Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Man Who Broke the Rules

Over on the Harlequin Community blog at the moment, there’s an excerpt posted from the November 1816 edition of Derby Mercury. Admittedly it’s not a genuine excerpt (it was in fact written by me!), but it contains a fascinating account of the visit of a Mr Virgil Jackson to Castonbury village school. A visit which features in my story in the Castonbury Park series called The Lady Who Broke the Rules.

Lady Katherine Montague, scarred by her failed betrothal, shunned by society as a result, decides to pour all her energy into philanthropic causes – such as the establishment of a village school. Virgil Jackson, my freed-slave hero, is determined to use his hard-earned wealth to provide the opportunities for other slaves which he struggled so hard to earn. So naturally he’s interested in Kate’s school. His interest in Kate herself, however, is something he’s less keen to admit to.

Kate’s village school takes its inspiration from Robert Owen’s model village in New Lanark, not too far from Glasgow where I went to university and made my home for several years. Finding my day job at the time pretty unexciting, I started studying history with the Open University, and it was one of my tutors here who first introduced me to New Lanark. I was, from the start, fascinated by it’s creator’s vision.

If you ever get the chance, the village and the beautiful Falls of the Clyde, which were the powerhouse driving the mills, are well worth a visit. It was established by David Dale in 1786 to provide homes for his cotton mill workers, but it was Dale’s son-in-law, a Welsh philanthropist called Robert Owen, intent on testing out his ideas for social reform, who was the real trail-blazer.

I’ve learned enough about Owen to suspect that he would be quite a difficult man to like, but then social reformers need to be strong-willed and single-minded, don’t they? Owen possessed such a singular vision as to make anyone else’s views on any matter – well, irrelevant. He was very religious and very moral, with an incredibly strong work ethic – so woe betide any slackers or back-sliders in his work force. Basically, I think it would have been  his way (which became known as utopian socialism) or the highway – but what a revolutionary way it was.

New Lanark.Photo Credit Stara Blazkova via Wikipedia 
Most of the mill workers came from the poorhouses of Glasgow, some from the slums of the city’s east end, with a good dash of Highlanders on the run from the dying embers of the Clearances. In New Lanark, they lived in tenements, many with just one room per family, but even this was a vast improvement on what they’d left behind. The actual working conditions at the mills were good in comparison to other such places, with less injuries and fatalities, good ventilation and so better general health. And Owen’s workers didn’t just get on-site accommodation – provided they toed the company line which insisted on regular attendance at church – there were a host of other benefits. Their children were educated at a school which was not only heated, but at which learning was intended to be fun. Then there was the Institute for the Formation of Character, through which Owen hoped to demonstrate in practice his theory of practical determinism – basically, that character can be formed and is not innate. The institute opened in 1816 and became the focus for education in the village – for all ages, with classes of all types including drill, dancing and instructional lectures.

Robert Owen left New Lanark for the new world in 1824, where he established the Community of Equality of New Harmony in Indiana. In my story, Kate is inspired by Owen’s book, New View of Society, and Virgil, who visits Owen, although he has some reservations, is also inspired enough by the underlying philosophy  to spend some of his own wealth on establishing another such community.

It astonishes me sometimes how people I’ve admired, characters I’ve read about and places I’ve visited in my own past find a place, almost by osmosis, in my stories. I do wonder though, what on earth my austere Open University professor would make of finding his beloved New Lanark featuring in a Harlequin romance. Do you have a favourite person or place from your past you’d love to see feature in a romance?

The Lady Who Broke the Rules is out now, print and digital in the UK, digital only in US and Canada, though it will be released in print as a duo in December.  

'Your rebellion has not gone unnoticed...' Anticipating her wedding vows and then breaking off the engagement has left Kate Montague's social status in tatters. She hides her hurt at her family's disapproval behind a resolutely optimistic facade, but one thing really grates...For a fallen woman, she knows shockingly little about passion! Could Virgil Jackson be the man to teach her? A freed slave turned successful businessman, his striking good looks and lethally restrained power throw normally composed Kate into a tailspin! She's already scandalised society, but succumbing to her craving for Virgil would be the most outrageous thing Kate's done by far...

Castonbury Park
Flirting with Ruin (Undone! Prequel) - Marguerite Kaye, June 2012
The Wicked Lord Montague - Carole Mortimer, August 2012
The Housemaid’s Scandalous Secret - Helen Dickson, September 2012
The Lady Who Broke the Rules  - Marguerite Kaye, October 2012
Lady of Shame - Ann Lethbridge, November 2012
The Illegitimate Montague - Sarah Mallory, December 2012
Unbefitting a Lady - Bronwyn Scott, January 2013
Redemption of a Fallen Woman - Joanna Fulford, February 2013
A Stranger at Castonbury - Amanda McCabe, March 2013

There are excerpts, background and more about Castonbury Park and all my other books on I’m also always happy to chat on Facebook or Twitter


Raven McAllan said...

I have a particularly unhelpful schoolteacher in mind for a baddie...please?
Traquair House in the Borders of Scotland is somewhere that inspires me, it is perfect for a historical. I think I'm taking care of that!

Ann Lethbridge said...

Fascinating background, Margurite, I am just about to start reading your story, so now I have the history to go with it. It always amazes me to think how far society has come in the 200 years since the Regency.

Connie said...

Thank you again so much, Marguerite, for the honor of allowing me to read and review an ARC of "The Lady Who Broke the Rules." I hope that readers will get a copy of this great novel. I promise you a fascinating read that you will not want to put down.

Marguerite Kaye said...

Raven - just been looking at pics of Traquair house, strangely enough. Am I right in thinking there was a famous murder associated with the family?

Ann, I'm planning on reading all the books in one go if I can just find a spare weekend, I'm just dying to know how our mystery turned out.

Connie, thank you for your enthusiasm, I'm so glad you enjoyed Virgil and Kate's story. Always lovely to see you here.

Cheryl St.John said...

What a fascinating glimpse at a piece of history you've brought to life. Great blog today!

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee said...

I love reading this fascinating "history behind the book"! And I can't wait to sit down and read all the Castonbury stories together...

Sarah Mallory said...

Castonbury Park i smy bedtime reading and yours is next on my list, Marguerite. It's like catching up with old friends again