Dabney: I’m determined to keep this interview spoiler free. So, no mentioning who it is who writes the 50 Ways to Sin stories! But can I ask, did you know who the author was from the beginning of the series?
Caroline: Thank you for that! At the very beginning of Love and Other Scandals, the first book, I had not decided for sure, but by the end of the book I knew.
My other consideration for Lady Constance, by the way, was a totally new character who would have emerged during the series, not one of the existing characters.
Dabney: The books are all linked by a Regency era scandalous pamphlet all the heroines read: 50 Ways to Sin. How much would the pamphlet have cost? Was it the sort of thing that only the wealthy would have been able to afford?
Caroline: I wanted them to be the equivalent of mass market books—cheap to produce and cheap to buy. Based on period prices I was able to find, I would say they cost between sixpence and a shilling (which was 12 pence). I figured there would also be a secondhand market as well, and of course my heroines share the pamphlets among themselves.
Dabney: Tell me you’re going to publish a sample story. Your readers deserve to hear from Lady Constance!
Caroline: Well….. since you asked…. Here’s Issue #1!
Dabney: The women in your story all learn a great deal about sex from the 50 Ways to Sin stories. One of the most important things they learn is that sex can (and should) be deeply pleasurable for women. Was this a radical idea in the Regency era?
Caroline: It was certainly radical for unmarried girls of the upper classes to know! But 18th C. London was full of risque books, and women were just as likely to write and publish them as to buy them. In fact, it was sort of a joke that well-to-do women would send their chambermaids out to get their erotica for them. But at the same time, many of the ‘heroines’ in this erotic literature are from lower classes, and it was somewhat scandalous (though by no means unusual) for even married women to have erotic books. I suspect it was radical to believe that sex *should* be very pleasurable for women, and that it ought to be a vital part of a happy marriage. In many cases marriage was still largely about money, though it was understood that the spouses could and probably would seek pleasure elsewhere if they weren’t that compatible in bed. Which acknowledges that women wanted pleasure, and that men who could deliver it got reputations as rakes—because women wanted what that kind of man could offer.
Dabney: Will we ever know who the lady who encourage Benedict (the hero from Love in the Time of Scandal) to go home and make mad passionate love to his wife was?
Caroline: Oh yes, she shows up at the end of Six Degrees of Scandal. In fact, she has the very last words of the book.
Dabney: What do you love best about writing historical romance?
Caroline: I love that real history is crazier than anything authors make up. If there had been reality TV shows back then, they would have been absolute bonkers, even more so than today’s shows—they just would have said things differently. I’m currently fascinated by Hamilton, on Broadway, and how Hamilton’s story could easily take place today (and I think modern politics would be *greatly* enhanced by having rap battles instead of debates and speeches on C-SPAN).
But while people haven’t changed much, social rules have, providing a lot more inherent conflict and tension. It WAS a big deal for a duke to marry a commoner, but people cheered when Prince William married Kate. People DID get married solely for money and have (effectively) open marriages. And of course, the stakes were higher, because a marriage couldn’t easily be undone by a divorce court. And the Regency was such a marvelous age in many ways, offering just about anything a romance author could hope for: war heroes, spies, political movements, rising interest in love marriages, more freedom for women (relatively), the beginnings of scientific and engineering revolutions, and of course awesome clothes and architecture. And then authors have added things like vampires who somehow fit right in.
So, the short answer is, I love everything about it.
Dabney: In Six Degrees of Scandal, you describe in wonderful detail the process by which the 50 Ways of Sin pamphlets were printed. What was the most interesting thing you learned as you researched 19th century printing techniques?
Caroline: I am lucky enough to live in Boston, home to many colonial-era museums and exhibits. By pure luck, we had friends in from out of town who wanted to walk the Freedom Trail and we stopped in at the Printing Office of Edes and Gill. (http://bostongazette.org) Benjamin Edes and Thomas Gill ran the Boston Gazette in the late 1700s and printed some of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence. Today it’s a working museum, meaning they are still printing, on rag linen paper, on an exact replica 18 C. press. So I got to see it in action while everyone else spent time in the colonial chocolate shop next door.
I guess I was surprised how it was totally possible for one person to do it all. Once the type was set, it was a fairly quick process. The ink is applied with a leather mallet, and it’s astonishing how clearly this printed. I was sure there would be tons of little blobs and slubs from extra ink, but there were hardly any. The paper was thicker and softer than modern paper, because it was made from old rags instead of wood pulp, and the ink was described as being more like varnish than ink—so it wouldn’t run. I highly recommend this stop on the Freedom Trail if you are ever in Boston (also, the chocolate shop next door gives out free samples).
Dabney: Art plays a big part in the Scandals books. Why? Are you a classical art fan? If so, who’s your favorite artist? Favorite painting?
Caroline: I’m actually not very knowledgable about art! I know what I like, but I am definitely not a student of it. What did fascinate me was the way art was a prize of war. Napoleon looted Europe as he fought his way across the continent, to fill the grand new museum he planned at the Tuileries palace (which became the Louvre). After Napoleon lost, the Duke of Wellington really put people back on their heels by insisting that stolen art should be returned—it was a first for a conquering general. Many in England thought it belonged to England and her allies as the victors (including the Prince Regent, who coveted it desperately), while the French people held marches and rallies in the streets to protest the loss; Napoleon had gotten some of the art by forcing conquered states to sign treaty terms ceding the art, and France tried to argue this meant they were legally entitled to it. Wellington was incredibly restrained; he didn’t even allow France to be stripped of things that had belonged to her before the wars.
The Prussians didn’t stand for any of that. After Waterloo some of them just kept going, right into Paris, and took back the paintings and statues they felt belonged to them. As it was, only about half the art was eventually returned. Dominique Vivant-Denon, Napoleon’s art minister, saw the writing on the wall and began squirreling away pieces, “loaning” them to friends and “selling” some to himself, to keep it out of the British army’s hands. So not all of it made its way home, but it was remarkable that any of it did.
A lot of the same art was plundered during WWII by the Nazis for the grand Reichsmuseum. And again, after the war, the victorious allies spent a lot of time and effort recovering and returning that art. I just watched The Monuments Men, about the art historians and preservations who joined the army just for that purpose, and it was very sobering to think that Napoleon had taken some of those same pieces.
But you asked for my favorite artist. I am very fond of the grand neoclassical paintings, where every little thing has some meaning, like Jacques-Louis David’s Coronation of Napoleon. But I also love the portraits of John Singer Sargent because his subjects look so real and so natural, not stiff and posed like many historical portraits.
Dabney: Six Degrees of Scandal is the end of the series, right? What’s next for you?
Caroline: It IS the end of the series…. almost surely. If I write about anyone else from the series, it would be Evangeline, Joan’s eccentric aunt from the first book.
But moving on, I am seriously excited about my next hero. Eleven years ago, in my very first book, I had a secondary character, the Duke of Ware. I have gotten so many requests over the years for his story, and finally, I’m doing it. He fell in love as a young man, got his heart broken and never really got over it—and now he’s about to come face to face with that girl again, several years later.
Dabney: When will that be released?
Caroline: Sometime in 2017.
Dabney: Thanks so much for talking with me. It’s always interesting!
Ms. Linden will send a signed copy of Six Degrees of Scandal and her recent novella A Study in Scandal to one lucky US reader. Make a comment below to be entered in this drawing.