I’ve brought a guest to today’s ball, two actually. The inimitable Janet Mullany is here, along with the hero of her book Dedication. Originally a Signet Regency, this highly praised (and unusually sexy-for-a-trad) romance was long out of print. I paid an outrageous sum for it used. The revised and expanded edition of Dedication is now available as an ebook. It’s a tale of reunited lovers – with a twist. Years after she and Adam parted, Fabienne has become a noted patroness of the arts. She conducts a fervent exchange of letters with Mrs. Ravenwood, a gothic novelist whose books are all the rage. Little does she know that the reclusive Mrs. Ravenwood is really …. Well, you’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ve decided to have a little fun with Lady B.
I’ll send you a case of lobster patties, Albert, if you don’t spill the beans.
Miranda: I have two guest Authoresses in The Ballroom today. Miss Mullany and, as promised, Mrs. Ravenwood
Lady B. I see an unknown lady–
Miss Mullany (curtsies): May I present–
Lady B. And a gentleman. He doesn’t look like any Authoress I’ve ever seen, and, as you know, I have seen many.
Mr. Ashworth: Adam Ashworth, at your service, ma’am.
Lady B: Indeed. Where, then, is Mrs. Ravenwood? Explain yourselves. All London is mad for her horrid novels and Miss Neville assured me the entire ton would be at my feet if Mrs. Ravenwood were to attend the Ballroom. I, of course, have not read the books myself, although I caught my butler reading the copy of The Ruined Tower I had bought to display in the drawing room. One must always appear au courant, but I’m too busy to keep up with My Authoresses’ books. (aside to Janet: Don’t tell Miss Neville, but I haven’t got to her latest yet). My duties as a hostess and to Lord B. leave no time for reading novels written by people I’ve never met.
Miss Mullany: Your lack of acquaintance is about to be remedied.
Lady B: Excellent. Bring me Mrs. Ravenwood immediately.
Mr. Ashworth: I am she, ma’am.
Lady B: You, sir? That is preposterous. Who is this fellow, Miss Neville? I do not believe that I am related to any Ashworths. Sir, I do not receive gentlemen–and I use the term loosely–with no claim to kinship or whose coats are out at the elbow. Mrs. Ravenwood may be connected to Lord B’s aunt’s second cousin by marriage so I’m happy to make her acquaintance.
Mr. Ashworth: I am sure she would be suitably grateful, but I must tell you, ma’am, Mrs. Ravenwood is no one; or, to be more precise, I am that person. As for my coat, I live in the country where I write novels and look after my pigs–
Miss Mullany:–Oh no, not the pigs again. Enough of the pigs, Adam.
Mr. Ashworth: Very well, although her ladyship may well harbor a passion for pigs.
Lady B: I assure you pigs are rarely on my mind. I do occasionally think about sheep, when Miss Dare insists. Continue, sir.
Mr. Ashworth: The pigs are indifferent to my sartorial mishaps, ma’am. This is how I dress in the country.
Lady B: And you hide behind Mrs. Ravenwood’s literary petticoats, sir? Why is that?
Mr. Ashworth: I have my reasons, ma’am. But wait. I think we have met before?
Lady B: I doubt it. I usually associate with those of the highest rank. Why, you can barely shake a stick at the number of dukes who pay their respects in this house.
Mr. Ashworth: Lady B … yes, I remember a certain Heliotrope. You wore a mask as we all did–and the women little else other than some floating draperies. As I remember, they floated right off.
Miranda: How shocking … and fascinating! You must be mistaken, sir.
Mr. Ashworth: We were all much younger, then, were we not, Lady B? In love with love and freedom and brotherhood. Heady days. You know to what I refer, ma’am, a certain secret society devoted to the ideals of revolution. Miss Heliotrope was much admired for her ability to–
Lady B: I shall call my footmen to eject you from the house, sir.
Miss Mullany: A word, Adam … (whispers in Adam’s ear)
Mr. Ashworth: Of course. I see it now. Beg your pardon, ma’am. An easily made mistake, for you bear a remarkable similarity to a lady of the same name I once knew. But the books, ma’am–yes, indeed, I am the author of those gothic novels you are too busy to read. Thankfully others are not.
Lady B: I consider novel writing a singularly unsuitable occupation for a gentleman. Gentlemen have their uses–and often excellent legs–but when it comes to writing a good book, there’s nothing like an Authoress. Goodness me, in my youth, when I had more time, I perused novels by Mr. Fielding, Mr. Richardson, and Mr. Lawrence Sterne. Also The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Mr. Gibbon. Would that the Decline had been faster and the Fall final. But none of these works pleased me like one of the excellent tales penned by Miss Willig, or Miss MacLean, or Miss Foley, filled with suspense, love, and good bits. Men should leave novel writing to the fairer sex, who know what they are doing. Little wonder that Mr. Ashworth prefers to publish under a feminine nom de plume, else no one would take him seriously.
Miranda: Lady B! You insult Mr. Ashworth and he is our guest.
Lady B. Do you take me for a fool, Miss Neville? Mr. Ashworth may claim to be an Authoress, but I know that he is merely a Hero. He is the creation of Miss Mullany, who is unambiguously female and a true Authoress. I daresay her books have plenty of good bits.
Miranda: I have it on the best authority that Dedication, Janet’s story about Adam and Fabienne, contains some good bits that didn’t appear in the original edition.
Miss Mullany: About one and a half chapters worth, actually. All very good bits.
If you missed Dedication first time around, or if you read it then but would like to check out the new good bits, Janet has kindly offered to give a copy to one commenter. (Ebook only, your choice of format). For centuries, some writers have preferred to write under assumed names (including even some of the Ballroom Authoresses, but don’t tell Lady B. or she’ll go into a genealogical frenzy). Let’s talk about our favorite pseudonymous writers, and the reasons behind their disguise. Part of the fun is making up your own name. Whether you are a writer or not, what would you like to be called if you could pick your own name?