This week’s episode features a vicar under the thumb of his aristocratic father and a sensual woman in tune with her sexual awakening.
Temptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh focuses on erotica and eroticism in the Regency period. Lady Sarah Frampton pens literature meant to entice and engage readers through sexual fantasies under the name The Dubious Lady of Quality. Meanwhile Mr. Jeremy Cleland is the third son of a priggish Earl that works as a vicar because his father said so. And the very same father demands Jeremy find the woman who is debasing society. Meanwhile they end up in love and married with a lot of complications. And what is love without trust?
This week is a features guest Sven, also known as creature_sh on Twitter. And, you know, the love of my life. I finagled him into the role by dangling a free audio book. It takes very little, honestly. It’s also the first romance he’s read. And first attempt at reading a book along with him since The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I’m the book nerd, so it was a big chance he took for this after not enjoying Kundera.
Listen to our take on the book…as well as the weird romance life of an internationally engaged couple with little monetary means at the moment. It’s a trip to take, for sure.
19th Century Eroticism
As a research nerd (or queen, as Sven calls me), I went digging into the idea of erotic literature and the impact of such novels in the Regency era. Because of course I did. Found a couple really interesting links that give an overview and a primer. And researching happened because it never occurred to me that erotic lit, or French novels as Lady Sarah called them, were even a thing. Which is a bit silly since sexuality is always a major factor for humanity.
Sexual release and interest a defining feature in society, really. Courtly love, for instance, was a way to have sex without the guilt associated with ‘deflowering’ an innocent. A phrase to loathe, by the way. Courting a married lady or widow is referenced in more Restoration era romances books. Usually Nell Gwyn, the ultimate witty mistress to King Charles II of England. The widow trope is pretty common in Regency era as well. Often acting as the scorned woman when a duke finds a wallflower to love.
According to OxfordBibliographies.com, the date of erotic writing for the era ran from the late 1600s until Queen Victoria’s reign in the 1830s. That’s a pretty wide time frame that helped to coalesce into the pornography found in the 19th and 20th centuries. The expected outward moral outrage of the Victorian age belied the amount of what was then seen as obscenity. And this isn’t too uncommon. Inclusive cosmopolitan ideology often wars with conservative parochialism in Western society.
Both the canonical literature and the eroto-pornographic literature of the long 18th century concentrate on private experience and on sexuality as the secret, defining truth of the private self; indeed these two types or strains of literature are so intertwined that it is impossible to disentangle them.
Defining the truth of the private self is exactly what Lady Sarah discovers when writing the erotic novel. She taps into her feelings of desire and a connection to where her value lies when it comes to women in her community. The private experience intertwines long before meeting Jeremy since the Watching Wallflower observes the actions of surrounding society and incorporating her responses through validating books. Validation is found by the fact society buys the books and demands more.
Sarah’s eroticism ceases to be a complication within herself once she discovers the freedom in being a whole person and not a duke’s bargaining chip. She even tells Jeremy that women are born to be sensual and sexual based on the act of procreation–ending that the human population would be at zero if women stopped participating at all. Pushing at his judgement on the importance of writing what connected the whole parts of herself. A sentiment found even today in romance when people snootily exclaim romance and eroticism is nothing more than the devil’s influence.
Note that earlier books like Memoirs of Fanny Hill (John Cleland, 1748) definitely made their mark within the British erotica trade market. Hill even provided images in the books. (Something you don’t see often nowadays with the cost of photographs). Unfortunately, transitioning to the Romantic period and the Victorian ideologies slowed the number of readily available erotic literature.
Meanwhile the French enjoyed the more overt sensual and sexual transition from written to stage adaptions. The most famous ones for most modern audiences is Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) and Marquis de Sade’s sado-masochism tomes. Both written in pre-Revolution 1700s. Dangerous Liaisons, of course, had a famous 1990s adaption featuring Glenn Close.
Publisher George Cannon’s push into pornography turned illegal around 1830 as the rise of Victorian parochialism took root in English society. Someone like Cannon could have easily seen the money that Lady Sarah brought. The same money used to fund Jeremy’s new publisher status and new entrepreneurial role. Cannon’s circle included “governess” and brothel owner Therese Berkeley, who donated a horse turned whipping device as a way to flagrantly not fall in line as both a Berkeley lover and a member of the prestigious Adelphi society.
Dubious quality only counted when it would make your parents look bad, basically. Jennifer Hallock has a great resource on the number of inaccuracies and data in the Regency era romances at History Ever After (write up of a IASPR conference presentation). Particularly pays attention to the chronotopes. A fascinating read.
Later 19th century novels like Madame Bovary (French), Anna Karenina (Russian), and Effi Briest (German) would punish women via literature for wanting to be free of confines and to take advantage of the same freedoms that their husbands took for granted. One outlier to the time was Lady Audley’s Secret, which was not a romance but still had that titillating factor. Essentially, women went from being included in their erotic journey to being paragoned out while the men focused on their own rocks. Much like Jeremy’s father in that sense.
OxfordBibliographies.com provides a great many resources on the time period of which Temptations of a Wallflower is set. Be aware you need access to the site, however.
Romance Romp is a fun little tumble of interviews and coaxing of new readers. Kini does a great job of making people feel heard while talking about small town life when the topic comes up. She’s kind and always up for helping new writers, so take a listen and see what she has to say. You can find Kini on Twitter as well as Romance Romp.
- Chills by Heather Boyd. Jack and Pixie are two people who act out of unwanted but undeniable attraction. While the HEA isn’t perfect and I preferred Virginia, his twin sister’s story, but I enjoyed the book overall. I appreciated Pixie’s pragmatism as a reality of debts in an era of ownership takes root in her mind.
- Jo Beverley (Mallorean series)
- Tessa Dare (any and all; Spindle Cover first, though)
- Sarah Dunant (The Company of a Courtesan)
- Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)
- Courtney Milan (After the Wedding)
- Terry Pratchett (Discworld novels)
- Charles Stross (Laundry Files)
- Linda Wisdom (Hex series)