Whether it is Charles Dickens showing readers poor Bob Cratchitt shivering in the under-heated office of Scrooge and Marley, Emily Bronte revealing Catherine and Heathcliffe swept by storms external and internal, or Agatha Christie using a snowstorm to trap houseguests in her classic country house mystery story, writers have used weather to reveal character, serve as metaphor, and advance plot for centuries. Writers of romance fiction are no exception, and Mary Balogh is perhaps the most skillful of romance authors in using weather for all these purposes.
Sometimes Balogh uses weather subtly. In A Precious Jewel (1993), the entire story rests on the weather. The reader learns in the opening sentences that Sonia, Sir Gerald Stapleton’s regular “girl” at Miss Katherine Blythe’s brothel, is “indisposed” because “she has taken a chill from walking in the park . . . without adequate protection from the cold wind.” It is this fact that leads to Gerald’s introduction to Priscilla Wentworth and sets up Balogh’s popular prostitute-as- romance-heroine novel. In a similar manner but in a quite different scene, No Man’s Mistress (2001) opens with this sentence: “The weather had cooperated in magnificent fashion with warm sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.” The beautiful spring day (May Day, in fact) is both backdrop and metaphor for the easy, carefree, romantic first meeting of Ferdinand Dudley and Viola Thornhill; it makes possible a memory that will be vital to their relationship when the two become antagonists at their second meeting.
Balogh is particularly fond of using snowstorms, sometimes for multiple purposes. She devotes most of the first eight pages of The First Snowdrop (1986) to a description of the stages of the winter storm in which Alexander Stewart, Viscount Merrick, foolishly allows himself to be caught one December night. Balogh is only in the second year of her writing career at this point, but even this early her ability to use weather effectively is evident. Alex’s assurance, against the evidence of his senses, that the weather will cooperate and allow him to reach his goal speaks to his assurance that life will go as he wishes. But his confidence is misplaced, and he makes another wrong assumption when he concludes that Anne Parrish, the sole inhabitant of the manor where he takes shelter from the blinding snow and wind, is a maid. That mistake costs him the beautiful, elegant wife he expects to marry and pushes him into a marriage with the plump, plain, dowdy Anne. More than two years later when Alex meets Anne for the first time since the morning after their wedding night, it is a “beautiful spring day,” a time of rebirth and blooming that appropriately serves as the setting for his introduction to his wife who has experienced a rebirth of her own and their beginning steps toward a renewed marriage.
The First Snowdrop was merely the first time Balogh used a winter storm to bring her protagonists together. In Snow Angel (1991), Rosamund Hunter, an impulsive widow, quarrels with her brother with whom she is traveling and demands to be let down to make her own way. Caught in a snow storm, she has just realized the danger of her predicament when Justin Halliday, the Earl of Wetherby (Balogh must have chuckled when she chose the name), rescues her and offers her shelter. Justin is on his way to a friend’s hunting box: “The thing was he had planned it all out to be a last fling of freedom—one last grand orgy of uninhibited sex and pleasure. And the weather has cooperated beautifully with those plans.” But instead of being accompanied by his mistress, who has taken to her bed with a cold, his companion is a virtuous widow.
The first third of the book consists of Rosamund and Justin caught in a fantasy world of winter beauty and isolation. They play in the snow like children, engaging in snowball fights, holding a snowman contest, and making snow angels. The attraction between them builds, and they become lovers. There is no seduction here. Justin tells Rosamund that he is on the brink of a betrothal and that he expects to be a faithful husband. Rosamund, who truly loved her much older husband, has no expectations of remarrying. They agree to an affair that will end with no regrets when the roads are passable once again. They part with no intentions of ever meeting again.
Weeks later Rosamund is one of the guests at the house party being held in celebration of her niece Annabelle’s betrothal, marking the formal recognition of the match that has been arranged for her. Her betrothed is the Earl of Wetherby. Justin and Rosamund are honorable people who try to resist the attraction that draws them to each other, but inevitably they surrender to temptation. Balogh uses a weather reference to hint that their romance may yet know its springtime: “A few fluffy clouds were floating in the sky. There was a suggestion of warmth in the air, early as the season was.” A short time later with the HEA within their grasp, the connection between weather and romance becomes more pronounced: “The moon was bright in a clear sky, the air crisp. They were surrounded by long grass and daffodils and the scents of spring.”
More than a decade later, Balogh used snow to bring together another couple, the protagonists of Simply Unforgettable (2005), the first book in the Simply Quartet. Frances Allard, a teacher at Miss Martin’s School, is returning to Bath where the school is located after spending Christmas break with her aunts when the heavy snow that was regrettably absent at Christmas starts falling, forcing Frances to seek shelter at a near-deserted inn. Stranded with her in the inn is Lucius Marshall, Viscount Sinclair. These two people are highly unlikely ever to have met one another in the ordinary run of their lives, but they are forced into one another’s company by the storm. Their initial impressions are unfavorable, but soon they are laughing together and getting to know one another as human beings rather than stereotypes. They both understand that once travel is possible, they will return to their very different worlds. But for the interlude during which they are isolated from those worlds and the responsibilities that come with them, Frances and Lucius choose to become lovers. Of course, since this is a romance, the interlude is just the first step toward an HEA, but the storm was the beginning.
Torrential rain also serves as a means for Balogh to bring unlikely people into one another’s company, as it does in “No Room at the Inn,” a Christmas novella that appeared first in A Regency Christmas V (1993) and was reissued in Under the Mistletoe (2006). An odd assortment of characters is stranded by a rainstorm at a shabby inn where a homeless couple, she heavily pregnant, arrives. The Christmas setting makes the parallels inescapable, and the experience reforms a rake and sets him on a happily-ever-after journey with a clergyman’s daughter and leads estranged spouses to reconcile. In Slightly Wicked (2003), heavy spring rains and the resulting muddy roads cause a coaching accident that brings together the younger brother of a powerful duke and a young woman about to begin a new life as poor relation and near servant. The young woman, Judith Law, the second of four daughters of a vicar brought almost to ruin by an extravagant son, has a thirst for adventure and a vivid imagination. She dreams of a handsome highwayman in the vein of Robin Hood carrying her away. When Lord Rannulf Bedwyn, the third son in the family headed by his oldest brother, the powerful Duke of Bewcastle, arrives on the accident scene and offers to take one of the passengers with him to the nearest inn and send help back to the others, Judith volunteers. She identifies herself as Claire Campbell, an actress experienced in her profession and in love affairs. She is not the only one who assumes a false identity. Rannulf introduces himself as Raif Bedard. Judith, convinced that Raif is her one chance for romantic adventure in what will surely be a life of drabness and drudgery, consents to a passionate affair and disappears when Raif proves eager to make her his mistress. Romance readers know this is not the end of the story, but they can thank the rain for the story’s beginning.
Perhaps the most famous of Balogh’s “weather books” is The Notorious Rake (1992), a traditional Regency that is not the least traditional. Darker than most trads, it is one of those rare romances that cause the reader to doubt that an HEA is possible for the hero and heroine. Most surprising in a trad where the sensuality level is most often sweet, the hero and heroine make love during a violent thunderstorm in the first chapter when they have barely been introduced.
“The thunderstorm was entirely to blame. Without it, all the problems that developed later just would not have happened. Without it she would never in a million years have taken him for a lover.”
Mary, Lady Mornington, is a widow of seven years, a proper lady known for the salons she hosts. Edmond, Lord Waite is a true rake, one who has scandalized society so often and so egregiously that he is skirting ostracism. They are opposites indeed. She is dismayed when she learns that he is a member of her party at Vauxhall Gardens. He thinks her plain, prim, and boring. But when the two are left in one another’s company, they agree to take a walk. During the walk, the storm strikes. They take shelter in a rough, half-open structure. When Mary was in Spain with her husband during the Peninsular Wars, a ferocious storm struck their camp, killing four soldiers in the next tent. Ever since, severe thunderstorms have left Mary hysterical. When the storm strikes at Vauxhall, Mary fights to maintain her composure, but she loses the battle. When Edmond takes her in his arms to calm and comfort her, the passion that erupts between them rivals the storm in intensity.
“But she could not get close enough to him. She wanted to crawl inside his clothes, inside his body. They were so very exposed, in an open shelter and among trees. And the storm was directly overhead.”
Edmond thinks he has found the perfect mistress, but Mary wants to forget their mindless passion. Things grow increasingly complicated in what proves to be one of the finest redemption stories in historical romance. And it starts—and ends—with a thunderstorm.
While the weather is unpredictable, Mary Balogh's use of it in her books is predictably wonderful.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.