History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 March 2010

Marriages of True Minds

Chatting with Miranda Neville yesterday about her new historical romance, The Wild Marquis, I became reminded of what's in some way dearest to me about writing romance fiction -- the pleasures of participating in a genre that loves female wit and of imagining lovers as hot for each other's minds as for their bodies.

I'm not sure when I first encountered such a couple in my youthful reading. Certainly there were elements in Jo March and her professor, in Darcy's admiration of Lizzy Bennet's wit and smarts (though for Austen heroes, my favorite has always been Henry Tilney, who's man enough to joke about muslin). For me, the fantasy probably found its fullest, most delicious embodiment in the sexy, brainy pairing of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

And when I came to write romantic fiction myself, it was because I'd found myself in the clutches of just such a fantasy: of Marie-Laure, the eponymous bookseller's very bookish, rationally-minded daughter, and Joseph, book-smuggler, tortured son of the meanest duke in pre-revolutionary France, and author of Marie-Laure's favorite libertine novel. (Oblivious of romance convention, I was as bound to set The Bookseller's Daughter in France as Joseph was destined to fall in love with Marie-Laure when she deconstructs his book!)

But even when I wasn't writing about such an explicitly bookish couple, I've always been attracted by the idea of a man and woman for being sympathetic, interested, engaged by each other's opinions, and for sometimes simply knowing without being told. What better, stronger follow-up to a night of the hottest sex I knew how to write (as I thought when I was writing Almost a Gentleman) than Phoebe's breakfast-table realization that she might actually like to share the morning newspaper with David?

He shrugged and turned back to his correspondence, after passing her the newspaper. "Not much real news, since Parliament's in holiday recess. But there's an essay on the fight for Greek emancipation that will interest you."

She stared at him. No, he wasn't mocking her. He'd known that the essay would interest her just as she'd known that something was troubling him. They'd begun to know each other. It was as ordinary -- and as miraculous -- as that.

Still, I do like what Kalen called "the brainy professor" hero, like Jasper of The Edge of Impropriety. Or the know-it-all heroine, like Mary in The Slightest Provocation.

Or the hot, funny lovers in Janet Mullany's Dedication (another reader/author love affair).

Or Loretta Chase's intrepid female Egyptologist in Mr. Impossible; Cara Elliott's scientist heroine Lady Ciara Sheffield in To Sin With a Scoundrel; Candice Hern's at-first awkwardly-matched magazine publishers, Nicholas and Prudence in her wonderful Once a Gentleman.

Or Tracy Grant's eternally vital Charles and Mélanie Fraser.

Or so many more, and certainly including Miranda Neville's most recent additions to this lineage in The Wild Marquis...

...a copy of which you have a chance to win, just by commenting here (tell us about your favorite brainy lovers -- in romance, in other fiction, or in history).

Or by commenting at the previous post, where Miranda tells us more about herself and her book.

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Blogger Virginia C said...

How delightful! I love "sparks fly" romances where each party is equal in intelligence as well as sensuality.

Some Favorites:

Lord of Scoundrels/Antiquities
Tempted by His Kiss/Chess
A Dangerous Beauty/Archery
Ashes in the Wind/Verbal Sparring

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

9:25 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Thank you so much, Pam, for inviting me on with the Hoydens. I've enjoyed our discussion enormously.

Your own post is wonderful. I'm getting a Tracy Grant, the only writer you mention I haven't read, on my next shopping trip.

The granddaddy of "marriage of minds" romance has to be Cyrano de Bergerac, except we don't get the HEA, only the heartbreak that Cyrano cannot trust Roxanne to see beyond the nose. I thought Steve Martin's modern take on it, the movie Roxanne, was brilliant. It's often been done, but nevertheless it's a plot I'd like to undertake some day.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Then said...

Miranda, The Wild Marquis is in my hot little hands ready to be devoured. I adore brainy romances, witty romances, romances where the hero and heroine banter about something other than sex (although talking about sex is nifty too, just not in a vacuum of other topics). :) Can't wait to read TWM!

Pam, I love this post. I'm reading Georgette Heyer's Venetia now, and V and Demerel are marvelously matched in minds and humor, and I think that's key. Intelligence and humor intertwined can be so sexy in a romance.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Pam, about my absolute favorite type of love story. Thanks for the nice mention of Charles and Mel--I love writing their intellectual sparring, whether they're swapping Shakespeare quotes or debating the political ideology. I was thinking of Venetia and Damerel, who Katherine Ashe just mentioned. I'd also add Beatrice & Benedick, Mulder & Scully, Susan and James from Brust & Bull's "Freedom & Necessity," Lauren's also-Shakespeare quoting Mary & Vaughn, and both couples from A.S. Byatt's "Possession."

1:19 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Venetia is definitely one of my favorite Heyers. And oh yes, Cyrano as brainy hero, Muldur and Scully definitely make the pantheon.

And thanks for the new suggestions, Virginia.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Keira Gillett said...

Oh yum! I love brainy characters. Romance nerds are the best. lol :)

4:01 PM  
Blogger Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

How funny that the first one I thought of was Candice Hern's pair in Once a Gentleman and then you had it listed as yours too :) I love it when both the man and the woman are intelligent! it really adds to the chemistry.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

I loved the brainy lovers from A.S. Byatt's Possession. Roland & Maud but also Ash & LaMotte. They are all clever and very intriguing characters. And the story is so romantic!

10:21 AM  
Blogger Kim in Baltimore said...

Pam, you listed my favorites in your post, thus challenging me to look through my keeper shelf. I found a few more "brainy" lovers:

- Rachel Manvers and Nicholas Woodward, Marquis of Stanton, in Joan Overfield's Exquisite (she creates reproductions of Roman antiquities; he collects the real ones)

- Lady Augusta Briesly and Lord Noah Edenhall in Jaclyn Reding's White Magic (she's an astronomer and he is determined to reveal her as a witch).

Miranda, I am looking forward to reading The Wild Marquis - how fun that a rare book brings the lovers together!

11:14 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Brilliant post! You have already listed some of my favorites -

Dain and Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels

Jasper and Venetia from Heyer's Venetia

How about -

Christian and Maddy from Flowers from the Storm

Phoebe and David from Almost a Gentleman
(well, all of Pam's couples actually!)

7:36 PM  
Blogger Mary Anne Landers said...

Pam: Thank you for your post. You said we could include smart guys from history. Well, I've heard that Einstein was a big ladies' man. I think I can see why. For some of us, brains are sexy.

Jay Leno once told a joke that went something like this: "There's a new book out on the life of Albert Einstein. It says his wife found out he was cheating on her with another woman, and she divorced him. And if the smartest man who ever lived couldn't fool his wife, what chance do the rest of us have?"

Another historical smart-guy joke: Noah Webster's wife caught him in bed with another woman. Mrs. Webster said, "Noah, I'm surprised!" He said, "No, my dear. You're astonished, bewildered, amazed. I'm the one who's surprised!"

1:34 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

LOL, Mary Anne and Kiera. My favorite hot nerd was the physicist Richard Feynman.

Thanks for your suggestions, Kirsten. And to Kim -- for authors I haven't even heard of, and Louisa for adding Pam Rosenthal to the list.

And Carrie, yes, Once a Gentleman is a gem. Here's hoping for more like that one from Candice Hern.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous rp said...

And Lymond & Phillipa in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles ... and my sense that Dunnett must have read Sayers.

the type of characters that keep me coming back to these novels--& my discovery of Marie-Laure and Joseph remain one of my happiest reading discoveries, all unexpected ...

5:22 PM  
Anonymous rp said...

make that "remains one of my happiest"

5:49 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks so much, rp. And you know, my discovery of Marie-Laure and Joseph of The Bookseller's Daughter -- as they first materialized through the mists of my imagination -- was a very happy moment as well, and certainly an unexpected one that set me onto the path of writing romance.

6:51 AM  

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