With her latest romance series, the Wildes of Lindow Castle, which she began last fall with Wilde in Love, the romance doyenne and Shakespeare professor Eloisa James explores the roots of celebrity culture and today’s obsession with fame.
“The series,” James notes, “is set in the Georgian period, which is when they figured out how to reproduce etchings and prints very cheaply. So all of a sudden, these reproductions started going all over England on peddlers’ carts. That enabled people to collect prints of their favorite people and that led to celebrity culture.”
In the just released second book in the series, Too Wilde to Wed (Avon), James juxtaposes what the public thinks is going on between Lord North and his former fiancée, who jilted him in the first book, and the truth of their situation. Now a governess installed in his castle, she is taking care of someone’s baby.
“He’s being portrayed as a rapist,” says James. “The public believes she’s caring for his child and is being forced to work in menial labor in the nursery in his own castle. And the consequences of this fascination with the Wilde family really interested me.”
With an eye to the #MeToo controversy, James also delves into the idea of consent. In a book featuring a governess, James is especially sensitive to employment hierarchy and the power a boss has over his or her workers. “My first book,” she says, “which came out in 1999, was much more historically accurate in terms of relations between men and women, because the man could absolutely call his wife a whore if he thought she spoke to someone. If she got pregnant while he was away, he could kill her and get off.
“But now that’s just not going to fly,” she continues. “My books have to deal with the present, even if they take place in the past. You have to feel comfortable in the world I create, so it’s a delicate balancing act to have her be a governess and to have her give consent.”
James has participated in BookExpo throughout her career. “For me it’s a very joyful occasion,” she says. “I can [remember] back to having no one at my signing, to having three people coming to the booth, to making it into the chutes for the first time, to having a line where people are actually sitting down and waiting.”