Let’s talk a little bit about the writing of this book.
The other two books in the Wicked Little Secrets series possess strong external plots that borrow from the mystery genre. I diligently studied in depth one technical aspect of Victorian life to write them. In Wicked My Love, I studied the Victorian banking system. Isn’t that exciting? And with Wicked Little Secrets, I spent hours pouring over Old Bailey court records so I could accurately reproduce several such records in my book.
The plot of How To Impress A Marquess is more internalized than the others in the series, and advances with the characters’ emotional progression. I needed less technical information and more sensual details. It’s the details—what my characters might have worn, what they would have looked at, what would inspired their daily conversation—that gives me greater access into their psychology.
The Victorian era spans a long period, beginning when Queen Victoria was coroneted in 1837 and ending just after the turn of the last century at her death. During that time, English culture would vastly change. My previous Wicked Little Secrets series books were set in the 1840s and carry a more Dickensian feel – by and large England was less sophisticated and poorer. By the 1870s, the British Empire was near its zenith. With a powerful middle class, society became even more stratified, and art and culture flourished.
I set the story in 1879 because the conservative prime minster Disraeli was still alive and England wasn’t engaged in too many international wars, just a handful here and there. However, that set the book at the tip of the Impressionist movement. Degas just was showing his work in Paris, but Monet wasn’t really on the scene yet. However, that period was rich in the sensual, lyrical works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Both my characters are influenced by the art of the day. George, the Marquess of Marylewick, projects a starchy, unyielding exterior that hides his repressed artistic desire. He is more influenced by the light and ephemeral nature of Impressionism. Lilith, a wild bohemian and secret author is much more attracted to the distant, unattainable beauty found in the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
I had also an issue with fashion. Wicked Little Secrets and Wicked, My Love are set in the 1840s when the skirts were full but not yet reaching the epic proportions of the 1860s. By the 1870s, the skirts had slimmed again but kept an expansive bustle. I really didn’t have a mental fashion reference for the 1870s aside from the movie “The Age of Innocence”.
I turned to Pinterest for help. I’ve included some of the images collected on my boards that that helped me capture the feeling and spirit of How To Impress A Marquess.
Please do me a great favor. When you are reading devouring my upcoming book How to Impress a Marquess, at some point in your reading, imagine that the following quotation is spoken by my heroine, Lilith Dahlgren: “No coward soul is mine.” Be sure to attribute the line to Emily Brontë. May I suggest mentally inserting something like:
Lilith could no longer stomach George’s cruel attempts to squash her wild, unfettered heart and, borrowing from Emily Bronte, proclaimed, “No coward soul is mine.”
Allow me to explain.
When I was fleshing out my heroine, I imagined that Lilith adored the written word so much she could readily quote poetry and would carry about a tattered beloved volume of Keats’ poems—a literary security blanket of sorts. I borrowed from some of my favorite Romantic era poems, as well as dug through old poems to find the perfect words Lilith would use to express her emotions to my stodgy, unyielding, and uncreative (or so it would seem) hero George. For example, in the first chapter she tells him:
“What would I do with something as horrid as sense? I want wild, overpowering feeling, passion, zest. ‘More happy love! more happy, happy love! / For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, / For ever panting, and for ever young; / All breathing human passion far above…’ That’s Keats, dearest,” she said. “I know you wouldn’t recognize it.”
How to Impress A Marquess includes snippets from Keats, Tennyson, Milton, and Whitman (yes, Whitman was read in England in 1879, the time period in which the book is set. I looked it up just for you.)
I thought I had gathered a wonderful collection of public domain poems for the story until I visited the Emily Dickinson Museum during my summer vacation. I had forced my family to stop at the museum as we traveled between New York and Maine, because several years ago I fell in love with the book White Heatby Brenda Wineapple, which is about Dickinson and her professional relationship with her editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson. After you read my book, you must immediately purchase White Heat because it’s all things wonderful.
I ambled through Dickinson’s home, lulling about in a soft mellow high that only a history and literature geek could derive from a preserved home, knowledgeable tour guide, and poetry. The docent led us to a room with an installation about Dickinson’s poetry for that last segment of the tour. I hadn’t considered Dickinson’s poems for my book because the time frame is wrong. Almost all of her poems were published after her death in 1886. However, the installation listed earlier poets who influenced Dickinson, including Emily Brontë. Painted on the museum walls were Brontë’s words: “No Coward Soul Is Mine.” Dickinson had requested that Brontë’s poem be read at her funeral.
When I read Brontë’s line, I sucked in my breath. My heart stilled. I wanted those words in a greedy, rapacious way. Lilith needed to say them. They were her essence. Why, oh why, did I not know about this poem? And I had even referenced the Brontës in my book. I wanted to bang my head on Emily D’s small writing desk, located by the windows where she would lower gingerbread in a basket to the local children.
Brontë’s words —
Had I discovered — their beautiful violence —
In time for revisions!
I would have captured — their substance —
Rebirthed — on my final copy
By now How to Impress A Marquess had been released on Netgalley for review (Review it! Spread your book love around!) I had long passed the point of no return regarding significant revisions to the manuscript. Brontë’s words were perfect, but it was all too late for their gleaming perfection to physically appear on the book’s pages.
But you, gentle reader, have the power of imagination to insert them for me.
So I implore you to mentally sprinkle “No Coward Soul Is Mine” quotes into scenes where you think they would work.
For instance, when George, desperate to improve Lilith’s unruly ways, develops a regime to transform her into a gentle and submissive lady, she might cry out in defiance, “As Bronte said, ‘No coward soul is mine.’”
When George lashes out at Lilith because she has discovered George’s painful secret—that he had been an artist prodigy, but his father had beaten him until he gave up painting—that would also be an excellent time to unleash the quote.
When Lilith takes off her clothes and… Wait, I don’t want to spoil that part for you. But when you get there, you’ll know it.
If you feel the single line “No coward soul is mine” simply isn’t enough to get the meaning across, you might try inserting the entire poem into a scene. It’s included below for your convenience.
No Coward Soul Is Mine
by Emily Brontë
No coward soul is mine No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere I see Heaven’s glories shine And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast Almighty ever-present Deity Life, that in me hast rest, As I Undying Life, have power in Thee
Vain are the thousand creeds That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain, Worthless as withered weeds Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one Holding so fast by thy infinity, So surely anchored on The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love Thy spirit animates eternal years Pervades and broods above, Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though earth and moon were gone And suns and universes ceased to be And Thou wert left alone Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death Nor atom that his might could render void Since thou art Being and Breath And what thou art may never be destroyed.