Why Do We Romanticize the British?

I have always wondered why we romanticize the British so much? This thought became even more poignant today while I was watching a mini-series made in Britain of Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers.  In the mini-series, 4 young American girls are having a most difficult time in New York society. No one will invite them to all the "right" parties because they are new money.  In one instance, the father made his money in the railroads after the Civil War. A governess suggests the girls travel to England for a bit of "polish" and when they return to New York, they will be the toast of the town.  Of course the girls never do return to New York, but that is for another time.

While they are in England, the British look down upon them.  Of course since they are quite wealthy, the titled families cannot help but regard them with a mixture of disdain and need.  Disdain because they are dreaded Americans and need because the titled families need the infusion of money the girls represent.  The lords are willing to lower themselves to marry these girls for the sake of saving the family.  The girls get a title and respectability and the men get the money they need.  A fair exchange in the world of bargaining for a proper marriage partner.

Let me just take a moment to discuss Edith Wharton who wrote this story before I delve into why we romanticize the British so much.  Edith Wharton was born into the upper class during the Civil War in 1862.  She was a natural storyteller and won the Pulitzer Prize for the story The Age of Innocence i 1920.  She was the first woman to be honored with a doctorate from Yale University. She provided an insight in the American experience with wit and humor but also with a clarity that struck people with deep honesty.  Some of her friends included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Sinclair Lewis, F.Scott Fitzgerald, and even Henry James.  She lived for a time in France where she eventually died.  Her novel, The Buccaneers was published in 1938.  

So, let's go back to why do we romanticize the British?  Edith Wharton helped us romanticize the British through her novels. By the same token, her birth into the upper class showed what those who were born with money thought of those who suddenly joined the ranks.  The established money looked down on the new money as interlopers and totally unworthy of mingling.  She showed us that it was not just the British who continued to view us as uncouth Americans, but the wealthy Americans who looked down their aristocratic noses at those who did not grow up with money.  We do not just romanticize the British, but anyone who is born into money and status.

I write historical romance novels. I love to read them. I enjoy reading about far away places and the past. Why is it people are not as intrigued with our American past and culture? Is not our past history really the past history of the British as well?  And yet, when we read about this time period - the Georgian period - we are constantly reminded the Americans were nothing but a group of upstarts who rebelled about their benevolent leaders. The British were tolerant up to a point, and then when the time came, had to try to put their disobedient child into their place once and for all.

The more research I have done about this time period, the more romantic it actually became for me.  I found the American spirit in the 1700s fascinating.  I actually discovered I enjoy colonial America a bit more than England at that same time period.  I like writing about the colonists who travel to Britain and show the British their strength and tenacity. The colonists are not constrained by their titles - they have none. What they have, they have worked for with blood and sweat and stamina.  And yet, when they arrive in England, they are treated with not even the same disdain as servants.  In many instances, they are treated far worse.

And yet, when we read novels from this time, we adore the nobility.  We love to read about dukes and marquis and even earls.  Every young girl dreams of finding her prince charming - be it a duke, an earl, or a marquis.  No one dreams of marrying the baker or the insurance broker.  If you think about it, the very reason we continue to read novels that take place in England is because of these fantasies.

The fantasies are based upon the fairy tales we read as children.  We all dreamed of being Cinderella - the little girl who grew up in the cinders and yet fell in love with the prince (not knowing he was the prince) and lived happily ever after.  Historical romance novels are just fairy tales on steroids.  Nothing intrigues the reader more than the girl who falls in love with the man who later turns out to be the prince.  The prince who falls in love with the girl who loves him, not because he's a prince but because he is a man.  Discovering he is a prince later one is a bonus and we cheer the situation even more when the truth comes out.

The same cannot be said if we read a novel based in American history.  We do not have nobility.  The heroine is not going to wake and discover the hero is really a duke, an earl, or a marquis.  On the contrary, he may be the son of a wealthy landowner - a plantation owner or is related to someone of great power.  Back in colonial times, it would be highly probable for the hero to have ties to nobility in England, but if the family has been in the country for years, the chances get slimmer.  Our nobility was based on English nobility.  The Founding Fathers were distant relatives of noblemen who came to America to make their fortune.  Some were second sons or were given land grants by the king, thus giving them an elevated status.  Does this make them any less noble?

In a way it does.  We do not romanticize about our heroine falling in love with the hero who is plotting out his way in the wilds of America.  Instead we prefer to read about our heroine traveling to England finding the man of her dreams OR the hero who (comes from a wealthy American family) arrives in England, has fabulous British friends, and meets a lovely noblewoman who will give it all up for the sake of love.

So tell me - if you prefer historical novels - why do you like to read them?


Great Quote

I was looking for a quote when this one inspired me to write more.  Not necessarily write more of my  novel, but write a commentary on the quote.

"In Hollywood the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can't read.  If they could read their stuff, they'd stop writing."

These fabulous words were written by Will Rogers who was an actor in the 20s and 30s who became known for his humor, although if you ask people today, they will not know him.

So, why do I like these words?  Think about it - how many times have you watched a movie and thought - the dialogue stinks?  Or by the time the movie ended you thought the plot had far too many holes in it?  Or you just don't believe the character would do that?

You know exactly what I am talking about?  You have sat through one of those movies.  Okay, you've sat through dozens of those movies.  And each time, you wondered how someone could be paid money for writing that drivel.  I will not name names here, or mention movies where this has bothered me.  That would not be nice.  And since we are all in the business of writing, it would be unfair to pick on someone so blatantly.  Besides, I have read more times than I could count that scripts go through several writers.  One writer will start the script, then get fired, then another will continue it but also get fired.  Sometimes a script will have so many writers that it's difficult to recognize the story (especially if it's been a book).

I think the authors who retain their rights so if the story is bought for a movie have the right idea.  I cannot imagine how a book author must feel watching their story unfold on the screen and thinking - hey, that's not my dialogue.  Sometimes the authors even have it as part of the contract that they will write the movie or miniseries.  This is smart on their part because they have that control.  Others do not do this and have learned to walk away with their pockets full and not care if their story is butchered.

Personally I would hate for my book to be made into a movie and it read - based on the novel by Vivienne Courtoise and then have the critics declare the story sucked when I had no control over it.  Therefore, I believe that when I sell the rights of my books to Hollywood, I will be sure to retain some creative control over the script.

Just a bit of food for thought,


Writing in Different Genres

When to switch genres?

I am sure you have heard this before - you should really write - such and such.  Or why don't you write this?  Over the course of my writing career, I have had several people say such things to me.  Nine times out of ten, it's because that is what they read.  For instance, my husband who likes to read Science Fiction has said several times that I should think about writing Science Fiction.

Write what you know.  That is another mantra spoken to writers time and again.  Write what you know.  For instance, I have had people say - you should write about your children.  I think my children would hate to see their lives immortalized in print. I admit the events of their lives could make for a great story, but I agree with them - I don't need to traumatize them by putting their highs and lows in print.  If, some day, they decide to write about their own lives, so be it - I just hope I don't end up on some talk show because of it.

Then, of course - you have heard - if you love contemporaries, you should write them or if you love historicals, you should write them.  Now, this is advice that fits me perfectly. For as long as I can remember, I have been reading some form of historical novel - whether it is fiction or nonfiction. I love reading about the lives of people who lived in the past.  It just made sense for me to write historical romance.

I did write two contemporaries.  The first one I wrote when I was seventeen years old.  I used my old stenographers books and hand wrote the book.  Then I purchased a typewriter and typed it out.  I submitted it as an entry for college and got a scholarship based on my writing.  Of course, over the course of the next four years, I brought those chapters to my Creative Writing class and was repeatedly ripped to shreds by the jocks in the class who laughed at it and the teacher who said I would never make money as a romance author.  I was determined to succeed.

I wrote my next contemporary on the train going back and forth to work.  At night I would type it up.  I did send it out to editors and agents.  I secured an agent and paid them money to represent me.  Yes, I know, NEVER pay an agent.  I learned a valuable and expensive lesson.  The agent was later sued and taken to court for her practices.

So, how did I change genres and write historical romance?  Remember what I said before - I have always loved reading historicals.  I also love history.  My oldest daughter had to soak her foot in betadyne for 20 minutes every day (long story - remember I promised not to relate any stories of my children in print).  I would sit with her and watch Disney sing-a-long tapes.  (yes I said tapes).  One was the Pirates of the Caribbean and there was a pirate chasing a woman around a barrel, with the words "wench for a bride" overhead.  That was it - I had my idea.

I wrote my first historical.  After that, I wrote another and another.

So, are you ready for another change?  I will leave you with this - I wrote my first children's book a couple weeks ago.  Wrote and illustrated it.  I love it.  Am I giving up historical romance?  Bite your tongue!!!!  I will never give up my true passion - but in the meantime, I am having fun doing both.


PS - here is the cover for the children's book I wrote.

Nothing to Say

I am a firm believer in that if you have nothing to say, then say nothing.  So, over the past couple weeks I keep thinking about what to write on my blog.  After all, I do not want to saddle you with inane chatter just because I want to update my blog.  Well, isn't that I am doing now?

I remember a long time ago when I was in college.  A dear friend wanted to fix me up with a young man from the Naval Academy for our sorority spring dinner.  She whipped out a wallet with 12 pictures and told me to pick one.  Pick one!  How was I supposed to pick one?  So I asked her who did she think would make a better date.  She said - well either Dave or Bill.  Now, Bill is kind of short, and he might not be as tall as you.  Nix Bill.  And Dave has a girlfriend.

Perfect.  I did not want to date a guy at that time anyway, so if he had a girlfriend, I felt it would be a safe dinner date, right?  Well, Dave asked me for a 500 word essay about myself.  I remember the letter very well up to this day.  I started it off with Dear Dave, Hi, I understand you wanted a 500 word essay about myself.  Well, I am 5 foot 5, with brown hair and green eyes.  And that's all I am going to tell you.   I then proceeded to count the words and I put the word count in parentheses.  Then I would count it stating - Oh, and now I have this many words.  Oh, guess what, now I have this many.  I continued to do this throughout the letter and I recall I only had around 300 some words before I ended the letter by signing my name and then counting that as well.

So, when I am given the chance to write about nothing at all - I can do it.  I just don't like doing it.

Well, Dave read the letter out loud to all the middies at lunch.  Bill thought it was hysterical and made my friend fix him up with someone else for the dinner.  Dave ended up being a total loser, and Bill was a sweetheart who never left my side the entire night.  Bill wrote to me after that and we started dating.  The rest is history - we have been together for over 27 years and he is still the love of my life.

So, I guess writing about nothing can really lead to something.  Who knew?

Talk to you later, Vivienne (and I promise it will be about something)