Jilly: Secret Declarations

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate the occasion! Chez Jilly, 14th February falls between our wedding anniversary (flowers, champagne) and Mr. W’s birthday (cake, treats) so we don’t make much of it.

I enjoy all the online hoopla, though. It takes me back to my teens, when receiving a valentine card brought major bragging rights at my girls-only high school. Extra kudos for multiple cards, and most of all for unknown senders. I wasn’t the prettiest or the most popular girl in my class, but one year I received three valentine cards and had no idea who’d sent any of them. Whoo!

I can still remember the giddy, fizzy excitement of it. And ever since those long-ago days, the secret/unilateral/unconditional love declaration has been one of my all-time favorite romance genre tropes. Of course, it’s especially delicious because the reader knows the secret will eventually be uncovered, even if she knows not when or how.

The greatest secret declaration story must be Pride and Prejudice. Reserved, uptight, principled Darcy uses his considerable power and influence to save Lizzy from social ruin by bribing a man he rightly despises to marry his beloved’s disgraced airhead of a younger sister. Darcy uses his personal capital to give credibility to the unlikely wedding, whilst doing his utmost to keep his involvement under the radar. He does it all for love, but he’s genuinely embarrassed when Lizzy finds out and confronts him. Swoon!

I think one of the most delightful examples is Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. When country-mouse Kitty persuades rich, good-natured Freddy into a fake engagement so that Kitty can sample the delights of London society (and win the heart of handsome rake Jack), it gradually becomes apparent that Freddy has fallen head over heels in love with Kitty, with no expectation that his feelings will ever be returned. Kitty’s meager budget is wholly inadequate to meet the costs of living among the ton, so Freddy quietly finds ways to meet the shortfall, leaving Kitty in a Cinderella-like whirl of beautiful clothes and exciting new experiences. When his benevolent duplicity is finally revealed, he simply shrugs and says he wanted Kitty to have everything she ever wished for. Nothing more, nothing less. Sigh.

It works wonderfully in fantasy, too. Take The Talon of the Hawk, my favorite of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. The hero, Harlan, is the (smart, hot, principled) leader of a team of foreign mercenaries hired by a capricious High King who doubts the loyalty of Ursula, his dutiful daughter/heir. Ursula’s distrust of Harlan is deep and powerful, but that doesn’t deter him from making an irrevocable commitment of his own and signaling it in a deliciously oblique manner. A secret declaration combined with another of my most favorite tropes–a hero who’s all-in, long before the scales fall from the heroine’s eyes.

I could go on, but I feel the urge to break out the champagne truffles and go on a re-reading binge 😉

How about you? Are you a fan of the secret declaration trope? If not, which ones make your heart beat faster?

Michaeline: Dear Freddy

A dandy from 1815 in a smart coat and pair of trousers kneels before a fashionable young lady, kissing her hand. Proposal.

And at the end of a cotillion, all of the couples are sorted. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments, and I like mine tall and a little bit goofy. I’m re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion today, and Freddy Standen checks off both boxes.

Georgette Heyer is a writer’s writer, and one of the very cool meta-things I noticed the read-through is that so many of the characters come in pairs. In the first chapters, Freddy Standen is meant to be an idiot – a well-dressed fop who hasn’t two wits to rub together. In a complicated plot, he’s set up against his four cousins as competitors for our heroine’s hand in marriage. An evil uncle has made it part of his will that his fortune will go to Kitty Charing if, and only if, she marries one of his nephews. Otherwise, she’ll be destitute, and the fortune will go to Continue reading

Jilly: Romantic Gestures

Romantic GesturesHappy Valentine’s Day!

What’s the most romantic gesture, real or fictional, you can think of?

Credible, lasting, loving relationships are the sine qua non of the romance genre, and we romance writers spend a lot of mental energy trying to find moving ways to show what Michaeline described so perfectly yesterday: two people who find each other beautiful, and suitable, and who listen to each other and get each other. A meeting of both minds and hearts.

The three magic words are important, but they’re an empty promise unless they’re backed by concrete, specific actions.

In real life, the evidence suggests that many people believe throwing money at their beloved is the way to go – last year the estimated retail spending on Valentine’s day in the US alone was almost $19 billion – but in fiction, at least, the reader expects more.

Continue reading

Justine: The Road Map to…

"The Cotillion Dance" by Caldwall. 1771. Courtesy The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

“The Cotillion Dance” by Caldwall. 1771. Courtesy The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

I am reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion right now…I’m about half way through, and it occurred to me the other night at this midpoint that I’m not quite sure who Kitty is going to end up with.

Note: I am NOT finished the book, so please don’t be a spoil-sport and spoil it for me! I’m happy to talk more about the exciting conclusion when I wrap it up!

At the outset, I believed it to be Jack Westruthers, whom Kitty has been in love with for an age, but who she now “hates” (I think that should be in quotation marks – after all, she’s wanted to slap him twice so far) because he’s always ignored her.

However, Jack is a bit of a cad. That might be an understatement. Or an overstatement. I’m not sure yet whether he’s playing Kitty or his cousins Hugh or Freddy. And Freddy…lovely Mr. Standen, future Viscount Legerwood, Kitty’s fiancé-for-pretend (gee, this sounds familiar), who originally seemed the stuck-up town beau, is turning out to be quite a charming guy, even if he is suspicious of Kitty’s cousin, the chevalier.

What I find so interesting at this juncture is Continue reading

Jilly: Comfort Reading

Comfort ReadingBooks should be available on prescription. They’re inexpensive, calorie-free, mood-enhancing, and the positive effects are long-lasting (check out this post on the subject from Kay). On the downside, they’re addictive, but they’re not even in the same depraved league as coffee, chocolate or wine. Reading must be the most benign addiction known to man.

This hasn’t been the best of weeks. I developed some kind of horrible lurgy that required a full-frontal antibiotic offensive, and while the tablets seem to be doing the job, they’re also wiping me out (maybe the disclaimer ‘may interfere with your ability to drive machinery’ should have clued me in). This post is the first thing I’ve written since Wednesday (woe); I’m not allowed wine until next Sunday (double woe); but at least I can read, which makes everything (nearly) all right with my world. Continue reading