History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

12 May 2012

The Dark Lady

I'm really excited about my friend Marie Claremont's upcoming book The Dark Lady. I'm especially entranced with her cover. THIS is what romance covers should look like. I want to know where she's going, what she's doing, who she is. Marie agreed to visit with us and talk a little about the inspiration for The Dark Lady:
Back in 2008 I was an aspiring Regency writer. I adored the costumes, the comedy, the houses. What wasn’t to love? And at the time I had every intention of finding my niche in that very popular genre period. I was even on my way, I’d had agent requests and an editor request for my regency. And then it happened. Love at first sight. . . Ahem. . . Or first read. A book that year was getting a lot of buzz at the San Francisco Romance Writers of America Conference. I picked up a free copy of Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows, a passionate novel set in India and London during the 1850s. That book gripped me and then it never really let go. It inspired me to start listening to the darker characters in my head and suddenly, my happy, sunny regencies disappeared, replaced by atmospheric, dark, and tortured characters in Victorian England. Now as a career move, this was crazy. Dark wasn’t selling, but I was in love and isn’t that what romance writers do? Succumb to love?

There’s something about Victorian England that is utterly captivating. There is such a cultural contradiction going on. On the surface, there is this incredibly rigid society. Yet, underneath all this outward austerity dwelt a fantastic world rife with scandal, insanity, and sex. Torture porn was all the rage. There were houses of prostitution that specialize in whipping (for men!). In the 1850s there were about 9,000 prostitutes in London alone, and yet extreme innocence (to the point of girls having no idea what sex was or that babies did indeed grow inside a woman’s body) was one of the most valued characteristics in ladies. This strange sexual duality in Victorian London is absolutely fascinating to me.

 And then there’s the drugs. Drugs were rampant in Victorian England. Opium hit London and enveloped it like wildfire.  There were no drug laws. You could buy opiate derivatives at the chemist’s, no prescription necessary. Laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, were available in unlimited supply. Victorians chugged that stuff like it was candied water. There are so many notable users at this time I could write a blog entirely based upon those names. A few are Elizabeth Siddal (The famous model to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carrol, and Elizabeth Barret Browning. Godfrey’s Cordial was especially popular and was used to keep babies from crying. Yes. Opium for babies. But what you also must understand was that laudanum was handed out left, right, and center to women for the cure of hysteria, mental cramps, and nerves. Ultimately, looking back through my contemporary lens, it was also used as a cure for female boredom and lack of purpose. And then laudanum’s big brothers heroine and morphine came to town. There were actually jeweled hypodermic syringes and cases so that women could carry them around in their reticules.

Now, why would anyone want to dwell for months in this world writing about people who are sexually repressed and strung out on drugs in a restrictive society? But here’s the thing, I get to write daily about characters who go right up to the edge of self destruction and come back. They find love, they find peace, they find a way to cope with the monsters inside and around them. To me finding love in the midst of the horrors of life is the ultimate romance. And I love writing about second chances. All my characters are coming back from horrible pasts and finding the beauty in each other. 

I’m so excited The Dark Lady’s cover because I feel it represent the dark world of the Victorians. Yet, there is hope. The grass is verdant, the trees are about to bud and my heroine is striding into a future, hopefully far different than her wintery past.


Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Haha, Máire, I too started off writing frothy Regency romances until I read a book that completely rocked my world and changed the direction of my writing (The Bachelor List by Jane Feather, btw). When it comes to Victorian England, I'm about the last two decades--1880s and 1890s--but the conflicting desires and the duplicity of society is very alluring.

Regarding this concealment of sex even as all sorts of desires were catered to, what comes to mind is Kate Caffrey's explanation in her book 1900s Lady: "throughout recorded history there have only been two kinds of society as far as sex is concerned...prostitution or permissiveness...the permissive society speaks its mind, brings out facts into the open, and discards its corsets. The prostitutional society hides its true feelings, conceals the facts, and clings to tight lacing. But in a society where prostitution thrives, its reflex thrives also: the carefully preserved virgin bride. And therefore the girls were told nothing or as near to nothing as possible."

But congrats on the upcoming release of The Dark Lady, and double congrats on your amazingly lovely and evocative cover.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Meg McNulty said...

Ah I heart Meredith Duran's Duke of Shadows big time. I definitely have a penchant for the tortured soul (Laura Kinsale would top my list any time) so I totally understand your inspiration. Not that I don't love Loretta Chase and the others who write comedy so beautifully, but when I'm writing it's definitely on the dark side.

Can't wait to read The Dark Lady - it sounds right up my street!

3:02 PM  
Blogger Maire Claremont said...

Hi Evangeline,

Oh. I adore the later Victorian period as well. So many interesting things happening i.e. Lily Langtry, the incredible boom of the industrial period, and Marx's theories beginning to actually take root. One of my very favorite novels is The Crimson Petal and The White set during that period.

That quote says it so perfectly. A society which is restrictive will force pleasures to become illicit and shameful. But where there is a need there will be supply for that need. And quite frankly, given the pay and work conditions of the time, if I'd needed a job as a woman, being an "unfortunate" seems like it would have been a good career move.

Thanks so much for the congrats. I truly appreciate them and I hope we see more romance covers with such beauty and depth.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Maire Claremont said...

My dear Meg,

I do adore the dark side, and Kinsale. Duke of Jerveaux??? Woooo. I love meeting other writers who explore those angles of romance.

And yes, I still read comedy. One cannot reside in darkness all the time. Otherwise one would likely end up in the jammy ward of one of our fine institutions looking at ink blots.

I'm so glad you're excited for The Dark Lady. I've actually had one reader say she felt I wrote in the same vein as Kinsale, so perhaps you will truly enjoy my debut.


9:51 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I certainly think there's room for dark in a Regency setting too, but then I'm another one in the "not all that enamored with frothy romps" club and I like Regency settings, so I'd LOVE to see more dark book there. I’m really looking forward to THE DARK LADY!

7:23 AM  
Blogger Maire Claremont said...

I completely agree Isobel. Laura Kinsale, once again, is a bench mark setter for darker regency. Anna Campbell has done a few and the Gothic period actually STARTED in the Regency. Mary Shelley and that whole crew was around laying the foundations for what he now consider to be the darkness of the Victorian period.

I'd be overjoyed for dark Regency. While I adore farce, Sheridan's School For Scandal and anything by Congreve, I do exploring the other side. Too much of one things is never good for anyone, is it? I mean look what happened to Byron. ;D

And thank you for your excitement about The Dark Lady.


8:50 AM  
Blogger Patricia Preston said...

Love this cover! Outstanding.

5:23 AM  

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