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clarepayton
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Early Chapter Discussion: A Predicament

The action in the nineteenth-century part of the book is kicked off by a set of mistakes that leads to a marriage -- forced by social conventions that are alien to modern society. How does Geoff and Letty's comic predicament underscore the conditions of male-female relationships in 1803?



Note: This discussion topic is particulary suitable for readers who have only read through chapter 7 of The Deception of the Emerald Ring. If your post includes a revelation from a later point in the novel, please include the word "Spoiler" in the subject line of your post.

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maxcat
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Re: Early Chapter Discussion: A Predicament

It's a bit dramatic the way everything was done. Usually there is a long courtship blessed by the parents, I think. But, relationships back in the early 1800's were strict and courting was done with an escort present, no secret meeting places, etc.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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What are the expected social conventions?

Yes, and what are some of those expected social conventions? What is their first "mistake"? Why is it a mistake?
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maxcat
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Re: What are the expected social conventions?

I think social class had a lot to do with it also. You didn't marry beneath your status. I think the mistake you are talking about is the fact that the wrong daughter was carted off in the carriage to be married to Geoff. And also, originally, Geoff and Mary were going to elope which was not the social custom in the Victorian times.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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Re: What are the expected social conventions?

[ Edited ]
Hi, Chris and Clare!
Thanks for starting off such an interesting topic. Chris, you raise a great point, and one that's one of my favorite hobby horses. 1803, when the books are set, really belongs far more to the eighteenth century than the nineteenth. When I studied the topic in grad school, we used to call the period from 1688 to 1815 "the Long Eighteenth Century," because there's a certain commonality of politics and mores that divorces that particular stretch of time from the conventions of the seventeenth century on one end and the nineteenth century on the other.

Victoria doesn't ascend the throne until 1837, and by then, manners and mores have changed radically. The world of the very early nineteenth century is much freer and wilder than the era of bourgeois responsibility that succeeds it, especially among the upper classes, who view themselves as above the petty conventions of the middling sorts. The Prince of Wales was notorious for his heavy drinking and debauched lifestyle and adultery among the aristocracy was a commonplace. Elopements, while certainly not encouraged, weren't necessarily a cause of social death. Sally, Lady Jersey (not to be confused with her mother-in-law, who was mistress to the Prince of Wales), eloped to Gretna Greene with her first husband and went on to become one of the Patronesses of Almack's, where, ironically enough, she used her influence to snub scandalous young ladies (gotta love the inconsistencies of human nature!).

While I'm rambling on, I can't resist a word about elopements. In the earlier part of the century (the eighteenth century, I mean), the sport of eloping with young heiresses had become such a problem that Parliament was moved to pass Hardwicke's Marriage Act in the 1750's, which forbade marriage without parental consent for those under the age of 21. This considerably complicated things for rogues and seducers, who were forced to take the far longer journey to Scotland, where the marriage laws still required nothing more than the consent of the parties. Hence the famous "Gretna Greene" elopements, since Gretna Greene was just over the Scottish border, becoming a haven for eloping couples. In "Emerald Ring", however, Geoff and Mary don't have this problem because Mary, although she would hate to admit it, is well over 21 (she's-- horrors!-- an elderly twenty-four already).
Lauren



maxcat wrote:
I think social class had a lot to do with it also. You didn't marry beneath your status. I think the mistake you are talking about is the fact that the wrong daughter was carted off in the carriage to be married to Geoff. And also, originally, Geoff and Mary were going to elope which was not the social custom in the Victorian times.

Message Edited by LaurenWillig on 01-08-200709:47 AM

Message Edited by LaurenWillig on 01-08-200710:14 AM

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Re: Early Chapter Discussion: A Predicament

I really liked the way Geoff and Letty's forced marriage was handled in the book. It wasn't so much the elopement thing, as the "being caught together in flagrante" thing, that made it truly necessary for them to get married.

In an era before DNA testing, there had to be strict rules of conduct between the genders--especially when there was so much at stake. Birth rights, inheritances, whole families depended on knowing who one's parents were. So it really was a very basic sort of struggle, and marriage was the social contract that held everything together and defined the family.

For women of the upper class, getting married was key. Who you married determined your social status for the rest of your life--it determined who your friends were, what kinds of activities you spent your day in, and how the world at large treated you.

The choices a woman made had big, big consequences in her life, and if she made a mistake there was very little opportunity to alter the outcome.

And if a man was honorable, his duty was to protect others from being harmed--especially harm he caused them.

To some extent, the whole elopement scene seemed to me like a nod towards Georgette Heyer's "Devil's Cub," where a sensible sister tries to thwart a silly one's planned elopement and gets caught up in the elopement herself. But I thought that the story line of The Emerald Ring made more sense.

Saralee
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Re: Early Chapter Discussion: A Predicament

Hi, Saralee!

How did you guess? "Devil's Cub" is exactly where the botched elopement idea came from. I'm so thrilled that you picked up on that.

During my research year in London, I used to sneak Heyer books into the British Library to read over lunch in the BL Cafeteria. The English editions were conveniently small and compact, perfect for propping up against a bowl of watery soup, and it made a nice break in the middle of the day from peering at crabbed seventeenth century handwriting. At the time, I was midway through writing "The Secret History of the Pink Carnation". Geoff-- and his infatuation with the unsuitable Mary Alsworthy-- had already been introduced into the plot, and I had been rather absent-mindedly wondering how I was going to extract him from that tangle. I'll never forget the day in the BL cafeteria when I propped open "Devil's Cub," started to read... and realized that was it, the perfect solution to my Geoff problem.

I really enjoyed playing with twists on the "Devil's Cub" theme. Geoff, of course, is nothing like the hero of "Devil's Cub"-- in fact, he's almost a complete opposite, responsible and sober rather than debauched and self-indulgent, serious where the hero of "Devil's Cub" is flippant. In fact, there was a little bit of the eponymous devil's cub in mind when I created Lord Vaughn. I also had fun playing with the convention of older serious sister versus younger silly sister, flipping it to make Letty the younger rather the older, and Mary, in her own way, anything but silly, scheming and determined where the eloping sister in Devil's Cub was silly and flighty.

I'm so happy that you spotted the source!

Lauren




SaraleeE wrote:
I really liked the way Geoff and Letty's forced marriage was handled in the book. It wasn't so much the elopement thing, as the "being caught together in flagrante" thing, that made it truly necessary for them to get married.

In an era before DNA testing, there had to be strict rules of conduct between the genders--especially when there was so much at stake. Birth rights, inheritances, whole families depended on knowing who one's parents were. So it really was a very basic sort of struggle, and marriage was the social contract that held everything together and defined the family.

For women of the upper class, getting married was key. Who you married determined your social status for the rest of your life--it determined who your friends were, what kinds of activities you spent your day in, and how the world at large treated you.

The choices a woman made had big, big consequences in her life, and if she made a mistake there was very little opportunity to alter the outcome.

And if a man was honorable, his duty was to protect others from being harmed--especially harm he caused them.

To some extent, the whole elopement scene seemed to me like a nod towards Georgette Heyer's "Devil's Cub," where a sensible sister tries to thwart a silly one's planned elopement and gets caught up in the elopement herself. But I thought that the story line of The Emerald Ring made more sense.

Saralee


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SaraleeE
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Re: Early Chapter Discussion: A Predicament

"During my research year in London, I used to sneak Heyer books into the British Library to read over lunch in the BL Cafeteria."

LOL! What a great image--Georgette's sprightly stories in there among all that serious, stodgy scholarship. Although it's not too strange -- she was a historian herself, if I remember correctly. She really had a way of making history come alive.

I have almost all of Georgette Heyer's books, and re-read them from time to time. "These Old Shades" and "Devil's Cub" are among my favorites.

I liked the way you kept the same idea, but changed the results of the botched elopement to suit the different characters.

In Devil's Cub, when Dominic found he'd eloped with the wrong sister, he didn't care--he could ruin one girl just as easily as another, and he wasn't about to delay his trip to Paris just to help her save her reputation.

But once Geoff discovered the mix-up, he would no more carry Letty off than he would fly to the moon. He did the noble thing, even though it meant he'd never marry his Mary because of that "no marriage to deceased wife's sister" rule.

Saralee
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clarepayton
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Re: marriage as the social contract

Thanks, Saralee, for your insightful comments about how important marriage was to this society (as is true for most all socieities save ours!). You are right to emphasize just how dire the consequences were for a poor marriage (or worse, no marriage at all).

I like how our author explained some of this through characterization. For example, when introducing us to Mary and her actions, our narrator points out a couple of times how girls were necessarily scheming for the first-born sons, who always inherited the title and the wealth, and were taught to avoid the second and subsequent sons, who were left hanging and often went into the military or the clergy.

Courtship and marriage were serious business, all done with a veneer of social grace.
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Re: on elopement

This is great. Thanks, Lauren. I love the details concerning elopement, because I had made the same assumptions. I also love that you explained Gretna Greene, which I only vaguely understood in reading the book.

It reminds me that it must be hard to write a narrative in a historical character's voice but somehow "explain" to the modern reader things which this character would have totally understood. Did you find yourself tripping up on that sometimes?
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politikgirl
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Re: What are the expected social conventions?

Thanks for the historical information on elopements, Lauren. It's so wonderful to learn more about this period from an author with the kind of historical expertise that you have.

On a lighter note... when I think about elopements, I almost always think of Jane Austen's string of seducer-esque male characters: Wickham, Willoughby (not a seducer, maybe, but not your typical honourable gentleman), Henry Crawford and Frederick Tilney.
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Re: on elopement

Very belatedly jumping back in... that has been something I've come up against several times. In fact, my editor had to gently remind me that the notion that being caught alone together would compromise my heroine and lead to a forced marriage was not something that would necessarily be readily apparent to the modern reader. I know it drives me crazy in books where characters reprise social conventions that would be entirely obvious to them, "As you know, Clorinda, once you marry, your identity legally becomes your husband's under the principle of couverture." "Oh, yes, Arabella! I think of that often...." But it does have to be done, and the trick is to find a way to convey the information that will inform the reader but won't seem unnatural coming out of the character's mouth.

The same problem arises with providing the necessary political background, as well as with cultural history. For example, I assumed most readers wouldn't be familiar with Robert Emmett, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, or the 1798 rebellion-- but Geoff and Wickham would. So in their discussion, I worked very hard to get the basics across in a way that wouldn't make it seem like Wickham and Geoff were going into unnatural recitations of things they both knew. But it's always hard to tell whether I've put in enough background. That's where, as an author, the historical note comes in handy for plugging up the potential gaps.




clarepayton wrote:
It reminds me that it must be hard to write a narrative in a historical character's voice but somehow "explain" to the modern reader things which this character would have totally understood. Did you find yourself tripping up on that sometimes?


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dianeh
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Re: marriage as the social contract

Clare, I agree with your assessment that marriage at that time was a very serious business. The parents raised their daughters to know that they needed to marry well, not only for social standing, but for the money to help elevate the rest of the family. If the parents could not afford to send more than one daughter to her Season, it was her job to marry well enough that she would be able to help the other sisters with their Seasons. Of course, the social standing helped the parents become "desirable" guests into some of the homes they would, otherwise, be uninvited.



clarepayton wrote:
Courtship and marriage were serious business, all done with a veneer of social grace.

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Re: on elopement



clarepayton wrote:It reminds me that it must be hard to write a narrative in a historical character's voice but somehow "explain" to the modern reader things which this character would have totally understood.




Sometiems I face that problem when I read classics. Something that was evident in the time the book was written is not at all so obvious to me today.

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Re: on revealing social history in new novels

Yes, I can see your difficulty, Lauren. I certainly welcome historical notes, endnotes, footnotes or otherwise, but I know they are out of fashion in novels these days. (Probably, your publisher was not keen on your including many of them.)

I think you handled the political and social history very well. I didn't sense a clunking pause for explanation anywhere. And, I think you gave us just enough political history. Though I should not speak for everyone, I think we readers probably only care about the basics: who was on which side and what were they fighting for. Who's the good guy? Who's the bad guy? And how do they interact with our heroine/s. Most all of our discussion here has been about the women!

But, I don't mean to take away from the added richness felt from your including a depth of historical fact, of course! Your setting and your added details support the idea that this story could only have occurred in the past, not in the present. Plus, they are just fun.
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