Hello My Jane Austen Book Club readers,
I’ve always enjoyed art, both the appreciation for the artist’s skill and patience involved, and as a form of creativity that (despite my poor attempts at painting) I find oddly soothing. Elinor Dashwood is one of Jane Austen’s heroines who is recognised for her artistic ability. Indeed, for young ladies of this time, skill with sketching or watercolours was considered an important accomplishment. For my latest inspirational Regency romance, Miss Serena’s Secret, I wanted to explore what it might be like for a young woman of artistic sensibilities in a time when young women were often seen as little more than a baby breeding machine.
This required research into Regency times where I learned some interesting facts. The Royal Academy of Arts was established in 1768 to encourage artistic excellence through education and exhibition by the likes of illustrious painters such as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. But did you know two of their founding members were women? Angelika Kauffman and Mary Moser—both of whom had Swiss heritage—were active in the academy, exhibiting regularly at the Summer Exhibition at Somerset House, despite being subjected to elements of prejudice and notoriety. Women were often considered delicate and needing to be sheltered from certain activities in the world of art that others might consider scandalous. An interesting painting that depicts this is Johann’s Zoffany’s ‘The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy’ which shows the founding members (all male) studying a nude male model to determine his musculature to help understand how to paint the human body; Kauffman and Moser are depicted by their portraits on the wall, thus their modesty is protected. (Full disclosure: there are no nude male – or female - models in my book!) J There were many obstacles to women artists; a telling fact is that following the admission of Kauffman and Moser as founding members, no other women were admitted as full members until 1936!
In Regency times, visiting the Summer Exhibition in London was considered a must do for anyone with social aspirations – or even those with none. For the princely sum of a shilling, anyone could enter Somerset House and see the paintings line the walls, often four, even five paintings from floor to the ceiling. For artists, the opportunity to be one of those chosen to exhibit from the thousands of submissions was an immense honour, and could mean the hope of finances through further commissions; but for some, the thought of their artwork being ‘skied’ (placed up high near the ceilings) was considered insulting, and they would ask for their works to be removed. The place of honour was for a painting to be positioned at centre line, where people could best see it, and this was often saved for the VIPs of the day, such as the royals, or famous actors or generals such as the Duke of Wellington.
My artistic main character, Serena Winthrop, faces a number of similar challenges as she struggles to negotiate her creative passion with family and societal expectations. Added to this are her personal demons that suggest her pursuit of art might be a more viable option than marriage and child-bearing.
CAROLYN'S NEW BOOK, MISS SERENA'S SECRET, IS RELEASED ON JULY 24th 2018
Check it at Amazon Kindle
About the Book
How can a wounded young woman ever trust a too-flirtatious earl with her heart?
With devastating scars in her past, Serena Winthrop is sure no man can be trusted—especially not a man like the too-smooth Viscount Carmichael. His reputation as a flirt and a gambler is everything she despises. And the young artist makes sure that this disreputable heir to an earldom knows of her deep disapproval whenever they encounter one another.
Henry, Lord Carmichael, is perfectly aware of his charms. He's gambled with plenty of ladies' hearts as easily as he has with their husbands' money. But lately he's wondered if there's more to life—and if his actions might prove unworthy of an admirable wife such as his friends have found.
When Serena's guardian asks his best friend to protect his young ward, Henry promises to be on his best behavior and not woo her. But the more he learns of her, the more he realizes she might be his best reason for changing his character.
Then the lady's art leads her to London infamy. Now Henry must choose between the life mapped out for him as the earl apparent and the love of his life. And Serena's secret may mean the end of his titled family line.
Miss Serena's Secret is part of the series Regency Brides by Carolyn Miller