The Victorians loved etiquette books. Or at least it’s safe to say they were surrounded by them. I’ve collected dozens of digital copies of Victorian era etiquette guides, and I know they’re just a small sampling of the many available during the period. They range from books that taught a person how to bow or dance or interact in social situations, to those that strove to serve as a guide to personal improvement or self education. In many ways, I can see parallels between 19th century etiquette guides and our modern books on self-improvement.
Whether every single Victorian adhered to the rules laid down in guidebooks is questionable, but there’s little doubt they enjoyed producing them.
When I began reading and collecting etiquette books, story ideas started blooming in my head. What if a clever entrepreneur sensed the 19th century passion for such books and became wealthy by producing a series of them, allowing him to create a whole publishing enterprise? Then, what if he died and his children were left with the business? Would they embrace their father’s old-fashioned notions of etiquette or reject them entirely?
Out of those “what if” questions, my new Romancing the Rules series was born. I kicked it off when the entrepreneur’s son, Christopher “Kit” Ruthven, who’s become a London actor and playwright, learns he’s inherited his father’s enterprise. Worse for Kit than taking on the responsibilities of the business is the prospect of facing Ophelia Marsden, the lady he left behind when he went to London.
One fun aspect of writing the first book in the series, Rules for a Rogue, was creating quotes from Miss Gilroy’s Guidelines for Young Ladies written by my heroine, Ophelia. Her advice is forward-thinking for the time, even a bit outrageous for those with strict notions of how ladies should behave. Though she suggests nothing truly scandalous, her advice does encourage women to be confident and independent thinkers.
Here’s a bit more about Rules for a Rogue,
Rules never brought anything but misery to Christopher “Kit” Ruthven. After rebelling against his controlling father and leaving the family’s etiquette empire behind, Kit has been breaking every one imaginable for the past four years. He’s enjoyed London’s sensual pleasures, but he’s failed to achieve the success he craves as London’s premier playwright. When his father dies, Kit returns to the countryside and is forced back into the life he never wanted. Worse, he must face Ophelia Marsden, the woman he left behind years before.
After losing her father, Ophelia has learned to rely on herself. To maintain the family home and support her younger sister, she tutors young girls in deportment and decorum. But her pupils would be scandalized if they knew she was also the author of a guidebook encouraging ladies to embrace their independence.
As Kit rediscovers the life, and the woman, he left behind, Ophelia must choose between the practicalities she never truly believed in, or the love she’s never been able to extinguish.