Eloisa James’s meteoric rise to romance writing fame over the past decade started with a simple goal: to help pay off her student loans so that she and her husband could afford to have a second child.
Her ability to start with a character or a plotline and turn it on its head has defined much of her very successful writing career. For example, it is a bona-fide Rule of Romance that heroines do not, ever, under any circumstances, commit adultery. That behavior is for villains and the occasional supporting character only. If it’s a female character who’s doing the deed with someone other than her husband, she generally winds up dead.
Eloisa is one of the very few writers who successfully writes about the romantic forbidden. To wit: adultery, marital separation, and even a child’s death.
In This Duchess of Mine, Jemma spent years living in Paris sans husband, during which she has two brief, unsatisfying, but widely discussed extramarital affairs. What sent her fleeing from her marriage? Her husband’s own extramarital affair, which tanks the relationship before it even has a chance to get started.
In Duchess in Love, Eloisa gives us one of my favorite supporting characters in all fiction: Esme. Unhappily married and desirous of a child, she embarks on an affair that becomes much more when her husband dies with spectacularly awkward timing.
Eloisa’s decision to write sympathetic adulterous women is a brave one considering the market’s usual reaction to heroines with any substantive sexual history. Does anyone remember the public reaction to Judith Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty, in which the heroine was a former courtesan? A real one, too, not a virgin who happened to escape from the harem just in the nick of time but not before learning all manner of sexxxxy tricks. Coco, and hence the book, was an incredibly polarizing character who got raked over the coals by a lot of romance fans.
Another one of Eloisa’s unusual twists on the usual boy-meets-girl theme is that several of Eloisa’s protagonists are already married when the story begins. Reconciling with one’s spouse after a period of separation isn’t what I’d hazard most women have in mind when searching out romantic fiction, but Eloisa manages to make the process fun, sexy, and adventurous.
With her latest series, Eloisa was inspired to use traditional fairy tales as her books’s jumping-off points. In real life, Eloisa is the daughter of famed poet Robert Bly. As a child, Eloisa’s father used to ask her probing questions about fairy tales they read together. “What does it mean when Jack climbs the beanstalk?” he would ask. “Why does Jack climb the beanstalk?”
At a recent Lady Jane’s Salon in New York during RWA, she read from When Beauty Tamed the Beast, in which (**spoiler alert!**) the heroine’s near-death scene references T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Lovesong of Alfred J. Prufrock.” Her December 2011 release, The Duke is Mine, is a reworking of “The Princess and the Pea,” while A Kiss at Midnight is a take on “Cinderella.”
And did Eloisa have that second child? Yes, she did, and her Italian count husband and her family are thus far having their own Happily Ever After ending.
Carrie Netzer Wajda is an independent researcher and freelance writer in New York, and can be found at writetocarrie.com. A devotee of romance and mystery fiction, she someday hopes to actually finish one of the 182 gazillion “first books” she has started writing in her lifetime, and maybe even publish it. In the meantime, she loves blogging about her favorite authors.