Independence equals having money of your own that you can spend without having to ask permission from someone else. It sounds like a simple concept, but when you consider that up to the 1970s in many countries women couldn’t open a bank account or hold a credit card in their own name without a male signature on the application form. All women, any man – a husband, a brother, a father, it didn’t matter as long as it was a bloke giving permission.
To write an independent heroine in historical romance is virtually impossible in many cultures due to marriage laws, especially prior to the 1900s. For many mf historical romances, the HEA is dependent on the hero being a benevolent dictator who allows his wife to live happily. In England married women were subject to coverture, the idea that a marriage couple was a single financial entity, a concept that evolved into the wife becoming the property of the husband. This existed from the 1100s until it began to be eroded with the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870.
The law as it applies to women in history is still important even in a lesbian romance where marriage law isn’t a factor, because it demonstrates society’s view of women’s roles. For the main characters in Her Lady’s Honor, lesbian relationships weren’t recognised by law; they weren’t illegal (that law only applied to gay men), and they couldn’t get married either. They simply didn’t exist according to law. They lived as spinster ‘best friends’, and if they had some money, they could live with a lot more personal and financial freedom than married women. Because inheritance laws in the UK still favoured men, widowed women and spinster daughters often didn’t have independent incomes unless they earned it through their own work. For further context, women during WWI were paid much less than men for the same work, with women earning an average of 11 shillings a week and men earning 26 shillings a week.
A lot of the conflict in Her Lady’s Honor revolves around Nell having her own money from two sources, her parents, and her income from her work as a veterinarian in the Great War. Beatrice, on the other hand, has no income and exists as the oldest daughter in a large family. Her brothers will automatically inherit her father’s property, and the discussion around who will be their guardian while they are still underage becomes rather involved. Further to this, because Nell has grown up in a wealthy titled family, she has a lot of privilege that she needs to confront and understand Beatrice’s limited means and how that impacts on her perspective on life.
In the end, it is Nell’s family connections that allows them to find a solution to Beatrice’s family issues, and the resolution gives Beatrice much more personal power and freedom than she had at the beginning of the book. I hope I’ve addressed that initial power imbalance through both the resolution and through the emotional depth of their relationship.
About the book
Her Lady’s Honor by Renée Dahlia
Book Description: The war might be over, but the battle for love has just begun.
When Lady Eleanor “Nell” St. George arrives in Wales after serving as a veterinarian in the Great War, she doesn’t come alone. With her is her former captain’s beloved warhorse, which she promised to return to him—and a series of recurring nightmares that torment both her heart and her soul. She wants only to complete her task, then find refuge with her family, but when Nell meets the captain’s eldest daughter, all that changes.
Beatrice Hughes is resigned to life as the dutiful daughter. Her mother grieves for the sons she lost to war; the care of the household and remaining siblings falls to Beatrice, and she manages it with a practical efficiency. But when a beautiful stranger shows up with her father’s horse, practicality is the last thing on her mind.
Despite the differences in their social standing, Beatrice and Nell give in to their unlikely attraction, finding love where they least expect it. But not everything in the captain’s house is as it seems. When Beatrice’s mother disappears under mysterious circumstances, Nell must overcome her preconceptions to help Beatrice, however she’s able. Together they must find out what really happened that stormy night in the village, before everything Beatrice loves is lost—including Nell.
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Renée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a sidenote of dark humour. Renée has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse-racing industry doing data analysis and writing magazine articles. When she isn’t reading or writing, Renée spends her time with her partner and four children, volunteers on the local cricket club committee, and is the Secretary of Romance Writers Australia.
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Thank you for a fascinating article, Renée! Best wishes for the success of Her Lady’s Honor.