Caroline Lamb, Christian Cavanagh, Etopia Press, George Sand, Katherine Ferrers, Mary Wollstonecraft, Regency, Romance, Shaakespeare, Splendor, Starkadder Sisterhood, The Wicked Lady, Twelth Night, Women, women in Regency times
It’s A Man’s World – with Shehanne Moore
‘You wait ages for one Shehanne Moore book and then two come along at once! Hot on the heels of her irrepressible timeslip novel The Writer and the Rake, comes her long-awaited Regency – Splendor – sequel to the fabulous Loving Lady Lazuli. Shehanne has the knack of creating unforgettable heroines set against an authentic historical backdrop.
Here she talks about some extraordinary women on the late 18th/early 19th century.’
In terms of being a wife in ruination only which is what he has just asked, you can see my latest hero, Kendall Winterborne, Earl of Stillmore, is following in well-trodden footsteps when it comes to my heroes. As for Splendor the heroine? Well, being up to her neck in it, goes with the turf.
I recently did a guest blog for the lovely poet Christy Birmingham, on the pretty awful lot of Georgian Women. Splendor is set in a slightly later time, Regency more than early Georgian, where the hunt for a husband was a serious business, families spent a fortune on their daughters, ‘coming out’ and unattached ladies had but one goal, NOT to signal what that goal was. But what happened when they achieved that goal?
Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley—and a woman who defied convention– had published her Rights of Women in 1792.
It highlighted the ‘means and arts by which women had been forcibly subjugated, flattered into imbecility and invariably held in bondage’. So all good for women then? A great time being spent in pursuing frivilous goals? On going to dances with wet skirts as a means of showing off their legs and getting lots of attention from the male sex, of arriving dirt-poor from the country and passing oneself off as an heiress to bag a rich suitor? All things that went on, things that are alluded to in Splendor. So, a jolly good time for women then? Right?
Well, no. Contraception, childbirth etc, had not greatly improved. For women, chastity before marriage, was often as much a matter of necessity.
Also women were still their husband’s property. My hero Stillmore may be divorced, he certainly got all his wife’s money beforehand. In fact marrying her saved the family fortunes after his father ran off with a kitchen maid who bankrupted them.
So, given all this, you can understand Splendor being glad when Stillmore informs her that while this ’thing’ he’s asking her in such polite and patient terms, involves marriage, it will be one in name only, since he utterly despises and actively fears the institution. In fact he regards anyone foolish enough to take that trip down the aisle, as he once did, as an imbecile.
He has his reasons by the way.
You can also see, given the only slightly improved lot of women in the early 19th century, why quite a few of them wanted to be a man. And that is something Splendor is masquerading as at the start of the book. Not because she especially wants to be a man but because the prize money in a certain chess completion is much greater in the men’s part of the tournament, than the ladies. Nine and a half thousand guineas greater to be precise. Money she needs—badly.
In that respect she’s not the first woman to decide that going about this as a man was the way to ensure her future as a woman. Katherine Ferrers—The Wicked Lady anyone—was said to have taken to the highways as a man in her husband’s absence, to sort out the little blip in her finances, get them on a more even keel.
Too bad that she was apparently shot, exhorting a victim to stand and deliver, which they did, killing her in the process. Looking on the bright side, at least her financial worries were at an end. Something Splendor certainly considers when she gets challenged to a duel by Stillmore. Just one of the little drawbacks of entering a man’s world.
Very well, Katherine’s case has never actually been proved but the idea of women dressing as men is not stupid. Shakespeare chooses to make his main character in Twelfth Night, Viola, a cross-dresser. She wasn’t laughed off the stage either. all right she was no doubt being played by a man dressing as a woman, masquerading as a man.
Shakespeare also has each of the three women in the Merchant of Venice, dress as men at certain points of the play, for perfectly valid reasons. Again, the idea wasn’t derided.
Why does Viola cross-dress? Because, ship-wrecked and needing to find her brother, she is also faced with the harsh economic reality of finding work and the only opening? Yep, you guessed it. It’s for a man.
There are several instances of women cross dressing for that reason.
Christian Cavanagh, an Irish-born mother, left her children with her mother and a nurse to pursue her husband who had disappeared, into the army. Christian the subject of a book by Daniel Defoe, fought in several battles before it was discovered it was Mrs. Davies not Mr.
Pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read never masqueraded as men but they certainly lived as them.
Lady Caroline Lamb, as mad, bad and dangerous to know as her lover, the poet Byron, being rich, didn’t need to dress as a man to make her way in that world, unlike her poorer ‘sisters.’ But when she fancied a quickie with Byron, she did find that sneaking into his chambers was a lot easier, if she was dressed as a boy.
Author and mistress of Chopin, George Sand, who I forgot to mention in the original post- (How the hell could I ever miss out George?) never dressed as a man because she wanted to be one, took the name George either. Originally she only wanted to go to the theatre, to the cheap seats where women were forbidden. Why did she want the cheap seats? Because she couldn’t live with her husband any more, divorce was illegal and he cut her monthly allowance. I reckon that women, were doing what resourceful women, have done from time immemorial, and that’s survive. Whatever the era. And freed from having to be a woman certainly seemed to make them quite as dangerous to know in some instances too. Catherine Cavendish, thank you so much, lady and writer extraordinary for asking me to your wonderful blog today.
And now? That duel.
Extract from Splendor: Shehanne Moore
He was an unashamedly driving, look-at-me male. Unless he knew her body was shaped differently? Did it mean he wasn’t going to shoot her? She could stay in the tournament? Win the ten thousand pounds? If he knew she was a woman, he was surely going to say…
“For God’s bloody sake, you’re damn well meant to move,” Stillmore snarled. “Stop bloody arsing, will you?”
In all of her intimate brush with the Starkadder Sisterhood, she had never been told to stop doing such a thing, especially not by a man whose buttocks seemed glued to hers. She felt him turn his head.
“Don’t damn well add miscounting to cheating.”
“Miscounting? Me? When you—”
“Fram, start the count again. As for you, try to do what he says this time if it’s not beyond you.”
Despite the fact the pistol felt like ice in her hand, she gritted her teeth. “Do you somehow think it’s my fault I’m not? Look, Your Grace—”
Whether it was her fault or not, the shock she got at hearing the word yet again and the difficulty of forcing her feet to move, meant she took a giant step forward, almost sliding on her said arse on the wet grass. These damned boots of Gabe’s were too large and thin as milk dribble on the soles. But so long as Kendall Winterborne didn’t think this was another trick on her part to delay the action, it would be all right.
Another step. She could barely keep hold of herself as she took it. But, count her blessings, her senses weren’t being accosted by the feel of him. The man…good God…who might kill her.
A drag of air into her tortured lungs. All she had to do was get off one round. How hard was that? Her finger tightened on the trigger. What if she killed the earl? Was he so black-hearted he deserved to die?
And all because he’d undermined her when she’d meant to say, I’m a woman. You can’t shoot me. Or had she undermined herself, precisely because she was a woman?
For God’s sake, was it five paces or six? Seven even? She could not remember for the mist snaking into her nostrils. And she needed to remember. As surely as her name was Dora Malachi whom everyone called Aurora Splendora, she needed to remember. She would be shot in the back otherwise. Then…then she’d be dead.
But there was no sharp retort, no searing agony, no impact of a bullet tearing cloth and flesh, so obviously, obviously, when it came to how many paces, it wasn’t, five, or six. It couldn’t be. It must be…
The word wasn’t even out when she seized a breath and swung on her heel, managing just to keep her balance in the dew. Her fingers squeezed the trigger. She should have aimed, but it wasn’t as if she could see, so it made no difference. The crack ricocheted through her head, reverberating around every cavity in her eardrums. Crows rose like a screeching blanket from the ground. It was nothing to the noise Kendall Winterborne, the Earl of Stillmore, made as he hopped on one foot.
“Jesus bloody Christ. Jesus suffering bloody Christ.”
Nothing to the way he limped about, blackening the air with curses as she stood trying to look knowledgeable either. The buzz in her ears swelled. Starkadder and his silver watch fob chain she never got to polish, she hadn’t hit him, had she? How on earth she had managed to get that shot off, she had no idea. How it had blasted him in the foot either. But she had blasted him. Oh God, oh God, oh God. She had fired. He hadn’t. It meant one thing.
Even the somewhat large, staggered first pace she’d taken had not substantially increased the distance between them. For that she’d have had to bolt. So now…now he didn’t just stop hopping, he stopped dead center in the space opposite, the space he’d occupied just before she’d shot off her pistol, the smoking pistol that slithered from her palm, making a funny thudding noise as it struck the soft grass.
He raised his arm. Raised one eyebrow too. Her gaze widened in an involuntary spasm, so she saw the drizzle-sprayed mist, and his eyes primed on her like flintlocks above the shining barrel of the gun. The one now leveled at her breast, so carefully aimed, he could not miss.
A shudder shook her as his eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed. His finger fastened slowly on the trigger.
Then he drew it slowly, deliberately toward his chest.
The only thing he hates more than losing at chess is marriage…
For Splendor, former servant to the London’s premiere jewel thieves, pretending to be someone else is all in a day’s work. So when she learns of a chess tournament—a men’s chess tournament—with a ten thousand pound prize, pretending to be a man is the obvious move. The money will be enough to set her fiancé up in his own business so they can finally marry, and more importantly, it’ll pay off her bills and keep her out of debtor’s prison. But she doesn’t plan on her opponent, the rakish Kendall Winterborne, Earl Stillmore, being a sore loser—and a drunken one, at that. But before she can collect her prize, she finds herself facing the most merciless man in London across a pair of dueling pistols at dawn. Chess may be Splendor’s game, but she’s never fired a pistol. And dressed as a man with ill-fitting shoes on the slippery grass and borrowed glasses that make it hard to see, she’s certain she’s finally tipped her own king.
Bitter divorcee Kendall Winterborne, Earl Stillmore, is the ton’s most ruthless heartbreaker. And he’s got three pet peeves: kitchen maids, marriage…and losing. So when he realizes the “man” opposite him has entered the chess tournament under false pretenses, he’s in the perfect position to extort the little chit. But that’s before the exasperating woman begins to slip beneath his skin, and soon all he can think about is slipping beneath her skirts. But the confounded woman is engaged to someone else, and worse—she’s nothing but a former kitchen maid, just like the one that lured his father into the marriage that ruined the family name. And his ex-wife taught him more than he cared to know about why marriage was the worst kind of checkmate of all…