Thank you for featuring me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to talk about my debut novel, One Season with the Duke, and give some insight as to what inspired some of my choices as I created Finn and Hettie. In my native country, Trinidad and Tobago, I grew up in a society divided on politics, but rarely if ever on race or religion. So, when I began plotting my novels in high school and college, romance was never something I saw as constrained by race.
In One Season with the Duke, my heroine, Henrietta, is a mixed-race Black woman with strong aristocratic connections. Her father, who is the second son of a Marquis fell in love and married a Black English woman who is upper middle class. While her parents are abroad as her father serves in the army, she is raised by her paternal uncle, the Marquis of Lindsey. Her connections with her uncle put her in the same social circle as her childhood friend, the Duke of Montrose, who incidentally becomes her husband and our hero. Her happy ending is found when she not only prioritizes her personal needs over maintaining her status but understands that love and self-respect will give her more peace and dignity than social status ever could.
Some of you may ask how this is even possible? How does a Black woman end up connected to the aristocracy by birth or marriage? Is this highly unlikely scenario dreamt up as fan service for a particular demographic, or is there a historical basis for this paring? The truth, as always, lands somewhere in the middle.
In 2020, to our delight, Shonda Rhimes and Netflix launched Bridgerton, and the world got a taste of not only the genre of historical romance on screen, but historical romance with a POC as a main lead. The revolution was televised, and in short order the world developed an appetite for historical romance with POCs. However, as the discourse continued, I noticed a different narrative take hold. One that left room for POCs in historical romance, but only within a very narrow scope. POCs who weren’t destitute, or servants, were now treated as fantastical elements. Dragons, werewolves, and now POCs in the British ton. What a time to be alive, right?
Don’t get me wrong, historical romance has always had an element of fantasy engrained in it. There is a general precedent for the lead couple; aesthetically pleasing according to established gender norms and below or around the age of thirty. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but by and large this is the standard. And I’m a fan of the standard, I’ve been gobbling them up for years, dreaming of Lord Westcliffe from Lisa Kleypas’ ‘It happened one Autumn’ or Sir Phillip Crane in Julia Quinn’s ‘To Sir Phillip with Love.’ But are these archetypical standards historically ‘realistic’? Not exactly.
If we look at history we’d see, figures like the aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Bell Murray or Professor John Edmonstone who taught Charles Darwin in Britain or General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-George in France. These are only some of the POCs mentioned in the historical record, how many others lived their lives in relative peace and prosperity in Europe or Britain?
The only factual aspect of Viscount Anthony Bridgerton is his skin color, but we have documented evidence complete with portraits of Black Europeans and British who are certainly affluent if not aristocratic. So, what does this mean? It means dear readers, despite the horrors of slavery and the limitations put in place by race, you were more likely to find a Georgiana Lambe, a mixed-race Caribbean heiress in England created by Jane Austen in her unfinished work ‘Sanditon’, than an Anthony Bridgerton a sexy, thirty something year old, titled, rich man with all the sexual experience of a rake but none of the prevalent STDs. Yet only one is accepted as historically reasonable within our culture. Is it truly reasonable for skin color to dictate the plausibility or lack thereof of prosperity, HEAs and social mobility for POCs in historical romance?
Societal, political, and economic agendas have manufactured a world of ignorance and simplicity, lacking the truth of the texture and richness of history. But Romancelandia is a place where empathy, connection and the beauty of humanity and human interaction are held higher than the cynicism of supposed ‘realism.’ In that spirit, when you are reading One Season with the Duke, remember that prosperous POCs with happy endings in historical romance are no more fantastical and deserving of appreciation than an Anthony Bridgerton.
I will give away a free signed poster to the lucky giveaway winner (US).