ABOUT The Bookseller's Daughter ...
I like to include real historical
personages in my romances. In The Bookseller's Daughter, you'll encounter
notable figures like Benjamin Franklin and notorious ones
like the Marquis de Sade. But the book's central historical
character is one you'll probably take for my own invention:
the predatory bookseller Monsieur Rigaud of Montpellier,
who slyly remains off stage but who had a good deal to do
with my writing this book in the first place.
The actual historical Isaac-Pierre Rigaud
made a good living selling books (smuggled and not) during
the second half of the eighteenth century. His business correspondence
survives in the archives of his Swiss suppliers and constitutes
the core of Robert Darnton's wonderful historical study, The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France.
Darnton tells us that in the decades preceding
the French Revolution, a remarkable selection of literature
was smuggled over the French borders and past the censors --
to be sold “under the cloak” by booksellers bold
and shrewd enough to do so. Many well-known Enlightenment classics
got into France this way. And so did many lesser, smuttier
works, especially erotic (or “libertine”) fiction.
Eighteenth century French booksellers didn't distinguish between
different orders of subversive literature: they called them
all "philosophical books."
Darnton doesn't draw easy conclusions about
the political effects of reading. His arguments and speculations
are subtler, and I recommend his book to anyone interested
in how history works and ideas change, day by day and on the
ground. I especially recommend his explanations of the mechanics
of book smuggling -- since I'll confess (with some embarrassment)
that I tailored my own simplified account to the requirements
of a romantic suspense plot.
I'm not embarrassed, however, by my own simple,
direct emotional response to The Forbidden Bestsellers, when it came out it 1994. My bookseller husband
read it as a history of his trade; as an erotic writer, I read
it as a history of mine. But I'd also worked as a bookseller,
and the early 90s were a time of energetic and baleful concentration
in our industry, as large chains began forcing smaller independents
out of business.
As I followed Rigaud's cutthroat strategies
and watched him buy up his competitors, I started to resent
him -- and to imagine another competitor, someone poor but
honest, with a love of liberty, a taste for all things American,
and a fetching bookish daughter, Marie-Laure. I saw her reaching
for a book on the top shelf -- of course, I thought, she's
wearing a pair of her brother's outgrown breeches under her
skirt, so she can climb the bookshop's ladder. Her fingers
are perpetually stained with ink, too, and she loves sexy smuggled
And soon after I'd gotten a glimpse of Marie-Laure's
dreamy eyes and ink-stained fingers, I caught a glimmer of
Joseph's crooked grin. Well, wouldn't it be fun, I thought,
if the smuggler with that captivating grin were actually a
libertine writer himself? What if he were also the son (the
second son, naturellement) of the meanest duke in Provence?
What if he'd fought in the recent American revolution? After
all, the French were avid partisans of American independence,
and the Marquise de Lafayette did fight side by side with George
Washington, just a few years before the beginning of my story
(for it seemed that this was a story).
Which is how I what-if'ed myself into The Bookseller's Daughter-- my first
attempt at a historical romance novel.
And I'm sure I wouldn't have taken the trouble
if I hadn't been so personally ticked off at Rigaud -- so you
can thank or blame him as you please. But I hope you'll want
to thank him for giving me my start as a romance author.