Humor in Books

Anne here, apologetically running in late. Sorry, I forgot what date it was. Today I'm pulling a question from the list of reader questions we've received over the years. And while I'm talking about that, I'll remind you all — if you submit a question for the wenches and one of us chooses it as a blog topic a blog, that person will win a book.

Today's topic is from Constance, who said… "It would also be very interesting to know how important humor is to each of you when creating characters. I’ve always found heroes with a self-deprecating sense of humor almost irresistible, and heroines who can match them in witty retort make it even better. But it can’t be easy to create that — or is it for the extremely talented writers you all are?"


Constance, I also love a hero who can make me laugh. But writing humor is never easy, especially if I set out trying to be funny. Forced humor can be horribly un-funny and usually gets deleted. Even when I think the story I'm writing is going to be a funny one, it doesn't always happen. 

People have very different senses of humor, so what is funny to one person completely passes another. I remember so often when I was a kid, my brother and I would be cracking up laughing at some TV show, and one of my older sisters would say crossly, "I don't know why you're laughing. That isn't funny at all." Which made my brother and me laugh even harder. And of course, if you have to explain why something is funny, it immediately kills the humor stone dead.

So all I can go on is what's funny to me. My funniest scenes usually come spontaneously in the writing. I'm 'in the zone' busily writing, a character says something unexpected and another one responds, and then . . . we're off. And when it happens, it's a joy. 

Most of my books have some funny moments, but some books are funnier than others. It's something to do with character chemistry. Some character combinations bring out humor better than others — a light-hearted, flippant hero and an earnest worrier of a heroine, for instance, sparked some funny scenes in my book, The Perfect Rake.

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Ask A Wench: Why We Write Historical Romance

Timothy-dalton-as-heathcliffPat here with today’s Ask A Wench "Why do we write historicals and not contemporaries?" 

I can’t say that I don’t want to write contemporaries since I have, but historicals are my main love. I researched contemporary subjects for the contemporaries, but researching a town or a career isn’t quite the same as digging into the culture and politics of two hundred years ago. I can put my 1830 people on the cutting edge of industry and inventions and know those industries and inventions won’t be outdated tomorrow, they’ll always be fixed in 1830. But if I write, as I have, about a techie in the 21st century who uses the latest greatest device, a thumb drive—by the next year, that book is completely outdated. And man, cell phones really ruin suspense!

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AAW—Where Have All the Dark Historical Romances Gone?

AAWGraphicPat here with another question from our Wench mailbox

 Francie Stark wins a free copy of one of my books by asking:

“Dear Word Wenches, can you tell me the difference between 90's historical romance novels and 21st century historical romance novels. I've been snooping around and reading comments from books clubs and this is a hot topic. I've been out of the business for 20 years–not that I ever had much more than my toe in it. Honestly, I lost heart for writing and even reading historical romance so I'm reallJudith-McNaughty in the dark. I did pick-up a book by one of the reigning queens of the genre and I tried to read it, but it was so pink and fluffy. No meat. I couldn't stay with it. I've been sitting in the middle of the second draft of a novel for ten years and it will not leave me alone. It's like a dragon egg I pick-up and stare at, knowing that I must build a pyre and take it into the fire before it will hatch–or not. Maybe it doesn't need to be hatched. Based on what I've read it's very 90's. But I write the way I write and my stories aren't pink of fluffy. What to do, what to so… Any comments would be appreciated.”


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Adoption in the Regency

I was doing a little rTelling storyesearch into one of the Regency staples the other day – the rescued waif.  This story standby typically involves a girl adopted into a noble family, treated as one of them, inheriting with the others.  

Would this actually work? I asks meself. 

So I look about a bit and decided,
loosely speaking — yes.
Strictly speaking — no.

And isn't that helpful?

Sometimes we
speak of 'adoption' in a fuzzy, imprecise way.  But there's an important distinction
between legally taking a child to stand in the position of a biological
child with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that versus assuming care and
custody of a child in a limited or informal way. 

the 1920s, there was no formal legal mechanism for adopting children in
Great Britain.
No.  I didn't know that either.
I just love finding out stuff when I go researching.

"Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me."
Miss Hannigan

What you had in Britain was just a whole variety of fostering, indenture,
wardship, guardianship,
apprenticeship, and various less-formal-arrangement-ships . . .  but
nothing that put the child on an equal footing with children born in a

So how did they manage the whole orphaned-child problem?Late c19 photoe

working folk, from simple decency or from a desire for another pair of
working hands, would often take in a neighbor's child when the parents
died.  Mistress Taylor down the road might take in a girl who could help with her little ones.  The local vicar might find space for another scullery maid in
the kitchen.  No official legal guardianship was established, but
everybody in the village likely sighed in relief and went on to other problems,
of which they doubtless had a plenitude.

If no
one stepped forward to care for orphans, they 'fell upon the parish',
which was a hard place to land.
George-cruikshank-oliver-asking-for-more-illustration-for-oliver-twist-by-charles-dickens-colour-litho-_i-G-65-6508-IHN6100ZLocal officials might solve the
problem of these pesky orphans by apprenticing them. 

apprenticeship was a mixed bag. 

For parish orphans, it might be called
the poor man's guardianship.  The contract gave the master rights over
the child, but also bound him to feed, clothe, care for the child, and
train him
or her up in a trade.  In
earlier centuries, apprentices were often treated as part of the
household — an extended quasi family of Master, servants and
apprentices.  Even in 1820, in Rural Rides, Cobbett could still
speak of traditional farms where master and servants, dairymaids and the
farmer's daughters sat down at the same table, a disparate but united

Unfortunately, few localities had the
funds to bid children to desirable places.  (One common form of charity was
to leave money in one's will to buy apprenticeships for poor boys.)  

Some orphans got lucky. Some, like Oliver Twist, not so much.

Looking up into the upper echelons of society, since that's where the fictional orphan above will end up —

laws and customs of primogeniture meant that men of substance, titled
or untitled, would often consider themselves
responsible for a widespread group of family, friends and dependents. 
They'd snabbled the property and money.  The flip side of that
concentration of wealth was they were expected to take care of the

So your average Merchant Prince or belted earl (why belted
and how was everybody else holding up their trousers?) might have a
pack of widows, spinsters, dotty great uncles and assorted orphans,
only tenuously connected to him, land on his doorstep, expecting to be
provided for. 

Remember in Heyer's Frederica.   Our heroine applies to the 'head of the family' — a very distant
cousin — for assistance.   He was the winner in the big primogeniture
lotto.  Time to pay up, bucko. 


Another sort of fosterage was not uncommon.   Couples without children of their own would often foster a child,
usually related, and raise it as their own.  The child would inherit
from this couple through the will.  For instance, Jane Austen's brother
Edward left his birth family to be fostered by a much richer cousin, Thomas Knight, and eventually inherited
the Knight estates.

Then there were guardianships.  I do not know why Romance heroes and heroines are so unlucky, but there are just troops of them under some kind of guardianship. 

There were several sorts of legal guardians.

 First off were guardians in socage.  This is for heirs and heiresses of landed property.  You do not have real estate, this is not for you. 

Blackstone says, "socage . . . who are also called
guardians by the common law.  These take place only
William Blackstonewhen the minor is
entitled to some estate in lands, and then by the common law the
guardianship devolves upon his next of kin, to whom the inheritance
cannot possibly descent ; as, where the estate descended from his
father, in this case his uncle by the mother's side cannot possibly
inherit this estate, and therefore shall be the guardian .
For the law judges it improper to trust the person of an infant in his
hands, who may be possibility become heir to him."
  Blackstone's Commentaries   

that is saying is that if the young woman has a piece of property —
say a nice house or half of Northumberland or something — her guardian will not be the
father's brother who is just bound to have wicked intentions toward her.  The custody of the child goes to the closest blood
relative who cannot inherit, who will scheme to marry her off to his fish-lipped son. 

Second, we
have guardians by nature.  That's going to be the father, first off, and
the mother, if the father is dead. When the father does not explicitly
appoint a guardian for a female
under sixteen, the guardian was the mother.  Her guardianship extends
until the girl reaches 21.  An mom doesn't get control of the property. 
Only to the
custody of the child. A man will be appointed guardian for the property.

Joan Wolf's The Arrangement deals with a situation of this nature.

Finally, there's the 'guardian by statute', or 'testamentary
guardians'.  This guardian is the one spelled out
in a will.  If we want young Hannah Tweeting to be left in the care of Lord
Farthing, all we have to do is put Farthing's name in her father's will.

". . . enacts, that any father, under age or
of full age, may by deed or will dispose of the custody of his child,
either born or unborn, to any person, except a popish recusant, either
in possession or reversion, till such child attains the age of one and
twenty years."
Blackstone's Commentaries

Only the father could appoint a guardian, not the mum.  If the appointed guardian was
unable or unwilling to serve, the guardian didn't have the right to
substitute another.  If nobody was named guardian or if the unfortunate man died, this ended in the Court of Chancery, where nobody wins.  One didn't inherit a guardianship. 

What all these formal and informal relationships had in common was that the child did
not legally become the child of the foster parents, equal in all
respects to those born to that couple.  The relationship
between foster child and foster parent or between guardian and ward was always more limited than modern adoption.

In Her Ladyship's Companion, my heroine Melissa was abandoned on
the doorstep of a Vicarage and raised by the Vicar as his own.  The
difference between a foster child taken in by kindness and a legally
adopted daughter of the modern sort becomes apparent when, upon the death of the Vicar,
poor Melissa is kicked out to fend for herself.  

So, could a titled nobleman adopt a child?
As I say, sorta.

While I
was looking at this subject, adoption, I ran down a mental list of fictional orphans  –  Jane Eyre, Heathcliff
in Wuthering Heights, (just about everybody in Wuthering Heights), Tom
Jones, Superman, Pip of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Fanny
Price, Moll Flanders, John Worthing (The Importance of Being Ernest),
Penelope Creed (Heyer's Corinthian), Tarzan.

My favorite is Kim.
I just like his sass and style.


So tell me, who is your favorite fictional orphan and why?

One lucky commenter (US only) will win a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe.

Jennifer Kloester’s Biography of Georgette Heyer

Anne here, delighted to be hosting another visit from Honorary Word Wench, Dr. Jennifer Kloester, pictured here in her study, surrounded by Heyer novels and a few of her many files of research. If you'
d like to read my first interview with Jennifer, it's here.

Jennifer's eagerly awaited biography of Georgette Heyer will be released in London on the 6th October. That's just a few short weeks away. I'm so excited. Jen, this biography has been 10 years of research and five years of writing. Has the journey been worth it? What have been some of the highlights along the way?

HeyerBioCover Jennifer: I have had the most wonderful time writing this biography but I must confess that when I began working on Georgette Heyer’s life and writing, I never imagined where it would lead me. I actually began the research in 1999 but didn’t really get serious about it until I began my doctorate on her in February 2001. When I began I can remember thinking, ‘oh, there’s hardly any material out there about her.’ Boy, was I wrong! I have had so many incredible moments of discovery and made so many wonderful friends along the way that I do feel fortunate in having followed this path. 

One of the main highlights has been discovering the new archives of her letters and having her son, Sir Richard Rougier, give me copyright permission to acquire copies of them and to quote from them.

Another highlight has been the discovery of nine of Georgette’s short stories, seven of which will be completely unknown to the modern reader. I spent days at the British Library trawling thousands of magazines from the 1920s and 30s and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to turn the page and find Georgette Heyer’s name at the top of the page!

Anne: I can imagine. And I hope those stories get published some day. There have been several books written about Georgette Heyer, but I gather you've had unprecedented access to Georgette Heyer's private family papers. How did that come about?

Jennifer: My access to Georgette’s private papers was entirely due to the kindness and generosity of her son. I wrote him a formal letter in 2001 and he invited me to lunch at his house in Somerset. It was a truly memorable occasion sitting with him in the arbour beneath the most magnificent scented wisteria and talking about his mother and her writing. After lunch he showed me his office where he kept her notebooks and papers and pretty much left me to it. After that, he and his wife, Lady Rougier, invited me to stay and I guess I just kept going back. 12 Georgette & Richard

(Picture on right is Georgette with her son Richard, aged 8.)

On each of my research trips to England they had me to stay and each time Sir Richard would show me something new. On one trip he brought out the family photo albums, on another, Georgette’s baby book and, of course, we wrote to each other. I would send half a dozen questions in a letter and he would write back with the answers. That proved to be a particularly good way of doing it because he was a wonderful writer himself and the act of putting pen to paper often jogged his memory and as a result I got some wonderful new anecdotes about his mother and her family. (Pic below, Georgette, her husband, Ronald and her son, Richard.)

22 Ronald, Georgette & Richard Anne: Even though there have been other books written about Georgette Heyer, I believe there are some new and exciting revelations. Can you share one or two with us?

Jennifer: The new biography is full of new information about Georgette Heyer and that’s the thing that’s probably given me the most satisfaction. For those who have read the first biography, you’ll know that Georgette is in her early forties by the end of the second chapter, whereas in the new biography the first two thirds of the book are about those years.

DSCN3683 I have been hugely fortunate in having access to a wealth of new material and that has meant that, among other things, I can tell you a lot more about her childhood and adolescence than we have known before. There’s a fascinating story about when These Old Shades was written and Georgette’s vision for the book and lots and lots of pithy quotes direct from her pen about her novels. There’s also the complete story of her 1942 novel Penhallow and the crucial role it had in her writing life.

Anne:  These Old Shades was my first Heyer, so I'm dying to read that. What surprised you most in your discoveries?

Jennifer: What surprised me most about Georgette was the extent to which she wrote her emotions into her novels. She once said ‘I am to be found in my work’ and when you read her letters and understand more about her life and writing you can see what she means. I recently re-read Bath Tangle and I was struck by how much Lady Serena’s response to her father’s sudden death echoed Georgette’s own experience. These days I often see these sorts of parallels in the novels. (Pic below, Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923)16 Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923

The plagiarism chapter in the biography is short but fascinating, especially as I have let Georgette tell a lot of it in her own words. I was really pleased to be able to write openly about the case, not only because people have wondered about it for years, but more importantly because it is in these letters that Georgette really rises to the defence of her writing and research and this was not something she did very often.

 Anne: Yes, I read some of the articles about it in the UK papers.(Here's a link to one such but prepare to be annoyed by the last paragraph.)

That's a beautiful photo of Georgette on the cover of the book. I don't think I've ever seen it before.  I know you have quite a few photos never before seen by the public in this book. Would you care to share a photo or two?    8 Georgette, Sylvia & baby Boris

Jennifer: I would love to share some photos with you that (on account of space restrictions) did not make it into the final book. Having said that, I am thrilled with the number of never-before-seen photos that are in the biography and I really hope readers will be as delighted as I am to see them.

(On right, Georgette, her mother and baby brother, Boris.
Below, Georgette.)


Anne: You're flying to London for the launch, shortly, and I understand there's a whole Regency day planned by the Romantic Novelists Association, of which your launch is a major part. WordWenches Jo Beverley and Nicola Cornick will also be in attendance. Sounds like a marvellous day. I wish I could be there but I'll have to content myself with the Australian launch in December. What else will you be doing in the UK?

Jennifer: I leave for London in a couple of weeks and I am SO excited to be doing the Romantic Novelists Association Regency day. The programme is terrific and there will be some wonderful writers there as well as lots of enthusiastic readers. I also have a book launch at Daunts Books in Marylebone High Street on Thursday 6 October at 6.30pm and a signing at Hatchard’s, the famous eighteenth-century bookstore on Piccadilly, on Monday 10th at 3pm. Georgette used to shop there so that makes it extra exciting.  Hatchards1

I’m speaking at the Wimbledon Bookfest on the 3rd and the Guildford Literary Festival on the 17th and I am being interviewed on BBC4 Woman’s Hour on Tuesday 11 October. So all in all it should be a really exciting trip.

 Anne: It sounds wonderful. Are there any plans for a North American release?

Jennifer: I am also about to sign a contract for the biography with Sourcebooks which means there will be an American edition out in fall next year in the USA – I’m very excited about that.

Anne: Me, too, as are many of the readers here, I'm sure. What else is planned?

Jennifer: The book comes out in Australia and New Zealand on 1 December and I am having launches at Dymocks in Sydney on the 1st and in Melbourne on the 8th. Everyone is welcome. There will be launches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart in the New Year and I also hope to do a tour of New Zealand in the first half of 2012.

Anne: It all sounds so exciting, Jen. I'll be joining you on at least one of those occasions — more if I can wangle it. Congratulations on all your work and research finally coming to fruition.

Jennifer: Thanks, Anne. It has been the most marvellous journey and I fervently hope that Georgette Heyer’s many admirers will enjoy the result. 

Anne: I'm sure they will. Thanks so much for joining us here on wordwenches, Jen.  Jennifer's biography of Georgette Heyer can be ordered from here. People can also check out Jen's website for more about Heyer and some of the things that didn’t make it into the book.

Jennifer is giving away one copy of Georgette Heyer's biography to some lucky person who leaves a comment. So here's the question — who is your favorite Heyer character, and why are they your favorite? And if you have any questions about Georgette Heyer, Jen will be happy to answer them.