Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Romancing the Bad Boy (or Not)

The Rake's Progress by William Hogarth, Plate III, 1735 

 Quite often, romance novels feature “bad boys” as male protagonists. While I read these novels and often enjoy them, I have reservations. Of course, romance novels are almost always essentially fairy tails (Freudian slip) tales. Viewed as such, they’re analogous to stories in which the heroine kisses the frog and it turns into a prince. Ummm...ugh.

Personally, I like to write stories that are somewhat related to real life. As a friend of mine pointed out, in real life, getting involved with a “bad boy” can lead to living in a bad trailer park and explaining to a cop why your man should or should not be arrested.

Stede Bonnet, pirate
Because I write stories set in the 1740s, I think of this species of male protagonist’s flaws as follows: criminality (card sharper, highwayman, pirate), promiscuity (seduces every female in sight; worse if he seduces innocent young ladies), anger management problems (excessive dueling), socially irresponsible behavior (excessive risk-taking or gambling, ignoring the responsibilities of his title and estates).

When I began to be bothered by the “bad boy” thing, I realized that what bothered me most was the assumption that love would cure the rapscallion. Romance novelists tend to believe in the healing power of love, and that’s a good thing. I’m happy to endorse the sentiment…within reason. Love will not negate gravity, however. You need duct tape for that. Love may or may not fix character flaws. If the problem is minor, I’m willing to suspend disbelief, because no one’s perfect, including characters.

18th century highwayman

Major faults, the ones that go deep, need more than the love of a good woman. That’s why, in my novel, Captain Easterday’s Bargain, the “bad boy” does not get the lady. On the other hand, I liked Ambrose Hawkins, former pirate, art connoisseur, and sneaky son-of-a-gun. So eventually, I wrote a follow-up in which he is the male protagonist. A Duke’s Daughter comes out on April 29, 2020.

 A Duke's Daughter cover art

Rejected by the woman he loves, Ambrose Hawkins, shipper, importer, and former pirate, settles for a female who can further his social ambitions. His marriage to Emily is prospering until a man who blames Hawkins for the failure of his own courtship is murdered. Hawkins is the obvious suspect...

...and the obvious suspect usually hangs.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Masks and Manners: Carnivale in Venice

Ridotto by Pietro Longhi

I meant to write about the Venetian carnival and in particular, Venetian carnival masks, months ago, as they played a part in my fourth novel, A Masked Earl. But along the way, things happened (edits on my fifth novel and beginning my sixth,  baking for a Toys for Tots bake sale, the holiday season). Now that we're in pandemic lock-down mode, I'm catching up. 

While the masks are worn during the Carnival, in earlier periods they were also employed for other functions: at official ceremonies, at the theater, for anonymity, and to allow women to go unescorted. Many of the masks were adapted from the Commedia dell’ Arte. The ones I've listed are only the best known characters. Some Italian cities have their own local characters as well.

Moretta: The black oval female mask, held in place by gripping an interior button or protrusion with one’s teeth fell out of use (understandably, I think) in the second half of the 18th century.   

Arlecchino (Harlequin) is distinguished by his multi-colored, diamond-patterned costume. He is a high-spirited, clever servant.
Arlecchino and Columbina


Columbina uses a half-mask. She is the heroine's chatty servant, Arlecchino's mistress, and the sensible character in the performance. You would hardly guess it by the way she is leaning on Arlecchino here.


Pantalone: Depicted as a Venetian, self-absorbed, greedy, and petty, his role is often to separate the two lovers in any Commedia dell’ Arte piece. 

Pulcinella: Dressed in a baggy costume of long pants and a sort of shirt or smock, and distinguished by his hunchback and crooked nose, Pulcinella is the origin of Punch in English Punch and Judy puppet shows.  In the Commedia dell’ Arte tradition, he is either a cunning schemer or a bumpkin.


Larva or Volto
Larva or volto mask: A white, full-face mask worn by commoners, apparently so boring I could find almost nothing about it on the Internet except one site which alleged that it metamorphosed into the Bautta mask.

A modern Bautta mask
Bautta: By the 18th century, the bautta mask was required for political events in which citizens had to be anonymous. It was restricted to nobles and the upper middle class (which suggests that anyone of lower status was not considered a citizen). The effect of the bautta mask with black tricorne and black or red cape is sinister in the extreme: think Darth Vader in the 18th century. 

Venetian Carnival masquerade