Yesterday author Donna Fletcher shared the historical research behind her latest Scottish-set release, and today historical romance writer Miranda Neville does the same for her latest book The Importance of Being Wicked. Inspired by the London art world of 1800, the author's Georgian tale is about an outspoken, unconventional duchess who opens her home to her husband's artist friends and shows her niece's fiancé Thomas, Duke of Castleton, that a "proper" wife can be anything but dull.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: The four novels in your new Wild Quartet series explore what happens ten years later to a group of wild young men, united by a passion for art and mischief. Caro, the heroine of The Importance of Being Wicked, is the widow of one of these wild boys (her elopement is the background to the novella "The Second Seduction of a Lady"). Short of money herself, Caro continues to maintain open house to the young artists and connoisseurs in her circle. Bewitching, outspoken and in touch with her own sexuality, Caro is our kind of heroine. She takes the sensual lead with her conventional and unwilling admirer, Thomas Duke of Castleton. So how does the background of the London art world of 1800 play into their romance?
Miranda Neville: The eighteenth century saw a huge growth of interest in fine art, spreading from the aristocracy to the exploding British middle class. I found a quote from the 1802 Morning Post claiming that the export of prints had added one million pounds to the British revenue. I loved that–so like the kind of estimates economists make today.
The demand for art in Europe was so great that art schools were founded to encourage people to enter the trade. By the end of the century there was something of a glut of artists–hence the chronic poverty of Caro’s aspiring artist friend Oliver Bream.
Theories about aesthetics and art were argued fervently in the newspapers and periodicals of the period, and in salons like Caro’s. Although you won’t find much of that in The Importance of Being Wicked, the protagonists’ characters are somewhat reflected in their attitudes.
Caro’s friends tease Thomas, the Duke of Castleton, because he prefers pictures of horses and dogs, rather typical of a country gentleman. Thomas thinks Oliver’s high-minded views are utter rubbish.
“I shall elevate their minds and stir their emotions. I see Lucrece as an emblem of the common man and her rape by Tarquinius as symbolic of the fate of the French peasantry at the hands of the nobility.”
The ladies appeared to drink up this radical nonsense along with their cold claret. Thomas couldn’t imagine that the stolid English patrons of the Royal Academy would be converted to Jacobinism by a mythological scene.
Caro’s reactions to art are emotional, hence her obsessive need to hold onto a valuable painting by Titian, which she keeps hidden in a closet, even though selling it would pay her debts. Thomas, a straightforward man, likes paintings that remind him of something or someone he knows. These two views turn out to be surprisingly compatible.
“Do you know what I’d like?” he said. “I’d like a picture of us now at this table. I’d like to keep it to remind me of a happy moment.”
Oh my. Her heart would burst.
Because of Caro’s life in bohemian circles, on the surface she is more open and adventurous than her stuffy duke. This is particular reflected in their sexual relationship where Caro is the more adventurous by far, though Thomas proves an enthusiastic and adept pupil. Yet her outward bravado covers a devastating hidden pain. When it comes to love and devotion the conventional duke proves to be the master.