Thursday, June 07, 2012

Setting the Scene with Louise M Gouge

Love Inspired Historical author Louise M Gouge sets the scene for her latest novel A Proper Companion
As a college English professor, I teach my students how to analyze a story by studying the various elements of fiction: plot, character, point of view, setting, symbols, style, and theme. As an author, I endeavor to create compelling stories with careful attention to each of those elements. Perhaps the most challenging element is SETTING, especially when I begin to write in a new era. In order to capture all the nuances of any setting, I study the time, the place, and the social environment. A story set in the American West or a South Pacific island will be entirely different from one set in Regency England, my newest era to study for my novel series Ladies in Waiting.
George, Prince of Wales

Regency England: What an exciting TIME! So many things were happening in the period from 1811 to 1820 (the Formal Regency). In 1811, George, Prince of Wales, was designated Prince Regent (nicknamed Prinny) to rule England in place of his father, George III, whom Parliament deemed unfit to rule due to some form of mental illness. The Extended Regency includes the years from 1795 to 1837, so any novel set during this time can claim the designation of Regency. To choose the best year for a story, the author must consider many things, such as increasing international tensions, the Napoleonic Wars on the Continent, Luddite riots in northern England, Princess Charlotte’s death, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval’s assassination. And then there were those pesky Americans and what they called the War of 1812. People (and characters) would be discussing these events when they happened. But in addition to the era and particular year, a Regency story is also affected by the time of year. Is Parliament in session? Then Society has flocked to London for the annual Season, when balls abound and many marriages are arranged. Is it the height of summer when the hot weather has driven Society from smelly, disease-ridden London to fresh air of their country homes? A Regency writer must take each one of these occurrences into consideration when developing a story and be careful not to put an event in the wrong time.

 Photo by Rob Bendall

Of course, a story must take place in, well, a PLACE. If one is writing about the Regency, at least some of the story must be set in England, where the Prince Regent ruled. Countless physical locations are available for the Regency story: a country manor, a country village, a London townhouse, the bathhouses of Bath, Almack’s, the Houses of Parliament, Vauxhall Gardens, Brighton Pavilion, a Drury Lane theatre, and others. “Place” also includes furniture, fireplaces, horses, carriages, gardens, trees, bushes, anything one sees or touches. To provide a good sense of place, the author should show just enough details to let the reader feel she is right there in the midst of the story. Without these descriptions, one merely has talking heads, which rarely makes for an enjoyable or realistic story.

A Regency Lady
Without doubt, however, the most important—and difficult—part of writing a Regency novel is capturing the SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT. The customs of this period are perhaps the most captivating and complex element to Regency fans, who know their “stuff.” Most of us today cannot begin to imagine life as it was two hundred years ago. But then, that’s the fun of it. Which dances are popular in a particular year? Does a lady wear gloves at a formal dinner? Does a gentleman kiss a lady’s hand or merely bow over it? Is the “language of the fan” unique to Victorian times, or is it also part of the Regency era? If an unmarried young lady accidentally wanders off alone into a darkened garden during a ball, must she truly marry the unattached gentleman she meets there or be ruined forever? What is the order of precedence? Who is presented to whom, gentleman to lady, inferior to superior? Can an earl’s eldest son decline his father’s title and pass it on to a younger brother or nephew? Can a lady be made a duchess in her own right? Are the waistlines high or low this year? Why must I call it a corridor instead of a hallway? Most important of all, what is a character’s social rank: nobility, aristocracy, gentry, merchant class, working class, or poor? (Social classes were sharply divided, and woe to the person who tried to rise above her or his rank; but what great conflict in a Regency story!) These issues just scratch the surface of the amount of research required to succeed. Too many mistakes can ruin a novel for ardent, knowledgeable Regency fans. These are not the typical boy-meets-girl, happily-ever-after romance. Any writer choosing to write in this era had better get it right, at least as much as is humanly possible.

In my English classes, I ask my students, “Could this story be set in any other time, place, or social environment?” For the well-done Regency novel, when the author has observed all of the above conventions, the answer is “no.”

With that thought in mind, and with a healthy dose of fear and trepidation, I decided to try my hand at the genre. In my Ladies in Waiting series, I tell the story of three wellborn young ladies who have fallen upon hard times and are forced to become companions to wealthy aristocratic women. The first book is A Proper Companion.

With her father’s death, Anna Newfield loses everything—her home, her inheritance, and her future. Her only piece of good fortune is a job offer from wounded major Edmond Grenville, whose mother requires a companion. The Dowager Lady Greystone is controlling and unwelcoming, but Anna can enjoy Edmond’s company, even if she knows the aristocratic war hero can never return her love. Even amid the glittering ballrooms of London, nothing glows brighter for Edmond than Anna’s gentle courage. Loving her means going against his family’s rigid command. Yet how can he walk away when his heart may have found its true companion?

It is my fondest wish that readers will enjoy this sweet story. And by all means, if I have made a mistake, be sure to let me know!

To learn more about Louise M Gouge be sure to visit her website.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post, Louise! I really enjoyed hearing your expertise as a professor of English. I'm looking forward to reading this new series. I know your readers will enjoy your rich plots and settings.