I’ll happily admit it. My favourite Regency hero of all time is Mr Darcy. Bizarrely I love his aloof stiffness. I love it because you just know it’s an outer shell he wears like armour, a face he presents to the world, but underneath it he is positively boiling with suppressed emotions. Especially the passion he has for Miss Elizabeth Bennett.
It should hardly come as a surprise that I wanted to write my own Mr Darcy. His name is Bennett Montague- and yes that was a deliberate salute to Pride and Prejudice and the brilliant Jane Austen- the 16th Duke of Aveley who has been groomed from birth to become Prime Minister one day. Bennett is as serious and formal as it is possible for a man to be, ‘his upper lip so stiff it could be used to slice strawberries’. Yet beneath all of that he is a man who feels things a little too deeply and cringes at his own behaviour. He was great fun to write.
The original idea from the story came from a history documentary series, ‘A Very British Romance’ which showed how attitudes to marriage and love changed over time. In one segment, it talks about 19th century etiquette manuals, something I found hugely funny. These books were incredibly popular at the time and literally told people how to behave in every situation, from serving tea to a visitor to proposing marriage. All very proper and ever so slightly pompous. So very British and Mr Darcy. Within minutes I had an idea.
What if I made my Mr Darcy write one? It stood to reason that if he intended to be Prime Minister before he turned forty he would need the right sort of wife to stand dutifully by his side. So Bennett writes The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide for Selecting the Perfect Bride. A manual to help upright, well-bred gentleman like himself choose the correct sort of wife in a pragmatic, dispassionate way. It stood to reason, the book would be a runaway best-seller and that the ladies in society would read it voraciously in order to lure worthy men into marriage. And wouldn’t it be funny if I gave Bennett a harem of eager admirers, whittled down to the last five ‘Potentials’ to be his duchess? Five simpering, calculated women of impeccable breeding who live by the edicts set down in his book who are all competing for that wedding ring.
Over several glasses of wine, I wrote a series of snippets from Bennett’s book, little pearls of his misguided wisdom, which begin each chapter of The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide. ‘Marry a woman who thinks before she speaks. It will save you a great deal of time having to correct her’….
‘It is important that a lady knows how to behave in every social situation. Chaos will ensue if rank and social etiquette are not strictly adhered to’… You get the gist?
Of course, what Bennett thinks he wants and what his heart needs could not be further apart. My heroine had to be the exact polar opposite of the perfect bride he writes about. Wholly unsuitable on every level, who drives him to distraction, challenges him and all the fiercely held beliefs he stands for and gets him into trouble. Amelia leads him on quite the merry dance, out of the pampered luxury of Mayfair and into the notorious London slum of Seven Dials and the soup kitchen in which she works.
The poor man is never quite sure whether he wants to kiss her or kill her as she inadvertently worms her way beneath his tough outer shell and into his heart- sometimes with hilarious consequences.
When I learned in November that this book had been nominated for a RoNA, the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, I was over the moon. Of all the heroes I have created so far, Bennett is my absolute favourite and even though I have read The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide many, many times on its journey to publication, I still find myself grinning like a loon at the ending. Because after all the heroine puts him through, if I say so myself, it is perfect.
Virginia Heath writes witty, fast-paced Regency romantic comedies with a modern twist for Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. The Discerning Gentleman's Guide, was released on 1st November 2016.
'Choosing a wife is not a task that should be undertaken lightly.’
Bennett Montague, sixteenth Duke of Aveley, is seeking the perfect bride. He’s narrowed his search to five worthy ‘Potentials’…until the arrival of his aunt’s companion unravels his carefully laid plans.
Having fought for everything she has, Amelia Mansfield is incensed by Bennett’s wife selection methods. But as she’s forced to spend time in his company, she begins to see another side to Bennett – and that man is infinitely more tantalising and enticing …