The Art of Creating a Deliciously Desirable Hero

603px-Poussin,_Nicolas_-_The_Nurture_of_Jupiter_-_Google_Art_ProjectCara/Andrea here, I'm delighted to kick off our regular blog schedule for the new year by welcoming back my good friend and Honorary Word Wench Miranda Neville. Nt only does Miranda craft delightfully smart and sophisticated Regency romances, but as those who have read her books know she also draws on her expertise in period history and art to create a wonderful ambiance of the era. In her latest book, which released just last week, she found inspiration in an unexpected place . . . so without further ado, I shall hand over the pen and let her tell us all about it!

NevilleColorSmallerMiranda here,
For The Duke of Dark Desires, I used a remarkable creation of the Regency period. One of London’s best art collections is also relatively unknown, probably because it’s inconvenient to reach by public transport. Dulwich Picture Gallery opened in 1817 and is the oldest public art gallery in England. It houses an extraordinary collection of Dutch, French, Italian and Flemish Old Masters including Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, Poussin, and Fragonard, as well as English masters like Gainsborough and Lawrence.

Dulwich-picture-gallery-interiorThe existence of this great museum in a fairly obscure part of south London arose from the career of a pair of eighteenth-century art dealers, Noël Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois. Commissioned by the King of Poland to assemble a ready-made collection of masterworks, the paintings were left on their hands when Poland (not for the first time) succumbed to more powerful neighbors. Failing to find a buyer elsewhere (both the Tsar of Russia and the British government turned it down), the collection was bequeathed by Bourgeois to his old school, Dulwich College, with the stipulation that it be displayed to the public.

640px-Dulwich_picture_gallery_at_sunsetNot only was it the first public gallery in England, it was also the first purpose-built gallery in the world. Sir John Soane, one of the most interesting architects of the day, designed the building, including revolutionary roof-lanterns that provided natural top light ideal for viewing art. Adjacent to the gallery space, slightly macabrely, is a mausoleum for Bourgeois, Desenfans, and the latter’s wife.

Before he inherited the title, Julian Fortescue, the hero of my latest book, had to work for his living so he followed his passion and became an art dealer. Though still considered trade, it wasn’t unusual for gentleman to do a little genteel wheeling and dealing, tracking down European treasures to meet the voracious appetite of wealthy Englishmen for works of art. (Sir William Hamilton, Emma’s husband, is a famous example.) Revolutionary Paris offered rich pickings as aristocrats fled the country.  Such a story is at the crux of the plot of The Duke of Dark Desires. I also incorporated elements of the Dulwich history into the book, as well as the long, fruitless effort to establish a national collection, which succeeded only with the foundation of the National Gallery in 1824. Best of all, I was able to raid the art galleries of the world to assemble Julian’s collection.

DDDI don’t want to give the impression that The Duke of Dark Desires is a treatise on art history. This is the short blurb:

Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified–to become his mistress. To find the man responsible for the deaths of her family, Jeanne de Falleron enters the Duke of Denford's house as governess Jane Gray. As she discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she's faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for the duke: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she has sworn to kill?

I’m always pleased when I can tailor real historical events to fit my novels and I especially enjoyed the inspiration of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I will be thrilled if I encourage a few people to visit this gem. Incidentally, there’s an excellent café!

I am a keen museum goer and I love discovering new ones. Do you have a favorite “lesser known” museum or historic site? Perhaps there’s a hidden gem in your area. If so, I would like to know. One commenter will be chosen at random to win a copy of The Duke of Dark Desires.


Warning: this post (though quite erudite and tasteful) may not be safe for work.

AP-avatar Bio_pic Cara/Andrea here,
I’m delighted to welcome back my good friend and fabulous author Miranda Neville for a visit with the Wenches. For those of you who might not have met Miranda, she grew up in England, attended Oxford, and is—among her many prodigious talents—an expert bibliophile, having worked at Sotheby’s writing catalogues for the rare books and manuscripts. She has put that knowledge to great use in her Regency-set romances, which feature the gentlemen of the Burgundy Club, an exclusive group of book collectors.

Historic-Lovers The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, the third in the series, hits the shelves this month . . . and in keeping with the long, hot, steamy summer we all have been experiencing in the States, she decided to share some of the rather “hot” research that went into the book. So gird your loins—so to speak— and let’s join Miranda as she takes us on a short romp through the history of how a good girl might learn some . . . naughty things.

Characters in historical romance have wonderful sex lives. If it doesn’t always start that way, it’s certainly how it ends up. No one wants to read about a “roll over it’s Saturday night” couple. But it certainly helps if one half of the duo – and it’s usually the hero – has a good idea what he’s doing. But how does he (or she) learn how to be a skilled lover?

Regency-nude-Yale In general, we are given three sources of wisdom.

(a) The hero’s former relationship(s) with a widow or courtesan. I’ll admit to sometimes feeling skeptical about the latter. Seems to me her job is to make sure the client has a good time regardless of her own pleasure. But never mind. It could happen.

200px-Mukteswar_temple (b) Living in India, home of the Karma Sutra and tangled limbs. Not as common as (a) but a distinct subset.

(c) Reading dirty books. This is particularly useful for virginal heroines.

At this point I back up three years, when I decided to research “historical sex” by reading early pornography. (Not that it was so-called until the mid-19th century in England, derived from a French word for works about prostitution.)

PietroAretinoTitian The most celebrated pioneer of pornography was Pietro Aretino, a poet and satirist who wrote a series of sixteen sonnets to accompany a suite of illustrations of sexual positions, engraved after erotic paintings by the youthful Giulio Romano. Issued in 1527, both sonnets and prints caused a scandal and were hunted down for destruction by the Catholic Church. Only fragments of “the postures” exist (the last complete set is said to have been destroyed in 1829) but the sonnets survived. Aretino went on to write The Dialogues, supposedly a record of conversations between whores in a brothel.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Aretino’s model of lists of sexual positions and “whore dialogues” was much imitated in Italy, France, and England. The name Aretino came to be a sort of generic term for salacious literature. His name appears on the title pages of books he didn’t write, starting with La Puttana Errante in 1650, actually the work of Niccolo Franco. Franco’s work was translated and rewritten by French writers and, through them, the English.

307px-Aretino_sonnet I found distinct national differences between Italian, French, and English pornography. Aretino’s sonnets contain a good deal of anal sex, to preserve female virginity and guard against pregnancy. By the time we get to the English versions there is none. I wonder if it reflects the English heterosexual male’s taboo against buggery. French libertine literature tends to be combined with high-flying philosophical ruminations, particularly in the mid-to-late eighteenth century when intellectuals like Restif de la Bretonne, Diderot, and Voltaire were writing forbidden works as a subversive act. The sex lives of nuns and priests was not only titillating, but also a criticism of the existing order. Some of the descriptions can get quite flowery. Among the thirty-six positions listed in a 1783 work entitled Histoire et Vie de L’Aretin are “quand la femme embrasse le Dieu Priape ailé” (“when the woman embraces the winged God Priapus”) and “quand l’homme baisse la femme à la cave” (“when the man kisses the woman in her cellar”).

For scholarly discussion of these works I direct you to Robert Darnton’s Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France and Bradford Mudge’s When Flesh Became Word. I wasn’t reading with scholarship in mind, but looking for ideas for my books.

Rowlandson FannyHill Which brings me to The Genuine and Remarkable Amours of the Late Peter Aretin. I found this slim volume in the British Library when searching the catalogue for Aretino. Bearing the date 1796 on the title page, it’s a novel about the sexual adventures of a youth named Francis Featherbrain and his ardent pursuit of women on tables and riverbanks, in gardens, and brothels and just about anywhere else an Englishman of middling fortune might find himself. Reading it, I knew I’d struck gold. What if, I thought, a virginal heroine used this very book to get a bit of sex ed. So began The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (with help from the hero who does know what he’s doing.) Every hilarious word Celia reads comes straight from the original. “You think I could make this stuff up?” I asked my editor, when she expressed surprise.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book:

CeliaSeatonMed-1 Minerva slid down from the bed, carried The Genuine Amours off in triumph to the far side of the room and settled on the stool next to her dressing table. Celia waited in dread as the girl opened the book to the bookmark and began to read aloud.

    “A man who seeks pleasure in casual f… Oh my goodness. I can’t say that word!”
    “Then don’t. Stop now.”
     “Never! This is fascinating. He can never find it but in the senses, while he who has love on his side, is stretched on the rack of delight, by those able ministers of pleasure, passion and imagination.” She looked up. “That seems a proper sentiment. The author advocates the act of you-know-what only when love is present.”
    “Believe me,” Celia said. “He does not practice what he preaches.”
    Minerva read quickly down the page. “No, I can see that. Now he is engaging his master’s daughter. How very interesting. They are doing it outside on a downward slope. Listen to this. This posture greatly enhances the pleasure, as it admits of the most perfect entrance that possibly can be conceived of every inch of a prick.”
    “Truly?” Celia asked, torn between interest and the conviction that Minerva should not be using words like “prick.” Not at least in that particular meaning of the word. “I didn’t get to that bit.”
    “Where did you get this book?”
    Celia blushed. “I believe it belongs to Tarquin.” She explained how she found it.
    “I knew he collected books, but not this kind. I didn’t even know this kind of book existed. How fortunate that you found it. Finally I can learn something useful.” She flipped a page. “What do you suppose this means? A deluge of spermy rapture.”

Hogarth-Yale There’s just no end to the trouble we historical writers will take to bring you an authentic story. Do you find the great lovers in romances credible? Or ask me a question about my researches and I’ll try to answer without getting the Word Wenches shut down.

Miranda has kindly offered to send an autographed copy of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton to one lucky winner, who will be chosen at random from those who leave a comment below between now and Sunday morning.

Third picture from top and bottom picture courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection