I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a free day than to just stay in bed and read a romance novel that would make me laugh and cry. I read most subgenres, but my favorite has always been historical romance, especially those books with real historical people or events featured in them. It’s such a different world from what we know, and yet by peppering a few historical details we are reminded that even during Regency England or the Middle Ages, there were people who made it possible for us to live the way we do now.
It is so easy to be cynical these days. In fact, being world-weary and apathetic can even lend a person an air of wisdom, and accepting that nothing will ever change certainly hurts a lot less than feeling dumb whenever another politician fails us, or whenever another corporation betrays our trust. We may all want a better world for our kids, but repeatedly demanding without success takes its toll.
And yet, when reading about the world of dukes, knights and princes, I am reminded that even things that were accepted as the natural order can change, or we’d still be living within a feudal system now. We can accept the philosophy that we will be rewarded if we work hard enough and show initiative because at some point, someone believed that power and wealth should not only be gained through inheritance. The pivotal moments in history contain some of the most spectacular human stories—poets, knights, and tragic queens who have the same motivations and failings as any one of us today, only they dared to reach for something that everyone else thought was impossible. Things like the abolition of slavery, child labor laws, the establishment of the Model Parliament, religious freedom and universal suffrage. There are so many famous figures from history who were able to change the world simply by speaking up and letting other people know that they were not alone, in the same way that not being alone can give us the confidence to raise an awkward issue at work or with an inconsiderate neighbor.
Never has our way of life been drastically altered as it was during the Industrial Revolution. With all the new inventions and cities cropping up, the world suddenly didn’t involve just the nobles in their rural acreage anymore. Suddenly, peasants, merchants and washerwomen were demanding to be heard. Writings by people like Wollestonecraft, Rousseau and Paine were popular. Everything from labor laws to Catholic Emancipation was up for debate.
In my novel, How to Wed an Earl, the first book in the Seasons of Scandal series, the heroine, Penelope, was most passionate about animal rights. She was raised in the Lake District, so she was exposed to the works of animal lovers like Byron and the Lake Poets. She looked up to an MP named Richard Martin, who introduced the first laws against animal cruelty, and, together with people like William Wilberforce, founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824.
There was no violent revolution, but as ridiculed as they were in the early days, today wanton animal cruelty is something that’s generally considered bad.
With all the depressing economic and political news we have today, I can’t wait to read another historical romance and discover another social norm that was defied by a hero or heroine who made the world a better place, not through some violent revolution, but through tiny acts of love, kindness and compassion. If the book is any good, then hopefully I’ll be inspired to dream while living in a society that has forgotten how to do so.