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.
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.
A few weeks ago, as you know, I decided to launch this blog. As an indie author it is imperative to market and promote your work and to remain in the public eye. But maintaining a blog is time-consuming and takes a toll on the limited brain cells (and creative juices) I have left remaining after a 10-hour workday. Just writing about my books wasn’t going to cut it; and to be honest, the blog would certainly not keep anyone’s attention for long. By inviting other authors to share their work, I hope to shed light on this genre of Jewish Historical Fiction. Its diversity and educational significance, as well as its entertainment value is sure to please. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to present today’s guest.
Caroline Warfield is an award-winning author of family-centered romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras. She has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. She began life as an army brat who developed a wide view of life and a love for travel. Now settled in the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act.
When she isn’t off seeking adventures with her Beloved or her grandson down the block, Caroline works happily in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to even more adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart, because love is worth the risk.
Host: Caroline, you will forgive me, but I’m a little star struck. I’ve read your work and appreciate your standing in the Regency world. It goes without saying, I pretty much loved everything about your book, An Open Heart. There was a certain lightness to it, similar to any other Regency romance, but there was no denying the substantive material in the narrative. I was bursting with pride when the storyline touched upon the contributions and achievements of Anglo-Jews, but I believe my favorite scene had to be the impromptu Shabbat service held in the Duchess of Haverford’s drawing room. What motivated you to write this book?
Guest: I belong to The Bluestocking Belles, an authors’ support group and marketing co-op. We do an anthology or a “boxed set” every year, often with loosely connected stories. The year I wrote this we had a house party theme. The Duchess of Haverford invited young women who worked with her on charity projects to sponsor a holiday ball for charity. We all added characters to her committee. Jewish characters popped into my head that year; stories sometimes happen that way. Esther, a wealthy, but not aristocratic, young lady was part of the planning committee from the beginning. An Open Heart is a standalone book, but there are minor characters who appear in the other stories, and Esther and Adam appear in some of the others. The collection as a whole was called Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
As an aside, we’re a multi-faith family. While Beloved and I are Catholic, we often celebrate with our daughter and her family who are Jewish. Our grandson celebrated his bar mitzvah last year.
Host: Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and to the whole meshpucha! I love the name, “Bluestocking Belles.” Sounds like my kind of group. But my goodness! A boxed set every year? Tell us, why do you think we are so fascinated with this particular time period?
Guest: The Regency era is a mythical Romantic era. I say that because of the sheer volume of stories classified as “regency.” They don’t always necessarily reflect history. I like to hope mine do.
Host: I, for one, can attest to the historical content of your work. In fact, I am striving to achieve that educational and enlightening component myself! Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre in my view. What are your thoughts?
Guest: Good question! I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer that. Insofar as it contributes to the body of truth about history—emphatically yes. My own concern is that the historical romance genre in general realistically portray the diversity of previous eras. Realism matters, and, frankly, all that white bread story telling gets boring.
Host: Since we are speaking of weaving accurate historical events into our storylines, tell us about your research. Were you surprised by your findings?
Guest: I was struck by the efforts of the Jewish community of London to make certain their sons had access to high quality education. They were less concerned about educating their daughters, a blind spot they shared with the rest of England, one my heroine complains about vociferously. Women’s education has always been a passion with me. Several of my books touch on it.
Host: Ah—I think I may know the answer to my next question. Which of your characters resonate with you most?
Guest: Actually, Adam does. His struggle to maintain his identity, his faith, and his attachment to tradition while working in the larger culture was something I relate to strongly. My daughter once told her rabbi that her mother can’t have too much tradition, and she was right. We best appreciate the traditions of others when we cherish our own. The richness of sharing is dear to me.
Host: I would have thought you’d choose Esther; but having read your response, I can clearly see why you went with Adam. To be honest, either character would have been a great pick! Here’s another question along those same lines. Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
Guest: I love the scene in which Adam arrives at the home of his former teacher, Rebbe Benyamin Nahmany, “the finest Talmudic scholar in Europe,” who lives in a house nestled on the French side of the Pyrenees with his large family. Adam and an English officer are on a mission to bring funds to Wellington and the family is helping them. He realizes with surprise that he has forgotten Chanukah (which after all was a minor feast) when he sees the mother lighting five candles. He enjoys the warmth of the family’s celebration, and I love that he gets his comeuppance by the scholarly learning of one of the daughters. Afterward he is forced to rethink many of his assumptions.
Host: Yes! That was a great turning point in the story and your research served you well. Tell us, are you working on something now?
Guest: I’ve reached the point of projects accumulating in my mind faster than I can write them. I’m working on two new series at the same time. One is set in a small village in England and centers on two interrelated families. It has less of that diversity I value, but a lot of strong family ties, which are also important to me. The first book The Wayward Son will be launched in July.
At the same time, I’ve been working on a new series that continues my Children of Empire series. The hero is an English archaeologist working in Egypt and Nubia. The heroine is a French woman who is also a hakima, a medical professional trained to treat women, more of a nurse practitioner than a midwife. It is heavy on history and has a very diverse cast of characters, including Muslim colleagues of the main characters. That will be published by a different publisher, also in July. It is called The Price of Glory.
Host: I’m in awe, Caroline. I can’t imagine undertaking two projects at once. I currently have a Work-in-Progress that started off with a bang, but now is competing with everyday life and a million other distractions and commitments. Which brings me to my closing point. I appreciate your time and thank you once again for your participation today. I’m delighted you’re sharing an excerpt and your social media links with the audience.
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. A last note: I will happily send an eBook copy of An Open Heart to one person (randomly selected) who comments.
An excerpt from An Open Heart:
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course, I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Bauman,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.
When he stepped out the door, Esther couldn’t control the urge to dart out after him. “Adam—Mr. Halevy—wait!”
His frown looked more puzzled than angry when he turned to her.
“Where you’re going—it will be dangerous.” Her lack of breath made the words sound uneven.
“I—” The expression on his face stopped her before she could continue. “I’ll pray for you,” she finished at last, “and the success of your journey, of course.”
A sad smile transformed his face. “I would be grateful for your prayers, Miss Baumann.”