Lady B has asked me to attend her in the sitting room. I suspect this is because all the other authoresses have made themselves scarce, knowing as they do that Lady is “at home” today. I’m fairly certain Miranda’s love of fashion (and ability to scathingly judge it) would be more of use. As we know, it’s been a zoo here during the Season, and all because of Monty.
But nonetheless, I happily leave my work-in-progress aside and call upon my anthropological training to be a participant observer in the ritual of Regency courtship. One in which the male in demand is unlikely to be present and all early negotiations are made through oblique comments by the females.
Just as I enter the sitting room, I hear the first knock at the front door.
“It begins,” Lady B intones with a wink and I take a seat to her left.
“Again,” squawks Albert.
I am half tempted to retrieve my laptop—ahem, notepad—to take notes. After all, what better way to get tips on London ingénues than here?
“Mrs. Perkins-Wilkenson and her daughter, Miss Perkins-Wilkenson,” announces the footman.
These two are not your usual romance book mother-daughter set. In fact, they are fairly reminiscent of the Gilmore Girls. While I assume young Sarah Perkins-Wilkenson is the customary 17 or 18 of a girl in her first season, her mother, Eloise Perkins-Wilkenson, looks as if she could be her sister. Both of them are lovely in that peaches and cream, strawberry blond sort of a way, and they are dressed impeccably. Wait, no. Is that a turned hem I spy at the bottom of Eloise’s dress? Hmm, surely if it is Lady B will notice and I can ask her later. I start wondering if perhaps Eloise is a widow and absolutely ripe to be a romance book heroine. Perhaps she sees her young daughter as her last chance for financial safety but ends up having a romance of her own.
Not with Monty. Lady B would never forgive me, even if it’s merely in the world of my fictional conjecture, my little writerly game.
But certainly any number of wealthy rakes (yes, it would have to be a rake who endangers her reputation and therefore her daughter’s chances of a respectable marriage!) would be appropriate for her. But unfortunately all the rakes I’ve met in Lady B’s ballroom lately have been taken. Maybe one of our heroes has a best friend or a “rake club” acquaintance to recommend.
But then again, perhaps Eloise is still very much married. Then I must focus my attentions on Sarah.
I am determined to fit Eloise and Sarah into the romance book mold over the next fifteen polite minutes. What do you think is the true nature of their circumstance and what gentleman/gentlemen would be appropriate as a match?
“We’ll have to stop,” Lady B says. “I see a light ahead.”
I refrain from rolling my eyes. We have already begun this journey in a Bigger-On-The-Inside carriage, been ransacked by a highwayman, seen Lady B shoot at said highwayman, Monty lost his buttons and now, we are being directed by Lady B towards a pinpoint of light.
I’m an authoress, I know a set piece when I see one.
But I am at Lady B’s disposal – and even though she managed to magically transport us to the Beaufetheringstone Estate just a few short weeks ago, now we have to travel back to London the slow, annoying, regular way. Therefore, as the carriage rumbles on its way towards the light, I am merely waiting. Waiting, that is, for the next contrivance.
And I do not have to wait long, before the carriage is jolted from its springs, making us go lopsided.
“What was that?” Miranda cries, grabbing hold of Monty’s buttons, presumably to steady herself.
“I believe we hit a ditch in the road,” Katharine replies, trying to peer out into the darkness. “We are not moving, we must have broken a wheel.”
Of course we did, I think, but manage to refrain from saying aloud.
“We shall simply have to walk,” Lady B declares, already gathering up her peacock muff and Albert’s cage. “It is not far.”
“But it’s snowing!” Sarah pouts. “Hard.”
Indeed. It seems that freak September snowstorm that none of us planned for and yet all of us expected has come in full force, and huge, wet globs are falling at an alarming rate. But one look from Lady B, and the comfortable confines of the surprisingly roomy and well-equipped carriage (I think some of the seats reclined fully, ala British Airlines Business Class) are abandoned, and we all trudge through the snow.
Just the cozy little place to be creeped out in during a freak snowstorm…
It is not too long before our clothes are soaked through. Luckily, it is not too much longer before our path takes us to the front door of a ramshackle building, practically hidden by overgrown shrubbery.
Lady B locates the door, and knocks on it firmly. A beefy man opens it.
“Sir, we require food and lodging. And while I am perfectly dry, my young friends will need a change of clothes.” Lady B declares, before she brushes past him and into the building.
The other authoresses and I shrug at each other, and make the same imperious nod, and move through the door.
And then, we stop dead in our tracks.
It’s a tavern. A seedy one, at that. Terribly ill kept, spider-webs everywhere, my inner OCD clean freak is FREAKING OUT. There is no one in there save us, the Beefy man, and a tired looking woman cleaning tables.
“Moira!” the beefy man calls out. “We got women here.”
“And one gentleman!” Monty calls out, obviously offended.
The man slides a glance to Monty, obviously unimpressed. “They want clothes and a room and, er, other things.”
“Ain’t got no clothes for ye,” Moira replies, not looking up from her cleaning. “But the laundry’s just been done. We have a fair number of clean sheets.”
“Moira! You cannot be thinking of having them stay!” Beefy complains.
“Why ever not? Moira saiys.
“Because we only have one room,” Beefy replies. “And it is already… occupied.”
“These ladies will pay better.” Moira replies, nodding to Lady B. Lady B nods back, and I get the feeling these two ladies are cut from the same cloth. “The occupant won’t mind, will he, love?”
Beefy shrugs, and trudged to the stairs.
“Oh, dear, I do not wish to evict anyone,” Lauren says in a low whisper.
“Let me get you your linens, and would you care for a drink?” Moira declares, lining up pint glasses.
In a flurry of moments, all eight of us are undressed, draped in sheets, and drinking merrily, all thought of the evicted tenant lost.
“Monty!” Sabrina teases. “You have to come out eventually.”
Monty, who had been changing behind the bar, pops up, a sheet slung low around his waist and another haphazardly over a (bronzed, gorgeous) shoulder.
“I am so glad that my new husband is not here to see this,” I murmur, and we all nod in agreement.
Just then a flurry of movement on the stairs catches my eye. A flash of white moving along upper landing.
“What was that?” Tessa asks – she must have seen it too.
“A ghost!” Sabrina exclaims, downing the dregs of her third ale. “The tavern is haunted! Is the tavern haunted?”
“Not haunted, miss.” Moira sighs. “Just… overstaffed at present.”
“Well, well well, what have we here?”
It’s a familiar voice. And a familiar pair of piercing blue eyes. A familiar rakish wink and a terribly charming set of shoulders.
“Highwayman!” Monty cries, leaping into action. Unfortunately, his toga is long, and he is not as familiar with walking in skirts as the rest of us, and he ends up face down on the ballroom floor, further injuring his bandaged features. Katharine and Lauren rush to his aid – unceremoniously pushing Tessa and Sarah out of the way.
“Highwayman?” Moira asks, her eyebrow up. “What does he mean ‘highwayman’?”
“What he means,” Lady B says imperiously, “is that young man attempted to rob us, not an hour ago. I insist that you call in the authorities and have him arrested!”
“I canna be doing that,” the beefy man says sheepishly, catching his breath from running down the stairs after the young, delicious… er, highwayman. (Married, Kate, you are married now, my inner monologue admonishes.)
“And why not?” Lady B demands.
“Two reasons.” Moira replies on a sigh. “Firstly, the snow is already a foot thick, no one is going anywhere tonight.”
“This is his tavern. We work for him.”
The highwayman can’t help a grin. A naughty, naughty grin. Oh my.
“Looks like we’ll be making a party of it.” He drawls. “Now, who has a spare toga for me?”
With the snow as thick as it is, it seems as if we are spending the night at the tavern – with our Highwayman, and in togas! What could possibly happen next?
Since we are enjoying beer and a toga party, we authoresses can’t help but be reminded of a certain film’s wild parties. What’s the wildest party you ever attended?
Sabrina: Well, yes, he’s in the story, too, of course. But Angelina is his heroine.
Lady B: And his mistress.
Sabrina: I’m not certain I can speak to that.
<< squawk! >> Tease! << squawk! >>
Lady B is now looking around the ballroom with her lorgnette. Studying the crowd, which is filled with heroines of recent balls past and quite a few heroes. In fact, I see Miss Dare’s Eliza Cade and Miss MacLean’s Cross, and Miss Noble’s Lieutenant Fletcher.
Then I see Angelina, holding court amongst a group of very attractive men. She looks stunning, with her blond hair swept up fashionably and fastened with diamonds. She’s got a wide smile and eyes that seem to flirt with every person, male or female that her gaze rests on. This must be Angelina when she was still the darling of the London theatre, and being kept by Lord Peter Denham. Great. She’s here as a mistress and not the hero’s. How embarrassing!
Lady B: Isn’t that Lord Peter Denham’s mistress?
Lady B: She made a charming Viola in Twelfth Night. However, I’m not entirely certain how I feel about a mistress in my ballroom. It was one thing when you invited the lot of them to my parlour, but this is an exclusive event. Albert, do alert the footman to see her out. What’s her name again?
This isn’t going well at all.
Sabrina: Lady B, wait, that’s actually Miss Whitcombe.
Lady B raises her lorgnette again. Then she lowers it and looks at me with a very arch expression.
Lady B: Why am I not surprised? (She gives a long-suffering sigh.) Shall we?
I approach Angelina and her coterie.
Sabrina: Excuse me gentlemen. (I firmly take Angelina’s arm as I try my own inequal attempt at that flirtatiously confident look.) I need to borrow Miss Whitcombe.
One passively handsome gentleman: Bring her back soon!
The man’s speaking rather possessively, so I stop and take a better look. I realize with a bit of shock that this is her latest protector. I never expected to come face to face with him. After all, he’s merely part of the back story, off the page when the story actually begins.
I hurry Angelina away, ignoring him. Lady B is watching us come near and I see that her right toe is tapping.
Angelina: Lady Beaufetheringstone, it’s such an honor to be here tonight. You have the loveliest home.
Lady B’s foot stops tapping. Her hand unfists and her lorgnette drops down to hang from her wrist. She’s no longer quite as put out and that’s all due to Angelina’s charm. See, it isn’t what she says, but rather how she says it. I can see how magnetic she would be on the stage.
Lady B: When do you leave for Yorkshire? I must say, having seen you now, I’m quite surprised you’d hare off on such a wild jaunt on the basis of an advertisement in the paper. Lord Peter Denham and the accolades of London surely is preferable to such an unknown?
Angelina: I beg your pardon?
Angelina is staring at Lady B with the most politely bland expression, as if she thinks our hostess is crazy but would never, ever intimate such a thing.
I cough loudly.
Sabrina: Actually, Lady B, that hasn’t actually happened yet.
Angelina: I’m not certain what you are discussing, but I assure you I am quite happy here in London.
Sabrina: You see, Lady B, the Angelina I know is older and wiser.
Angelina: Surely not so much older.
She looks alarmed even though she clearly still has no clue what I am talking about.
Sabrina: I’ll explain, Lady B. (I shoo Angelina off, back to her admirers who have all been sending frequent and languishing glances this way.) You see, the circumstance that befalls Angelina and leads her to such a desperate situation that she answers my cousin’s advertisement hasn’t yet occurred. Please remember, that while this might very well be the year 1816 today, just a few weeks ago it was 1811.
Lady B very prettily scrunches her forehead.
Lady B: I do follow you, Miss Darby, but it is all rather fantastical.
Lady B: (rolling her eyes) Yes, I quite see what you mean. You shall have to bring by Miss Whitcombe later, then. When she has been properly settled.
<< squawk >> What befell her? << squawk >>
Lady B: Quite right, Albert.
They both stare at me, waiting. But as the story does not release till July 31, I can hardly share such delicious gossip. So we’ll have to satisfy Lady B with pure conjecture. What do you think would make an actress leave London to be a stranger’s mistress?
I started the week getting grumpy at the British historian Simon Schama for his article on the PBS series Downton Abbey. I happen to love Downton Abbey; he doesn’t. That’s OK. He’s perfectly at liberty to turn up his nose at this classy but soapy drama about the aristocracy. Not everyone enjoys the shenanigans of hot lords. Certainly not Prof. Schama who thinks the series services “the instincts of cultural necrophilia.” Whatev. I think Simon should chill. It’s not like hot lords are still running the country.
It's Saturday and we don't have to do anything. Wait, that's just like every other day.
But then he attacked Downton for being too cheerful, even suggesting that it was unrealistic for Matthew to return from World War I alive. Excuuuuse me, Simon. Yes, WWI was a hideous pointless slaughter, but not everyone was killed. Lots died and lots returned, some in better shape than others. If the writers of this fictional drama want a character to survive, that’s their prerogative.
And then he really pissed me off with this statement:
…history’s meant to be a bummer, not a stroll down memory lane. Done right, it delivers the tonic of tragedy, not the bromide of romance.
Fighting words. I bet I know what Simon thinks of romance novels.
The week ended on a more cheerful note with a piece at msn.com by writer and psychologist Debra Holland entitled Life Lessons from Romance Novels. She makes some very good points about how romance reading helps women. Plus you should see the book covers that illustrate her argument. Nicely chosen, Debra (or random MSN deputy editor). Is it possible you have ever visited The Ballroom?
And then there’s Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin is an economist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He acts as an advisor to the European Union and several European governments of varying political persuasions. Without getting in too deep, he believes that individuals have to work together to solve the world’s problems. In The Empathic Civilization he discusses how psychological factors impact economic development. And – surprise, surprise – he says that romance novels have played their part in the historical growth of human empathy.
Women helped men learn how to love and express intimacy … In the Romantic schema–visited repeatedly in romance novels–the conquest is reversed. The hardened and insensitive male is wooed by the nurturance and affection of the female. She senses the intimate qualities long buried inside her mate and by creating a sense of trust and affection is able to bring them out–to melt his heart.
Rifkin sees women as teaching the male “empathy.” And, interestingly he credits the romance novel, going back to the eighteenth century, with not merely recording this female-male influence, but with actually causing it. He says reading novels provided the impetus for woman to demand more sensitivity in men.
I’ve grossly over-simplified Rifkin’s thesis, but I’m getting one clear message. Romance novels are good. Romance novels will solve the global economic crisis and bring about world peace. So what we need to do is get more men to read romance.
Do the men in your life read romance. And if not why not? What should we do to encourage men to read more romance, thus bringing about peace, prosperity, and the end of static cling?