History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 April 2013

Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal, & the Napoleonic Wars

Recently, I did a very fun interview on Word Wenches with the wonderful Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose about the release of The Paris Affair. Cara asked some wonderful questions, in particular about the themes of loyalty and betrayal that run through my books and why I chose the Napoleonic Wars as a setting for those stories. As often happens, those interview questions caused me to mull over things in my books. I've been thinking about it a lot in and around promoting The Paris Affair, finishing my WIP, and getting ready for the Merola Opera Program's annual Benefit (where I am with Mélanie above).

I first gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.

I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so my heroine Suzanne might argue. Her husband Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn't a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. It's a question that continues to haunt both of them in The Paris Affair and to fascinate me as a writer.

Writers, do you choose time periods because they lend themselves particularly well to the type of stories you want to tell? Or does your choice of time period influence the stories you create? Readers, do you think you like to read about particular eras because of the type of stories and the issues in those stories that tend to work in those eras? What's the worst choice of loyalties you've encountered in a book? And what's your favorite spy story in any era?

photo: Drew Altizer

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Blogger Helena said...

I like your point that loyalties during the Napoleonic era were not always simple and clear, and that the changes in circumstances made decisions even more difficult. I remember reading about a husband/wife spy story set during the Cold War (I think it was by Len Deighton, but it was a long time ago) and the issues did not seem to be so complex in that book. But I can imagine circumstances where they might be..

It is difficult to identify my favourite spy story. The first ones I thought of are Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers and John Buchan's The 39 Steps and Greenmantle. But they are not typical spy stories!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Lovely, thought-provoking post, Tracy. As well as enjoying your work and Lauren Willig's, I'm a Le Carre fan, fascinated and appalled by his psychology of imperfect yet inescapable loyalties.

But I also want to put in a word for some of the most under appreciated spy Regency romance series ever, Nita Abrams' Courier Series, built around a fictionalized Rothschild family during the Napoleonic wars. The Rothschild communication and money-transport network was, of course, critical to Wellington's victory; Abrams (whose a professor in her other life) is an astonishing plotter and researcher. And her James and Nathan Myer are a gift to any teenage Jewish reader (and maybe her mom) who sighs and wishes, just once for those dashing Regency guys to also be someone she might have gone to Hebrew school with.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Hi Helena! I think those are Len Deighton's books about Bernard and Fiona Samson. He wrote three trilogies about them and there was a wonderful television adaptation of the first trilogy called "Game, Set, & Match". Those books (and the television adaptation) were part of the inspiration for Malcolm & Suzanne/Charles & Mélanie.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Pam, I read and loved the first book in the Nita Abrams trilogy. I missed getting the others when they were published and have tried unsuccessfully to track them down. I wonder if they're out as ebooks now?

1:38 PM  

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