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First Page: Gemma and the Earl

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The conversation began the same way it always did, generally over a pleasant meal that would not remain so for long. The Earl of Southfield was a force to be reckoned with when his mind was settled. For the last year and a half this was how it started:

“Gemma my dear, will you look at your sister? The poor girl hasn’t touched a morsel on her plate. She’ll waste away to nothing like that”, my father dramatically gestured.

They sat in the breakfast room at the table while her sister picked at her food on the settee. Gemma glanced at her knowing full well that her sudden reluctance to eat was all for her father’s benefit.

“You know she’s thinking of Frances and Claire off to London next week. If only her selfish older sister would get married so she could join them”.

“Dear Father, I would remind you that she is only eighteen and just recently of an age to participate in the London season. I was nineteen before I came out”, she gently reminded him.

“Aye, but that was because you were in mourning for your dear mum, Gem. Anna is old enough now and by Jove I need to get you girls married and settled before I am too old to enjoy my grand-children”.

Her father was a hale man of fifty-four but acted as if he had one foot in the grave when he discussed his daughters’ matrimonial futures.

The Earl signaled the end of the conversation by returning to his study of the morning newspaper.

Gemma frowned to herself upon reflection of her father’s words. However much she sympathized with her younger sister’s unhappiness, she simply could not face the marriage mart for the third year in a row. In fact, she would readily trade places with Anna if she could. The thought of staying in the comfort and safety of the countryside with their father was immensely appealing.

Her reluctance to attend the London season was not unfounded. If she failed to attract a husband yet again, she would be considered well and truly on the shelf. The situation had become tiresome and rather depressing.

Gemma knew that she was no great beauty but thought her features to be pleasing enough. The unfortunate truth was that it was her outspoken disposition that was the cause of her lack of proposals. The marriageable men of the ton were looking for a certain kind of wife; one with a polite, reserved temperament that they could manage as they managed their estates. After a few moments in Gemma’s company or a turn around the dance floor, it was apparent to them that she was not quite marriage material.

She longed to fall in love and be romanced like the heroines in the novels she read but was not capable of the artifice required to carry it off. It simply wasn’t in the cards for her she feared.
Anna abruptly rose from her seat, “I shall be in my rooms the rest of the day I fear. I have a dreadful headache”. She left the room as the Earl glared at Gemma over his bifocals as if it was entirely her fault for every ailment her sister now possessed.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

11 Comments

  1. Kit Kay
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 06:27:07

    This isn’t a new first page. I remember this one from awhile ago.

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  2. SAO
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 06:31:56

    This is a mix of ‘As you know, Bob,’ backstory, and sit-n-think. You need Gemma to take action on the page, instead, she sits, reflecting on her situation, which she doesn’t like. Anna takes more visible and effective action on the page than Gemma. (By action, BTW, I mean doing something to change things, not merely having the same conversations while galloping wildly on horseback, dancing a jig, or other vigorous activity)

    You tell us that Gemma is outspoken, but you show her accepting her fate, ruefully ruminating on how what she wants just isn’t on the cards, while not doing anything to change her father’s decisions. I’m not interested in a passive heroine.

    Anna, however, shows some promise. And she also shows that Dad can be manipulated, making it less clear why Gemma has done zip about her fate.

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  3. SAO
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 06:41:33

    Yes, I’ve read it before, too. What’s worse is that it hasn’t changed much. Gemma is as bland and passive as before.

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  4. cead
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 07:34:43

    The second paragraph seems to be in first person while the rest is in third person (“my father said”), which is kind of disorienting.

    Also, I’m with SAO: Anna is more interesting than Gemma. I take it I’m probably not supposed to like her or sympathise with her because she is Being Manipulative, whereas I should like Gemma because she is (apparently) outspoken, which is one of those traits that is supposed to clue “heroine” at me. But her father is no prize, and her elder sister doesn’t seem to care what happens to her; good on her for deciding to see what she can do about it.

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  5. Courtney Milan
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 08:04:43

    The dialogue punctuation renders this almost unreadable. This is correct for neither British English nor American English.

    Please learn the appropriate rules and use them.

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  6. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 08:36:29

    Glad you confirmed it – I thought I’d seen this one before.
    Bland, boring, and this isn’t where the action starts. Definitely not a first page.
    You start with a cliche (“force to be reckoned with”)
    “gestured” isn’t a speech tag.
    What’s the food doing on the settee? For that matter, why isn’t her sister sitting at the table instead of on the sofa?
    why does the older sister have to get married before the younger one comes out? Society didn’t work like that. And “on the shelf” is a later concept. If she’s rich and well born, she’s never “on the shelf,” she’s just not fresh any more.
    Society would know them anyway, they wouldn’t come as a complete surprise, like a stripper out of a cake.
    “Mum” is colloquial and lower-class, also anachronistic. “Mama” would work better.
    It’s not his grandchildren he’d be concerned about, it would be the family business – daughters were there to marry and to extend the influence and networks.
    There are a lot of anachronisms and redundancies, and this scene is so boring. Sorry, it just is. It’s full of backstory which is better popped in with the action and has nothing memorable to make anyone turn the page. It also reads more like a comfortable family breakfast in a middle-class home than one in an aristocratic house. No footmen bringing in food, no formal seating, no details about the breakfast, even.

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  7. Caro
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 09:18:27

    Well, you have a kernel of conflict here. You tell us that Gemma is outspoken which certainly doesn’t fit into what is socially acceptable for ladies in her time.

    Great.

    But you show none of this in the scene itself. She gently reminds her dear papa. She wishes she could stay in the safety of the countryside. She fears she won’t ever fit in to what men want in a marriage. You can almost feel her languishing on the sofa, sighing about her plight.

    Huh?

    Instead of telling us that Gemma is outspoken, please show us. When her father starts on his drumbeat, have her tell him to stuff it. When her sister begins to manipulate dear old dad, have Gemma tell her to stuff it too. When Gemma thinks about another year in London society have her make a decision to blow society up with her outspoken ways. Make Gemma DO something, DECIDE something. Show us she’s outspoken and ready to take on the world.

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  8. theo
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 09:59:44

    I too thought I’d read this before. Thank you all for confirming that I’m not losing my mind…

    I agree with the other comments as far as the grammar, punctuation and what’s happening here. Also, Lynne is correct that there are too many anachronisms and for many historical readers, one is too many. There is no real setting here either. I have no sense of the room, the food, didn’t realize it was breakfast until well into the sample. I thought they were eating dinner. Historically, depending on the setting, women may have taken their breakfast in their room or in a room separate from the men. If they ate together, they all sat at table. Father allowing his obstinate daughter to sit on the couch and push food around on it (which is just silly the way it’s worded) doesn’t fit with the character you’re trying to portray.

    It is still a boring opening. Frankly, the only thing that happens on this page to change anything at all is that Anna leaves the room. Not a very promising start.

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  9. Bren
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 11:43:56

    I’m having deja vu! Was this mistakenly repeated or was it revised and resubmitted? I notice almost no difference from the previous one posted here: http://dearauthor.com/features/first-page-features/first-page-gemma-and-the-earl-2/

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  10. Lynn Rae
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 15:03:53

    So glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this piece seemed strangely familiar!

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  11. Gillyweed
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 22:59:40

    I found a difference. In the first submission, her father was a hale man of fifty-two, and in this one he’s a hale man of fifty-four. He still acts as if he has one foot in the grave when discussing his daughters’ matrimonial futures, though.

    ReplyReply

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