NEWS FLASH: Laurie Pinell is the lucky winner! Congratulations, Laurie, and look for an email from Barbara.
Edith here, loving all the spring flowers. And happy to host fellow historical novelist Barbara Monajem again. She has a new Lady Rosamund mystery out today and is giving away a copy!
Widowed Lady Rosamund spends the first months of her mourning in the Lake District, where it’s safe and peaceful, and murders are exceedingly rare. Luckily, she is rescued from this tedium by a house party comprised of playwrights, poets, and actors—an immoral set of persons with whom no respectable lady should associate. Even so, she hardly expected to wake in the wee hours to find one of the guests lying dead.
As if that wasn’t troublesome enough, Gilroy McBrae is at the same party, masquerading as a footman to investigate a series of thefts. Was the sudden death an accident—or murder? Almost everyone had reason to loathe their unpleasant fellow guest. Rosie must set aside her confused emotions about McBrae and work with him to find the culprit before an innocent person is accused of the crime.
Here’s the problem: Corvus, one of the main characters in my Lady Rosamund series, is a caricaturist – an 1811 version of today’s tabloid photographers.
I really, really don’t like the tabloids. I mean, have you looked at the headlines? Most of what they say ranges from unlikely to impossible, and it’s usually mean and nasty. If that wasn’t bad enough, some people actually believe them, and it does a lot of harm. I often wonder if the tabloid journalists and photographers have any conscience at all.
And yet, the equivalent of two hundred years ago is one of my main characters, and as the series progresses, I have to deal with his conscience. His caricatures can be very nasty indeed, and although they always contain a grain or more of truth, it’s often exaggerated and twisted for effect. Sometimes he (hopefully) makes people think, and often he provides amusement for the beleaguered lower classes, but sometimes he actually causes harm. I want Corvus to come across as basically a good person—a man with principles who cares about the poor and has a mission to poke at the consciences of the rich and powerful—but is that possible?
Sigh. Lady Rosamund is essentially a kind-hearted person, and she’s beginning to have an influence on what Corvus draws, so far mostly for her own sake and that of her family members. On the other hand, she mustn’t be allowed to extinguish his creative spark. That wouldn’t be good for either of them, especially as their relationship deepens.
What this leads to is me, the author, wondering how far Corvus can go in mocking the upper classes in 19th century England without crossing the line from good guy to jerk. Every time I dream up a caricature for him, even if the victim deserves it, I cringe a little, thinking of the mortification the victim will suffer, and what the consequences might be. Maybe it’s a bit weird to feel sorry for people who don’t even exist, but secondhand embarrassment is normal for me. I find it hard to read scenes in books or watch movies where I know the characters are about to get hurt or embarrassed—and if I’ve read or seen it before, it’s often worse, because I know exactly what will happen next.
Readers: What do you think? Can a caricaturist be unkind and also a good guy? Do you feel secondhand embarrassment? Answer these or make up your own question and answer it. One commenter will win a copy of Lady Rosamund and the Horned God.
Rumor has it that Barbara Monajem is descended from English aristocrats. If one keeps to verifiable claims, however, her ancestors include London shopkeepers and hardy Canadian pioneers. As far as personal attributes go, she suffers from an annoying tendency to check and recheck anything and everything, usually for no good reason. Hopefully all this helps to explain her decision to write from the point of view of a compulsive English lady with a lot to learn about how the other ninety-nine percent lived in 1811 or so.
As for qualifications, Barbara is the author of over twenty historical romances and a few mysteries, for which she has won several awards. On the other hand, she has no artistic talent and therefore is really stretching it to write about an artist who draws wickedly good caricatures. But she’s doing it anyway, because he’s irresistible. To her, anyway. Not so much to the aristocratic lady. Or at least not yet.