What We’re reading — November

Anne here, hosting our monthly feature "What We're Reading"

We'll start with Jo Beverley, who says: I recently dived into my keeper shelves, and I've been re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. I used to read the whole series frequently, but I haven't for a while now and I decided it was time. Six big books and not as much reading time as I used to have, but I'm enjoying them tremendously. Gok

For those who don't know them, they're based around a central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scotsman whose adventures we follow around Europe and up into Russia in the mid-16th century. The books are about him, but stretches are about other important characters and from other points of view and the plots involve most of the significant historical characters and events. The Tudors, the de Guise, Ivan the Terrible, Suleiman the Magnificent, Nostrodamus!

Despite being all about him, we're only in his point of view once, so our picture of him comes through the view of others, which I think is key to the fascination Lymond holds for many. We have to learn him as we learn people in real life — from the outside.  I'm not aware of anyone else having written about a  series character in that way and it was daring for sure back in the '60s.

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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. 

Until
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
marriage. 

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

Ordinary
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. 

This
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
household.

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 —

The
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
family.  

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   

What
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.

A Reluctant Queen: An Interview with Joan Wolf

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

Today we’re honored by a return visit from Joan Wolf, one of the grande dames of the romance genre.  Her first romance was published in 1980, and she immediately became a star of the Signet Regency line.  Over the years, she has also written historical romancess, contemporaries, pre-history romances, and medieval mysteries. 

Now she is embarking on a new publishing path.  Joan, welcome back to the Word Wenches, and please tell us about your latest work:

Cover--Large  Joan Wolf:

I am so pleased to be invited to your blog to write about my new book, A Reluctant Queen, The Love Story of Esther. I was a guest on Word Wenches once before and it was a lot of fun, so thanks so much for having me back.
 
This novel is a change for me in that the subject is biblical, but in other ways it’s not really a change at all.  One of my favorite themes for a novel is to take an old story and make it new. 

I did that for the Arthurian myth, and my novel The Road to Avalon is still in print after thirty years. In fact, a fan has done an incredibly beautiful movie version of Avalon.  If you are interested in taking a look you can find the link on my website (joanwolf.com).

This Esther book has been a long time in coming.  I have always loved the story and The Road to Avalon fifteen years ago, when my father was dying, I wrote the first version of what would become A Reluctant Queen.  I just needed to go someplace far away in my mind, and regency England had become so familiar to me by then that it wasn’t far enough, but the Persian Empire was. 

Writing this book helped me through a bad time, but no one wanted to publish it fifteen years ago.  So I put it away and pretty much forgot about it.  Then, when I felt I couldn’t write the kind of hot romance that editors wanted because it was flying off the shelves, I remembered Esther.

The Story of Esther:

In some ways the story of Esther resembles every girl’s favorite fairy tale.  The peasant girl comes to court dressed as a princess and is so beautiful that the prince marries her and they fall in love.  But he still believes that she is a true princess, and her deepest fear is that if he finds out about her lowly origins he won’t love her anymore.

Esther and the King Yet the stakes are much higher in the Esther story than they are in a fairy tale.  If Esther reveals to the king who she is, she may lose his love but she will save the lives of the entire Jewish people.  The moral imperatives of this story go far beyond the Brothers Grimm and turn Esther into one of the great heroines of the Old Testament.

It’s a wonderful story, but it is definitely not a hot romance.  So I looked into the area of Christian publishing (even though Esther is Jewish, not Christian), and Thomas Nelson bought it and has published it.  They gave it a wonderful cover and are even having a contest with a Kindle as the prize!  If you’re interested in entering, you can go to my website and sign up.  

A Reluctant Queen is available at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores (I think you’ll probably have to ask where they’ve shelved it).  It is also available on Amazon, Amazon’s Kindle, and as an audio book.  It has questions for book clubs at the back, and if anyone wishes to suggest it for a book club, and the members have questions, I would be most happy to answer them. 

New Directions:

This has been such an invigorating experience for me that I almost feel like a brand new writer.  I’m at work right now on my next biblical romance for Nelson – it’s about Rahab and it’s set during the fall of Jericho.  The farther back in time I go, the happier I am!  Thanks so much for giving me your attention and I wish everyone a happy summer.
 
Reluctant-queen Thanks so much for visiting, Joan!  And for graciously offering a copy of The Reluctant Queen to someone who leaves a comment on the blog between now and midnight Saturday.

Mary Jo, who can’t wait to see where Joan goes next!