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When Art Inspires Art by Emery Lee

By Authoremerylee @authoremerylee


As an author of romantic fiction, I am often asked what inspires my stories. As a history geek and self-professed Georgian Junkie, my inspiration for not just the story as a whole but the settings, the people, and the events are derived almost exclusively from some obscure thing I read in a memoir, a history book, or an 18th century play.

I love reading old plays, especially those bawdy restoration comedies that were largely reprised or “borrowed from” in the Georgian period. As art imitates life, the stage is where we garner so much truth about the mindset of the people and the mores of a particular era. By example, I use the theatre setting in my novel, FORTUNE’S SON, to draw parallels between my heroine, Lady Susannah Messingham and the character of William Wycherley‘s Margery Pinchwife:


The play was Cibber’s revival of William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, a notoriously bawdy Restoration comedy, with Kitty Clive as Margery. It was a favorite production of the prince’s; he was well-known for his vulgar sense of humor. Act I had already begun with the young bride, Margery, just up from the country, conversing with her new sister-in-law, Alithea, as Margery’s jealous husband, Mr. Pinchwife, eavesdropped from behind the drawing-room door.

While the audience enjoyed the satire of the pretty young country girl married to the jealous and possessive older man, Lady Messingham’s mirth faded with the dour reflection that the scene played out much like her own life of the past ten years. Like Wycherley’s Margery, she had been a country bride, the property of a jealous and possessive husband, and ignorant of the ways of the sophisticated world. Unlike Margery, however, she had also spent the past months languishing by the sickbed of a dying man.

She had longed for a normal life, one so many others took for granted, but those days were now behind her. Free at last free of husbandly constraints, she was determined to live, yet the strictures of mourning made her new widowhood both blessing and curse. After six months of formal mourning, she was restless, yearning for the pleasures of town life so long denied her. Making an effort to throw off the melancholy thought, she drew her attention back to the stage. ***End Excerpt***

CLIP FROM WYCHERLEY’S THE COUNTRY WIFE with Helen Mirren as Margery Pinchwife:

Plays have also inspired my entire storyline, as is the case with my new Victoria Vane release, A BREACH OF PROMISE. In this hot historical novella, I loosely model the relationship of my characters Lydia and Marcus after Leticia Hardy and Doricourt in Hannah Cowley‘s The Belle’s Stratagem. Similar to Cowley’s play, the premise of my story is an engagement contracted by the hero and heroine’s parents when they were very young. Also similar is that my hero and Cowley’s Doricourt have both been many years abroad and have taken their betrothal and betrothed completely for granted. Each returns to England with a diminished appreciation of their own countrywomen compared to the continental beauties.

Cowley’s Leticia is smitten by her erstwhile finance but dismayed by his apparent indifference to her charms and vows to “win his heart or never be his wife.” Her unusual stratagem to win him over is based on the belief that it is “easier to convert a sentiment into its opposite than to transform indifference into tender passion.” These circumstance and sentiments closely match those of my own heroine, Lydia Trent in A BREACH OF PROMISE.   ***Excerpt***

The elder woman patted her hand. “Then it’s no surprise you would feel as you do. But now you are here, Marcus shall soon make amends.”

“I’m afraid you misapprehend my purpose, Philomena. Though it pains me for your sake to say so, I no longer have any wish to marry Marcus. I have come to London only to request an end to our betrothal.”

“But my dear, you act in such haste!”

“Six years is hardly haste, ma’am,” Lydia remarked wryly.

“You should hear him out before coming to such an irrevocable decision. In truth, I take much blame upon myself for not prodding Marcus. Yet he was so single-minded to establish himself with the diplomatic service that I feared pressuring him to marry would only have caused resentment.”

“No doubt!” Lydia agreed. “He expressed as much the night of our engagement, but I was moonstruck. Marcus has never shown me more than polite indifference. I now realize that is not enough for me. In truth, I would almost rather he despised me than merely tolerated my existence.”

Lady Russell puckered her brow. “You would have a future husband despise you? How extraordinary!”

“Indeed, my lady! For antipathy is at least a form of passion! Even negative emotion can sometimes be turned around, but what can be done when no feeling exists at all? I will not wed a man only to live as indifferently as strangers.”

“My dear, given sufficient time…”

Lydia sighed. “For nearly six years I clung to that foolish hope but time appears to have only been my enemy. He truly doesn’t want me. He never did.”

“But my dear, you do not know men,” Lady Russell consoled. “They are undeniably obtuse. The daft creatures never know what they want until it’s placed under their very noses.” She smiled and clasped the young woman’s hand with a conspiratorial look. “You have now come to town, Lydia. Ergo, he will want you.”

“I fear it is not so simple as that. My feelings toward him are no longer engaged.”

“Is that truly so?” Lady Russell broke into a dubious smile. Although Lydia had spoken with conviction, she failed to meet the elder woman’s astute gaze. “Then my dear, it must be my son’s onus to re-engage them.”  ***End Excerpt***

But while determined to rebuff the arrogant and conceited Marcus at every turn, my heroine Lydia wages a battle royale only to discover she is defenseless against his counter-strategy of seduction.

Indeed, I was so enamored of Cowley’s play (it was a favorite of the Royal family who commanded it every season) that I used it again with my most recent hot historical novella, A WILD NIGHT’S BRIDE coming in late April from Breathless Press.  In this case, however, my heroine is an actress at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane who not only plays the part of Cowley’s notorious Kitty Willis on the stage, but actually adopts the persona of Kitty in her real life to help her obtain a powerful and influential protector.

While I have gained inspiration for my work from many historical sources, the Georgian stage will always be one of my very favorites. For those interested, here is a link to the Guardian’s review of a recent reprisal of  The Belle’s Stratagem .


Whether historical fiction or historical romance, self-professed Georgian junkie Emery Lee loves nothing more than crafting emotionally compelling stories that bring the past vividly to life. 

“Lee brings the atmosphere of the Georgian era to life with lush descriptions that beg the reader to see, hear, feel and touch it all….with a lively cast of characters and surprising twists and turns that are reminiscent of Fielding’s Tom Jones or Defoe’s Moll Flanders.”-RT BOOK REVIEWS

Her debut novel THE HIGHEST STAKES, is an epic tale of star-cross lovers set in the high stakes world of 18th century horse racing. In FORTUNE’S SON, Emery spins a web of drama, passion, and deceit, deep in the world of high stakes gaming. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, RWA, Georgia Romance Writers, and the group moderator for Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers.  

She also writes hot historical romance as VICTORIA VANE


A WILD NIGHT’S BRIDE coming soon from Breathless Press 

“Reckless hearts, battling wits, and plenty of steam in a wonderfully well drawn Georgian setting.”- NYT Bestselling author Grace Burrowes


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