Thursday, May 2, 2013

Author Chat Friday: A History Lesson with Alysha Ellis

The Scandals of our Past
“Do you recant your views?” The dean glared at the student who faced him across the desk.

“I stand by every word.” The boy, for at nineteen that’s all he was, stared back, defiance in his dark eyes. “The world is ready for atheism and men like me will help it spread.”

“Not in my college, at my university you won’t.” The dean pointed a finger to the door. “There is no place for you here.”

The student shrugged and strode out. He didn’t look back; he made no plea for clemency. Percy Bysshe Shelley had taken the first steps on a road that even one hundred and ninety eight years later in a far more hardened world, is scandalous.

Within four months he had eloped to Scotland with Harriet, a sixteen year old friend of his sister, not because he loved her but because she loved him and threatened to kill herself because she was so miserable at home.

Not surprisingly the marriage wasn’t entirely happy and Shelley abandoned Harriet and fell in love with Mary Godwin, daughter of the famous feminist and advocate of free love, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Mary Godwin had two half-sisters, Claire and Fanny. Claire had a liaison with Lord Byron.  Fanny fell in love with Shelley. Honestly, I don’t know what he had going for him but it must have been something pretty potent.

Shelley took Mary and Claire with him to Switzerland, where Claire introduced them to Lord Byron. Fanny, in misery at being left at home, killed herself.

In the meantime, Percy’s wife, pregnant now to another man and mistakenly believing he’d left her, killed herself by drowning in the Serpentine River in London.

So why am I telling you all this? Because just recently I had a conversation with a conservative person who claimed that “The moral decay of the twenty-first century” was the forerunner of all sorts of doom and gloom. “Nothing good can come of this,” the woman claimed. Apparently I, and all the erotic romance writers of my ilk were at least partially responsible for all the ills of the world.

I have a few objections to this.

First of all, we didn’t invent sex, we didn’t invent different ways of living or scandalous lifestyles.

BDSM has been around a long time. Open marriages are not new. As many of you know, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries particularly, morality was seen as a middle class virtue. Different rules applied in the upper classes. Appearances mattered far more than behaviours. If you could keep it quiet, you could do what you liked. People like the Godwins, Wollstonecrafts and Shelleys weren’t necessarily behaving all that differently to many others in society, they were just more open about it. Living their lives, not in defiance of the ways other people of the aristocracy behaved, but in defiance of their hypocrisy.

I see the same criticisms being levelled today at people who want to live in situations that differ from the majority of people. There is the obvious, and hopefully diminishing, rejection of homosexuality. It has always existed, but we should reject the hypocrisy that makes us have to hide it or to deny its existence.

Whether it’s BDSM, slave/master, polyamory or any one of a myriad of arrangements that are possible between consenting adults, this is not new. We’re just finally being honest and admitting it happens, it has always happened. The more progressive amongst us realise that one person’s relationship need not diminish or impact on another’s.

So that’s my first objection. None of this is a twenty-first century problem, if it’s a problem at all.

My second objection is against the assertion that nothing good can come of this.

Mary Godwin, Percy’s sixteen-year-old wild child lover became Mary Shelley, and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, an recognised part of the literary canon. It has inspired hundreds of writers, poets and film makers with its exploration of the relationship between man and creator and what it means to be human.
The Shelleys and their friends rejected conventionality, but embraced creativity. Percy Shelley wrote poetry, as did Byron.

 Great minds are not always bound by the rules of others The artist as radical became a pretty well-established concept.

So what has this to do with me? And how did I get into the argument with my conservative critic in the first place?

I wrote two historical, ménage novellas - The Gardener’s Sins and a Boudoir for Three. My critic mailed me with a complaint - such an arrangement would not have happened in the time period I wrote about.

My response? “Rubbish.”

It happened. And the Shelleys prove it. Like all fiction writers I write, not the truth, but a truth. I explore aspects of human nature and while monogamy and one-on-one relationships are certainly touted as the norm, there have always been exceptions and in the case of monogamy, the exceptions are more numerous that we often admit.

So if I want to write historical ménage - I will; secure in the knowledge that what I’m writing probably isn’t even half as scandalous as what actually happened.

Extract From A Boudoir for Three
The blood-red wine splashed a little, but Christophe’s hand steadied hers and lifted the heavy crystal to her mouth. She took a sip, then a large swallow, needing the added courage. One more gulp and the glass emptied and she held it out for more. A smile briefly curved Armand’s lips and he tilted the bottle.
The second glass disappeared almost as quickly. Angelique’s head felt light but her limbs grew heavy. Christophe’s face, surprisingly close, seemed soft around the edges. “More wine,” she murmured.
Christophe took a sip of his own wine and touched his mouth to hers. She gasped. The instant her mouth flew open, wine, warmed from Christophe’s mouth, trickled in. Her eyes widened. Astonishment held her motionless, then her throat moved and swallowed. Warmth spread throughout her body pooling in hot dampness at the juncture of her thighs.
Without raising his lips from hers, Christophe pushed her back against the padded side-rest of the couch. He lifted her legs and draped them over his thighs. Hands— Armand’s, her dazed mind assumed—unlaced her shoes and slipped them from her feet. She felt strong fingers caress her arches, then slide upwards, lingering briefly at the backs of her knees before inserting themselves under the tied ribbons to deftly slide her stockings down.
Her ruffled skirt and petticoats were pushed up and moist kisses pressed on the, as yet, untouched skin of her thighs. Again she gasped and Christophe’s tongue, flavoured with wine and some sweet musky essence of his own, thrust into her mouth.
Armand, kneeling beside the couch continued his exploration, sliding upwards, his teeth taking small, devastating little bites, until he came to the slit in her silk draws. He probed into the gap. Angelique’s hips surged involuntarily upwards, and Armand’s tongue made a long, leisured journey between her wet, pleated folds.
Christophe broke the connection of their mouths to turn his head to watch. His breath rushed in and out, the rise and fall making Angelique aware of the hard rod pressed against her hip where he leaned over her. When she had been forced to feel the Marquis D’Arly’s cock, revulsion had made her snatch her hand away. Now she lifted one heavy arm and delved into the tiny space between herself and Christophe. She curled her fingers around the rigid cylinder and Christophe’s shuddering breath hitched and restarted with the force of a bellows.
At this sign of her power, a small delicate flower of desire began to unfurl. The hot rasp of Armand’s tongue shocked her to the depths of her soul, but she didn’t want him to stop. Tendrils of excitement wound deep into her brain.
Armand found a hard point she had not even known existed and flicked it with his tongue. Her limbs melted, her thighs dropped apart and pleasure flooded her. He flicked again, over and over with a rapid pulsing rhythm, drawing her tighter and tighter.
Christophe’s hands rubbed her nipples through the dress and his tongue continued its sensual exploration of her mouth. The world shrank to nothing more than this couch and the hot, hard bodies of the two men caressing her into a state of abandon.
Suddenly with the force of embers exploding into red hot shards in the fire, the tension snapped, burning through blood and bone and skin, leaving her gasping, shaken and quivering, seared with pleasure in a way she had never imagined. A misty cloud blurred her vision, and when it cleared she saw Armand nod, his chin and lips glistening, a measuring look in his eyes, as if confirming something to himself.
“Is that it?” she asked. “I am no longer a virgin?” It was easier and more enjoyable than she had been led to believe.