Finding Swoons in Books: Sharon Biggs Waller

Happy Valentine's Day! Whether you're forcing your significant other to inundate you with chocolate or choose to hang with friends and that same chocolate, I'm sure every one of us has it in them to make this at least an okay day. Because chocolate. Speaking of happy places, from creepy but not too creepy romance to romantic spots in the C of A, it has been quite the eventful week over here at Finding Swoons in Books, a.k.a. the aforementioned happy place in case you didn't catch that. Now, for our final day of guest posts, we have Sharon Biggs Waller, author of the severely underhyped A Mad, Wicked Folly, here with us to talk a little about love in an Edwardian place. So give it up for Sharon, Vicky and chocolate! Always chocolate.


Romance and Courtship in the Edwardian Era 

One of the fascinating things about writing historical novels is researching the various rituals of romance in your chosen period.  Edwardian-era England is my favorite time, namely because it was a time of great societal change.   Love and courtship, however, remained steeped in tradition. How and whom you married depended hugely on one factor: class.

For those “upstairs,” marriage was more about keeping blood within the aristocracy pure; for the newly wealthy industrialist, a good match gave social climbing parvenus standing within Society.

In America, wealthy industrialists had amassed great fortunes, and with no Law of Primogeniture, fathers endowed their daughters with fortunes of their own.  The gentry, finding their coffers depleted, swallowed hard and married American heiresses in order to enrich their great estates.  Winston Churchill’s mother was one of these American “buccaneers.”

An upper class girl would have to wait for a formal marriage proposal until she came out (families could, however, have plans in the works before then).  Until her debut, she was all but invisible.  After that, she could receive proposals of marriage, but again, love wasn’t on top of the list of husbandly requirements. Once a wife given birth to the heir and the spare for her husband, she was free to take a lover, perhaps allowing love into her life for the first time.  Although taking a lover was accepted, discretion was required.  Flaunt a lover and she might find herself in divorce court and lose everything to her benighted husband, including her children.

Relationships were less stringent for the middle and working classes.  Providing they chose within their own classes, a love match could happen.  These girls usually met their sweethearts through friends, family, or at work.  Because it took awhile for men to save up enough to be able to afford a wife and family, middle class and upper working class men tended to marry later in life.  Interestingly, it was usually to a younger woman.

For those downstairs, relationships were strictly forbidden.  No followers, was the rule of the day, which meant none of the servants could have a sweetheart.  Downton Abbey’s love match between parlor maid Anna and valet, Mr. Bates, was a rare thing.  Indeed it would have been heavily frowned upon.  Should servants fall in love, they would have to leave, and most likely without a character reference (depending upon the kindness of the employer).  No reference would mean they would be unable to find work elsewhere.  The male servant might be able to stay on—if he forsook his sweetheart.  The disgraced female servant would end up out in the cold, literally.  Her only choices would be to return home or to turn to a life of a dolly mop, the name for a servant turned prostitute.

Surprisingly, for British women, lesbianism wasn’t exactly forbidden, as long as it was discreet.  Vita Sackville-West had many female lovers.  As a teen, Vita fell in love with Violet Trefusis, the daughter of Alice Keppel, who was King Edward VII’s mistress.  (Violet’s sister was Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s grandmother.)  Vita’s husband, Harold Nicholson was a secret homosexual himself. However, for British men, all homosexual acts were punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, and maybe with hard labor (Labouchere’s amendment of the Criminal Law Amendment act, 1885).

For middle to upper classes, a man must make sure to never lead a single woman on.  No flirtation or any shred of feeling can come from a gentleman. Even the most innocent of comments could be misconstrued by a young lady, so a man had to be very careful otherwise he might find himself with a wife he hadn’t planned on or he might become disgraced in society.  Before courtship began, a man had to be very sure he wanted to marry the girl.  There was no dating for fun back in the Edwardian era.  After a couple of excursions out (with a chaperone) and calling on the girl at home, the chap was free to declare his feelings to the girl, although he had probably run the idea by her father or guardian first.

Woe betide the woman left on the shelf, no matter the class.  Spinsters were regarded with suspicion, and married women were higher up in the social hierarchy, no matter the class or age.  A spinster had to fall on the mercy of her family, living the life of a child forever, asking her sister’s husband or her brother for permission to do anything.  She had few rights and little say.  It’s little wonder that the suffrage movement was built largely of spinsters!

Read more of Sharon's writings at Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks!

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Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?


  1. What a fun history lesson! I think since we don't have to live in those sorts of rules and restrictions it makes fascinating. There's so many rules to break and so much conflict in allowing a character to be confined by them. A Mad, Wicked Folly sounds like a different spin within that era and has a gorgeous cover. I look forward to reading it.

  2. Such an interesting post! I know surprisingly little about England in the Edwardian era (though I do remember learning a few things in school), but it's still a time period that manages to draw me in. I'm so excited about reading this book! I've heard nothing but good things about it and can't wait to dive in soon. Thanks so much for sharing. And happy Valentine's Day!

  3. What a cool post! I am so excited to read this novel!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings


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