Jo Beverley On Researching The Georgian Era For A Scandalous Countess
We love Georgian era tales, like Brenda Joyce's new series starter, Seduction, Jane Feather's A Wedding Wager and Isobel Carr's Ripe series. And our list of delicious recent releases set in this glittering historical time period could not be complete without a mention of the Malloren series by Jo Beverley. The latest in her emotion-filled series, this month's RT Top Pick, A Scandalous Countess, will have readers forgetting all about modern conveniences in favor of the romance of this bygone era. Today Beverley gives us a look at how the Georgian period influenced this story's plot and shares one of her favorite "unexpected truths" of life during the era!
The RT review of A Scandalous Countess praises my "meticulous research." As it also makes the book a top pick, I'm particularly happy, as clearly my research didn't bog down the book. That's always a hazard for an author. We can become so entranced by the delightful things we discover that we build our story around those rather than the characters, the relationship, and the emotions.
For this reason, I do most of the particular research for a novel when the question comes up, not ahead of time. Of course, I have my background period research from having written Georgian romances for about 20 years, learning a bit more all the time. You can see all my Georgian romances here.
How did this go in A Scandalous Countess? It opens with Georgia, Countess of Maybury and only 19, being wakened to the news that her husband has been killed in a duel. Bad enough, but her mother has to point out to her that because she hasn't borne an heir, nearly everything she thinks of as hers — principally the three homes she has lovingly renovated, furnished, and decorated — now belong to another. Imagine how that must have felt.
After three years as a wife, and as a leading light of Georgian London, Georgia finds herself almost returned to her girlhood status. Her family takes her off to their country home for her mourning period, because the loss of husband and homes isn't all of it — she's in danger of losing her reputation as well. Rumors swirl that the fatal duel was fought over her honor.
That was the situation I knew about, but then came the surprises. I assumed that an under-age widow would be returned to her father's power, but when I did the research I found that was untrue. A widow or widower was in control of their money and free to marry whom they pleased. That knocked me back a bit because I'd assumed Georgia's father, the Earl of Hernescroft, would be able to force her into marriage with Lord Dracy. However, I worked with the truth, and I think the book is stronger for the subtler approach.
Another interesting bit was the water system of London. I love finding out about such things, but it usually happens through my general reading — I just read Travels in England in 1782, which gave me a few new nuggets of information that might turn up in a book one day.
The issue of the London water system came about from the other end. I wanted to show Dracy that Georgia isn't just a frivolous, fashionable beauty, and I knew that an aristocratic lady would be involved with charities, so I made her a patroness of Danae House, a refuge for ruined serving maids. That also gave a useful link to the Mallorens, as it's just the sort of thing Diana, Marchioness of Rothgar would set up.
I needed to show Georgia in action, so there had to be an issue, and I wanted it to be very down-to-earth. What's more so than plumbing? I dove into research and found out about the various companies that piped river water to houses for a fee, switching on the tap to an individual house only a few days a week. It was there I came across the occasional problem of fish getting stuck in the pipe. Had to put that in. And you can see why most people didn't drink water in 18th century London! Most drank weak beer, which they knew was safe, though they didn't know it was safe because the brewing process involved a long boiling stage.
I do think such research adds to a book because it provides pins of reality that strengthen the whole. However, I try to be strong willed and keep any research that doesn't enrich the story to an author's note at the end.
How do you feel about historical detail in romances? Do you enjoy it? Do you believe what you read, or do you sometimes go off to research something yourself and find out if it's true? Do you like to think of our aristocratic heroines having complex lives — running homes, being patronesses of charities and perhaps of the arts as well? Or does it seem too much like hard work to be fun?
- Jo Beverley