I didn't plan A Scandalous Countess to be a novel so rich with friends, but it is, and it's got me thinking about the role of friends in a romance novel.
Nearly everyone accumulates friends during their lives, even if the friends are scattered around the world, as are many of mine. A fictional hero or heroine without friends is unlikely to appeal to me, and I think most readers will wonder what's wrong with them. Of course the character can be far from any friends, because that's not the same as not having any. In fact snatching a character from their family and friends is a well-used fictional device.
If the hero or heroine is truly friendless, however, it can be a concern. As a reader I wonder if they are capable of forming that deep, warm, believable relationship that's the happy ending I want in a romance novel.
Friends and the Author
Friends can be very useful to the author, especially if they're to hand in the book. They give a character someone to vent to, explain things to, and seek advice from. In A Scandalous Countess, my heroine Georgia, dowager Countess of Maybury (and doesn't she hate that "dowager", given that she's only 20!) has a lot of social friends, because she was a popular leader of the young set in Town. However mourning, and the scandal surrounding her husband's death in a duel, causes her to retreat to her family's Worcestershire estate.
Thus she's isolated and away from her friends — but she has the postal system, which wasn't bad in 18th century England if you could afford it. The BBC recently did a radio programme on the postal system, and you can listen to the episodes. The one relevant to this topic is A Culture of Letters
After the first shock of grief has passed, Georgia writes to her particular friend, Lizzie, Lady Torrismonde, of the situation in which she finds herself. This fills in some details and gives us a taste of Georgia's character and "voice."
A Letter to a Friend.
when I returned to Herne, I half expected to return to the schoolroom bedchamber I shared with Winnie. Instead, I’m installed in a handsome set of rooms, but in all other ways I could be sixteen again! I have no more say in the running of Herne than I did at sixteen, when I so recently was accustomed to managing three houses.
I have no money! In truth, I do, for I have my portion back, but it’s returned to my father and he doles out a few guineas a month. I wasn’t aware a portion could be returned, but I suppose anything is possible if all parties agree to it. The new Earl of Maybury was eager to shed the commitment to pay my jointure of two thousand for perhaps sixty years, even at the cost of twelve thousand now.
You will understand how bitter it is to have a pittance in my pocket. Father pays my bills, but I’m sure he feels entitled to question my purchases, and as all this is done through his clerk of accounts, you will appreciate how it galls me.
Thus far I’ve only purchased mourning clothes and a few essentials, but now I’m awakened, I’m tempted to order something outrageous. What do you think it should be?
A jewel-encrusted prayer book? A gold-plated chamber pot? I can see you laughing and shaking your head, and it makes me smile and cry at the same time. I would order a carriage now and race to see you, but I know you expect a new treasure at any time, so I’ll restrain myself. I’d inflict myself on Babs except that she and Harringay are in France. Ah, Versailles! Will I ever see Versailles again?"
The image is an 18th century letter from a museum in Malaga.
As a young widow, Georgia is in an uncomfortable position. Legally, she is independent of her father, but he doesn't see it that way and nor, really, does she, for her world wouldn't accept her living independently, and she wants to return to her familiar world. With only weeks to go until the end of her mourning year, Georgia encounters the hero, a scarred ex-naval officer who has recently inherited a title and an impoverished estate. Her father has asked — demanded, in fact — that she help him adjust to society.
A Letter to a friend about a new friend.
Again, Georgia writes to Lizzie.
"Let me tell you of another lord—Dracy. Dracy is an original—that is certain sure. I came across him leaning so far over the terrace balustrade that I feared he intended to throw himself off. But no, he was merely seeking to identify flowers.
I suppose a life at sea doesn’t provide much experience of gardens. I’m sure I’d hate it, for I do love flowers. When I think of the ones in our London garden, and especially those at Sansouci . . But I will not pine. All that is over and I will have other gardens soon.
I expected a portly, weathered tar, but though he is browned and carries himself in a military manner, he is, in his own way, quite polished. And young. Not yet thirty, I’m sure. And with a fine, manly figure. He has much to learn, however. Would you believe that he lifted me, without request or permission, up onto the coping so I could identify the flowers for him! It quite flustered me, for he’s very strong."
(You may remember that I blogged about the plant in question a while ago — the tall, white nicotiana that is intensely perfumed in the evening.)
Georgia ceased writing, brushing the tip of her quill across her lips. Despite the scar, the briskness, and the lack of stylish manner, there was something about the man. He was so firm, so complete in himself. So confident and strong. Such a shame about his appearance.
She was ashamed of her reaction there and resolved to do better if they ever met again. As a start, she could address the subject briskly now.
"The poor man is badly scarred by a burn across the right side of his face. The skin there is shiny and puckered and it twists up his brow and lips as if he’s constantly in a sneer. I made a point to treat him exactly as I would anyone else, but it is a sad injury, for I believe before he must have been a very handsome fellow."
You can read the encounter described here on my web site.
Friends and characterization.
Friends also serve to reflect different facets of a character, helping the author to bring them to life. Gentle Lizzie illuminates Georgia's lively nature. Worldly-wise Babs reveals that she is innocent and even naive in ways. When Dracy becomes a friend, he draws out her intelligence and practical abilities.
His becoming a friend is a mixed blessing, however. Georgia likes him very much, but he's unsuitable husband material — poor, and with a lowly title — and she worries he might be falling in love with her. Friends don't hurt friends.
I admit that I began the novel thinking scarred Dracy would be a solitary, even brooding type, but somehow my heroes never are. LOL! He, too, is rich in friends, though most are naval men, scattered around the world. However, he's already made a new one near his Devon estate and that's promising, especially as Knowlton is very different in nature. I think it's healthy for a character to have variety in friends, for it suggests an open mind and generous nature.
Of course, friends care, as we see in this little scene with Knowlton, who's come up to Town, pretending legal business, but really because he's worried about Dracy's entanglement with scandalous Lady Maybury. When out, they hear some gossip about her.
When they left the chophouse to stroll back to their inn, Dracy said, "It's only a matter of someone stoking the old fires. And nothing to it, either."
Tom held his silence.
"Look, none of it's true. I know it. You might trust my judgment."
Tom looked at him. "My brother almost married a gypsy girl, convinced she'd make an honest wife."
"Perhaps she would have done."
"Filched his silver spoons before the knot was tied."
"Very well, I take your point, but up until that duel Lady Maybury was a respected wife. Flighty, perhaps, and inclined to mischief, but I've not heard anyone suggest a prior sin. It's the duel, Tom! Everything else flows from there. If Maybury had killed himself in that carriage race, she'd have lost her husband and her homes, but she would have been a tragic widow, not a scandalous one."
"But he didn't," Tom said. "He was killed in a duel with a man some believe to have been her lover."
"But why? Why believe that? If…" He'd been about to say Annie, but that would be too close to the bone, so he chose Lady Swanton, a virtuous wife of their Devon neighborhood. "If Sir James Swanton were to get himself killed in a duel — yes, I know it's unlikely — would anyone believe for a moment that they'd fought over Lady Swanton, still less that she'd been sneaking into the victor's bed?"
"Lady Swanton hasn't acted a breeches part at Drury Lane."
"'Struth, did she? Never mind, that's not the same thing."
"I take your point, Dracy, but don't you see? People who know Lady Maybury better than you do think it possible."
Dracy crossed the street between two wagons, frustrated by everything. A breeches part at Drury Lane. She did need reining in….
But he didn't want to be her jailer.
He wanted to be her lover.
As they cut down Crick Lane, Tom said, "Bewitched. Come away back to Devon with me, Dracy, and clear your head of her."
"I'm not bewitched," Dracy lied. "I believe her honest and I cannot tolerate injustice. I truly do have business to complete here, but I will return soon, within a fortnight of a certainty."
"I'd ask for a promise if I thought you'd make it."
A fortnight, and he'd already been away from Dracy almost that long. He couldn't neglect his primary responsibility indefinitely.
"Then I give it. I'll set out to return to Dracy within a fortnight."
Dracy laughed. "You sound as if I'd sworn off gin! I'm in complete control of all my wits and appetites, I assure you."
Tom looked as if he'd believe that only when Dracy was back attending to his Devonshire estate.
So what do you think about friends in romance novels? Do you notice a lack of them? Do you find too many clutter up a story?
What about friendship in the love relationship. How does that show?
As it happens my next heroine is rather friendless, but not by her own fault. She's keen to expand her social contacts and enjoy the company of others, but there may be problems there.
My publisher has made a video of me talking about A Scandalous Countess. You can see it here.
It was a bit nerve-wracking to do, and I was there for about an hour, but it boiled down to a pretty good couple of minutes, don't you think?
A Scandalous Countess will be officially out on the 7th, but it's trickled out in a few places already. To celebrate its arrival, I'll give a commenter a pick of my backlist, assuming I have spare copies. You can find that here.