Author Susan Gee Heino stops by to discuss her latest historical heroine, Julia St. Clement from September's Damsel In Disguise. Learn about the realities of being an actress in Regency-era England and don't miss the excerpt at the end of the post!
I’m really excited to talk about Damsel In Disguise and my fun, disguise-wearing heroine. She’s a spunky, out-of-the-box gal so I was able to explore some humorous plot twists and quirky costumes for her.
Julia St. Clement is an actress in Regency England; 1816 to be precise. And she’s on the run. Three years ago a not-very-nice man named Fitzgelder ruined her life when he destroyed her relationship with Lord Rastmoor, a respectable nobleman. Fitzgelder also ruined her career. Since that time, Julia and her father have lived in hiding, going by assumed names and avoiding London at all costs.
Fortunately, there are regional theatres all over the country during this time period. It is in these smaller theaters Julia and her father have supported themselves. We all know that in Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on stage, but by the time Miss St. Clement treads the boards, actresses have been an accepted part of society for almost two centuries. Well, they’ve been accepted—acclaimed, even—but it is still not considered a very respectable line of work.
An actress could become highly respected for her craft, and even attain celebrity status, but she would never be considered proper amongst the highest society. After all, she was <gasp> an actress. For a woman to have any sort of job at all labeled her common; for a woman to be an actress was to label her several other things, as well. Everyone knew good girls didn’t pursue that sort of career. Apparently the proverbial “casting couch” existed even then and men were not the only ones benefiting from it. The stereotype of actresses using their sexuality to further their careers and line their pockets—onstage and off—was standard.
But really, not every actress used men as stepping stones. My heroine, Julia, came to her profession the way many women did then; through her family. Her father was an actor in France and he immigrated to England before her birth. She was raised in the theatre and was fortunate to have her father around to look out for her. She had the luxury of turning men down.
Many actresses were not so lucky. They had to find protectors as best they could, usually in the form of a lover. Or two. Or dozens. Still, an actress was far more than just a kept woman. She had a career, made her own choices, became known for her own merits. This lifestyle allowed for many liberties and actresses who achieved success had far more control over their lives and finances than the courtesans of their era as well as the more respectable women.
Julia, however, has ignored those liberties. She lost her heart completely to Lord Rastmoor, and even after she was led to believe he betrayed her, she has never forgotten him. Damsel In Disguise is her story of the journey to forgiveness and redemption. There is much loving and laughter along the way, but through every step, it is Julia’s skill as an actress that gets them by.
Having my own background in the theatre, I was fascinated by the idea of writing an actress. Julia is a slightly different sort of heroine from the usual gently-bred Regency miss, but not too different, I found. Even an independent gal with a slightly tarnished background has the same need to love and be loved. So, I fell in love with Julia, her tarnished background, her equally tarnished Rastmoor, and their slightly wacky route to reconciliation. I hope my readers will, too!
- Susan Gee Heino