Jilly: The Slipper And The Horseshoe

The Slipper and the HorseshoeCalling all historical romance readers: can you recommend any good books similar to The Slipper And The Horseshoe, the novel described with great enthusiasm by Judi Dench, playing Philomena Lee in the Oscar-nominated movie based on Philomena’s true-life search for the son she gave up for adoption as an unmarried teenage mother in rural Ireland?

I wrote a post on 19 January in which I said I think that The Slipper And The Horseshoe must be a creation of Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, the writers of Philomena. I suspect their intention was to send up genre romance, but the premise they came up with has the potential for an excellent story. It seems I wasn’t the only person to think so. ‘I Didn’t See That Coming’ has become 8LW’s most frequently viewed post of all time, because every week without fail readers are discovering it whilst searching the internet for variants of ‘the slipper and the horseshoe.’

Several times over the last three months I’ve thought that if I wrote historicals, I’d be typing furiously. Sadly, I wouldn’t know where to start, but as 113 people so far this week have read a 3 month-old post looking for information about a non-existent book, I decided to see if I could find some good alternative recommendations for readers who like the sound of this story. It was harder than I thought.

To recap: the hero is the self-made son of a doctor; he has to decide between marrying a Duchess who doesn’t love him and a stable girl who does. So I went browsing for historical romance with a male protagonist who is a self-made man rather than a nobleman, who falls in love with a girl of lower rank than himself and who chooses her over a socially advantageous marriage.

The most promising candidate is a book I hadn’t heard of. It’s an early novel by Julie Anne Long, an author whose writing I know and like a lot. The hero of To Love A Thief  is Gideon, a brilliant criminal barrister whose clients typically don’t pay very well. He’s expected to marry upwards, and is courting a beautiful and wealthy woman he believes himself to be in love with. Then he saves a young orphan pickpocket from jail and everything changes. This book sounds fun. I’ll be reading it in the near future.

The other author I immediately thought of is Courtney Milan. She writes in the period between the end of the Regency and the beginning of the Victorian era. I love her characters, who are definitely not cookie-cutter aristocrats (A Kiss For Midwinter has a doctor hero; The Governess Affair stars a Duke’s man of business rather than the Duke himself). I think the book that best fits the brief is Unveiled: the hero is a self-made man who becomes heir to a Dukedom by uncovering evidence that the current Duke’s children, his distant relatives, are illegitimate. He falls in love with the heroine believing she is a nurse, not knowing that she’s the current Duke’s daughter who’s been disinherited and shunned by society as a result of his revelations. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

There must be others, but I spent a good couple of hours searching without success. Do you have any ideas? All suggestions most gratefully received!

15 thoughts on “Jilly: The Slipper And The Horseshoe

  1. Hmm, not a straight romantic historical, but Mercedes Lackey has a Valdemar series that is set in pseudo-historical-land — it might be analogous to the 17th century? Pre-age of enlightenment. Several of the characters are self-made men and women — or maybe I should say horse-made. Valdemar is protected by guardians who are chosen by magic horses. The pairings can be all over the map — the princess and the thief is one. I believe there is one about a musician commoner (she starts out playing in brothels before she is Chosen) who marries the heir to a large estate who is also Chosen. The interesting thing is that everyone is always on equal footing despite birth because they have Been Chosen, so they are worthy people.

    LOL, OK, these aren’t The Slipper and the Horseshoe. Maybe someone will have better ideas.

    • Not The Slipper and the Horseshoe, but Valdemar sounds interesting, Michaeline. I’ve been reading urban fantasy recently and I could branch out from that – I’ve never read Mercedes Lackey. Thanks!

      • I will say that I think Valdemar is aimed at New Adults, (well, the 13-21 crowd — I might be a late bloomer, because I enjoyed them well into my mid-20s and re-read them every year). Just a data point (-:.

        • If it’s a good story, I’ll give it a go. Some of Patricia Briggs’ early books probably fit into this category, too, and I enjoy those.

  2. What a great premise. I don’t think I’ve ever read a single Regency (and as a Georgette Heye groupie, I’ve a lot) where the hero was middle class. Off to look for the ones you mentioned!

  3. I have no book recommendations, sorry! But I’d never thought of looking at the number of hits our posts got. Fun! Another good way to waste time [ahem! *educate oneself*] on the Internet!

    On a side note, there might have legal/permission issues for the Philomena writers in using an actual book title in the film. In the Leverage commentary I watched about “The Frame Up Job,” the producers talk about the permission issues of showing on TV any artwork by any artist, so ultimately they had the Leverage staff paint the pictures they used for that episode.

    • Kay, there’s a section in the control panel for the blog that shows what search terms people have used to find us, and one time I noticed that ‘the slipper and the horseshoe’ was there – after that I started to look for it and realised it crops up almost every day – probably because it’s not a real book and we’re the only ones who’ve talked about it, apart from a solitary mention in the Scottish Sunday Herald describing it as ‘Mills & Boon-ish’.

      You’re probably right about legal/permission issues for the writers, though judging by the number of views we’ve had it seems like a wasted opportunity for a real historical romance writer – maybe they didn’t want the hassle, but some lucky author could have enjoyed real benefits.

  4. The thing is, I think your romance-scornful screenplay writers chose this plot because it’s very unlikely. Sure, a self-made man might be knighted (Sir Lucas in P&P, or any number of more recent knighthoods). But what kind of girl would be a stable-girl in that age? I don’t think I’ve run into any stable-girls in Heyer — but she was a bit stodgy in her gender roles, so perhaps she wouldn’t have had any.

    How likely is it there were stable-girls in the 19th century?

    Googling around, the closest real-story is that guy who left his first wife for a stable-girl, but that’s firmly in the latter part of the 20th century. And, it’s not really the stuff of a romance novel — the wife never got over it, and the guy went on to marry Lucky Lady number three, so it wasn’t a grand Romance. Or maybe it was, but the HEA was very short-lived, and from what I read, his business suffered for it. (Henry Cecil was his name.)


    But, there are interesting elements in that RL story . . . how many of them could transfer to a 19th century setting?

    (-: And when is the day that the 1980s will be considered “historical”? I fear that day is coming all too soon!

  5. I’m sure the writers were trying to avoid similarities with any published romance (not an easy thing to do) but I think there could have been a stable girl. She’d have been an outlier, sure, and I think she’d probably have been passing as a boy, but if her father was an ostler or better still, a soldier, and she grew up around horses and hated house-work then just maybe. Frex, there are documented cases of women in disguise in the armies of the time, here and in the USA. If our heroine lost her mother early and grew up following the drum, horse-care might be her only skill, and if she was brilliant then somebody would have taken her in and maybe taken the credit for her work. Damn. I wish I wrote historicals.

    And Heyer did play with gender roles a little: in These Old Shades Avon rescues a boy, Leon, from drudgery in a tavern, makes him a page, and later transforms ‘him’ into Leonie, his ward and eventual wife. There’s also Masqueraders, a brother-and-sister pair of escaped Jacobites who swap sexes, though the brother does get some macho swashbuckling action to offset his corsets, dresses and fan-work.

    And Henry Cecil? He was one of the most famous and successful race-horse trainers ever, as well as being a blue-blooded guy with a very colorful personal life 🙂

    • Oh, OK. I would buy a transvestite heroine.

      After I wrote that, I was thinking about Heyer — yes, she did have some cross-dressing. But in general, I think most of those were youthful hijinks, and every woman settled down to the womanly job of being wife eventually — well, they were romances. That’s what women generally did back then. (In the Regency, and in the first half of the 20th century when Heyer was writing.) I think I got stuck on the idea that the stable girl was presenting as a girl.

      (-: I know Black Adder played a lot with that theme. “Bob” wasn’t a stable boy, I don’t think. I believe “he” was a page.

      I do like a cross-dressing heroine. I read Pratchett’s The Monstrous Regiment just about the same time that I read a real-life history of cross-dressing soldiers with almost the same title.

  6. I watched Philomina with my mother and of course went to Google looking for The Sipper And The Horseshoe. I am a little sad it isn’t a real book. I thought it interesting that you all had this dialog going and was curious where you are all from. Isn’t the internet a marvelous too?!

    • Hi Jennifer, nice to meet you! I wish it was a real book. I think it could be a very fun story.

      I’m English and I live in London. The other Ladies are American and sprinkled across the US from Maryland to California, except for Michaeline who lives in Japan. We all met thanks to the power of the internet – we studied romance writing online together for a year in a postgraduate certificate program offered by McDaniel College in Maryland. If you’re interested, click on the ‘about us’ tab at the top of the page to find out a little more about each of us.

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