And it's Friday! And another chilly week in Melbourne (Australia) - there has even been snow in Queensland (unheard of!).
To warm our hearts I have debut Australian author Elyse Huntington whose first book, MY DARK DUKE is the perfect antidote to a chilly night. Hailing from Borneo, Elyse joins the ranks of 'lawyers who write romance' (of which I am an alumni member!). The world seems to expect lawyers to write crime novels but romance is a wonderful escape from the cut and thrust of the legal world and I'm with her! Elyse has always had a fascination with Dukes and any book with Duke on the cover was an immediate draw card. Meet Elyse at her website, Facebook and Goodreads
MY DARK DUKE is set in Georgian rather than Regency times and Elyse's researches have taken her into some interesting areas. Today she focuses on the lives of middle class women of the 18th century. Welcome... Elyse!
Middle-class Women in 18th century England
Despite having written my first novel My Dark Duke which is set in England in 1770, I find that I am still discovering new information about 18th century England. Of course, this is hardly surprising. There are so many aspects of this century that information about it would encompass many encyclopedic volumes. There’s the politics, fashion, living conditions, architecture, medicine and social conventions, to name just a few. Today, though, I have chosen to focus on women who are considered to belong to the middle class in the Georgian era.
Childbirth was dangerous and infant mortality was high. Infants who progressed to solid food were fortunate to survive diseases such as infantile diarrhoea , which was likely caused by the preparation of food in unhygenic kitchens, from dirty bread, or from water or milk infested with bacteria. Babies who had teething problems might have their gums lanced with a sharp instrument. And if you think this sounded terrible, there is even advice that strong children should be bled from the jugular to help with teething!
Once the girls were older, they would attend day schools or boarding schools where they learnt subjects such as English, French, arithmetic, geography, needlework and dancing. Girls in more affluent households had governesses and visiting tutors and may be given lessons in languages such as Latin or Italian, and be taught how to play different musical instruments. It’s likely that part of the motive for their education, at least at some schools, was to assist them in obtaining husbands.
When it came to marriage, women found husbands from either working with them (such as domestic servants) or answering lonely-heart ads, some of which were hilariously prescriptive. I was surprised to find out that the average age of marriage was around 26 or so. And here I had thought ‘young’ ladies of this age were very much on-the-shelf.
This leads to the next interesting fact that an average family was estimated to have 2.5 children, so really, no bigger than the families you meet today. This is partially explained by the fact that the women were no longer at their most fertile by the time they married in their mid-twenties. There was also the adherence to the church’s calendar, which meant couples abstained from intercourse during Lent, Sundays and fasting days. This, in addition to menstruation and long periods of breast-feeding which could inhibit ovulation, meant that babies were not conceived very often.
The women had to supervise their servants to ensure the smooth running of their household. They also did their own food shopping at the markets (or street vendors) if they didn’t have a cook or a housekeeper, or were between cooks. Cooking in those days was very labour intensive. The cook had to ensure that the coal-fuelled fire was the perfect temperature for a roast pig or a cake, she had to maintain her cooking utensils and she had to preserve as much as she could to prevent waste. Thankfully, there were also establishments where you could buy ready-made dishes to eat in or take away, if you were to be in one of those highly inconvenient between-cooks periods.
I do admit that my preference is to write about the wealthy men and women in the aristocracy. I did find reading about this particular class of women to be quite entertaining. Who knows, one day I might even write about a duke who, against his better judgment, falls in love with such a female. She will be around 25, well-educated, independent and of course, be very impudent!
I leave you with this humorous anecdote of a marriage ceremony taken from Dr. Johnson’s London by Liza Picard which includes quotes from the Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1964. I can easily picture a heroine of mine doing exactly this!
When asked whether she would ‘take this man to be her wedded husband’, one woman said, ‘No and I have often told him so’. The parson asked the obvious question – why was she there? ‘Only to tell you, before him, that I would not marry him’, and she left the church, and her swain.
MY DARK DUKE
Defiantly single, Lady Alethea Sinclair has already turned down six offers of marriage. She prefers living on her own terms and refuses to answer to any man. Yet when Alethea meets the seductive and enigmatic Duke she finds herself strangely drawn to him.
Intrigued by Alethea's defiance of society's expectations, James is instantly taken with the willful beauty and soon they are enjoying a playful flirtation. And when circumstances force them into a comprising situation, he does the honourable thing and marries her.
But adjusting to the constraints of marriage doesn't come easily to the rebellious Alethea and, despite their growing feelings for each other, the Duke's troubled past keeps getting in the way. Can they learn to trust each other and give love a chance before it's too late?
A steamy Georgian romance about desire, the importance of staying true to yourself and the power of the past to cast a shadow on the present.
There is a bonus epilogue for My Dark Duke at her website so please do visit. And if you sign up for her mailing list, you will have exclusive access to a free short story when it becomes available. Click HERE
MY DARK DUKE is available at all reputable ebook stores...