Scandal and gossip on WIP Wednesday

VFS109732 Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) (attr. to) oil on canvas 39.3x37.4 Private Collection English, out of copyright

Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) 

One useful trope in the historic romance writer’s arsenal is scandal. In the highly structured societies many of us write about, social censure was a powerful sanction. It could ruin lives—not just the lives of the women gossiped about, and occasionally even the men, but also those of their families.

Have you used scandal, or the threat of scandal, as a plot point? Share a bit with us, if you would, in the comments.

Here’s mine, from A Raging Madness.

When Alex finished, Lord Henry turned to Ella. “You have shown exemplary courage, Lady Melville. Thank you for what you did for Alex. This family owes you more that we can ever repay. What are your plans? You may call on our help for anything you need. ”

Ella blushed. “Alex helped me first, my lord. He saved my life, I believe, and certainly my sanity. But I would be deeply grateful for help. I must work for my living, and I thought perhaps Susan might advise me on how to find an employer? I thought I could nurse, perhaps, or be a companion to someone elderly, as I have been these five years.”

“Oh, but…” Susan began, then fell quiet, her eyes sliding to Alex.

Lord Henry frowned. “There may be a more immediate problem, Ella. May I call you ‘Ella’, as my children do? You saved my son’s life and so I quite feel you are part of the family, my dear.”

Ella nodded her agreement, lost for words. The man was the son of an earl, and a brigadier general, and he wanted to include her in his family?

“I have met your brother-in-law, I am sorry to say. He is here in London, and he called on me to demand that I tell him the whereabouts of my son.”

“Edwin is here?” Ella said at the same time as Alex said, his mouth curving in a predatory grin, “I would be delighted to meet with Braxton, the hell-spawned bastard.”

At Lord Henry’s raised eyebrow, he muttered an apology, which Susan ignored, saying, “Braxton? You are Braxton’s mad sister!” She patted Ella’s hand again. “Not that you are, of course, I do not mean that. I mean Braxton and his wife have been spouting that story all over town. That their sister is not in her right mind, and that she has been abducted by a…” She trailed off. “Oh dear.”

“Yes,” Lord Henry murmured. “That is the problem.”

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3 thoughts on “Scandal and gossip on WIP Wednesday

  1. From ‘The Advertised Bride’, book 3 of The Brandon Scandals series

    “…. we Brandons have been beset by scandal ever since the first baron abducted a nun and married her, and so on.”
    “I don’t know anything about that; Papa doesn’t let Mama talk about family history.”
    “It probably shocks him,” said Imogen, with a gurgle of laughter. “So you know nothing of how the third baron lived with a harem of five women, siring children on all of them, one of whom was the fourth baron, who changed sides so often in the Wars of the Roses that they called him Turnagain Thomas?”
    “No, I’ve never heard of them! What happened?”
    “He lived long enough to change sides on Bosworth Field and get noticed by Henry VII, so he didn’t have to pay any attainder, and his grandson became the fifth baron, and would have been considered unwontedly quiet and blameless for a Brandon, had he not accidentally died with a silken stocking around his neck, dressed in his wife’s best gown,” said Imogen. “It’s generally thought that his cousin, who was descended from one of the third baron’s unofficial wives, sired his supposed son, who became the sixth baron, whose daughter ran away to join a band of actors, pretending to be a youth as women were forbidden to take to the stage in those days. As far as I know, the sixth baron was merely a drunkard. One of his sons went to Jamestown in America when it was founded, and no more was heard of him. The seventh baron almost bankrupted the family collecting a library, the eighth died at Naseby, but not before founding another illegitimate cadet branch with a parliamentarian colonel’s daughter, about half of whom went to America at the Restoration, and the ninth was fairly innocuous. The tenth was a pirate, who recouped the family fortunes with Spanish gold and silver. The eleventh married a French noblewoman, who killed him when she found out that he was having an affaire with both a castrato and an actress.”
    “Oh my,” said Dinah.
    “Yes, it is rather scandalous, isn’t it?” said Imogen. “Evelyn was impressed; apparently all his family has ever done is sire scores of bastards and drink too much. The Brandons have mostly settled down since then, apart from the fourteenth baron who lived with gypsies for twenty years and beat his son almost to death, when he came home and found he’d been declared dead. That was Adam’s great-great grandsire.”
    “Goodness me!” said Dinah. “I wish Mama had told me. I feel more a part of the family for knowing about that, and I can see that advertising for someone to elope with is almost tame by comparison.”

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