Joining us today is author Carola Dunn. And when I say author, I mean AUTHOR.
Ms. Dunn has penned 32 Regency novels, several collections of Regency novellas, 23 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries set in England in the 1920s, and 4 Cornish mysteries set in Cornwall around 1970. She was born in England but has lived in the United States for many years, presently in Oregon.
Though I am presented with a wide selection of titles, it can come of no surprise that I choose to focus on one of the author’s novels in particular: Miss Jacobson’s Journey. Set during the Napoleonic wars, Miss Miriam Jacobson finds herself in quite an imbroglio with Jakob Rothschild, Isaac Cohen and Felix, Viscount Roworth. There is adventure and intrigue, of course, along with romantic angst and personal growth. There is a significant nod towards 19th century bigotry which the author addresses with honesty, and even, humor.
Host: Thank you for participating in this series of interviews. Being that you are such a prolific author, I’m especially interested in learning how Miss Jacobson’s Journey came about?
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. Let me give you some back ground, starting with the Jewish connection: My father was Jewish, born in a town then in Germany, now in Poland. I never learned about Judaism from him, as he was not religious and my parents split up when I was 6. My mother was an English Quaker and I went to a Quaker school. A friend there also had a German Jewish father and English Quaker mother. We both had relatives in Israel, and we spent the summer there between school and university.
Now on to the Regency background: I started writing Regency romance in 1979. (The Regency was the period in England between 1811 and 1820-21 when George III was mad and his son reigned as Prince Regent; it spawned its own genre of romance.) In pursuit of historical accuracy, I did a lot of research, both specific to whatever book I was writing and general reading about the period. I wrote about 20 before Miss Jacobson’s Journey was conceived.
In the course of research, I came across a mention of the Rothschilds, upstart international bankers who smuggled gold across France to Lord Wellington’s forces fighting Napoleon’s army in Spain. This immediately struck me as an intriguing background for a story. The Rothschilds being Jewish suggested the possibility of creating Jewish protagonists. Traditional Regency romances tend to be set among the British upper classes. But I already had middle-class people among my heroes and heroines, and black characters, and the heroine of The Frog Earl is half Indian. It didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. My editor gave her approval. Miriam Jacobson and Isaac Cohen were born.
Host: That’s why I feel your novel is an important addition to the genre! As you say, traditional Regencies tend to be set among the British upper classes; but at that point in time, it didn’t necessarily mean they were all Anglican. The contributions to society by the Anglo-Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities should not be discounted or ignored. So, I say to you: Well done, indeed! I understand Miss Jacobson’s Journey has two sequels. Does the Jewish theme continue throughout?
Guest: To a lesser extent, yes. In the second, Lord Roworth’s Reward, Miriam and Jacob are no longer the main characters, having been happily married off to each other. Felix, Lord Roworth, who travelled with them through France, is the hero. The heir to an impoverished peer, he is now working for Nathan Rothschild. Part of the reason I gave him the job is that, while researching the Rothschilds, I came across some wonderful stories about Nathan, the brother who settled in London. I simply couldn’t resist using them, which became possible with Felix as his employee.
Miriam and Jacob do reappear in this book. Mr. Rothschild has sent Felix to Belgium to await the result of the impending battle between Wellington and Napoleon. There he meets a young soldier, Frank Ingram, and his sister Fanny. When Frank is seriously injured in the Battle of Waterloo, Felix helps them get to England and takes them to the Cohens, as Miriam is a healer and the Ingrams have nowhere else to go. In the third of the trilogy, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, Miriam appears only off-stage.
Host: I will make sure to read them both! I have always been an Anglophile, even as a child, and am inexplicably drawn to the culture. As a native Briton, what intrigued you about this time period?
Guest: Miss Jacobson’s Journey takes place during the Regency because that was the period I was already involved with and, obviously, that was when the initial impetus for my story occurred: the Rothschilds’ coming to the rescue of the British government when their ships carrying the army’s pay were regularly being sunk in the Bay of Biscay by Napoleon’s navy.
It was an interesting time for European Jewry. Many were influenced by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, moving away from the customs of their forefathers, while others clung to the old ways. On the Continent, Napoleon was attempting to free Jews from the ghettos (Boney wasn’t all bad). In Britain, they still endured the restrictions shared by Catholics, Quakers, and other dissenters from the Anglican church—they couldn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge universities, nor stand for Parliament, among other disabilities. Yet, like the Quaker founders of Barclay’s Bank, the Jewish Rothschilds were able to start building a highly influential business in Britain as well as on the Continent, and were eventually ennobled. David Ricardo, a Sephardic Jew who married a Quaker, wangled a seat in Parliament and became an important economist and reformer and, fictionally, a friend of Isaac and Miriam Cohen!
Host: I don’t want to give away any more of the storyline and can only encourage others to take up this charming book! Thanks again for joining me today. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you. I’d like to include my social media links, Mirta, and an excerpt for your audience.
Excerpt: Paris, 1811
Lord Felix, a caped greatcoat of drab cloth now concealing his elegance, watched in angry puzzlement as Herr Rothschild showed an impassive Mr. Cohen some papers.
“These are your passports,” he explained in Yiddish. “You are Swiss admirers of Napoleon, traveling for pleasure to see the country. You and the Fräulein are brother and sister, and milord is your cousin.”
With a mocking grin, Mr. Cohen glanced at Lord Felix.
“What is it?” demanded his lordship. “What is the wretched little Yid up to now?”
“According to our passports, you have joined our family.”
“The devil I have! Do I look like a bloody Jew?”
“Jews come in all shapes and sizes.” He shrugged. “You have a different surname–we’ll be Cohens but you’ll be Rauschberg—so perhaps your father was a goy.”
“Rauschberg? Why not my own name?”
“Roworth is too English by half, unpronounceable in any other tongue. I trust you are not going to expect to be addressed as ‘my lord’?” The last words were a sneer.
“As relatives,” Miriam pointed out, “we ought doubtless to address each other by our first names.”
They both turned to glare at her.
“I can’t see why I must be related at all!” Lord Felix objected furiously.