Regan here… today on The Best of the Regency my guest is Regency author Julia Justiss. A voracious reader who began jotting down plot ideas for Nancy Drew novels in her third grade spiral, and an avid fan of Georgette Heyer, Julia decided to write her own Regency while her husband was posted at the U.S Embassy in Tunisia. She never looked back.
She has written more than twenty-five novels and novellas set in the Regency period in England. Her awards include the Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America and The Golden Quill. She has also been a finalist in Romantic Times’ Best First Historical, the National Readers Choice, the Daphne du Maurier and All About Romance’s Favorite Book of the Year.
In addition to her Regency romances, Julia has published poetry and worked as a business journalist. She and her husband live in East Texas, where she continues to craft the stories she loves. Today she is giving us a look behind the writing of her newest book, Convenient Proposal to the Lady.
Be sure to leave a comment with your email as Julia is giving away a copy of her book!
Of Birds and Ben
With today’s casual attitude toward children born out of wedlock, it’s hard for a modern reader to understand what the taint of illegitimacy meant in the nineteenth century. Even if acknowledged and provided for, a man could not inherit title or entailed estate, would never be considered “equal” to any half-siblings, and would always be susceptible to taunts about his breeding and his mother’s character.
Benedict Tawny, hero of Convenient Proposal to the Lady was such a man. Being a hero, he was made tougher and more principled, rather than embittered, by the abuse. He was also imbued with the fierce desire to protect his mother, whose only sin was believing in his father’s promise of marriage. Knowing the life-long price paid by a ruined woman, when Ben learns of a dissolute lord’s plot to seduce an innocent maiden to exact revenge against her brother, he feels compelled to intervene.
I knew that young lady would end up Ben’s heroine. I knew she would have to be quiet and unconventional enough for arrogant gentlemen to believe, as a female on the brink of spinsterhood, she’d be eager to grasp any means to land a husband. But to capture the interest of a rebellious rogue like Ben, who spent his young adulthood among the clever, lovely ladies of the demi-monde, she would have to be both intelligent and unusual.
And so Alyssa came to be. An unconventional girl mistreated by a domineering father, she wanted to avoid marriage, which would transfer legal and financial control over her from one man to another. But she needed some special ability that would allow her to support herself, if she were able to win her freedom.
Barred from the professions, with marriage or domestic service the only respectable occupations, the only marketable skills a well-bred girl might be trained in were art or music. I decided Alyssa’s gift would be art, and inspired by birding friends and two period books about birds, I decided her passion would be illustration.
In 1797 and 1804, Thomas Bewick published his two-volume History of British Birds, Land Birds and Water Birds. Illustrated with woodcuts after sketches drawn from life or posed models, the books grouped birds by family with common and scientific names, descriptions of their behavior, distribution and habits. Each new species begins on a new page, so any left over space at the end was filled up with small, often humorous, scenes of country life.
Bewick’s books were the first “field guide” intended for the amateur enthusiast, and remain in print to this day, largely for the beauty and clarity of the woodcuts. Bewick popularized a technique for wood engraving (using hard boxwood cut across the grain in blocks that could be integrated with metal type) that allowed the creation of plates durable enough to be printed many times, producing a high-quality image at low cost.
Then, in 1827, John Jacob Audubon linked up with accomplished London engravers Robert Havell Jr and Sr and began producing his monumental Birds of America. Sometimes called the “Double Elephant Folio” for its size (39.5” by 25.5”) the images were created mainly by copperplate engraving with watercolor added after, and sold as a pay-as-you-go subscription. Notable subscribers included King Charles X of France, Lord Spencer, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.
Prints were issued every month or so in a set of five, unbound in a tin case and with no accompanying text. Each set included one large bird, one medium bird and three small birds. Eighty-seven sets of five (435 plates in all) were issued before the project concluded in 1838, along with a five-volume companion text by Audubon and Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray, written between 1831 and 1839.
In 1832, when Alyssa’s story begins, about half the prints had been issued. It’s quite possible that, as a lover of nature, she would have had copies of Bewick’s guide, and while in London for the Season, might have viewed an Audubon folio owned by a noble subscriber. With the success of Audubon’s series, it’s also possible some London publisher might have been interested in producing a colorized illustration of British birds.
Alyssa had her mission.
For Alyssa, social ruin was a small price to pay for winning a chance to realize her dream. Although she almost immediately recognizes and respects Ben’s character and integrity, learning to trust a man enough to open herself to love requires a great leap of faith. Nor is it easy for Ben, who’d seen his beloved mother’s entire life blighted for taking such a leap, to open himself up to the danger of giving his heart.
But as always, the benefits of loving far outweigh the risk. As you read Ben and Alyssa’s story, I hope you’ll agree.
"Duty can also be pleasure, Lady Alyssa…"
When politician Benedict Tawny set out to save Lady Alyssa from a nefarious plot, he never expected to find himself trapped in a compromising situation with the alluring lady! Now duty demands he propose…and claim her as his bride!
Tainted by his illegitimacy, Ben knows he can't give Alyssa the life of luxury she deserves. But if he can convince her to succumb to the undeniable heat between them, their convenient marriage might just lead to the love of a lifetime!
Julia’s question for readers: Have you ever had a dream everyone told you was hopeless to pursue? What did you do about it?