Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Women Who Work

When I first started reading romance – OK I’m one who didn’t grow up reading romance, but historical novels – I often encountered something that became one of my least favorite themes. A historical heroine with no domestic skills. I’m was always asking myself, why would the hero want a woman who couldn’t help him in anyway, can’t do anything except provide sex?

Would you believe a contemporary hero who wanted to marry a woman who not only couldn’t get a job, but couldn’t drive a car, use the phone or computer, couldn’t vacuum, cook, look after the kids, couldn’t do anything but be a bed partner. The contemporary hero, if he had enough money, could hire everything else done. But not so the historical hero. He needs a partner, a helpmate — a wife. Even the contemporary heroine doesn’t need a man. She can hire someone to mow the lawn, fix the garbage disposal, install a new water heater.

In a historical novel one of the sub-themes is that it takes a man and a woman working together to make a go of it. A true partnership. Which, of course, is the foundation of romance.

I like historical novels where the woman is shown pulling her own weight. Where her husband-to-be/husband recognizes that he’s got a prize beyond rubies.* I like historical novels showing how women worked and the contribution they made to make the home and society function.

Of course, this does not mean that I want paragraph after paragraph as we follow the heroine through the day. But I want to see her work, her skills, the qualities the hero admires in the background as the story progresses. Everyone of us reading this knows what it’s like to work, we all do it all the time, and part of reading historical is to see ourselves reflected in the past, the past reflected in us.

In Johanna Lindsey’s Medieval novel DEFY NOT THE HEART, the knight hero, resisting marrying the lady tells his friend ‘any lusty village wench will do’. And his friend points out to him all the work involved with keeping a castle by saying ‘can you hand a villein a sword and call him a knight? It takes years of training to be knight, years of training to be a lady.’

The Medieval Lady is a woman with responsibility. She’s the one who sees that the meals are on time and of good quality, that the household is feed and clothed, the castle clean (there’s a task!!), food is stored for the winter, wool and flax are spun, woven, cut and stitched. The lady oversees the laundry, kitchen, wine cellar, buttery, linen closet, gardens, etc. She’s the CEO of the castle and the manor people.**

The Medieval lady is the ‘super mom’ of the Middle Ages. And we like the hero who recognizes his lady’s contribution. I think this is one of the reasons we love the Medieval lady of the castle, we can see ourselves in her.

If your writing about a Regency lord, what will he want in a wife? Can she handle his household, will she behave so as not to disgrace his name and family. Show her capable of making a gracious home, organizing a charity, raising his heir – whatever he considers important.

When creating a character you have to ask yourself what qualities would a hero and heroine look for in a lifetime companion (and remember, for most historical period, it was ‘lifetime’, as divorce wasn’t an option). Pretty and handsome are good, but will it bring home the bacon?

I think this sub-theme shows up best in Americana historical, which are usually set on the ‘frontier’ of the time. If you lived in next door to Daniel Boone, would you want your daughter to marry a handsome man, or one who knew how to hunt and farm so she and her children wouldn’t go hungry? Because this idea of ‘partnership’ is so appealing to me, this is why the frontier is my favorite time frame. The frontier man knows full well he needs a wife to help tame the wilderness. A man alone in the wilderness just becomes part of the wilderness.

For example, think about the movie LAST OF THE MOHICANS, do you think Nathaniel (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe) are going to live exactly the same life style that Nathaniel lived before? While I loved this movie, I sometime wonder about the HEA. Do you think Daniel will go back to Europe with Cora? Probably not. So it’s a good thing that we know Cora is strong, as she’ll have to ‘hack it (a life) out of the wilderness, without so much as a by your leave’. Does she possess the domestic skills she’ll need to live in a log cabin? Probably not, but after what they’ve been through, I’m sure she can learn.

When I wrote KENTUCKY GREEN, I made sure that the background to all the scenes showed how the heroine worked. In conversation with a secondary character to give exposition, the two women are mending. In a pivotal scene where the hero acknowledges to himself he loves her, they talk while she churns butter. In COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD, the heroine is helping her uncle with some bookkeeping. Later in the day she fixed a sandwich for the hero, and I have him think how she’d been ‘at work’ at the office, and now is still working at the house.

It’s the history teacher in me that makes me want a historical novel to subtly teach something to the reader. And working women is a great sub-theme. We contemporary women can identify with the woman of the past who are always busy. And the little details of the work you put in your story add the dept that makes it realistic. And since in historicals, the HEA is, per force, marriage, I want to see a partnership that as a reader I’ll believe lasts beyond the last page of the book.

What else makes a book a keeper, than to believe in the characters and story so that they live in the readers mind after they close the book? I guess what I want is to see that the hero values the heroine beyond her pretty face and young, sexy body. Probably because I’m old enough to know that the pretty face and young, sexy body won’t last forever.

Terry Irene Blain
who after 40 years of marriage and two sons, can no longer fit into her wedding dress

*Bible (King James version) Proverbs 31:10-31, in the original language, an acrostic of the ideal wife.

**Trivia note: since the lady walked around with the keys to these various area at her waist, the key became the symbol of power, and the clinking keys eventually became a charm bracelet

Romancing the Scone

Is it just me, or have historical romances gone anorexic?

Think, when was the last time you reveled in a glorious meal enjoyed by the hero and heroine where the steaming dishes brought to the table reflect the steamy looks exchanged by the two? Is there a ban on food scenes circulating the critique groups? Are they on the editors’ no-no list?

In the interest of moving forward, are authors condemning their heroines to near starvation as they go on the run with the hero? Will the reader learn what comforting menu will be presented when they are forced to leave the storm-lashed road for the shelter of a wayside inn? When those proper Regency belles dither over which eligible potential beau will escort them to dinner, do they ever get to enjoy the meal? Does the reader ever get to see what is on the lavishly spread table? Must we go all the way back to medieval times before we’re ever allowed to sit down and feast?

If you think I’m making too much of this missing element, I’d like to remind you of some of the memorable food-related scenes in classic fiction. From the first page of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, we learn that the author should accept the obligation of providing a “bill of fare” for the reading to come. Fielding fulfills this duty throughout the book with sensual descriptions of all of Tom’s bad boy antics including an eating scene that is hilariously rendered in the Albert Finney film of the book. In this one scene, we learn about characters, plot points, and setting. What more can you ask a scene to show?

Moving further down literary lane, remember the sensuous strawberry-eating done in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles? The picnic Scarlett prepared herself not to eat by the snack Mammy forced her to gobble? The cow’s brains and eyeball Leslie Benedict was presented with as an honor for her to eat at her first Texas barbecue in Edna Ferber’s Giant.

Of course, the top chef emeritus of the literary world has to be Charles Dickens. In his novels, rich and poor alike are delineated by the food they eat, serve or crave. Cookbooks, restaurants, and London shopping districts are dedicated to the menus in his books. What’s Christmas without the fond retelling of the Cratchits’ meager but appreciated meal, Scrooge’s nephew’s party fare, and the giant turkey the reformed Scrooge sends to amaze and nourish Tiny Tim?

Remember when Mrs. Cratchit serves the plum pudding?

“She entered the room, flushed but smiling proudly; with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in a half-a-quartern of ignited brandy and bedecked with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

Husband Bob immediately deems it “the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.”

And who can forget the Miss Haversham’s abandoned wedding feast entombed in spider webs and mice from Great Expectations?

Are there any such unforgettable food scenes in modern historical romances? Am I missing them somehow? Aside from medievals where there is often a focus on food as the new heroine takes over the management of the manor, have you read or written one lately? Tell me about them.

For a few recipes reminiscent of Dickens, try www.thebrasssisters.com where you can find a Hearty English Meat Pie. Shepard’s Pie, an easy Irish Sponge Cake or Currant Creme Scones. Each recipe includes a brief description of the role of that food in Victorian times.

Two of my recent releases contain food scenes: Listen with Your Heart (www.desertbreezepublishing.com) and Cast a Pale Shadow (thewildrosepress.com) Haunts of the Heart‘s (www.aspenmountainpress.com) food scenes don’t involve eating. The characters are ghosts. But food is still an issue to heroine Deanna Butterworth as described in this excerpt:

Deanna shoved her feet out from under the covers and made up her mind. Now that she was going to live, she might as well eat.

The kitchen had no windows, but opened up into a small greenhouse. She was used to the sun speckling through the plants onto the kitchen floor and walls. Now, of course, there were no plants. No sun either. The boards on the greenhouse walls were sealed nearly tight. She had an urge to go out and rip them off, but she was not exactly dressed for that, so she suppressed it and turned on a light instead.

“Looks like Old Mother Hubbard’s,” she said as she opened the pantry door. Nothing but dust and mouse droppings. “Yuk!” Her empty stomach turned over.

“I know,” she muttered to it, “I shouldn’t resurrect you for this.” She stepped back and closed the door. Without enthusiasm, she opened and closed each of the cupboards over the sink. She found a canister in one and thinking popcorn, she opened it. It was buggy flour. Her stomach protested once again.

“Foraging?” Anthony’s voice right behind her ear startled her.

The canister slipped from her grasp, its contents spilling to the floor, the bugs skittering for cover. Her stomach heaved its emptiness into her mouth as she stumbled for the nearest chair.

“Really,” said Anthony as he crouched to examine the flour, flicking through it with his finger, “there’s entirely too much starch here and very little protein. Not at all good for your uh…,” he appraised her, hunched in a ball in the chair, “figure.”

“It’s all right,” she managed, “the sight of you kills my appetite anyway.”

You can learn more about my books at www.barbarascottink.com

What Your Historical Reading Choice Says About Your Personality

After ten years of study, biliotherapists at prestigious Dever University in Knob Knoster, MO have discovered a startling correlation in readers’ choice of historical era romance preference and their personalities. “The stronger the preference, the more consistent the predictions we can make,” says Alice Fleming, PHD, BMA, the initiator of the study. “We have been contacted by the FBI on the possibility of adding our findings to their ongoing study of profiling. Of course, that would violate the privacy of our study participants and is completely against University policy.”

What does this study reveal about your personality? Check the descriptions below.

Medieval, Scottish: Devotees of this sub-genre are marked by their desire for family connections and their preference for plaid. They tend to be fearless, bold, and youthful in their attitudes toward life. Intensely loyal and magnanimous with their friends and family, they are equally as distrusting of strangers. They usually live in large houses with straw colored carpets.

Regency: Refined and orderly can describe the personality of the Regency lover. They prefer a structured life and can be somewhat rigid in their attitudes and choices. Well-mannered, they are an asset to any rout. On the downside, they can be subject to excessive pride and prejudices and, if single, have an overwhelming obsession with getting married.

Colonial, North American: Independent and ambitious, Colonial readers will fight for their rights and place in the world. They crave democracy and may cherish ideals that seem impossible to achieve by others. They can be somewhat stalwart in their approach to religion and are ambivalent in their attitudes toward indigenous peoples. However, they are always ready to invite you over to share turkey, pemmican, and pumpkin pie.

Civil War, American: Despite where they actually reside, readers in this sub-genre, speak with Southern accents and tend to choose lovers and spouses with the opposite political leanings to their own. Lovers of gentility and a slow-paced life, but also quick to judge others and take sides, they can sometimes be seen as stubborn and backwards. You can usually find this reader relaxing on her porch with mint tea or, alternately, volunteering to roll bandages and read at her local veterans hospital.

Victorian: Prim, proper, and virginal (actually or pretended) are the words you might choose to describe the Victorian era reader. Self-control, rules, and modesty in appearance are the hallmarks of their day. Their nights, however, can be an entirely different matter. It is then, they will find a delight in the risque or even hotter aspects of the romance genre. Statistics show they are the most frequent consumers of naughty lingeree and satin sheets. By contrast, they also consume extraordinary amounts of Activia.

Western: Rugged, courageous, strong willed, but also quiet, non-communicative, and quick to anger, the Western lover has a personality filled with contrast. Happy on their own, they can be surprisingly willing to be tamed and domesticated. In fact, when settled, they often prove to be uncomplicated individuals with a lovable zest for life. They prefer country music, pick-up trucks, and wide open spaces and can chafe at the restrictions of an urban lifestyle.

Historical Time Travel: Not surprisingly, time travel readers yearn for a simpler life. While outwardly adventurous and, some might say, gullible, inwardly, they want life’s decisions to be already made and recorded. They can be clear thinkers with intellectual tendencies, but they also take on personality traits of the particular historical era they chose as their time travel destination. Thus, they can be a jumble of the personalities cited above in other eras. If they have no particular preference of time travel destination, then, watch out, they are a mess and possibly dangerous.

Whatever your personality or historical reading preference, Barbara Scott hopes you will chose to read one of her Spring releases: Listen With Your Heart, a Victorian, Haunts of the Heart, a Civil War ghost story, or Cast a Pale Shadow, a contemporary romantic suspense. You can learn more about them at her website, www.barbarascottink.com

She does not guarantee that the profiles given above are in any way true or accurate and they do not necessarily express the opinion of this blog or its bloggers. She cannot verify the existence of this university or Dr. Fleming. In fact, their names sound suspiciously like the street she grew up on and her Grandma’s maiden name.

Virginia is the winner of a teddy bear for commenting on my blog last month. You will have a chance to win this month just by leaving a comment.