by Donna Lea Simpson, guest blogger and author of The Last Days of a Rake and Love and Scandal
Today it’s hard to imagine that once, writing was not considered a suitable career or even pastime for women. Jane Austen hid the fact that she wrote, partly because of a need for privacy, but also because her socially suitable façade was important to maintain, especially as a genteel daughter of a reverend. Though recognition of the need for women to be educated in ways that would lead to employment was on the rise (there was an excess of poverty-stricken spinsters!) those of a certain social standing were effectively confined to jobs that echoed a proper Victorian lady’s place in the home, as the maternal center, or as a kind of faux-daughter. A woman could be a governess, a nurse, or a paid companion, and not much else.
This, of course, did not apply to women of the ‘lower classes’, for whom work had always been whatever they could find; women were weavers and brewers, tavern owners and barmaids, seamstresses, and, increasingly in the Victorian age, factory workers. None of those occupations was suitable, of course, for a ‘lady’.
But attitudes toward women were varied, not unanimous as some of us think when we consider the Victorian era. We think of repression, and sexual rigidity, women viewed as inferior, subjugated to the will of men. But in truth, that was just one aspect of society in Victorian England.
In Love & Scandal (Carina Press) Collette Jardinière and her two friends from childhood, show the varying roles of women in that time. Henrietta – Henny, as she is known to her friends – is the downtrodden wife, subject to the will of her patriarchal husband and making the best of it. But Philoxia has arisen from a scandalous past to become a lion of the literary world, an educated and intelligent woman who holds literary salons that attract the luminaries of the literary world,
And then there is Collette. I did what many authors do, I placed myself in that time and wondered, how would I cope in a world where my intelligence was undervalued and my options were limited? I’ve always written; I have to write. What would I do if I was told that it was not suitable for a lady to publish novels, especially ones with serious subjects? Poetry would have been barely acceptable. Novel writing, for an unmarried woman, was unthinkable.
I would have done what Charlotte Brontë did, and what Collette, the heroine of Love & Scandal, does; I would have written under a male pseudonym. But Collette realizes, when she meets the famous Mrs. Gaskell (the woman who wrote Charlotte Brontë’s first biography, but was already famous for the novel Mary Barton) that the times, they were a changin’!
Speaking with Mrs. Gaskell at her friend, Philoxia’s literary salon, Collette ponders her decision to use a male name, Colin Jenkins, to hide behind:
“Before Collette knew it, Philoxia and Henny were left behind and she was being escorted on a tour of the room with the famous novelist. It is like a dream, she thought, floating along with the other woman, and yet I am one of them. I am one of these people, a writer, a novelist acclaimed as the new Thackeray. But I did not have the courage to put my own name on the novel, and so now I am reaping the bitter harvest of cowardice. Perhaps it is only in the small villages such as mine that being a novelist is shocking. Perhaps if I had seen the world a little, come to London, I would not have made the same decision. If only I could talk to this woman as one writer to another. If only I had not hid behind a man’s name. If only—
All the “perhapses” and “if onlys” bore down on her like a leaden weight. This was the life she had wished for when young.”
Collette learns too late that the decision she made so lightly is bearing heavy consequences; before Love & Scandal is done, she will have to decide how to proceed if she is to go on as a writer. But why was the patriarchy so frightened of women writing, or even of admitting feminine intelligence? I have my own opinions, from all that I’ve read over the years.
Men and women have always had a difficult time understanding one another. Our lives together, both in a romantic sense and otherwise, are messy and difficult and sometimes heartbreaking, if ultimately rewarding. The old saying ‘can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em’, is so true, in many ways. Humans, being human (!), want to control what we don’t understand, and men, in a position of power from centuries of habit, wielded that control like an iron fist. Not all men, maybe not even most, but the loudest and the ones in power. Male life was easier if women stayed in their sphere, the home, without challenging male dominion; after all, women might have different ideas about how the country should be run, if they had any real power. So men came up with every excuse to keep women there; women were fragile and needed to be protected. Women were morally weak, and needed to be protected. Women were vulnerable to male strength and moral corruption and, you guessed it, needed to be protected.
Many men actually believed the excuses. Some suspected it was not true but went along with prevailing wisdom because it benefited them. And some rare birds actively fought for female suffrage, John Stuart Mill among them.
In Love & Scandal Collette deals with her own deep need for intellectual freedom and her conflicting fear that falling in love with Charles Jameson will take that freedom away from her. Charles, on the other hand, begins to see that the inferiority he had always attributed to women was just a reflection of some measure of insecurity, which he needs to shed if he is ever to understand and be with Collette.
Collette’s life changes when she meets a certain scandalous female of the Victorian age, an author whose writing will challenge those patriarchal notions, even as she hides behind a male pseudonym herself; I’ll leave it to the reader to discover her identity. I hope you enjoy both the conversation about men and women, in Love & Scandal, AND the spicy love story!
As an added bonus to Love & Scandal, Carina Press has published The Last Days of a Rake, the novel Collette, as Colin Jenkins, wrote! It is a FREE download! Take advantage, even if just to see the lovely Carina Press formats.
Donna Lea Simpson
Love & Scandal is now available from Carina Press, the all digital imprint of Harlequin!
For more info, go to: http://www.donnaleasimpson.com
To read the first chapter go to: http://donnaleasimpson.wordpress.com/love-scandal-chapter-one/
Buy: Love & Scandal