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REVIEW: The Lady Who Broke the Rules by Marguerite Kaye

Dear Ms. Kaye:

While I’m afraid I’m getting burned out on traditional European historicals, I’m always looking for novels with a different setting or unusual characters, and this book certainly fit the bill. It’s set in Regency England and is part of Harlequin Historical’s Castonbury Park series; the hero is an American ex-slave and the heroine is a duke’s daughter. Numerous characters from other books in the series wander in and out of this installment, but it didn’t affect my comprehension of the main storyline or the characters’ backstories, and although I occasionally got a bit lost trying to keep the supporting cast straight, they weren’t integral to this plot.

The Lady Who Broke the Rules

The Lady Who Broke the Rules is aptly titled, since the Lady in question is the heroine, Katharine Montague, who is the daughter of the Duke of Rothermere. At a party at the home of  Josiah Wedgwood (son of the famous potter of the same name), Lady Kate meets Virgil Jackson, an ex-slave who has become a wealthy businessman in Boston. Kate is something of an outcast herself because of her social ruin by her former fiancé, and she and Virgil hit it off immediately. Kate invites Virgil to come to Castonbury Park to see her model school, which is based on reformist principles and educates the tenants’ and villagers’ children. Virgil is reluctant, but he is very attracted to Kate and finds he can’t resist her offer.

That’s pretty much the plot. Virgil and Kate go back to Castonbury, where Kate’s family members are alternately indifferent, scandalized, or disapproving. There is a secondary storyline involving the heir to the Dukedom: Kate’s eldest brother is missing in Spain, but a woman who claims to be his wife has arrived at Castonbury with a child who is supposedly their son. Virgil carries out the last wishes of his late employer, the man who freed him and gave him the opportunities that allowed Virgil to become a rich and successful businessman in the United States.

The conflicts that keep the main characters apart are, not surprisingly, the social, cultural, and racial differences between them. Virgil may be rich and accepted in Boston society (more on that later), but he’s still a black ex-slave and outcast or not, Kate is the daughter of a wealthy and powerful duke. Virgil plans to return to America, Kate is English. And Kaye does not skirt around the obvious issues, although in this world Virgil’s color and race are less remarked than his economic status:

‘We are all staring, I know, and it is very rude of us, but I doubt any of us has ever met an African before, let alone one with such an impressive story to tell. Our fascination is surely quite natural. Is it so very different in Boston?’

Virgil Jackson shrugged. ‘Back home, it is not so much my colour as my success that makes people stare.’

‘Unless the ladies of Boston are blind one and all, I doubt very much it is that alone,’ Kate retorted. ‘You must be perfectly well aware that you are an exceptionally good-looking man. Why, even my friend Sarah is sending you languishing looks, and believe me, Sarah is not a woman who is prone to languishing.’

The romance is well done and the passion that Virgil and Kate feel for each other comes through clearly. Both the growing attraction and the scenes in which they give in to that attraction are compelling and believable. If I could have suspended disbelief about the premise and the behavior of the various characters, I would have enjoyed this novel quite a bit. But I kept getting pulled out of the romantic story by the implausibilities.

There is an author’s note at the end of the book that makes it evident that Kaye thought seriously about the difficulties of writing a credible romance between a black American and an aristocratic English woman, and she clearly did a fair amount of research. But as an American reader familiar with slavery, race and color-line issues in US history, I couldn’t easily accept the choices Kaye made.

First, Virgil’s backstory made his escape from slavery and subsequent success hard for me to believe. He led a slave rebellion on his master’s plantation in Virginia. The master is clearly a villainous character, but rather than hanging Virgil (as actually happened to a slave who did the same thing in the same state a few years earlier), he sold him to a northerner who then set him free, gave him a job, and then bequeathed to him a flourishing business. Is it possible? Anything is possible. Is it plausible? Not even a little bit. Whites in slave states were continually worried about slave rebellions and insurrections, and the separation of relatives and the discouragement of marriage were key practices in limiting such opportunities (as were the swift and brutal punishments of those who engaged in resistance).

Second, as the excerpt above illustrates, Virgil is welcomed into elite, white, Boston society. Had this been Philadelphia or New York, I might have accepted it, but Boston? Boston was not exactly a bastion of interracial egalitarianism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Yes, there were definitely successful free black citizens living there, but they didn’t mingle freely in upper-class white society. They were successful in a parallel black world, for the most part. (Kaye writes that she modeled Virgil on a successful mixed-race businessman, but that man lived in Philadelphia and was three-quarters white.)

Moreover, miscegenation was illegal in Massachusetts during this period, so while Virgil and Kate’s marriage would have been officially recognized because it was legal where it took place, it most likely would have caused them considerable difficulties once they returned to Boston. I’m not doubting that a free black man could have become prosperous and successful in the north. But for an insurgent slave to escape death, be taken north and freed, and then integrated into white, New England, upper-class society, all before the War of 1812 was over, requires an enormous suspension of disbelief.

Third, the general acceptance of Kate’s relatives, first of Virgil’s visit and then of their romance, was difficult to believe. Yes, there were fervent abolitionists in England during this period (including Sarah Wedgwood, who appears briefly in the novel), but even many of those who wanted to improve conditions for blacks and other colonial populations didn’t see them as equals. For many abolitionists, the ideology of abolitionism stemmed from a belief that it violated their own Christian tenets and was not motivated by egalitarian ideals. The dominant ideology of this era strongly reinforced the concept of different and unequal races, and color differences were explained in racial terms, but race is rarely mentioned in the book.

And finally, much of Virgil’s reluctance to fall in love with Kate and build a future for her turns on the loss of his previous love, Millie, a fellow slave in Virginia. Virgil holds himself responsible for Millie’s death and must come to terms with this for the HEA to occur. I found the depiction of Millie and the whole storyline disturbing, because it reduced her experience to a plot point and made her a cipher. This isn’t uncommon in romance novels; the past loves have to be erased and neutralized for the hero and heroine to have a clear, unambiguous happy ending. But somehow, neutralizing the deep and abiding love between Virgil and Millie (which Kaye depicts very convincingly) felt like a more problematic act of erasure.

Despite the author’s obvious effort to research the period, I couldn’t believe in the romance and the implausibility of the hero’s story was too much for me. Worse, it also felt appropriative. I could have more easily accepted a romance between a former slave and an aristocrat if the class positions had been more authentic. For example, had Virgil accompanied his Boston employer to England and met Kate and they had fallen in love, that I could see. But a slave hero who is wearing Weston-cut jackets a decade after being enslaved on a plantation and blending seamlessly into elite English and American society doesn’t just strain credulity; it erases the real experiences and courage of the free and enslaved blacks of that time.

This is a tough novel for me to grade. I had major issues with the way race and slavery were depicted, but the romance story is engaging and the characters are appealing as individuals.

Grade: C

~ Sunita

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

37 Comments

  1. Janine
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 10:10:00

    What a great review. I love the little bits of history I learned from it (like the detail about the successful mixed race businessman from Philadelphia). I knew some of the details you mention but not others, but from what you describe I think I would also have had a difficult time suspending disbelief had I read this story.

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  2. Las
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 10:19:36

    Boston was not exactly a bastion of interracial egalitarianism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

    20th century wasn’t so great either.

    I like the idea of this book, but it sounds like too much fantasy for me. Thanks for the review.

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  3. hapax
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:13:45

    I’m torn.

    On the one hand, I really like the idea of the story, and I want to encourage the publication of more inter-racial romances.

    On the other hand …. well, to be frank, it sounds like this particular book SERIOUSLY whitewashes history, to the extent that it performs a grave disservice to (and even insults) the victims of very real racial and class prejudices in the past — and, as Las notes, of the present as well.

    The compelling message of the romance genre is that True Love Triumphs Over All. But when the author has to handwave away and diminish the “All” as much as it sounds like happened here, what does that say about the power of True Love?

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  4. hapax
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:19:47

    Oh, and it’s a minor point and not the author’s fault, but wow, that cover really bugs me.

    Would that shade of fuschia even be POSSIBLE before Victorian synthetic dyes?

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  5. Ridley
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:38:46

    Oh my, that’s a startling ignorance of Boston history. I mean, I wish I could lay claim to such a progressive history, but then I remember that picture of the boy throwing a rock at the school bus full of black kids “invading” South Boston in the 1970s. Or the protestant mob that burned down the convent in the 1830s.

    Boston’s never been at all tolerant of people who dare to live beyond their assigned place.

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  6. Katie
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 11:52:50

    I really liked this book. I think the characters were well drawn and realistic in their emotional responses. And I read romance for emotion, so it worked for me.

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  7. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:00:45

    I think the problem was trying to have a hero that conforms to the Standard Hero Mold, where he’s rich and successful and admired, and still have an IR romance. There are ways to do it, but this wasn’t it. The author’s note persuaded me that there was effort made to take issues seriously, I just think that the overall storyline couldn’t work given the backstory Virgil was provided.

    There are a lot of nuances and regional variations in race relations and slavery that are hard to get right without intensive research and/or prior knowledge. For example, the laws regarding manumission of slaves varied by state and by decade, and in some cases took a legislative act. Similarly, miscegenation laws varied across northern states, and only a handful of states didn’t have them. Massachusetts was not one of them, and it took a court decision (I think it was in the late 18th century) to require recognition of interracial marriages performed elsewhere.

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  8. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:02:31

    @Katie: I agree. I think the emotional, individual aspects of the book were compelling, and I appreciate that the author emphasized that they were individual human beings without pretending the big differences didn’t exist.

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  9. Jeannie Lin
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:02:41

    This book has definitely been on my TBR since I read a review of it on Wendy the Librarian’s site. I’m thinking of the comments regarding how hard it was to suspend disbelief in favor of “love conquers all” in this case and it seems like because the author tackled a difficult subject and because it’s one that we don’t know much about so the few things we do know take a great prevalence, then there’s an even higher standard established up front. I guess what I’m thinking based on the review is that 1) the execution of the romance between the hero and heroine sounds lovely 2) are the fantasy elements really that outlandish compared to the rest of the genre when interracial romance is not involved? Dukes marrying servants. Dukes parading around as spies. Gentleman donning harlequin masks to save the poor. (I’m not making fun of this book, I actually quite enjoyed it!) The wealthy heroes always being socially conscious and overly caring about all their tenants and subjects. All wealthy and privileged debutantes shun their privilege and are crusaders for the poor–while still wearing fancy gowns and living comfortably off wealth they did not earn. Just saying….

    Not that these other fantasies of the romance genre don’t receive their own due in terms of criticism, but given that it sounds like the author did their research and attempted to treat the subject with respect, and crafted what sounds like a plausible romance emotionally, it seems that the bar is set higher for an IR romance and that the book risks criticisms of white-washing whereas most of historical romance has quite a deal of erasing of privilege and power differences involved in order to bring about the dreams of HEA and meritocracy.

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking review. Very much looking forward to reading this!

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  10. Ridley
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:17:18

    @Jeannie Lin:

    2) are the fantasy elements really that outlandish compared to the rest of the genre when interracial romance is not involved? Dukes marrying servants. Dukes parading around as spies. Gentleman donning harlequin masks to save the poor.

    To be fair, all of those things spoil books for me as well. That last example actually is why I’ve stopped reading Elizabeth Hoyt. I found that plot absolutely fucking ridiculous.

    For some people realism isn’t important. For me it is. I need books to make sense.

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  11. Isobel Carr
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:17:42

    Well, seeing as I’ve got a free Black Frenchman seeded into my series as a future hero, I’m definitely interested to see how another author tackled a somewhat similar plot (though no duke’s daughter for my boy).

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!!!

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  12. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:39:12

    @Jeannie Lin: The points you make are excellent and very much in my mind as I wrote the review. I read very few wallpaper-ish historicals, but I would concede that just about every historical romance has something that requires the reader to suspend disbelief. I struggled with the grade and the review foci for this one, because I didn’t want to lump the book in with the truly awful distortions of the historical record that I’ve come across (my new nadir is the one with a slave market in London in 1808).

    But I do think there is a justifiably higher bar for IR romance, especially one that is deals with slavery and that is marketed to an American readership. I couldn’t read the bits about Millie and think of her as just another former lover. It felt unfair to her, or more accurately, to the real people from whose lives her story was drawn. I can’t explain it very well, except to say that the history of oppressed and enslaved people (in the US and elsewhere) is so difficult to piece together because so much was erased, that to alter it in unlikely ways in the parts we *do* know something about seems wrong.

    That said, the fact that I took the book seriously and went and checked my instinctive reactions against the historical record is a sign that the book went quite a ways toward being effective in terms of its context. It just didn’t quite make it.

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  13. Jeannie Lin
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:42:31

    @Ridley: For me, execution is key. And what I’m in the mood for at the time: something a la Alexandre Dumas or The Scarlet Pimpernel, or something more Austen or Alcott-esque.

    But my point on this topic: I found the thought that this scenario might have been plausible in Philadelphia or New York, but not in Boston to not be a deal breaker, at least mentally for me. Sure, Boston and New York are very different places with different cultures, but I’ve seen people treat Japan and China as one big glom *eyeroll* so I might be a little too forgiving here. And also that a slave-owner, no matter how evil, might have sold off his slave instead of having him killed, doesn’t seem as far of a stretch as many others that I’ve faced in historical romances at large. Of course, it still comes down to the execution and whether the romance is enough to sweep me away.

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  14. Jeannie Lin
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 12:50:19

    @Sunita: I did appreciate the detail you put into the review and I know a lot of times the challenge when writing a review is how to express succinctly something which during the reading experience was just a sense of “not working for me.” I do really appreciate difficult romances and when it’s pulled off, the feeling is magical. But when it doesn’t quite work, I think the read can still be a good one, so I’m definitely looking forward to delving into this story and seeing where it falls for me.

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  15. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 13:13:40

    Thanks for the review Sunita. You bring up some great information that’s important when writing period pieces like this one.

    The title of the novel unfortunately, suggests that the risk taken fell primarily on the heroine. Freedom and having wealth did not mean someone of color would be treated as an equal to one who was white, as you point out. This couple would have more problems besides scowls and gossip.
    Not only that, but the hero would have been taught from childhood that white women were off limits. I haven’t read the book, but can you tell me if the hero even dwells on how in America, even a free man was not to take up with a white woman? Did he have reservations along those lines? I agree with you, I don’t think England would have been as receptive either during that time period. And I also think the hero would be more torn in his emotional turmoil regarding falling for someone white, though I understand the trope of the deceased girlfriend who was enslaved memory. I think I’d have to second hapax. I’d love to see more IR romances, and I’m glad to see the author did some research, but being a bit more realistc instead of trying to “fit” the romance mold may have been a better choice, though I don’t know if this particular publisher/book line would allow that.

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  16. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 13:33:48

    @Jeannie Lin: Well, I’m the person who called out an author for having South Indians speak Hindi in the early 19thC, so I’m on record as being sensitive to the homogenization of regional differences.

    Boston was a major node of the slave trade. Like New York and Pennsylvania, Massachusetts permitted slavery in the 18thC, but unlike those states, it did not have a Manumission Society or an elite that grew increasingly uncomfortable trying to justify the practice. So when an ex-slave is described as being feted in elite white society and sought after by the (white) debutantes, that requires a large suspension of disbelief.

    The reason I disagree with you on the evil slaveowner plot point is that while Virginia may be upper South, it was a frequent location of slave rebellions and there was ongoing fear among whites about their ability to control the population. There’s a ton of historical material on this issue. And as I think about it, both the evil slaveowner selling Virgil (possible) and the northern businessman taking him under his wing and leaving him the business (possible) are examples of benevolent actions by whites making his success possible. That is annoying and unfair to all the work blacks did to achieve success in that era.

    @wikkidsexycool: No, the only thing standing in his way is his love for Millie. That was a problem for me.

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  17. wkw
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 13:52:35

    This was an excellent and very helpful review. Thanks, Sunita. A lot of the issues discussed in the review and subsequent comments brought to mind another book I read recently, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss. It is not a romance, but is a fascinating history about the mixed race father of the famous author Alexandre Dumas. One of the things that struck me in the Black Count was the fact that for a brief period of time a mixed race, former slave was able to flourish in French culture and rise to a high position through merit, as well as marrying a white Frenchwoman (although not a duke’s daughter!), but even after distinguishing himself in many ways, as that brief period of egalitarianism faded, General Alex Dumas was subjected to incredible prejudice and and extreme restrictions in his activities and opportunities, including not being allowed to travel from his home without special permission, a restriction placed on all people of color at that time, apparently. The point I am trying to make, not very eloquently, is that we tend to view developments in increased openness to diversity, more freedoms, and egalitarianism in cultures as an inevitable one way progression from bad to better to best, but it does not always, or even usually, happen that way. Many cultures go through periods of increased openness that expand opportunities for underclasses or people previously affected by prejudice in various ways, that are then followed by reactionary shifts in cultural norms back to more closed and repressive attitudes and laws. My point isn’t necessarily germane to the review of Kaye’s book, or even most of the commentary, but some of the threads of discussion and underlying assumptions brought this to mind. I apologize in advance for my wordiness and for a slightly OT post.

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  18. Rue
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 14:30:47

    Sunita, Thank you for the thoughtful and freaking awesome review. It all is technically possible, but i had to stretch my imagination to the breaking point to imagine it. Maybe if it were the 2oth century, pre-civil rights movement, then yes, but not then, and especially not with the aristocratic heroine. After all, the only thing his enemies had to do to him was make a citizen’s arrest and ship him back to the South, and that would have been that. Kudos to Kaye for not skirting the obvious issues (looking at you sheikh-book authors!), but ultimately i could not lose myself in it.

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  19. Jeannie Lin
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 14:42:29

    @Sunita: Ah, I see. It wasn’t a matter of X was unlikely or Y was implausible, but more the sum total of many large issues were overcome with too much ease or coincidence in a time and place when such each issue would have been a huge obstacle in and of itself.

    @wkw: I have often felt the same. That there is an assumption that history progresses linearly from primitive to advanced, from ignorant to enlightened, etc. etc. When it’s not the case at all.

    On another note, I read something recently about how Beethoven was black and that his Moorish ancestry was conveniently white-washed and his busts and pictures purposefully altered to look more Caucasian because that’s what people believed he looked like. Haven’t looked too deeply into that, but your comments regarding A. Dumas’ father reminded me of that article.

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  20. Janet Mullany
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 14:50:25

    model school, which is based on reformist principles and educates the tenants’ and villagers’ children

    was eyeroll #1 for me, after which

    I doubt any of us has ever met an African before

    came in second. In all fairness, if there was an event hosted by Wedgwood, there would have very likely been (sophisticated, educated) black guests for fundraising purposes. Wedgwood was a leading force in the abolitionist movement–he manufactured the ceramic “Am I not a man and a brother” medallions and other goods. And England had a fairly large black population during the late Georgian period, including between 1 – 3% of the London population.

    The question for me is why the writer chose to make her hero American.

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  21. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 15:04:48

    @wkw: Thanks for reminding me about that book, I’ve been meaning to pick it up! And yes, I agree about the back-and-forth process being as common as the Forward March Of Progress model; it’s certainly true for minority populations in the 19th century.

    @Jeannie Lin: Yes, exactly! And I was fighting with myself because as Katie says above, some of the romance part (the part we primarily read for) was really good.

    @Janet Mullany: I got the impression that Virgil was at the Wedgwood party in part for the reasons you suggest, and Kaye does talk about the medallions and the Wedgwood abolition efforts. But you’re quite right that for Kate to say that in such a context is odd. It’s funny about the model school, though; I swallowed that without a problem because it is *such* a stock attribute of the historical romance heroine!

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  22. wkw
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 15:34:04

    @Sunita:
    The Black Count is a fascinating history. Another excellent history, also by Tom Reiss, that relates to culture, race, and ethnicity, is “The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life”. And, also highly recommended, a romance, Ali and Nino, a novel by the subject of The Orientalist, Kurban Said, who was actually Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who developed the persona of a Muslim prince and became a best-selling author in Nazi Germany, and who wrote under the names Essad Bey and Kurban Said. All three are excellent books and The Orientalist, especially, is truth stranger than fiction.

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  23. Isobel Carr
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 16:01:42

    I’ve done a LOT of research into the lives of free Blacks in England and France during this period, and the main objection to their intermarrying with whites in the late 18th and very early 19th century seems to have been centered on issues of class rather than race (as as Janet said, there were quite few Africans in England, especially London, so seeing a Black man or woman wouldn’t have been unusual; they were popular as pages and footmen).

    There was one real life case I stumbled across where the locals felt quite strongly about a successful black innkeeper marrying his white maid. And not because he was black, but because she was servant. She was not considered good enough for him! And there are certainly examples in literature as well (in Austen’s Sanditon there is no objection raised to the mixed race heiress who’s clearly set up as a desirable match, whereas by the time Thackeray is writing Vanity Fair, George is quite put out by the suggestion he marry such a girl).

    None of this is to say that a freed American slave, however successful, would have been seen by the ton as an acceptable match for a duke’s daughter or that the white people of Boston would have been throwing their daughters at him (or would have been at all welcoming to his aristocratic English wife when he brought her home). If the heroine were a simple gentleman’s daughter my credulity wouldn’t be stretched to the breaking point.

    I’d also highly recommend The Black Mozart: Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges by Walter Smith to anyone interested in this topic. He’s the inspiration for the character in my Ripe series.

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  24. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 16:32:49

    @Isobel Carr:

    Respectfully, I have to disagree. There were more than enough books and articles written during this time period which likened those of the black race, no matter what country they resided as inferior to whites, simply because of skin color. Edited to add: There was also the disgusting premise that those identified with African heritage were closer to the Ape, depending on how dark one’s skin color was and if the features were broad. Biblical passages were used many times as a reason for bigotry or separatism.

    “Color still determines whether, by men, a man shall be dealt with as a man or a beast.” – quote by Jeremy Bentham, a social reformer and philosopher from England.

    Traveling exhibits which labeled those of darker skin “exotic” or curiousities, as well as published volumes with questionable medical studies that claimed all sorts of outlandish things about not only those of African heritage, but women and other ethnicities were prevalent during this period. Some of these misguided beliefs are still around today. And there were cartoons defaming those thought to be black, no matter how light they were.

    However, I do realize there were individuals like the scenario you described, who could look beyond color. But by and large, marrying someone of a difference race, as least in the research I’ve done, centered first and foremost on their racial background/cultural differences being the main issue.

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  25. Isobel Carr
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 17:41:51

    @wikkidsexycool: Well, I obviously don’t have any idea what sources you’re reading, so I can’t say your impression is wrong. I can merely say what my impression is based on the sources I’ve read (books like Black London and There are no Slaves in France) and from the records and histories I saw discussed during the 2007 abolition celebrations in England. There appeared to have been quite a bit of intermarriage (tons of people doing research and being surprised to find their family tree terminating in a free Black during the 18thC). There were quite a few newspaper articles and museums talking about this at the time.

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  26. Ducky
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 17:43:25

    I don’t know. Is this romance really so much more farfetched than some of the other historicals out there? I personally find the American part of the hero’s history more unbelievable than him having a successful romance with an upper-class English woman in England. Being filthy rich would have helped some and England was so class conscious that it might have been a bigger deal for the heroine to have been with some poor lower-class Englishman than the rich and “exotic” hero. I am not saying it would have been easy only that it might not have been impossible.

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  27. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 18:06:06

    @Isobel Carr

    I’m familiar with “There are no Slaves in France.” “The Color of Liberty:Histories of Race in France” by the same author is also excellent, as it explores the beliefs of French scholars and monogenists, those who considered themselves enlightened but were condescending, as well as way offbase in many of their assumptions regarding “elevating” those of African heritage by advocating mixing with whites, who were thought to be superior. “Regeneration through Miscegenation” I believe is the term used.

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  28. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 18:16:42

    I tend to agree with Wikkidsexycool on this one. As Janet Mullany pointed out, there was a measurable black population in England in this era, and there were plenty of prominent and not-so-prominent people who had non-white blood. But these were not, as a rule, the result of relationships that were celebrated in the same way that all-white marriages were.

    I really wish Maili was online right now; she probably knows more about this than any of us.

    In terms of the dominant ideology, it was deeply race- and color-conscious, and the English were extreme on the European spectrum. Eric Stokes on the Utilitarians, David Brion Davis on slavery, and Winthrop Jordan and George Fredrickson on attitudes toward color and race are must-reads.

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  29. wikkidsexycool
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 18:41:24

    “But these were not, as a rule, the result of relationships that were celebrated in the same way that all-white marriages were.”

    Sunita, that is a statement I totally agree with. While I can commend the author for the diversity in her novel, the white washing comes in because the obstacles faced must be watered down in order to fit the genre I suppose. I did take a look at the book’s first pages and it starts with the hero getting whipped and his first love being raped. Then it jumps to him in England. If this guy wouldn’t be a candidate for post traumatic stress disorder, then that’s another problem. You just don’t get over something like that and I hope its addressed in the book. But yeah, I’d have to say that his evolution from an abused slave to a gentleman is far fetched to me. If there was ever a case for a tortured hero, here’s one. However, I also read the five star review on amazon regarding the book, and needless to say, it appears a hero can have demons, but apparently not ones along racial lines, especially when it comes to “whining” about his tortured past.

    Anyway, I get it. This is the romance genre and its a Harlequin novel, so the fact that it was published is a step.

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  30. Sunita
    Feb 21, 2013 @ 18:44:55

    @Isobel Carr: I forgot to respond to your point about class; I totally agree that the class aspect could both minimize the race issue in certain cases, and that it was extremely important. I would just add that race and class often reinforced each other, which of course I know you’re well aware of.

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  31. SonomaLass
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 02:33:06

    I can’t help giggling that we talked a little about this on Twitter without realizing we were discussing the same book.

    I rated this book three stars on Goodreads for many of the same reasons you give here. When I could suspend my disbelief, it was great; when I couldn’t, I was disappointed. I tend to like this author’s books, and I’m almost always glad when authors of historical romance step outside the expected territory. But on balance, the resolution here was a little too easy, so I felt that the book trivialized some very real, very deep questions about race and prejudice in its handling of the obstacles faced and how they were overcome.

    That said, I’m glad this book was written and that I read it, and I encourage others to read it, too. Especially in light of the information in your review, Sunita, I think it’s thought-provoking and worthwhile to consider these issues. I find it much better to address them, if imperfectly, than to resign ourselves to only all-white historical romance out of a fear of not getting the complexities of race in history completely right.

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  32. Sunita
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 07:05:16

    @SonomaLass: I agree, when you have such a complex subject it’s inevitable that people are going to have different opinions about what can and can’t be altered, ignored, etc. But it’s better to write the books and then talk about the issues than to avoid writing them entirely, or avoid reviewing the books for fear of having an argument. I’m really glad I read this, because I enjoyed parts of it quite a bit and because it helped me clarify what does and doesn’t work for me.

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  33. Isobel Carr
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 09:37:55

    “But these were not, as a rule, the result of relationships that were celebrated in the same way that all-white marriages were.”

    I think we can all agree on this one.

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  34. Mary
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 15:20:48

    As someone who is biracial (half Indian [from India] and half white), I always want to read IR romances. BUT, I never seem to like historical set ones…
    This one is hard for me to swallow, because even 30 years ago, when my parents started dating, there were people who were against them dating because of race. I find it incredibly hard to believe that in Regency England, a Duke’s daughter could marry a freed American slave. Slavery was abolished in the 1830s in England, yes? So that’s like, maybe an American senator’s daughter marrying a freed slave in 1850? Yeah…no.
    I’m wondering, too, if maybe the issue is, as some people have said, not necessarily the race issue, but more of a class issue? Like if Lady Kate was actually Miss Kate, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Or the daughter of a gentleman. Not a Duke?

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  35. Sunita
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 16:41:23

    @Mary: England outlawed the slave trade in 1808 but it was 1843 before slavery was made illegal throughout the British empire.

    I agree with you that a relationship between a less exalted heroine might have worked. Asking us to believe that a cross-class AND interracial marriage was relatively easily brought about is a lot.

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  36. lakaribane
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 16:25:16

    Asking us to believe that a cross-class AND interracial marriage was relatively easily brought about is a lot.

    Yes, this sums it up for me.

    Two RL examples: When my country (Haïti) got its independence in 1804, the first thing the big European metropoles did was put us under embargo, a sort of commercial and political quarantine which was hard economically because our business model was still very much that of a colony. You know, in case whatever we suffered from was contagious.

    And then, when you consider that, still in my own country, during the US occupation of the country (1915-1934), it was considered marrying down to marry an American, from a patriotic standpoint and then, a few years later, the same was thought of marrying an “Arab” i.e. Lebanese or Syrian immigrants, from a class standpoint, I just do NOT see how a UK aristocrat could marry a US merchant-that-is-Black.

    I actually want to read this book MORE now that I have read all the comments. I wonder about the details of the hero’s life: could a freed former-slave inherit easily? Because in colonial Saint-Domingue, Freed People of Color were NOT equal to Whites, in fact, they couldn’t dress like them or hold certain occupations, IIRC. Was that different in the US? Did he admin the business or just live off the profits? Did that mean he knew how to read and write and, if so, who taught him to? The rich Northerner? So many questions!

    On the question of a routinely rebellious slave, I feel that killing him seems to be the most logical solution for that time. When you consider the breath of corporal punishment prescribed, what else would an evil owner do but kill the troublemaker as an example?

    I also roll my eyes at all these Ladies and Lords who are friendly with their help. Granted a maid or valet is closer to their employer than the gardener or the coach but still. I was raised and live in a country with “domestiques” and there is an odd but very real distance between employer and employee.

    And, I would like to go on record as saying that I am in love with Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges and think he would make a great hero!!!

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  37. Sunita
    Feb 24, 2013 @ 13:19:56

    I actually want to read this book MORE now that I have read all the comments. I wonder about the details of the hero’s life: could a freed former-slave inherit easily? Because in colonial Saint-Domingue, Freed People of Color were NOT equal to Whites, in fact, they couldn’t dress like them or hold certain occupations, IIRC. Was that different in the US? Did he admin the business or just live off the profits? Did that mean he knew how to read and write and, if so, who taught him to? The rich Northerner? So many questions!

    If I remember correctly, he learned to read and write as a slave in Virginia, which is not implausible. He inherited the business and continued to run it. He learned from his employer before the latter’s death.

    There were restrictions on free blacks in the northern and southern states in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but they varied by state and the enforcement of these laws (the “black codes”) also varied. So while it is entirely possible that someone like Virgil could have run the company, married a white woman, and raised a family, the threat of the enforcement of legal restrictions would have been ever-present, I would think.

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