Ruminations on what path I would have taken if I had lived in 18th Century England
As I was scouring the web for a topic to write for this guest post, I came across a rather interesting website* which was built along the same lines as those books that I had read in my teenage years – the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’. This story, however, is set in 18th century England where I am told that I am an unmarried woman in my early twenties who live with my parents in a small village outside of London. Intrigued, I read on.
The first sign of something which remotely approaches interesting in my (presumably) very uneventful life happens when a single man comes knocking at the front door. The first question that is posed to me asks whether I would choose to marry this man, or whether I would take my meager savings and make a run for it.
Naturally, I ran. Well, of course I did. I didn’t love this gentleman. In fact, I could barely tolerate being in his company. He was dull, and to be quite honest (if rather uncharitable), somewhat dim-witted. And unlike my obscenely wealthy hero in ‘My Dark Duke’ or Mr Darcy, he was neither handsome, nor was he in possession of a good fortune. Okay, okay, there was actually no details about the character of my prospective suitor, but I’m a writer and we are all given to flights of fancy, and I did not fancy him.
I don’t know about you, but if I am to marry without love, at which time my legal status becomes subsumed by my husband, and after which I will have no real independence, I need to be compensated with something. I’d like to say a very attractive spouse like say, Richard Armitage or Henry Cavill is sufficient but we all know looks fade, so I’d rather it be wealth – the more the better. Granted, the man who sought my hand in marriage was a merchant, so I could have had a comfortable life, but the thought that I have an alternative to becoming a wife and be able to maintain my independence was making me rather reckless with excitement.
Well, now that I have shown myself to be a thrill-seeking, money-hungry harpy an eminently sensible and practical young woman who yearns for independence, the first thing I will need to do when I reach London is to find some way of supporting myself. It was with a sense of anticipation that I read on to find what my next adventure was to be. Hmm, let’s see. My choices were to be a domestic servant or a … wait, what? I gaped at the screen. A prostitute?
This choice required much more thought. Would I, could I, sacrifice my virtue and abandon a lifetime’s teaching of Christian values for the slim chance of being a wealthy man’s mistress? If I spent my life as a domestic servant, my financial security would be guaranteed. My wages might be minimal but I won’t have to worry about ending up as a prostitute working the back alleys or near the London ports and dying from syphilis or liver failure or God forbid, both.
Apparently the grim end doesn’t stop my romantic fantasies. I could do reasonably well as a courtesan. I am well-read, an able conversationalist (if I may say so myself) and I’m quite certain I could learn to be vastly more amusing. I am also accomplished in the art of being a soothing companion, no doubt due to the practice I have had in calming my father’s nerves each time my grandmother visits. There’s also the fact that I dislike housework intensely. That in itself is almost enough to persuade me to try my hand (no pun intended) at prostitution.
Wow. I frowned. How had I gone from a respectable middle-classed female to a woman living a life of sin (the wages of which are death, I know, I know) in the mere space of ten minutes? It suddenly dawned on me. When I read those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, I would always pick the option which was the most dangerous and/or reckless, one I would never even dream of choosing in a real life situation.
You see, I am the most risk adverse person I know. If I had lived in 18th century England, I would more than likely have married Mr Snodgrass Bumfrey (yes, that is the actual name given) and have a handful of little Bumfreys. Ideally though, Mr Bumfrey would pass on to the next world, leaving me a merry widow. I will have financial security and the independence I crave.
I smiled. Yes, I think this would definitely be my chosen adventure. (Spoiler alert: Pick the option to send Mr Bumfrey to France.
*If you are curious about the website I refer to, it is:
My Dark Duke
Since his notorious wife died in mysterious circumstances, rumours about James, the handsome Duke of Trent, have scandalized society. Now, he must marry again – but finding an eligible woman willing to overlook his past won't be easy.
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.
Elyse spent her childhood years in Borneo. She moved to Australia when she was a teenager and was an avid reader of romances. It was her love of historical romance that led her to write My Dark Duke, which finaled in the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Award contest in 2014.
Heat level: steamy
But neither the books nor the earl’s ancestry were on the duke’s mind in that moment. Instead, he found himself entirely captivated by the enchanting profile of the slender beauty before him. Like the other women at the ball, the hair piled high atop her head was powdered, so he was unable to discern what its natural colour was. He thought that it would likely be of a dark shade, as that was the shade of her eyebrows. Those perfectly shaped eyebrows arched above eyes which appeared dark in the muted light in the library. Even from his position in the corner of the room, he could see that her long, thin nose was slightly more pointed than convention would dictate as beautiful. But it was her rouged mouth that drew him like a beacon. Its bow-shaped upper lip and full lower lip filled him with an unexpected urge to possess it, to make her his own and no other man’s.
Her movement pulled him out of his reverie, and he blinked at the fanciful thoughts that had seemingly appeared from nowhere. She walked towards the short library ladder and he looked on with some amazement as she placed a slippered foot on the first rung, her wide skirt and petticoats forming a clear obstacle. His lips twitched at the look of frustration on her face before she determinedly gathered a large handful of cream silk material in both hands and hiked up her dress, exposing a slim calf covered in silk stockings. Awkwardly, she began to climb up the ladder and he started forward out of the shadows, concerned at the fact that she was holding on to nothing but her petticoats.
James paused a foot away as the intrepid woman dressed in the heavy cream silk gown leaned precariously over and reached for a book to her right. Judging by the expensive French Argentan lace trimming her gown, her husband was obviously a man of means. Book finally in hand, she straightened up and gingerly lowered her left foot onto the rung below. It was fortunate that he had anticipated what was to occur next because a squeak was all the warning he received. The lady flailed her arms, trying to find something to grasp and then toppled surprisingly gracefully off the ladder.
He leapt forward and caught her in his arms. Unfortunately, the weight of her gown combined with the force of her fall caused him to lose his balance and he fell backwards onto the floor. The woman landed with a soft ‘oof’ on top of him in a tangle of silk skirts and petticoats.
This post copyright © Elyse Huntington, 2015.