Today, romance author, Judith Laik, shares her views on the third of Georgette Heyer’s Regency-set novels, The Spanish Bride. This is a substantive novel for which Heyer did a great deal of research. Laik gives us a peek into the scope of research in which she is engaging in preparation for her upcoming Regency novel and the part which The Spanish Bride plays in that research. In this article, she also compares her feelings about the novel when she read it as a young woman to how she felt when she read it again more recently.
As we will continue to do throughout our celebration of the 80th anniversary of Regency romance, we welcome comments by our visitors.
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The Spanish Bride is Georgette Heyer’s third novel set in the Regency period, published in 1940, three years after An Infamous Army. I can easily imagine she spent a great deal of the intervening time researching the Peninsular War, the setting for The Spanish Bride. Her meticulous research shows in every line of the book.
The main characters in The Spanish Bride really lived, which is also unusual among Heyer’s novels. Many of her books are sprinkled with actual persons, but in a secondary role to the real action, the romance between the two protagonists.
I volunteered to write on this book to give me a jumpstart into doing Peninsular War research for a book (Fortune’s Favorite) I anticipated starting to write early this year. Now that book keeps getting pushed back in my priorities, and it will probably be late in the year when I start. But I’ve started researching the subject anyway, and rereading The Spanish Bride is a worthwhile part of this research, for many reasons.
Among the research I’ve undertaken is an online class, "The Culture of War," taught by Merien Grey. I was much struck by a point she hammered on at the outset of the class: going to war and especially being responsible for the death of another person are life-changing events. A person (barring a sociopath) is never the same after taking a life, even in war and even when it’s truly a matter of "him vs. me." It’s a fact that, I believe, is generally, instinctively, understood. We certainly see the results in our own culture following long years of war and the return of combat veterans with PTSD or lesser but still debilitating emotional scars. It’s been known and understood as a problem in returning vets at least since World War I (when they called it shell shock), and I’ve read novels with veterans of earlier wars as characters, who suffered symptoms of what was an unacknowledged condition in those times.
Heyer doesn’t bring up PTSD or anything similar. Her characters, although rocked by the loss of good friends and the general carnage, carry on and do their jobs; and still laugh, love, and celebrate life. The cost shows perhaps more in Juana’s fears for Harry when he goes into battle. Even so, the knowledge of how closely death hovers over them all is an awareness that is felt throughout the book.
In my opinion, writers of books set in the Regency, and dedicated readers of the period, who read The Spanish Bride, and An Infamous Army, will find it enriches their understanding of the entire period their characters inhabit.
Many of the published books take place in the glittering ballrooms of London during the Season or the peaceful countryside, far away from any mention of battlefields and death. In actuality, though awareness of the war going on in a distant part of Europe could not have been far from the minds of people of the time. Fears of an invasion by Napoleon’s troops, and for those who had loved ones in the military, fears for their lives would underlie their thoughts.
As writers and readers, being aware of such fears can enrich the experience, whether or not the book touches on the subject. When you send loved ones off to war, you don’t get them back. Even when they survive, the person who comes home is not the same as the person who left.
Sometimes the gain is as significant as the loss. In the midst of war, people find their courage, their faith, their confidence, or the willingness to risk their lives to save the life of a comrade.
As it’s told in The Spanish Bride, the story of Harry Smith and his Spanish bride, Juana, isn’t really a romance. They marry early, and though they have their ups and downs (more challenging than most couples face), the success of their marriage is never in doubt.
I first read this book back in the 80s, when I was charging through all of Heyer’s books, and rereading most of them over and over. I wasn’t impressed with this book back then. Although I had started writing, I hadn’t decided to write books set in the Regency period. I was reading for the romance, and The Spanish Bride dwelled too much on the battle scenes and not enough on the romance for where I was at the time.
What a difference with this reading! I turned the pages compulsively, blown away all throughout by how real she made the battle scenes and life following the drum. The story carries on through the Battle of Waterloo, though she leaves an onscene description of the actual battle to An Infamous Army. (As I recall, Harry Smith was a walk-on character in that book as well, though I haven’t yet reread it for our yearlong celebration.)
Heyer listed a number of her sources for the book in an Author’s Note. They, of course, included Harry Smith’s autobiography, and those of several others who fought in the Peninsular War. (She said, "I have not, to my knowledge, left any of the Diarists of the Light Division unread.") She cited, as well, several others of the many historians’ works covering the war.
Many a competent researcher would do the same thing. Heyer took it all in, digested it, and spilled it back out in a compelling narrative that reads like it’s written by a person who was there for it all.
You can find Judith Laik at:
Web site: http://www.judithlaik.com