“The French Mistress”: The Interview

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Wench Loretta Chase interviews Wench Susan Holloway Scott

Loretta: The French Mistress (now in bookstores!) completes Susan Holloway Scott’s beautiful trio of books about King Charles II’s most famous mistresses.  This time we enter the world of Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, who walked a tightrope between two kings–Charles II and Louis IV of France–and the cultures and intrigues of their very different courts.  Louise, too, is different.  She couldn’t be less like either of her great rivals, the Countess of Castlemaine or Nell Gwyn, or less well-liked.  Yet as Susan brings her to life, Louise, the most reviled of Charles II’s mistresses, is the heroine of an amazing, compelling story.  It's a remarkable book! 

To begin, please tell us a bit about The French Mistress.

Susan:The French Mistress
is based on the fascinating life of Louise de Keroualle (1649-1734.) 
The daughter of provincial French nobility, Louise was a young
maid-of-honor to the Duchesse d’Orleans when she caught the roving eye
of the duchess’s brother, King Charles II. (Here's the full portrait of her by Sir Peter Lely that's used on the cover.)  The French king, Louis XIV,
noticed Charles’s interest, and sent Louise to London as a “gift.” Once
there, 462px-Lely_Kéroualle_1671 Louise’s duty was to become the English king’s mistress, and
from his bed act as a spy/agent for France. Though hardly the
respectable marriage her parents desired, Louise had no choice but to
obey, and balance on this diplomatic tightrope between the two  kings, over a cast of scheming rivals and political enemies.  For the next  fourteen
years, Louise succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.  Not only did
she find the love of her life in the charming Charles, but she also
earned the lasting admiration of Louis as well, and she was
well rewarded with riches, titles, estates, and power. In England, she
was made Duchess of Portsmouth, and her son became the Duke of Richmond
and Lennox (for more about him, see my earlier WordWenches blog), while in France, she was made Duchesse d'Abuginy.

LC: The
three women with whom King Charles II had long relationships were
so different.  Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, bears no
resemblance to actress Nell Gwyn, who couldn’t be less like Louise. 
Clearly, the king truly was attracted to and sought something different
from each of these women.  What in particular was it about Louise that
captured and held his affection for so long?

SHS: Louise wasn’t
a wanton sensualist like Barbara, nor was she as quick-witted and
entertaining as the earthy Nell.  Louise was a lady and a French one
at that, with an inborn style and presence that dazzled Charles (shown below, to the right.) 
Even as he delighted in her plump figure and baby-faced beauty, it was
her elegance and grace that he loved.  He knew she was a spy, and he
didn’t care.  In many ways, Louise was his ideal, a seductively perfect
companion and hostess in her exquisitely decorated rooms in the
palace.  No matter how treacherous the court intrigues became around
Charles, he always found solace with Louise, and, quite possibly, the
tempting, forbidden solace (for the head of the Anglican Church) of her
Catholic faith. 

LC: Of the three mistresses you’ve dealt with so far, I found Louise the most enigmatic.  She’s an isolated  foreigner,
as the others are not.  She seemed to have much more to lose than Nell
or Barbara.  Given all the secrecy and double-dealing (hers and
others’), Louise’s foreignness and isolation, she Charles_II_(1670s)Lely must have been a most
elusive subject.  What helped you develop a sense who she was?

SHS: I knew something of Louise after writing my previous two books about her rival-mistresses (Barbara Palmer in Royal Harlot and Nell Gwyn in The King’s Favorite),
and though some of Nell’s witty attacks had made me feel a little sorry
for Louise, it wasn’t until I’d begun researching her background in
France that I developed an empathy with her. 

I hadn’t realized
how Louise spent her entire life as an outsider.  As a girl, she’d had
a difficult relationship with her parents, and she was too shy to make
the brilliant marriage that they desired. She never quite fit in at
Louis XIV’s court, and even at the height of her success as Charles’s
mistress, she had virtually no true friends at the English court. 
Realizing how tenuous her position could be (unlike both Barbara and
Nell, who blithely seemed to assume there’d always be a tomorrow),
Louise was constantly searching for security and trying to wrangle more
favors, more gifts, to prepare for her future and for that of her one
son. The only person whom she ever seemed fully to trust was Charles.
Even so, though she loved him completely, she feared (rightly) that
he didn’t return her degree of devotion.  Learning that Louise never
married nor became romantically linked to any other man, remaining
constant to Charles’s memory for the remainder of her long life –– she
outlived Charles by fifty years! –– seems especially poignant.

LC: In The French Mistress,
you took us into the French court, showing us what life was like not
only for Louise but for Charles II’s sister, the Duchesse d’Orleans. 
For me –– and I think for many readers –– it’s an entry into another
world, and one with a decidedly dark side.  What do you think was the
greatest difference between the French and English courts, and why?

Ruiterportret_Lodewijk_XIV SHS: The
two courts were perfect mirrors of their respective kings. While Louis
and Charles bore an outward similarity in appearance(they were first
cousins, in the inbred way of 17th century royalty), the two men could
not have been more different as rulers. Louis (shown to the left)
was suspicious and wary of his subjects, and defensively made himself
into an unapproachable demi-god.  He was aloof and distant in his great
palace at Versailles, and his Court was wrapped in elaborate protocol
and rigidly observed rituals. Every moment of the day was accounted for
in exhausting detail, and he encouraged vicious rivalries and
infighting among his nobles as a way of keeping them from plotting
against him.  Behind the gilded facade, there was much that was dark
indeed, including sadism, bisexuality, and witchcraft. There were
plenty of amusements at Versailles, but very little fun.

Charles,
on the other hand, was affable and approachable, and literally embraced
his subjects of every rank. He enjoyed his people, and moved freely
among them in London, feeding the ducks in the park beside them and
attending the same public theaters and taverns for amusement as they
did.  His Court was bawdy and free-wheeling, much as he was himself,
and visitors were as likely to encounter actors and scientists as peers
in the palace.  After the rigidity of the French Court, Louise found
Whitehall shockingly informal, and she never became accustomed to the
directness of Charles’s courtiers, or their often-bawdy behavior.

LC: Like your previous historical novels, The French Mistress
beautifully recreates a time and place.  This can’t be done without
hours and hours of research.  What part of the research for this book
did you most enjoy?

SHS: My favorite part of the research for all of these books has been trying to discover the real womanMinature Louise jpg cropped who  will
become my heroine.  Louise offered a few special challenges.  First, of
course, was the fact that many of the original sources about her and
her world were in French, and 17th century French at that.  Once she
arrived in England, the research became much easier – but scarcely more
sympathetic to Louise herself. Likely because of her dual-role as a
French agent and a royal mistress, she seemed to have kept no diary or
journal, and she was always careful of what she revealed in the letters
that survive. Most of what was written about her by others was
critical, snide, or downright bitchy, with no one defending her or her
actions.  In sharp contrast to so much back-biting are the charming love-letters
that Charles wrote to Louise, full of endearments, pet names, and
concern for her health. I had to sift through all of this, sensing what
felt false and what felt real, trying to “find” the Louise to be the
centerpiece of my novel. (Here's another portrait of Louise, this time by the French artist Henri Gascars.)

LC: Like many other readers, I can’t wait to time travel with Susan Holloway Scott again.  What’s next?

473px-Catherine_(Sedley),_Countess_of_Dorchester_by_Sir_Peter_Lely SHS: My next heroine is already familiar to my readers with a good memory.  Catherine Sedley (1657-1717) most recently appeared in The King’s Favorite
as a ten-year-old girl dancing jigs in the moonlight with Nell Gwyn.  A
sixteen-year-old Catherine was also a minor character in Duchess,
the wealthy heiress that John Churchill’s parents tried to make him
marry.  (My novels aren’t a true series since each book is independent
of the others, but certain individuals do keep popping up throughout,
much as they must have done at the English Court.) Now Catherine
finally will have a book of her own, and deserving she is, too.  (That's a teenaged Catherine to the left, painted by Sir Peter Lely.) The
only daughter of poet and playwright Sir Charles Sedley, one of the
wildest of Charles II’s courtiers, Catherine grew up into a pretty wild
lady in her own right.  She was considered shamefully plain by
her contemporaries, but she was blessed with a brilliant wit and sense
of humor to compensate for her lack of beauty.  She was also rich and
well-connected, which made her much-sought-after as a wife, yet she
refused to marry and let any man take control of her life.  Instead she
insisted on scandalous independence, becoming mistress to a king
because it amused her, wife (at 39!) to a general because she loved
him, and a countess in her own right.  Look for Catherine’s adventurous
life next summer in The Countess and the King.

Thank you, Susan! For more about Susan's books and to read an excerpt from The French Mistress, visit her website at: www.susanhollowayscott.com.  

We're givng away a copy of The French Mistress to a reader who posts a reply to this blog.  Ask a question, make a comment, or simply say you'd like to be entered, and you're in.  The winner will be announced next Sunday, July 19. Good luck!

Taking Leave

FrenchMIstress-1 By Susan Holloway Scott   

Spring is often the time for change, whether big changes like weddings and graduations to the more ordinary (though no less welcome!) ones like the grass turning green again and the days growing warmer.  

Things are changing here at the Wenches, too.  My book-writing is going to have to take precedence over my blog-writing –– I’m feeling a bit like Alice with the Red Queen urging her to run (or write) faster, faster, faster! –– and, sadly, I’m following Edith and Loretta into Wench Emerita status.  This will be my last appearance here at the Wenches for a while. 

I promise that Loretta and I will both return in July (tentatively the week of 7/13) with a pair of mutual Don't_Tempt_Mecover interviews.  She’ll be discussing her new book, DON’T TEMPT ME, in stores June 30. I’ve had the delicious honor to read this book already, and can tell you it’s Loretta Chase at her very best.  I can’t wait to ask her questions about what inspired her story and characters, and how exactly she learned so much about harems.  'Nuff said! Loretta in turn will be interviewing me about THE FRENCH MISTRESS, in stores July 7, and I'm sure she's preparing some dandy questions for me as well.  Please stop by and visit us then –– we have a few surprises planned!  In the meantime, I’ll keep my website (www.susanhollowayscott.com) updated with news about my books and other upcoming events.

Before I go, I want to thank both the Wenches and the readers of this blog.  Many thanks for your friendship and support. I'll miss both.

Duchess And I can’t think of a better way to close than with this recent news photo, below, taken during President and Mrs. Obama’s visit with Her Majesty the Queen of England. Astute readers of my books watching the newscasts at once recognized the painting behind Mrs. Obama, there in Buckingham Palace: the portrait of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, that graces the cover of my first historical novel, DUCHESS.  Three cheers for strong, intelligent women of every era and nationality!

Michelle Obama & Sarah C

Vive La France! (or Maybe Not)

French.mistress.front cover By Susan Holloway Scott       

It’s a pleasant reader fantasy that all of us writers visit every place that’s mentioned in our books.  Alas, for every writer fortunate enough to be able to document  step-by-step visits to exotic locales on her or his web site (Here’s the house where my hero was born in London!  Here’s where he fought a duel in Paris! Here’s where he met the heroine in Rome!), there are far, far more of us who can’t. I’m in that category: with two kids in college and a tumbling economy, there’s not much room in my budget for research junkets, no matter how much I long to travel.

Of course all is not lost.  Like endless historical writers before me, I rely heavily on diaries, journals, and other contemporary accounts to reconstruct “my” version of the past.  Facts and experience are important, but not nearly as much as a healthy imagination, which is both free and priceless.  Besides, after 300 or so years of wars, occupations, fires, and modern progress, the places I’m writing about often no longer exist, or have changed so dramatically that they’d be unrecognizable to my characters. 

800px-ChateauVersailles But by far the most spectacular research for stay-at-home writers comes by way of the internet.  The first part of my July book, The French Mistress, takes place at the French court of Louis XIV, where my heroine, Louise de Keroualle, is a maid of honor to Henriette-Anne d'Angleterre, Duchess d'Orleans.  The French king had only just begun to build the Chateau de Versailles (a tiny part of the chateau is shown left) into his grandest palace while Louise was there in the late 1660s, but I still found plenty at the Chateau’s website to help me describe where her quarters might have been, where she would have been taken to meet in private with Louis to discuss her espionage missions to England, and exactly how far she would have walked with the Duke of Buckingham to reach the Grand Canal in the Chateau’s enormous gardens.  (The famous Hall of Mirrors wasn’t constructed until after Louise had left the French court for the English one at Whitehall, but here’s a delightfully dizzying panorama visit, and without any modern tourists, too.  And here are more, including a glimpse of the king’s bedchamber.)

While I was “visiting”, I also discovered that Versailles will be hosting a fantastic exhibition this springVersailles04-300x217 called Court Pomp: Court Dress in Europe, 1650-1800, featuring rare costumes from the collections all over Europe, and appropriately sponsored by Chanel! (Many thanks to fellow historical novelist Sandra Gulland, author of a wonderful Versailles-set book, Mistress of the Sun, for alerting me about the exhibition.)  No, I can’t go in person, but the web site for the exhibition is a treat, like a grand picture-book.  Beautiful Baroque music plays as a background to breathtaking photographs, and there’s even a detailed glossary of fashion terms for court dress to download as a pdf.  My favorite is at right: the late 18th century gown from Rose Bertin, Marie-Antoinette’s dressmaker.  I don’t know if this site will remain live after the exhibition closes in June, so go feast your eyes now.

Which brings me to my question for you.  Despite its reputation for love and romance and seduction, beautiful places and fabulous food and fashion, France remains unpopular with NYC publishers.  English settings outnumber French ones by an astonishing degree, and there are precious few French heroes to be found anywhere.  Henry VIII and the Prince Regent are everywhere at Barnes & Noble, while FrancoisRuiterportret_Lodewijk_XIV I and Louis XIV (he's there to the right) are scarce.  Maybe it's the common language of English-English and American-English that makes England seem somehow more accessible?  Do American readers hear Pepe Le Pew's voice coming from every French hero's lips?  Or is it still some lingering fear of eating frogs' legs and snails?

On the other hand, it's this same Francophobia that forms one of the biggest conflicts of The French Mistress. Although Louise de Keroualle lived fifteen years in England as an unofficial diplomat at the English court as well as the favored mistress of the English king, she was always considered a greedy, dangerous foreigner, and was out-and-out despised by the English people. As a writer, I found Louise's challenge to balance her French heritage with her place in London to be a fascinating one.  The perpetual outsider, she found love, power, and rewards, but never the respect (and the respectability) that she so desperately wanted.  I'm hoping readers will enjoy her story, too.

So do you believe there's a "French jinx"?  Do you personally reject a book if it's set in Paris rather than London?  Or for a change, would your rather see more stories set on the far side of the English Channel? There's no right or wrong answer here: I'm just curious.  Any opinions?

Reality Show

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By Susan Holloway Scott

“World building” is a trendy term among writers and readers right now.  A long-time favorite with paranormal and sci-fi aficionados, it refers to the convincing creation of a setting of the writer’s invention: a fictitious place made so vividly real that readers can believe in its existence.

We historical writers do this, too. While our worlds are based on the actual past, we still have to sift through the mountains of research to find the exact details to bring our stories to life. Just because we’ve learned tons about a specific time or place doesn’t mean we have to inflict it on our trusting readers. We’ve all groaned over the infamous “wallpaper history” that can smother characters and bring a good plot to a grinding halt. Long descriptions of gowns, politics, or the exact rules governing Almack’s are deadly. The trick is to integrate all those facts into the story seamlessly, and to make the reader feel as if she, too, were at the character’s side, feeling how that gown swirled around her ankles when she danced, or the mortification she felt when those grim matriarchs looked down their noses at her. As writers, it’s our obligation to make it real.

Minature Louise jpg cropped
Yet sometimes all this reality gets a little, well, spooky.  Most writers have wicked good imaginations, and
when the Muse is happy and the story’s ripping along at a merry pace, the line between the world being built and the world that exists can get fuzzy.  I’ve been in the grocery store and seen my current hero over by the bananas, and I’ve looked at a modern river and seen it filled with sailing ships, not tankers.  Because I’m currently writing historical novels based on the lives of people who actually lived, the line’s blurrier still.  With the exception of a convenient footman or coach driver here and there, all my characters did walk this same old earth as the rest of us, albeit 350 years earlier. 

My July book, The French Mistress, is based on the life of Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth and Duchesse d’Aubigny.  Louise had a great many excellent qualities for a heroine: shy but determined, she was a beautiful outsider with many enemies, and unable to trust anyone except the man she loves.  She was born to a poor but noble family, and went to seek her fortune (i.e., make a good marriage) at the French court. Instead of a husband, she found considerable intrigue, serving as a spy for one king, Louis XIV of France, and Charles_II_(1670s)Lely
becoming the much-loved mistress to another, Charles II of England.  She was apparently accomplished in both areas, and richly rewarded by both kings. And in an era remarkable for its faithlessness, Louise’s only lover was Charles, and she remained loyal to his memory even though she outlived him by fifty years. 

I adored writing about Louise, and building her “world” from her humble beginnings in Brittany to the grand palaces of Versailles and Whitehall. Though I’ve written about Charles’s raucous court three times before –– in Duchess, Royal Harlot, and King's Favorite –– this time I saw it through Louise’s eyes, comparing it (unfavorably, of course) to the French court at Versailles. Before long, Louise's world became a real world to me, too.

But there’s real, and then there’s REAL.  One of my favorite scenes in the book revolves around the night Charles gives Louise the Letters Patent that officially legitimizes and ennobles their three-year-old natural son.  No matter how much in favor, royal mistresses are always in a precarious position, and rightly desperate to ensure their children’s security for the future. I’d researched descriptions of 17th century Letters Patent, and knew they were imposing documents, scribed by hand on parchment, threaded with gold ribbon and only made official with the imprint of the Great YoungDukeofRichmond
Seal on a fat blob of red wax. With that seal, the three-year-old bastard became Duke of Richmond, Earl of March, and Baron Settrington in the peerage of England.  (Here he is in all his splendor, by William Wissing; I'd love to know how the painter was able to make a boy that age sit still bedecked with so many ribbons and laces.) Soon after, little Charles  was also created Duke of Lennox, as well as Earl of Darnley and Lord Torbolton in the peerage of Scotland. As can be imagined, Louise was pleased by the king’s generosity, while he in turn was pleased that she was pleased, and that was how I wrote it.

Then, to my amazement, I stumbled across a photograph of the Letters Patent of the first Duke of Lennox on the internet. THE Letters Patent, with the seal still dangling from it, exactly as Louise would have known it. (Here’s the photograph, Goodwood Ms 10, by courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, and with acknowledgments to the West Sussex County Record Office and the County Archivist.)

A few emails back and forth with the archivists at the West Sussex County Council (where the papers of the Dukes of Richmond are kept, not far from Goodwood House, the family seat) only made everything Patentletters
more real still.  The present duke is the tenth of the line that descends directly from Louise and Charles.  His Grace is now styled the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (the sixth Duke of Richmond and Lennox was also created Duke of Gordon in 1876), as well as the tenth Duc d’Aubigny: the only duke in the realm to hold four distinct dukedoms. How pleased Louise would be by that!

To Louise, the Letters Patent was the ultimate symbol of Charles's devotion to her and their son.  To the ten Dukes of Richmond, the Letters Patent is the basis of their rank and good fortune. To the archivists in West Sussex, it's a fascinating document, a rare piece of local history. But to me, it's one more thing that brought Louise de Keroualle to life for me as a writer –– and, I hope, for readers as well.

I don't have copies yet of The French Mistress, but I do have a few of Duchess, Royal Harlot, and The King's Favorite that are looking for good homes. I'll select two names from those who leave a comment for this blog by Sunday noon, and the winners will have her/his choice of a book.  You don't have to wax philosophical on royal dukedoms (unless you want to!) Just your name will be enough to be entered in the drawing.  I'm not picky. I'm cleaning house. *g*

And here's another mini-contest with a specialized giveaway book: a large-print, hardcover edition of The Duke's Gamble, one of the last historical romances I wrote as Miranda Jarrett.  This is a Mills & Boon 100th Anniversary edition, too, which I suppose makes it collectible.  The give-away drill's the same.  Leave me a comment saying you're interested in the large-print Miranda Jarrett, and you're entered.

Post away!

In Praise of Plumpness

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By Susan Holloway Scott

I promise this won’t be another rant about whether Jessica Simpson is too fat, or Katie Holmes too thin.  It’s our historical heroines that concern me.  I worry about them.  Are they eating enough to catch the eye of historical heroes, or are they languishing into 21st century waifs? 

Yes, I know, in every age there are thin women and not-so-thin women, tall women and short women and every other variation between.  If you’re lucky, you live in an age when your particular “look” is in vogue, but even if you’re not, odds are you’ll still find love and happiness.   And I’ll also discount the bodacious babes shown on most romance book covers, because they seldom bear much resemblance to the heroines inside. 

But the truth is that for most of the historical past that our characters call home (England from the Lolamontezphoto.com

middle ages until 19th century), the fashionable ideal was considerably more upholstered than in our own 
time.  A voluptuous figure was a sign of health and prosperity, desirability and fertile youth, and a well-rounded wife was a status symbol for many husbands, proof before the world that he could afford to keep her gloriously well-fed.  The famous/infamous courtesan Lola Montez (1821-1861), right, wrote a bestselling advice book that included the perfect proportions for a Victorian beauty: hips that must be wider than shoulders.

The seventeenth-century women painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) such as the Three Graces, left, are notoriously mocked in our own time.  For most modern women, being called "Rubensesque" is not exactly a compliment. Yet when this picture was new, in the middle of the Thirty Years War, most of Europe was 486px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_026
suffering from famine and deprivation, and all that creamy, dimpled pulchritude was doubly desirable for being so scarce.

The ample young woman drawn by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), right, in the Regency period would have represented the heights both of beauty (she is wickedly based on Emma, Lady Hamilton) and longing.  Most young Englishmen were engaged in fighting at some point in the interminable wars with France, and Rowlandson’s women represented allThomas rowlandson
that was most alluring about the English girls at home, with their wholesomely ample figures and rosy cheeks the products of good English beef and country air.

In my last blog, I mentioned that the real-life heroine of my July book (The French Mistress), Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734), was fondly called Fubs by her lover, King Charles II of England (1630-1685), on account of her famously chubby cheeks and figure.  He even named a royal yacht "Fubsy" in her honor.  At least one blog-reader found this offensive, but I’m willing to bet that Louise was pleased, not insulted.  I wrote her that way, too: thin as a teenager, growing rounder and rounder as time progresses, especially after the birth of her son, and I also wrote how charmed Charles was by her increasingly curvaceous figure. (Here's Louise a little later in life.) In the 1670s, plump women were prized and admired, and gentlemen sighed as they watched a lady work through a hearty meal 462px-Lely_Kéroualle_1671
with gusto, an encouraging sign of being a “woman of appetites” in other areas as well. 

In fact it’s really only been since the flappers of the 1920s that a boyish figure has been considered fashionable, and that the full cheeks that Regency ladies “improved” with cork were replaced by the hollowed high cheekbones of Vogue models.  Now it’s a size zero that represents luxury and wealth: the income to support a gym membership, a personal trainer, liposuction and lifts, and a personal chef preparing a gourmet low-fat diet of costly organic vegetables and wild salmon.  In a time of fast-food excess, indulgent deprivation has become the new sign of class-conscious status.  Go figure.

But what has this done to the heroines in historical romances?  Most readers augment the descriptions in books with what they see in movies.  Like it or not, one picture will always be worth a thousand words, and there are plenty of writers who keep pictures of various movies stars before them as models for their characters.  But Hollywood (and even the BBC) is more concerned with audience than accuracy.  The current queen of historical movies is Keira Knightly, whose now-fashionably-skeletal figure would have horrified Almack’s; as lovely as Ms. Knightly’s face may be, compare her in evening dress to Sir Thomas Lawrence’s 1819 portrait of the lushly beautiful Countess of Blessington, Maguerite,_Countess_of_Blessingtonright.  When then-unknown Kate Winslett was cast as the lead in Titanic, snarky critics faulted her appropriately Gibson-Girl figure as being grossly overweight. 

While there are a few notable exceptions, many historical romance heroines follow twentieth century tastes rather than those of her own time.  They’re described as willowy, slender, elegantly thin, sylph-like.  They have long, tapering legs that stride along with the hero’s.  They don’t need the corsets that propriety forces them to wear.  Though they generally have ample bosoms, they also often have waists so small that the hero’s hands can “span” them (which, when you think about it, makes them sound like Barbie, or at least credits the hero as having stupendously large hands.)  They never have rounded bellies or dimpled thighs or pillowy bottoms, and they never, ever have hips broader than their shoulders.  Sorry, Lola.

I'm not excluding myself, either. I've written my share of historical romance heroines who were tall and slender, even athletic to the point of being called Amazons.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, for there have been Amazons in every generation.  But I never used the same adjectives I've used to describe Louise de Keroualle, and I didn't imagine any of my romance heroines resembling Rubens' Graces; unconscious self-editing, I suppose, or simply following the writing crowd.

So why is this?  Certainly most romance writers do their research, and know how their heroines “should” look to be considered great beauties of their time.  Are writers seeing something different in their heads when they describe their heroine as fashionably thin, imagining her thinness as relative?  Are editors insisting on thin heroines, or do reader expectations demand the ladies must look a certain way to be worthy of love?  There’s always a certain element of fantasy to romances, no matter how well-researched.  Are always-thin heroines like never-bald heroes?  

What are your thoughts?  How many lushly proportioned heroines can you remember in your favorite historical romance?  Would you like to see more, or would you rather stick to modern  ideals of a beautiful figure, however anachronistic?