Depravity of the Novel, Oh My!
Becca St. John
What is so wrong with the 18th century circulating library to provoke Jane Austen to pen, “Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels.” (Pride and Prejudice)
Ye Gads! It’s not the Lending Library at fault, but The Novel! Worse, novels read by women and, dare I say (fist to mouth) romance novels! Moral panic descends.
“Women, of every age, of every condition, contract and retain a taste for novels […T]he depravity is universal. … the mistress of a family losing hours over a novel in the parlour.” (Sylph no. 5, October 6, 1796: 36-37)
How many hours have we all lost in the parlor on the sofa? Too many, in my case, and delightfully so. But is it really a feminine preoccupation? According to an article in The Huffington Post , women still read more novels than men. Which, my dear reader, makes sense if you look to the babe in swaddling.
Studies reaffirm what every mother, who has held a squirming baby boy, knows. Boys twist and stretch to see everything, fascinated by thingamabobs and motion. While their baby sisters focus on faces, captivated by each flitter of expression, intricate nuance of mood. Defined differences before anyone has a chance to teach them they’re different.
And thus, the male of the species are expected to understand the workings of the world, leaving the mystery of emotion to their counterparts. Sexist you say? Most certainly was back in 1760, when George Colman wrote about the notorious effects of reading novels:
” … a man might as well turn his Daughter loose in Covent-garden, as trust the cultivation of her mind to a CIRCULATING LIBRARY.” (Polly Honeycombe by George Colman)
We’ve come a long way baby, or have we?
Do you think women are, by nature, more prone to romance? Or are men just wary of being seen as fools? Leave your opinion in the comments below and be eligible to have a book and a character, in my next novel, dedicated to you. Warning ~ you never know which character that might be, lord, lady or villain.
Below are two characters, a romantic woman and a not-so-romantic man, from my latest novel, An Independent Miss.
About An Independent Miss
What’s love to do with anything?
Immersed in her herbal laboratory, Lady Felicity secretly yearns for a dashing, romantic love straight from a gothic novel. So when her brother’s houseguest, Lord Andover, presses her hands to his chest, and proposes, she is too stunned to take in his words of undying love. Words he surely spoke. Didn’t he? Oh, drat, she should have listened…
Victims of misguided and inept medical men, Lord Andover’s father and brothers are in their graves, his mother lost to the apothecary’s opium. Desperate to save his mother, give her a will to live, he sets three goals: marry a sweet, soothing young lady, produce an heir and free his homes of herbalists and quacks. In return, he offers all that he is, all that he owns, except his beleaguered heart.
Title, wealth, and good name are all a man need offer.
Felicity picked at her dress, wide enough to accommodate hips decidedly wider than her waist. “These current styles don’t suit me.”
Caro threw up her hands. “That’s because you have a figure. Mother has always said some women look better undressed.”
Caro snickered, wickedly.
Felicity gave her a shove and moaned. “That doesn’t help. It only makes me more nervous.”
“Delicious. Felicity as a mortal, and a wet-behind-the-ears fledgling mortal at that.” Caro chuckled.
Too distracted to listen, Felicity merely agreed “Perhaps,” frowning as she realized what she had just said.
They stood quietly in the hallway.
“Is he proposing?”
Felicity’s head snapped up as she tamped down girlish notions. “No.” It was impossible, a foolish dream. “Of course not. He is committed to Lady Jane.” She shook her head as if words weren’t enough. “I’m sure of it.” She shook her head again, feeling a bit woozy. “No,” she repeated.
She’d assumed he sought her company because she was the only quiet one in a boisterous family and on this, his first step out of mourning, he would need peace. The Redmond household was not a gentle first step.
Caro was right, she just had to go in there and see what he wanted. It didn’t matter what she wore. No one would call her an incomparable, nor did he expect to see her as one. Hesitating in a doorway would not change that.
With a deep breath she stepped off a veritable cliff, into the room, her stomach roiling as self-assurance plummeted, her confident self swept away in the fall, revealing an unfamiliar shy, vulnerable girl she never thought to be.
He turned to her, fit and handsome in buff trousers and a superfine jacket a rich shade of cobalt. His neatly knotted cravat, secured with a sapphire pin, complemented the coat. A glint of sun highlighted the ebony dark of his hair, perfect foil to cerulean eyes. Not that she could see those eyes with the sun at his back. But she knew them.
“Lady Felicity.” He reached out both hands, naked of gloves, as were hers.
Did he mean for her to take them? To touch, flesh to flesh? So casually? Heat blossomed in her cheeks as she crossed the room, hands clutched at her waist, uncertain of his intention in reaching for her like that. Jarred by that uncertainty.
“Allow me this liberty.” He took her hands, eased them open, pressed them against his chest as he spoke in that deep, comforting voice of his. It poured over her, a warm waterfall of sound, as she stared, enthralled by the sight of her hands caught between the warmth of his body and the hardness of his palms.
A thrilling, foreign intimacy, the steady thump of his heart, the vibration of his baritone. A language of the senses.
Earthy heat radiated through his shirt, carried the scent of his cologne. She inhaled the spicy exotic fragrance and swallowed, afraid she might melt, right there, into a puddle at his feet. Grappling for security, she reminded herself she was a pragmatic, intelligent young lady, vastly more mature than most women her age and far beyond being carried away by bare skin. She knew the feel of flesh in a clinical, detached sort of way.
But not like this. Nothing like this.
Startled, she looked up. He finished whatever he was saying, watched her with a small smile.
Oh Lord, she should have paid attention.
“Will you?” He finally asked again, for she was certain he had already asked her once. “Will you do me the honor of marrying me?”
She blinked, stunned. “Me?”
His chuckle washed over her, as he freed one hand to brush a finger across her cheek. “Yes, you.”
She swallowed again, just to be certain she could, as she tried to reign in the tumult of thoughts his words provoked.
“Is this a prank?” She looked about for her brothers. Thomas for certain, possibly Edward, even Annabel, though a bit young, would be up to this sort of game. No one popped out from behind a settee. No suspicious lumps or toes peeked from where the curtains were gathered.
“A prank?” He bent enough to look in her eyes. “This is no jest. Your father and I have been discussing the details all week.”
And no one told her? As if she were some silly schoolgirl?
“You are not here to visit Thomas?”
Still clasped, Andover let their hands fall down between them, his thumb absently caressing her knuckles. It rippled through her into dark private places.
“I arrived for a small house party with no particular aim other than friendly amusement.” He looked out toward the window before returning to her gaze. “Then I found you. Did you not notice my attention?”
“You’ve been kind and polite.” And attentive.
She never dared presume it meant anything to him, other than friendly camaraderie. He was to marry Lady Jane Townsend. Lady Jane herself had assured the whole of Easton Academy for Young Women that one day she would be Lady Andover. With Caro still at Easton, surely they would have heard the high drama if those expectations failed to reach fruition.
Then again, there had been no mention of Lady Jane in the whole of Andover’s visit. Not even from Lord Upton, Andover’s closest friend and Lady Jane’s brother. He was visiting, as well, and one would expect him to say something if a betrothal was on the boards.
“Would you like time to think about it?” he offered, his smile replaced with a knotted brow.
No, she didn’t need time, not that she would tell him that. “You have taken me by surprise.”
Marriage. To Lord Andover.
Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord.
She fought for a serene smile while her insides rioted. He proposed to her, Felicity, not some vivacious other girl. Not to some terribly regal miss. He saw beyond her reticence, accepted her unfashionably educated mind, and chose her rather than a social bully like Lady Jane.
The flurry of excitement stalled. Lady Jane’s infamous temper was a very real obstacle. Felicity had been the brunt of it far too often to dismiss it easily.
“Have I surprised you in a bad way?”
“No, not at all. I’m just beyond words.”
Did he? This was no surprise to him, or to her father or to, well, how many others? Did everybody know, and if so, how could that be without her the least bit aware?
Yet here he stood, near enough she felt the starch of his shirt, smelled the intoxicating hint of cologne. As close as in her dreams.
Baldly, she burst out, “Are you quite certain?”
Relief billowed on his laugh, reigniting her excitement. “Yes, Lady Felicity. I am certain. What about you? Could you see to marrying this poor soul?”
Pour soul indeed. Lord Richard Henry Albert Carmichael, Marquis of Andover, Earl of Sutton, Viscount St. John. Good God—he was a Marquis, and a comfortably placed one at that.
Not that such things mattered. She would marry him if he were a poor parson’s son.
“Will you marry me?”
What mattered was the warmth in his eyes, the tilt of his chin when they chatted after dinner. The furrow of his brow during games of chess. The way he chuckled at her younger siblings, rather than rebuking them for their rudeness.
The way he guided her, however unknowingly, into normality. She was not a source for what ailed him, but a woman. A flesh and blood woman whose heart fluttered at the sound of his voice. Whose breath sighed at the touch of his hand.
She never dreamt this day possible. Collected the memories instead, little vignettes of his visit, their quiet talks, silent walks. Secret reminiscences to hold dear after he married Lady Jane.
But it was possible, unless this moment was the dream.
Too dazed to utter a single word, she nodded and sighed, as he raised her hands to his lips.
“You will not be sorry, Lady Felicity, I promise you I will be a good husband.” His words whispered across her fingers, clear through to her toes, and then his lips pressed against the bare skin of her wrist.
You will not be sorry, but she would be, if his proposal lacked words of love. If that beat of his heart had not been for her. She did not want a marriage of convenience. She did not want to wed because they ‘suited one another.’ There were alternatives to marriage for her, alternatives that were not fashionable, but would please her, nonetheless.
She had her studies, after all. Could spend her life immersed in them. Make a living from them.
If she were to marry, she wanted a love to match the novels hidden under her bed. Novels her mother forbade. Wonderful, sensational stories of dramatic emotions, wrenching passion and love. Most important of all, love.
Andover could have promised all those things while she dumbly stared at their hands. She desperately needed to know if he had.
Oh Lord, she should have listened…
About the Author
Writing was a tool, not a toy, until a stay in a haunted hotel and creaking floors sent Becca to a bookcase full of dog-eared romances. The Candlelight Regency, Lord Stephen’s Lady, by Janette Radcliffe her first taste of the genre, Becca was hooked. She read old romances, new romances, both sexy and sweet, until her own tales begged to be written.
Living in Florida, Becca divides her time between dreaming up stories, diving deep into history, kayaking, and swimming. Her husband gives her the space she needs by fishing mangroves and waterways, or watching football (the English sort) with his British buddies. Becca and her hubby break the routine with adventure travel; though, at heart, Becca is a homebody believing there is no greater playground than inside the mind.