Novelists of every genre are frequently asked where their ideas come from, but the answer can be different for every story. Usually, it’s a combination of sources coming together to produce that magical something new and interesting.
For Ruined Reputations, a two-story collection coming out next month, the inspiration for “Virtue’s Temptation” largely came from the original Regency inspiration, Jane Austen. In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett has many problems, particularly family members, and notably Lydia. Lydia elopes with Mr. Wickham and scandal and ruin looms for the whole family. Fortunately, Mr. Darcy and his fortune are there to soften the blow (and bribe, where necessary.)
What might have happened if someone, perhaps even a stranger, had stopped Lydia? Wasn’t there some good-Samaritan or sensible woman around to halt her youthful indiscretion before it became more? Wouldn’t it be lovely for the family to go looking for Lydia and find her, downcast and already saved?
The more I considered how an unlikely chance encounter could save Lydia from herself, the more intrigued I became. Obviously, that’s asking a lot. It would take courage to intervene. In fact, the woman who inserted herself into the situation, with no personal gain, interested me more than the fate of the eloping girl. I created Eleanor, a widow who knew enough about the world not to be shocked, to see action needed to be taken, and to make it. Rather than judgmental, Eleanor’s romantic streak allows her to take pity on the willful child.
I recently read an article arguing that Mrs. Bennett and Lydia are, contrary to what Jane Austen might have intended, two women who are looking out for their own best interests by bucking what society says is proper and correct. I like that examination through a modern lens and support the idea that what was acceptable then isn’t what we should strive for now.
I want women heroes to be feisty and have minds of their own, however to keep the story grounded in the time period, it’s important characters behave realistically for their era. So, we need the right individual, who has the background and grit to buck convention when it’s needed. Other characters won’t approve of a 21st-Century mindset, and that’s how it should be. We must stay grounded in that reality. It is a fine-line to walk, but entirely possible by making characters with shade and nuance.
The story took off from this seed of inspiration.