Message From The Author
Who doesn’t love My Fair Lady? In high school, after seeing the film, I hunted down and devoured the play on which it is based (George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion). Later, I started a collection of the various amazing romance novels it has inspired. But I never, ever intended to write my own variation on the theme.
Even after I began writing A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal—the first passage I wrote is now the opening scene in the third chapter, in which a poor woman breaks into a rich man’s home on a hunt for justice—I denied any and all resemblances to Pygmalion. Conversations with friends during this period of denial went something like this:
Me: “Well, it’s the tale of a lost heiress, found in the most unlikely of locales.”
Friend: “What do you mean? Is your hero on a search for this heiress?”
Me: “Oh, no—the hero, that’s Simon, thinks the heroine, Nell, is the heiress. The heiress was kidnapped as a very young child, you see. So even though Nell has no conscious memory of being raised amidst wealth, it’s possible she is this missing woman.”
Friend, nodding: “But is she really?”
Lifting my brow in a manner I hope to look mysterious: “I cannot say.”
Friend, growing impatient: “Well, where was Nell all this time? What do you mean by ‘unlikely locale’?”
Me: “She was in the East End. The slums. She’s a factory girl.”
Friend: “A factory girl! Oh, so he’ll have to make her into a lady, then.”
Friend, laughing: “So you’re writing a Pygmalion story. Why didn’t you just say so?”
Lest you find my reluctance puzzling, let me explain: the idea of setting out to write a variation on a theme that has been done so well by so many other writers (I pause here to think reverently of The Proposition by Judith Ivory) does not kindle one’s writerly enthusiasm. Rather, it gives one a tremor down the spine—and the taste of temerity in one’s mouth. I simply could not think of this as a Pygmalion tale and still maintain the sort of unflinching, fearless enthusiasm required to put 96,000 words on the page.
Only now that the novel is out of my hands—finished, redrafted, edited and revised; copy-edited and page-proofed, printed and passed into the bookish wilds—do I have the objectivity to admit: Yes, gentle readers, this book is Pygmalion…esque. A factory girl from the slums of the East End WILL learn how to drink her tea properly; how to waltz elegantly; how to sit down to a plate flanked by seven different pieces of silverware and avoid the dangerous trap of asparagus, the stalks of which are tasty (particularly when covered in butter and cream) but must never, ever be eaten! In polite company, only the tips will do.
This girl, our heroine, Nell Whitby, will also be granted access to proper baths, to lovely dresses, and to the sort of coach she used to have to jump out of the road to avoid being crushed by.
And, yes, Nell may even fall in love with the man who aims, for his own purposes, to transform her into the very picture of a properly raised heiress. Meanwhile, yes, our hero, Simon, may find himself conflicted by the prospect of remaking a woman who, in every way, begins to seem disturbingly appealing just as she is.
But I think—and I very much hope you’ll agree—that Nell and Simon’s story is not quite like any retelling of Pygmalion that has come before it…even if A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal offers some of the same satisfactions that those other tales provided: the opportunity to watch a man who aimed to transform a woman ultimately become transformed himself, by the power of his love for her… and to watch a woman unlearn an lifetime’s worth of caution and come to love, almost against her will, the one man she can least afford to trust.
- Meredith Duran
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