Set a year after the events in Patrice Kindl’s beguiling Keeping the Castle (Viking, 2012), A School for Brides has opened in the same damp hamlet of Lesser Hoo. The school’s mission – groom young ladies for marriage – is slightly problematic given that few eligible bachelors reside in this remote spot on the English coast. PW spoke to Kindl about her inspiration for her Regency-era romances.
Why a companion book and not a sequel? Don’t you worry you’ll get complaints that Althea Crawley, your main character from Keeping the Castle, has only a cameo or two?
There will be some of that but when I’m done with a character, I’m done. I’ve worked through their issues. If you’re going to write sequels, you have to set it up, you have to leave certain things hanging so there’s something to write about in the next book, and I find it more satisfying to resolve things.
You have a character named Lady Boring, another named Miss Pffolliott – how is that pronounced?
Fo-lee-ut. I was just making fun of all those ridiculous English names. Haxhamptonshire pronounced ‘hamster,’ and that sort of thing. The names of my characters just suddenly show up and there is nothing I can do about it.
I picture you in front of your computer, laughing your head off. The town in which both novels are set is called “Lesser Hoo.”
Someone posted online, “I’m from Yorkshire, and there is no such place as Lesser Hoo!”
Is there a Greater Hoo?
No, I’m afraid neither place exists.
Did you spend a lot time in Yorkshire in order to write the books?
I have spent some time in the area, but I had already finished Keeping the Castle when I finally got there. It’s all based on reading. I’ve read a ton of Regency romances. I probably have all of Jane Austen memorized. But I picked out the setting before I’d even been there by looking at the English coast on Google Earth for a place to set the book. I wanted a place with cliffs, obviously. [A cliff features prominently in Keeping the Castle.] That’s how I wound up in Yorkshire.
Is romance a particularly favorite genre of yours?
Not really. I’ve probably read more mysteries than romances, although I do love romance. I’ve been very happily married for nearly 40 years. I was just doodling around and it turned into a Regency romance when I wasn’t watching.
Does a Regency romance have particular characteristics that other romances don’t have?
Well, beyond being set in the Regency period [1811–1820], I don’t think so. Generally, a lot of it is inspired by Jane Austen. Thackery wrote Regency romances but he wrote later. Austen was the first to write novels with intelligent women and witty dialogue. And there’s Jane Eyre, which was one of the first novels that really explored what it meant to be a woman. There was a romance, too, but it’s really the fact that the novel is woman-centered and has fabulous dialogue that sets it apart.
How does a 21st-century New Yorker get in the right mindset to write a 19th-century comedy of manners? Do you listen to a lot of vintage BBC?
Not really. I’ve read so many books – I’ve probably read more about English history than American history – I just feel steeped in it. And the Internet is wonderful when it comes to research. You have your answers instantaneously instead of having to save up questions and then go to the library. I did read War and Peace, which is Russian but Europeanized Russia, and set in the Regency period. I read Thackeray. I re-read the Austen books.
How did you reconcile being a modern woman yourself and writing a book about a school that is preparing women to find husbands?
It is tricky. But I had read so many historical fiction novels which were written from a feminist perspective and that was not working for me. You don’t get to rewrite history. The truth is women desperately wanted to get married because unless they were independently wealthy – which was rare – marriage meant, by far, the best future for them. Women did spend most of their time trying to find the most advantageous match because that was what was in their best interest. But I do have some characters – Miss Vincy in Keeping the Castle; Miss Franklin in School for Brides – who make the conscious decision not to marry and that is the right choice for them. Miss Franklin would actually have been better off with a husband because, if he was a good husband, she’d be able to travel. She’d meet other scientists, get to go to lectures, whereas, as a single woman, there would just be so many things she simply would not be allowed to do on her own.
Miss Franklin is named after a real scientist with the same name. How did you come across her story?
I read about Rosalind Franklin in A Short History of Nearly Everything [by Bill Bryson]. I. Was. Outraged. I was really upset and I was in middle of writing School for Brides so I specifically named a character for her. The circumstances are different. The real Rosalind Franklin worked in the 1950s, and was the first to photograph the structure of DNA. Her work was stolen by Watson and Crick, who later won the Nobel for it. She couldn’t have won. She died of cancer at 37 and it is not given posthumously. But this Watson guy was completely ungracious about her contribution. It was Franklin’s co-worker who let Watson and Crick see the photographs she had taken even though they were rivals. Yes, they were hot on the track, too, but they never would have been first if they had not stolen her work. They snuck into her office, looked at photographs she had taken and then they made “their” discoveries. So I had to honor her achievement somehow.
Will there be a third volume?
Maybe, although my next book – Don’t You Trust Me? (Atheneum, 2016) – is completely different, so different I needed a different publisher. It’s contemporary. I deprive my heroine of her cellphone. It was really bizarre to be working on the copyedits for A School for Brides while writing Don’t You Trust Me? But I love the Regency period. These books were so much fun to write so you never know, I may go back to it.
A School for Brides by Patricia Kindl. Viking, $17.99 July ISBN 978-0-670-78608-4.