Readers have been devouring Jo Beverley’s bestselling novels for many years. Her shelves are loaded with RITA trophies, and she was one of Romance Writers of America’s first inductees into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her stories immerse us in accurately detailed settings with exquisitely drawn characters. Romance with a capital R. Welcome to the convertible, Jo! Please tell us about your latest book and your recent travels.
A SCANDELOUS COUNTESSis mostly set in the summer of 1765, but it opens in June 1764, when Georgia Maybury’s husband is killed in a duel — rumored to be a duel over her honor. Her family sweep her off to their stately home in Worcesterhire, (pronounced Wustershuh) to let the scandal die down.
Go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worcestershireto see where that is in England. You can read all about it, but fair warning, it doesn’t play much part in the book. (If you’re interested, I now live in Devon, which is the second bit up on the SW toe of the map. The furthest south is Cornwall.)
Georgia doesn’t intend to spend her whole mourning year at vast, cold Herne House — heaven forbid! — and has plans to celebrate Christmas at the house of her best friend, but then her mother-in-law dies.
She writes to her friend.
December 6th, 1764
Lizzie! Have you heard the news? Dickon’s mother has departed this life. I suppose I should express my grief, but as she was relentlessly unpleasant to me for most of my marriage, I will not play the hypocrite.
How unfair she was to blame me when we moved to Town when it was Dickon who was desperate to escape as soon as he was of age and in control of his fortune. Yet it was to me she wrote, complaining of our extravagance.
Oh, but I complained of all that at the time. Did I tell you of the letters she send after Dickon’s death? I think not. Written in acid with a fiery pen. I tried to respond moderately, Lizzie, I truly did, for I understood the anguish of a mother who had lost her only child, but in the end I had the letters kept from me. I didn’t return them, for I feared that would cause her greater pain, but I could not read any more of them.
She believed the foulest stories about me. I not only took Vance as a lover, but every single man in my court, and of course I seduced Vance into getting rid of my unwanted husband….
Oh, I will write no more of her, think no more of her! But alas, I fear I cannot visit you at Christmas. I won’t play the hypocrite, but I must give my husband’s mother the honor of at least a month of mourning.
If you and Torrismonde don’t go to Town for the winter season, perhaps I may visit you in January. For now, I am gathering my shawls, thick stockings, and woolen mitts in hope of surviving to see you again.
Your frozen friend,
I sympathize with Georgia, for though England doesn’t get extremely cold in winter — it’s rarely much below freezing — it’s a damp cold that can eat into your bones. I grew up in Lancashire, known for its damp climate, without central heating, but at least it was a fairly small house, not a palatial seat mostly floored with marble! Even with a comfortable, well-heated house, we’re spending January in southern Spain. There’s a picture of the local beach, with the port of Malaga in the distance, and another of the local delicacy — sardines cooked over a wood fire on a sugar cane skewer.
In the letter, Georgia writes of the winter season. For a long time I didn’t know about it, for it was less important in the Regency period, though still a courtly fact. In the Georgian period it officially began with the king’s birthday on the 18th January, when anyone who was anyone should be in Town and at the court celebrations, but in effect it started with New Year’s celebrations.
London in winter? Why?
Remember the weather and consider Georgia’s options. Herne House, mostly unusable in winter. Her friend Lizzie’s house, which is a manor house, but with small rooms that can be kept warm will be much better, and then she intends a move to a London town house, which would be very cosy.
London town houses in the 18th century weren’t the grand places seen in Upstairs Downstairs; they were tall, narrow houses in terraces, so less heat loss through side walls, and with modest sized rooms. This picture (above, left) taken on a recent trip to London, shows a row of late Georgian houses. They’re hotels now, but you can see that the original houses were only two windows wide. There’s another picture (right) of a larger house, but you can still see that the rooms would be quite small. What’s more, a having a life in London didn’t risk health and safety with rural journeys in bad weather. A short walk or a ride in a sedan chair, perhaps warmed with some hot bricks on the floor, and one could visit friends, theaters, assemblies and balls.
By the way, the beauty of a sedan chair was it could be carried into the house so the user could get into it in comfort — cold, rain, or wind — and exit it the same way at the other end.
So Town or country in winter in the 18th century? Which would you prefer?
Georgia doesn’t escape winter at Herne, but she’s determined to move to Town as soon as her mourning is over in June, because Town is life and excitement. Before then, however, she encounters an interesting man during her last weeks of mourning.
Her father has arranged a private horse race at Herne, setting his prize mare against one owned by the new Lord Dracy. Until recently, Dracy was a naval officer, and he’s not a man of fashion. He knows nothing about Georgia or the scandal. Here’s how he first hears about her. He’s on the course, waiting for the race to begin.
Cartagena was perfectly conformed. Even his cousin Ceddie had seen that. The fool had ruined the estate with his taste for London life and the latest fashions, and he’d sold off his father’s famous thoroughbreds to pay for gewgaws. He’d kept Carta, however, called the Midnight Jade then, hoping she’d eventually show well in races and sell for a high price.
Carta had been Ceddie’s gamble, and now she was his, renamed for the best battle he’d taken part in. Do or die, then and now.
“Here we go,” Knowlton said, as the jockeys mounted.
Hernescroft’s man wore green and yellow silks, Dracy’s black and red lozenges. The two horses eyed each other as if they knew everything rested on this contest of speed and stamina.
“The deuce!” exclaimed Knowlton.
“What?” Dracy looked around for some unexpected hazard.
“The Scandalous Countess. Over there, in men’s clothing.”
Dracy looked and saw a man cramming a wide-brimmed hat back on the head of a laughing, red-haired woman.
“You could object to that,” Knowlton said. “She could jinx the whole thing.”
“I don’t believe in jinxes.” Dracy returned his attention to important matters. Devil take it, Carta was starting one of her fidgets. Perhaps she objected to red hair.
“Got Maybury killed in a duel over her lewd behavior.”
“Lady Maybury. The Scandalous Countess.”
“She planned it?” Dracy asked, a scrap of attention caught.
“No, no. At least, I don’t think so. Husband dead, Vance fled the country, but there she is, merry as a may fly. Maybury was an amiable fellow.”
“If he was amiable enough to let her stray, he should have been too amiable to challenge someone over it.”
“Devil take it, Dracy!”
“I’ve no interest in Lady Maybury or her lovers. Calm down, Carta. Calm down. At this rate she’ll burn off her energy before the race starts.”
“Too high spirited.”
“There’s nothing wrong with high spirits.”
“A true beauty,” Knowlton said.
“Isn’t she just?”
“But too wild to handle.”
“Jorrocks and she understand each other.”
“Who? Damme, Dracy, I was talking about Georgia Maybury.”
“To hell with Georgia Maybury. They’re readying for the off.”
You can read their first encounter on my web page, here. http://www.jobev.com/ascancexc.html
A SCANDELOUS COUNTESS is a Romantic Timestop pick, and it’s getting rave reviews.
Here’s one from Reader to Reader:
“Jo Beverley has once again proven why her novels are so popular with readers and critics alike. A Scandalous Countess, part of the Malloren World series, has everything from unrequited love to a good old-fashioned mystery, along with fascinating historical details about areas as diverse as the water system in London in the mid-18th century to the life of a young widow and the role defined by that status. The day to day life of London’s wealthiest citizens is detailed, but so is the contrasting life of those who rusticate in the country, all in perfect balance. The romance between Dracy and Georgia is unexpected and charming, and readers will root for love to win the day. Intelligent, intriguing and entertaining, A Scandalous Countess is enthralling, a book difficult to put down once the first page is turned.”
Have you had much experience of winter cold without modern conveniences? How do you think you’d do if suddenly transported back to the 18th century? Assuming you’re transported back as an aristocratic lady, hat sort of home would you prefer in winter, and what sort of comforts would you demand?
I’ll give a copy of the previous countess book, AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS, to a random pick of one of the comments that answers any of my questions.
Have fun and keep warm!
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