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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

10 February 2010

Introducing Rose Lerner, Historical Fiction Author!

It gives me the greatest of pleasure to introduce debut author Rose Lerner, whose first book, In For a Penny, will be hitting the shelves on February 23rd. Rose discovered Georgette Heyer when she was an impressionable young miss of thirteen and never looked back-- fortunately for all of us!

In the midst of book launch madness, Rose has graciously taken the time to stop by today to share with us some of the more fascinating bits of her research for In For a Penny.

Welcome, Rose!


When I started writing In for a Penny, about a rich brewer's daughter who marries an impoverished earl, I realized I was going to have to do some research to figure out how people in the Regency thought about class. I had general ideas, obviously, but if I was going to write about my heroine from the point of view of my antagonist, the snobby poacher-hating Tory Sir Jasper, or write about my heroine meeting the hero's newly-middle-class tenant farmers, I needed to understand more.

I quickly discovered that there were endless gradations, just as there are today:

1. A biography of Hannah More tells this story: the Duchess of Gloucester "desired one of her ladies to stop an orange-woman and ask her if she ever sold ballads. 'No indeed,' said the woman, 'I don't do anything so mean, I don't even sell apples!'"

2. Miss Bingley finds it ridiculous to imagine a portrait of Elizabeth's uncle, a lawyer, next to one of Mr. Darcy's "great-uncle, the judge." While Elizabeth says she and Mr. Darcy are in the same class--"he is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter"--the difference seems huge to Lady Catherine.

3. As far as "new money" went, bankers and brewers were less respected than gentlemen and peers, but more respected than factory-owners and men who made their fortunes in new, Industrial Revolution professions.

4. When I was reading the opera reviews Leigh Hunt did for his journal, the Examiner, I was surprised by how often ideas of "vulgarity" and "coarseness" came up--and not at all in the sense of dirty jokes or inappropriate content. The words were primarily used to describe lapses in taste (for example, affected, show-off-y singing). "Vulgar" and "elegant" seem clearly linked to "working class" and "upper class." Yet, Leigh Hunt was a member of a middle-class, politically radical group of poets and thinkers (including John Keats, son of an apothecary) who were nicknamed "the Cockney School" and constantly described as "vulgar" by their gently-born critics. "Vulgar," it became apparent while doing my research, was a buzz-word of the time. It seems to have been especially popular when someone wanted to insult someone else for being of a lower socioeconomic class, but didn't want to admit that's what they were doing.

The moral is that, like today, everybody was very interested in where they stood on the ladder. They were probably very aware of the rungs a few feet above and below, and the distances between them, while everything farther away blurred together.

The distance between the nouveau riche and old money was small enough that old money was very, very vividly aware of it--and very eager to maintain it. I was occasionally startled by the scorn heaped on lower- or middle-class people who "rose above their station" or were perceived as trying to do so. I read one quote in particular again and again when trying to get the right tone for my villain. It's from an open letter by Lord Byron to his publisher John Murray, attacking the Cockney School:

It is in their finery that the new under school are most vulgar, and they may be known by this at once; as what we called at Harrow "a Sunday blood" might be easily distinguished from a gentleman, although his clothes might be the better cut, and his boots the best blackened, of the two--probably because he made the one, or cleaned the other, with his own hands.

He clearly believes that he's said something incredibly scathing, but all he's actually said is that he and his fellow aristocratic students at Harrow used to laugh at people who wore their best clothes to church, simply because they looked different, and couldn't afford to pay someone else to make and care for all their clothes. (I do love Byron, by the way, but I also love using him for research because his contemporary prejudices are so very shameless.) It's that quote, and what it represents--the terrifying humiliation of trying and failing to look like a gentlewoman--that has shaped my heroine from childhood.

The other part of this, the part I had the most trouble wrapping my head around, was the way all of these distinctions were perceived as natural. The differences between rich and poor weren't differences of education or culture; they were in the blood. That type of thinking has fallen out of fashion (possibly because we know more about genetics nowadays), but to write this book I had to try to understand it. This quote, from The Methodists by James Haskins, was my touchstone for that. It knocked me flat the first time I read it:

"[The Methodists'] doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors," the Duchess of Buckingham had observed in the mid-18th century, "in perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions[...] It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl the earth."

It's hard to imagine a world where it seems completely intuitive that being rich would make you less sinful. But as a historical romance author, it's my job to try.

Rose will be giving away a shiny new copy of In For A Penny to one person who comments on this blog....

24 Comments:

Anonymous Tinky said...

Thanks, Lauren, and Rose, for this fascinating look into another era, and especially for the comments about what seems natural. I agree that this is DEFINITELY the hardest part to empathize with in another period. The book sounds fascinating!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Welcome to the blog, Rose. Your book sounds wonderful. I can wait to run out and grab a copy. I love seeing research of this depth on display.

9:03 AM  
Blogger peggy said...

Congratulations, on your first book Rose.I love reading new authors.and I look forward to reading it.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks so much for blogging with us, Rose! Your book sounds wonderful, and I loved your insights into the many layers of social class. Do your hero and heroine marry for reasons of convenience or is it a love match? How does the hero feel about the heroine's family and was it hard to keep him true to his time and sympathetic? (Or is he ahead of his time, which people can be, in all eras).

10:51 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Tinky--thanks! Makes you wonder what people are going to be flabbergasted about when they look back at us, doesn't it?

Kalen--thank you! And by the way, your info about corsets was SO helpful to me while writing this book.

Peggy--thank you so much! I can't believe the amount of encouragement and support I've received as a new author. Romance is the best!

Tracy--thanks for having me! The hero is attracted to her at their first meeting before he knows about her money, but after his father dies and leaves the family bankrupt, that's when he asks her to marry him, with the understanding between them that it's a partnership, not a love match. I have a HUGE weak spot for marriage of convenience stories--I just love watching the protagonists struggle to stick to the original agreement while their feelings get deeper and deeper. The hero has a few snobbish moments, especially early on, but he's actually pretty fine with the heroine's family. I think in some ways that's also a result of his upbringing--he doesn't really get why class stuff is a big deal to the heroine, because as an aristocrat born and bred he doesn't have anything to prove, if that makes sense. And he grew up being best friends with the son of his father's steward, which helps. (Of course, his mother isn't quite so tolerant, which causes problems...)

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Gwen Mitchell said...

Fascinating post, Rose. It is amazing to think about how so much was dominated by class status - not just where people lived or how they lived, but what they ate, wore, how they spoke. I think there are still plenty of mental distinctions we make, but luckily, pointing them out openly has become a sign of a lack of class. ;)

12:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

You know, the more I think about the orange seller's apple comment, the more it makes sense, since oranges would've been exotic imported or hothouse produce, while apples were local and mundane. Maybe something like a chocolatier who sells imported Belgian truffles and heaps scorn upon Hershey products?

I'm one of Rose's critique partners, BTW, and I can testify that In for a Penny is a wonderful book.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love marriage of convenience stories too, Rose (the book I just finished is one; so many layers to explore). To your point about your hero not thinking class distinctions are such a big deal, I think it's often those who are trying to rise in society (like Miss Bingley) was are the most obsessed with class distinctions.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Gwen--thanks, and lol!

Susan--huh, you're right, it DOES make sense! That makes the anecdote even better, for me, because in context it's obviously repeated as "What a silly distinction, hahaha!"...but these distinctions always look silly until you're the one trying to protect your own status and the respect it gets you. I bet that orange seller would have thought it was dumb to distinguish between a brewer and a mill owner, too, you know? (And thanks for the plug! ::blushes::)

Tracy--ooh, sounds interesting! I'll have to keep an eye out for that one. And ha, you may have something there! From my reading it seemed like plenty of aristocrats were obsessed with these distinctions, but...unlike people trying to rise, they had the OPTION of not caring, you know? It's like that old saying, "the only people who say money isn't important are the people who have it."

12:45 PM  
OpenID Ande said...

Regency society is fascinating, isn't it? And still has much to teach us.

Ande

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Angelique Armae said...

Wow, what an incredible post! Thanks for the information, Rose. I love the Regency and it is fascinating to learn about the people of its time and how they interacted and thought.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Rose, are we going to see you in Nashville? If so, you MUST come out to drinks with us.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Oh I can't wait to get my hands on this one. I LOVE an author who gets the importance of perception in her characters. You seem to have delved into research of the heart of this sort of story when it is told well. There is so much that can be discerned by what a hero or heroine says about how they see differences in class, what they truly think about it and how love can open one's eyes to the most important thing in human interaction - those things that we have in common, those things that make us one.

And I happen to love Byron too, for many reasons, including the one you named!

4:57 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I wanna be in that drinks circle -- I loved your post, Rose; have trodden a lot of that ground myself, having written about a brewer's daughter as well -- and very much enjoyed your lively take on these issues. Best of luck and can't wait to read your book!

7:02 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

Thanks for the mini lesson on class in Regency England. I can see how the upper class would have their attitudes. Their families had always held their positions and even when their money was gone, they still had their titles and social position. Since money did not equate class position, someone who earned their fortune, could not expect to be accepted into the upper reaches of society. I'm sure they felt threatened by the changes going on in society and building a social wall was their natural defense.
I look forward to reading your book.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Vonnie said...

Proud of you, Rose. Excellent description of your deductions from all that hard background digging.

Your crit partners salute you!

Vonnie

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Gayle Ann Williams said...

Rose, what fascinating information. I love the research, and after reading a story like yours, I always feel smarter, lol. It sounds wonderful. Congratulations on your first book, I can't wait to read it.

Gayle Ann Williams

12:43 AM  
Blogger EmilyBryan said...

Oh, how I love it when writer gets more than clothing and architecture right about a historical period. Rose, you've climbed into your character's psyches and found out not only what they think but why!

The Methodist quote is priceless!

3:45 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Ande and Angelique--hi! Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you thought the post was interesting.

Kalen--Thank you so much for the invitation. Now I wish I WAS going to Nashville! Sadly it was not in my budget for this year, but hopefully in 2011...

Louisa--Thank you so much! Getting inside someone else's head is one of my favorite things about reading, so it's important to me as a writer. And yes, Byron's letters are one of my favorite contemporary sources. There's just something charming about him, even when he's being a HUGE jerk. What I find fascinating is that many of his very closest friends were women, and then when he gets into a romantic relationship he seems to have absolutely no sense that he might want to get to know that woman as a person before, say, marrying her.

Pam--thanks, that means a lot! I very much look forward to having drinks with you on a future occasion. :)

Librarypat--yes! And I bet it was even worse during the Regency because with the Industrial Revolution, there were a lot MORE people making huge fortunes overnight than there had been before...And thank you!

Vonnie--thanks! You guys are the best.

Gayle--hi, and thank you! I can't wait to read YOURS. ::hugs::

Emily--aw, thank you! ::blushes:: My interest in historical accuracy kind of STARTED with clothes (I was the fourteen-year-old watching costume dramas with my mom and complaining "That hat is ENTIRELY WRONG FOR THE PERIOD") but fortunately it's expanded from there! Isn't that quote great? That book actually ended up being one of my best sources even though none of my characters are Methodists.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Now I wish I WAS going to Nashville! Sadly it was not in my budget for this year, but hopefully in 2011...

So much for my hope of getting you to speak at the Beau Monde Conference. *sigh* I guess I'll bug you again in 2011.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Kalen--please do! Believe me, I'm thrilled and a half to be asked.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

And the winner is...librarypat! Librarypat, can you e-mail me your shipping info and how you'd like me to personalize the book? I'm lerner.rose (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks everyone for having me, it's been awesome!

8:08 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I can't wait to read your book.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These class attitudes far outlasted the Regency and extended well into the 20th century. My grandfather was that very rare creature, born a bastard in 1897 Birmingham, he earned a scholarship to the local grammar school at 5 and continued to win scholarships up to and and through Cambridge, becoming a theoretical physicist and a talented amateur violinist. During WWII he was one of the men who developed radar and sonar as one of Mountbatten's "boffins". He earned a CBE and ended his career as the president of a major chemical firm. Nonetheless, he was acutely aware, at all times, that he was never really a 'member of the club' and was thrilled when his only son married a Yank! He died in 1985.

3:21 PM  

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