“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
But in a more general sense, exactly the opposite is true. In many ways, words are far more dangerous than physical injury—for in most cases, injuries heal and become a thing of the past. Words, however, penetrate the minds of people, are passed from one person to another, sometimes from one source to thousands of others, and may never, ever be completely overcome.
For example: Theoretically, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. In fact, this isn’t the case at all. People can lose their jobs, their businesses, their homes, their friends, their standing in the community because of an accusation, even if it proves to be utterly false. Gossip is similar in a more insidious way. If you hear something bad about someone, do you automatically believe it? Even if you’re skeptical, can you ignore it completely, or does it remain in some small corner of your mind, prejudicing you forever against that person?
I didn’t mean to get so grim today, but what sparked this topic was the issue of reputations, which often comes up in Regency romances. Nowadays, having sex before marriage doesn’t ruin a woman, but in the Regency it certainly did if you wanted to be considered respectable—in other words, if you wanted to continue to associate with others of your class, to be treated with courtesy, to marry comfortably (if at all), and so on. A woman didn’t have to actually lose her virginity—she merely had to appear to have done so. The truth was irrelevant; appearances were all that mattered. (Another topic on which I will be happy to rant another day.) And although an unfortunate slip-up might be swept under the rug, what if the malicious gossips got hold of it? The poor woman didn’t stand a chance.
I find this whole issue of gossip and ruined reputations so fascinating that I can’t help but write about it now and then. Melinda Starling, the heroine of To Kiss a Rake, becomes ruined through no fault of her own (except that of helping a friend). The hero, Miles, is also the victim of malicious gossip and has been something of a pariah for years. Imagine being forced to marry someone you’ve just met all because of a pack of lies! Fortunately, this is a romance, so Miles and Melinda are guaranteed a happy ending.
Do you like stories about ruined reputations? Do they seem believable to you (since you are, of course, a modern, emancipated woman) even in a historical setting? What do you think should be done to counteract the effects of gossip? Is it a personal problem or a societal one, or both?
Because I love giveaways so much, I’ll give an e-copy of To Kiss a Rake to one lucky commenter (or the winner’s choice of another of my books).
WHEN A LADY IS ABDUCTED BY MISTAKE…
Melinda Starling doesn’t let ladylike behavior get in the way of true love. She’s secretly helping with an elopement, when she’s tossed into the waiting coach and driven away by a notorious rake.
REVENGE REALLY DOESN’T PAY.
Miles Warren, Lord Garrison, comes from a family of libertines, and he’s the worst of them all—or so society believes. When Miles helps a friend to run away with an heiress, it’s an entertaining way to revenge himself on one of the gossips who slandered him.
Except that he drives off with the wrong woman…and as if that wasn’t scandalous enough, he can’t resist stealing a kiss.