate. Over half of all babies born died before the age of 3! That’s a truly surprising and very sad statistic.

And if we can return below the navel for a moment... I was about 12 years old when I read that there was no such garment as underpants for women (and many men didn’t wear drawers either). No underpants! No covering under your gown from the knees up. Despite the many layers of a gown and quilted petticoats, a woman’s nether regions must have been freezing in winter. And there was no going outdoors if it was particularly windy weather!

8) What are you working on right now?

I’ve begun writing Book 4 in the Roxton Series DAIR DEVIL. And I am excited to announce that Book Two in my historical mystery series, DEADLY AFFAIR has just been published on Amazon as an eBook. So on to writing Book 3 DEADLY PERIL. Busy writing days ahead!

Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog, J.A.! 

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Thanks, Lucinda.

You can see more from Lucinda at her website and Pinterest:  www.lucindabrant.com and http://pinterest.com/lucindabrant/.

AUTUMN DUCHESS can be purchased from Amazon.

3 comments:

kimba88 said...

Excellent interview. I am a series lover and have a special spot in my heart for historical romances..adding this series to my list!

J.A. Beard said...

There is a certain joy that comes with discovering an author you like is producing a series. :)

Midu Hadi said...

Interesting facts & a really good interview!