Put Up Your Dukes — Literary References in Historical Romance

398px-Thomas_Gainsborough_008While I was doing research for my historical romance novella, The Ice Captain’s Daughter, I became interested in the concept of male succession.  My research actually provided the idea for my forthcoming novel, Duke of a Gilded Age, in which a dukedom passes to a young American man born on the mean streets of Victorian-era Brooklyn. Early on in the book, my main character, Wesley, gets into a fight with a group of local second generation Irish kids. Although none of them yet realize he’s inherited a title, including Wesley, his royal pedigree has been outed, thereby causing resentment.

 

Excerpt:

When Wesley stepped onto the street a few minutes later, however, the Irish were waiting for him.

“Thought you’d give us the slip, eh?” Liam said. “Where’s your silver spoon, pretty boy?”

Wesley’s hackles rose, and he assumed a cocky swagger. “How’s that fine-looking sister of yours, Liam? I hear she’s lonely for me.”

“Shut your filthy mouth about my sister! Why would Coleen be lonely for the likes of wee Lord Fauntleroy,” sneered Liam. He ended his sentence by knocking Wesley’s cap into the gutter.

Wesley’s knuckles showed white. “Don’t ever call me that again.” He decked Liam and turned to face the others.

One down, four to go.

ornament29Fauntleroycover

The insult ‘wee Lord Fauntleroy’ was, of course, a reference to the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Before I wrote Duke of a Gilded Age, I was familiar with the book only insofar as it involved a young American boy who discovers he’s the heir to a British earl, his grandfather.  I decided to read the book to get more than a passing understanding of the story, and I was glad I did. As ‘unrealistic’ as the perfect child’s portrayal might have been, I’ve always been drawn to characters who have the ability to change others for the better.  Although the earl grooms the boy, Cedric, to become an English aristocrat, Cedric’s sweet and loving nature softens his grandfather’s heart toward Cedric’s American mother and toward the people who serve him.

The book was originally published in serial form (1885 – 1886) in St. Nicholas Magazine, and became a huge phenomenon in the States especially. A fashion craze for Fauntleroy suits began (black velvet with a lace collar) and Fauntleroy hair (“lovelocks” and curly ringlets), as American mothers sought to give their young sons the “royal treatment.” Although I have no empirical data on the subject, I also suspect many matrons also tried (unsuccessfully) to get their boys to call them ‘Dearest,’ Cedric’s form of address to his mother.  I daresay many of these poor little chaps were beaten up and bullied due to their fussy appearance, and perhaps harbored a lifelong resentment toward their mothers for being thus inflicted upon.

In Duke of a Gilded Age, Wesley Parker is far too old (twenty) to wear a Fauntleroy suit, and his mother is too poor (and sensible) in any case to have ever considered such a thing. Nevertheless, references to the novel pop up from time to time as certain inescapable parallels are drawn. Since my story is set in 1890, the Fauntleroy craze had not yet run its course, and would have been in the popular culture. Other literary references crop up too, as I depict what other books people may have been reading and discussing at the time. The context of a story thereby becomes an immutable character which adds richness and depth to the narrative.

I hope you agree.

~ S.G. Rogers

Blurb:

When American-born Wesley Parker inherits a dukedom, he must learn to be an aristocrat. Assigned to the task is his attorney’s daughter, prim Belle Oakhurst. As they travel to England together on a luxurious ocean liner, their tempestuous relationship encounters more than rough seas. Although Wesley is increasingly attracted to Belle, she is already engaged. While Belle begins to regret her hasty promise to marry, she is bound by honor and duty to keep her pledge. Furthermore, a thoughtless fabrication on her part threatens to expose her to shame. Neither Wesley nor Belle can foresee that their voyage across the Atlantic will be fraught with peril, and will cost more than one man his life.

Duke of a Gilded Age, a historical romance set in 1890, will be released June, 2013.

11 thoughts on “Put Up Your Dukes — Literary References in Historical Romance”

  1. So many books, so little time! I haven’t quite gotten to The Ice Captain’s Daughter yet. It’s next on my list. 😀 But now I want to read Little Lord Fauntleroy too. I love Burnett. I must have read The Secret Garden 15 times since I was a kid. Maybe I should have resisted the urge to re-read one of those times and tried one of her other books, lol. I look forward to reading yours. 🙂

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    1. After I read Little Lord Fauntleroy, I read Secret Garden–which is really very interesting because of the huge character arcs involved. Burnett was a very talented writer.

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  2. Very interesting post. I didn’t realize all of this about the Fauntleroy fashion, but certainly know what you are referring to now that I think of it. Your story and the idea behind it sounds super. I loved Secret Garden, BTW.Thanks..

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  3. Very interesting post. I like to hear about the research because I know the book will be realistic. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jeff. Since I wasn’t around in 1890, I try to put as much research into the story as possible. Mentioning the music, the types of clothing, the manners, and various forms of entertainment available back then helps the reader visualize the action, I think.

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