Thursday, March 12, 2020

For Love and Money

Like many young women, I read romances by the cartload in high school and college. Not bodice rippers, for the most part, but everything by Georgette Heyer I could get my hands on, as well as Emilie Loring, Barbara Cartland (a real guilty pleasure, those), and more Harlequin romances than I care to count.

In recent years, I’ve rather lost my taste for the classic romance. With rare exceptions, they seem too predictable and, in the case of many historical romances, too disconnected from the moral standards of the time periods they claim to depict. But I still write romance into my novels, because I can’t imagine a story that isn’t enhanced by the love and conflict that characterize an emerging relationship. And the fiction I prefer to read—mostly historical, not least because of the demands of this podcast—almost always includes romantic elements as well.

So, as I wrote last summer, it’s been a great pleasure to discover the thoughtful, well-crafted historical romances penned by Maya Rodale. It was only when I began preparing for this week’s New Books in Historical Fiction interview with her, though, that I also discovered her nonfiction study of romances, which we used to kick off our conversation. So listen to the interview; read her latest Gilded Age Girls Club novel, An Heiress to Remember, when it comes out at the end of this month; and watch for the follow-up post on the Literary Hub, which should go up next week.

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

As Maya Rodale notes early in this interview, romance novels tend not to get the same respect as other categories of fiction, historical or otherwise. Here, and in her Dangerous Books for Girls, she argues persuasively that this bad reputation is an attempt by life’s insiders to undermine the central message of most romance novels: that outsiders, too, have the right to love, success, and happiness. But the message is nowhere more evident than in her Gilded Age Girls Club series, in which a small group of wealthy women make it their goal in life to support female-run businesses and their staffs.

In An Heiress to Remember, the heroine, Beatrice Goodwin, suffers from no lack of money; her family has plenty of it—enough to insist that their beautiful daughter wed a duke to bring them prestige in society, even though Beatrice has fallen in love with Wes Dalton, one of her father’s employees. At twenty, Beatrice gives in to her parents’ demands, but sixteen years later, she is back in New York, having scandalously divorced her duke. It is 1895, and wives are not supposed to take that kind of initiative.

Beatrice finds her family situation much changed. The man she loved has gone on to build a wildly popular department store directly opposite her own, and the combination of his desire for revenge and her brother’s mismanagement has placed the family fortune in jeopardy. But Beatrice has no intention of standing by while Dalton buys her father’s cherished store out from under her and destroys it. She sets out to beat Dalton at his own game, because if anyone knows what women want from a department store, she does. And before long, Dalton has to worry that she may succeed in her quest.

Image: B. Altman’s, one of the department stores anchoring the Ladies’ Mile, New York City, ca. 1915, via Wikimedia Commons.

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