Hello, Bellas! Thank you, Michelle, for having me back. I had such a good time in June, discussing my bisexual Regency romance, Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, and specifically the question of: Why a Bisexual Hero? (answer: HOT!) I think everybody had a good time weighing in on that meaty (pun intended) topic.
This time around I’m not sure if a topic is necessary: people might just want a chance to comment on whatever they liked or didn't like about the book, or ask questions. I also thought it might be fun to consider who should play the main characters in the movie version (a girl can dream!) My choices: Clive Owen for Andrew, Kate Winslet for Phyllida, and for Matthew, Heath Ledger. Many people might think of Rupert Everett right off for Andrew, and he’s really the one I envisioned all along. Anyone else remember him in his debut film, Another Country? He was the tallest, darkest, slimmest, sexiest gay leading man I’d ever seen, and I was smitten. When I think of Kate Winslet, it’s as she was in Sense and Sensibility, zaftig, curvaceous, rosy and blooming, just like Phyllida herself. And as for Heath Ledger—anyone who can go directly from playing an inarticulate bisexual cowboy to Casanova ought to be able to play a blond, blue-eyed, gay Regency hunk of a Yorkshireman, don’t you agree?
However, in the interest of fairness, since I devoted my entire post last time to the bisexual hero, it seems only right to give Phyllida, the heroine of the story, equal attention. And to start, I’m going to ask: What kind of woman is a good match for Andrew Carrington, this masculine, bisexual hero? In a perceptive and critical review on the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels Web site, Sarah said, in what I thought was a perfect encapsulation of Phyllida's character: she "has balls in all senses except the one that would matter most to Andrew."
One of the great things about writing fiction is the god-like power I have over my creation. I can decide who I want in my little world and then simply make it so. But just like the real world, a good novel contains characters who, if they’re brought successfully to life, develop minds of their own. So, as much as I like to claim that the character of Phyllida, who agrees to the marriage of convenience to the gay hero, is based purely on me and my preferences, ultimately what determined her nature is what I felt would work. That is, I “listened” to Andrew, paid attention to his likes and dislikes, and gave him the right kind of Eve for his Adam.
When I was first imagining the character of Phyllida, I was aware most of all that Andrew is only going to be distracted from his pursuit of men by a woman who is not only sexy but has a strong personality. A shy, modest, demure woman won't register on his consciousness at all, however much he might think that's what he wants. At first, the most important characteristics to capture Andrew's attention are Phyllida’s calm acceptance of his preferences and her sheer physicality. She isn’t squeamish about sex, despite being inexperienced, and Andrew can’t help noticing, and approving, her lush curves spilling out of a gown that’s too small for her. After Andrew’s initial wariness, his response to the effect of her sitting on his lap, and their shared kiss, is, as we see, a very firm one indeed.
But it's not long before Phyllida's spunk and courage become almost as intriguing to Andrew. Phyllida provides the two essential elements to pique Andrew's sexual curiosity: she both shocks and excites him. He's shocked at how she stands up to him and her mother, insisting that she be allowed to continue writing her novels, and almost throwing away the chance to be a wealthy lady of leisure in the process. But he's also excited by her courage; and when, despite her virginity, she's brave enough to let Andrew know that his performance on their wedding night left something to be desired, he's hooked. However his ego may suffer at first, he's secure enough in his masculinity to "rise" to the challenge.
Some readers and reviewers have found Phyllida implausibly independent and strong for a young lady of her time. A Jane Austen heroine, it’s claimed, would faint dead away at Andrew’s frank proposal. Part of my justification for her character is my belief that the morality we read in Austen's works is not necessarily the standard for everybody at that time, or even for Austen herself. Readers of Austen’s letters or of any recent biography know that in private she was sharp, witty, and very much a woman of the world—her world—with all its hypocrisy and petty vices. Today we’re far more accepting of romance novels as legitimate fiction (thank goodness, although we still have far to go) but we forget that Austen was also a satirist, not just a writer of love stories. How she portrayed her heroines was a factor of what was permissible in fiction two hundred years ago. Writing in the 21st century, I felt free to show a somewhat more candid portrait of an intelligent and outspoken young woman.
Still, I knew I had to provide some explanation for Phyllida’s remarkable personality, and I fell back on that old standby: blame the parents. I gave her a mother who had begun her adult life as the "companion" of a widowed older man, and a father who was a handsome young army officer. He must have been an appealing and interesting man—a younger son of a gentleman, pursuing a career in the military because of the system of primogeniture in which the firstborn son inherits everything, and the others, unless their father is unusually wealthy, have to provide for themselves. Capt. Lewis, like his eldest daughter, followed his heart, falling so in love with the undoubtedly alluring young Thelma, Phyllida’s mother, that he was willing to overlook her extremely compromising situation and marry her anyway. Between her mother’s earthy, practical outlook on sex and marriage on the one hand, and her father’s gentlemanly devil-may-care attitude on the other, Phyllida has grown up to be a very free-thinking young lady. She’s more like the previous generation, like Mary Wollstonecraft, the proto-feminist who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, or Frances (Fanny) Burney, aka Mme. D’Arblay—mentioned in the story—a prolific and successful author of popular novels.
I also felt that spirited young women have always existed, even in repressive societies, but haven't always had an opportunity to express themselves. This marriage, in so many ways, gives Phyllida the chance to be herself, however it appears to be doing the opposite at first—even sexually. Like many of us today, she’s turned on by seeing hot guys getting it on with each other. Of course, as a proper young lady in most respects, she has no way to know this about herself at the beginning of the story; but what a pleasure for her as she discovers that she and her arranged-match husband are perfect for each other, a rare case of a matchmaker truly making a "match made in heaven."
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