MORE 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 fiction.

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.

~

 

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