As has been mentioned on a previous occasion, Francesca Bonnard, the heroine of my new book, Your Scandalous Ways, is a..um..bad girl. You know. The two-letter “h” word that used to have a few more letters fore and aft. She’s a very expensive bad girl.
People ask where we get our ideas. Part of her personality was sparked by an article I read in the New Yorker some time ago. It dealt, among other things, with a set of emeralds discovered at the bottom of the sea that were believed to belong to the Queen of Portugal, sometime in the 16th century. Or the 15th century. I don’t remember the date and haven’t yet unpacked my brand-new New Yorker CD-Rom, so I can’t check. But I vividly remember the picture of the gigantic emeralds. Wow. So I not only gave them to my heroine but made emeralds an important part of the plot. And then it turned out that all her jewelry was important, to both the plot and the character development.
We authors do take time, at least now and then, to let our readers know about what the characters are wearing. Clothes tell us something about character as well as help us picture the historical setting. In this story, though, the jewelry really mattered.
Here’s what James Cordier sees the first time he sees Francesca:
“A sapphire and diamond necklace adorned her long, velvety neck. Matching drops hung at her shell-like ears." I found the set of sapphires, along with most of Francesca’s jewelry in a wonderful volume, Jewellery: The International Era 1789-1910, Volume I, 1789-1861.
As Marilyn Monroe informed us in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “these rocks don’t lose their shape”--unlike we frail humans. Today a beautiful divorcee has men at her feet. Tomorrow, if she isn’t careful, she could be in the gutter. And the gutter is exactly where Francesca’s ex-husband would like her to be. But she’s a survivor, and jewels are her IRA-- “saved against the rainy day that often came to harlots as age took its toll.'' They’re also advertising. “Jewelry was a powerful form of financial security. Better yet, unlike bank notes, it was security one might display to the world."
The jewels’ quality is a signal to men: It symbolizes her exclusivity, i.e., if you have to ask how much, you can't afford her.
We usually see Francesca’s jewelry through the eyes of the hero. Being, among other things, a talented jewel thief, James has a keenly noticing eye, and there are times when I wondered which made him hotter: her gems or her body. The combination does make him cranky, as when he tells her:
“You have a high opinion of yourself. But the king’s ransom in pearls you’re wearing is not proof that you are irresistible, only that some men are weaker than others.”
Some man had been weak, indeed. He shifted his gaze from her haughty countenance to the top and drop pearl earrings, then down to the two pearl necklaces circling her throat. From the upper, shorter one dangled pear-shaped drops of graduated size, the largest at the center. It pointed to the space between her breasts, whose rapid rise and fall told him she was not so indifferent as she pretended. The low-cut gown, of silk the color of sea foam, reminded one of the pearls’ watery origins. The pearl and diamond bracelets at her slim wrists glimmered against the butter-soft gloves.
The jewels alone constituted a cruelly arousing sight for a man who was a thief at heart. It was maddening that he couldn’t simply steal them and have done with her.”
I stole the pearls from the Empress Josephine. The picture in the aforementioned book wouldn’t reproduce well even if it weren’t under copyright, but this picture shows similar pearls, although the lady is wearing only one strand.
I include a few more pictures of fine jewels, mostly belonging to the women in Napoleon’s circle.
After all, it was in Paris that Francesca commenced her career as a Bad Girl. Here are a pair of diamond earrings that belonged to Marie Antoinette, and which you can picture on Francesca's shell-shaped ears.
I’m also including a picture of Pauline Bonaparte, not because of the jewels, but because of the red dress. Francesca is aware that a red dress stands out nicely against a black gondola, and readers might want to keep this dress in mind (though it’s from a few years earlier than the time of my story) when they read the book.
For more of Francesca and James, you can stop here, at Romance B(u)y the Book, and read an excerpt.
More glimpses are coming, but I hope this preview of Francesca’s "rocks" gives you a sense of who she is and who James is and what went into creating these characters.