If you’re a college professor, I imagine that hearing you have had an influence on your students is pretty gratifying. When they go on to do great things and they cite you or your class as an important catalyst, that probably feels pretty good.
Which is why I’ve been cracking myself up when people ask me about the origins of my newest book, The Likelihood of Lucy. Its heroine—Lucy Greenleaf—is a governess. But in her spare time, she’s obsessed with the writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Like, we’re talking Justin Bieber level obsessed here.
Mary Wollstonecraft was an 18th-century political philosopher and writer who is most famous for her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women. I first encountered Wollstonecraft in the 1990s in—you guessed it—college.
It was my first semester of my freshman year. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, much less what to major in. So I took a bunch of diverse classes that seemed interesting. One of those was Intro to Political Thought.
Wow, did that course make an impression. It was taught by Professor D, a youngish woman. (I mean, she seemed super grown up to me then, but I realize now she was probably in her 20s.) She was brilliant. She walked around as she lectured animatedly, walking us through all kinds of philosophy. Her TA, who had a neon pink Mohawk, was an anarchist. Like, an actual anarchist—someone who espouses the political philosophy of anarchism. Eighteen-year-old mind = blown.
It was my first semester of college, my first time living alone, my first taste of the wider world. I would go to class and think to myself, “Dorothy, we’re not in high school anymore.”
I didn’t go on to become a political philosopher. I never took another class from that professor, though I did love her. But the Mary Wollstonecraft stuck with me. I kept that book.
Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I was planning the second book in my Regency Reformers series. I knew I wanted the heroine to be an agitator for women’s rights, but the time period was too early for there to be formal women’s suffrage movements afoot. I thought back to Mary Wollstonecraft and said to myself, “Hmmm…she was writing not too much before my time period.” I did some research, and it turns out that when Mary died in 1797, her husband published a memoir of her life—and let’s just say she was a little ahead of her time in many of her personal life choices! As a result, her reputation was ruined. People were publishing articles and poems about what a loose woman she was. So I decided to have my heroine be a devotee, bent on rehabilitating Mary’s reputation and spreading her ideas.
I’m sure Professor D has gone on to have a stellar career. I’m sure her students have gone on to do great things. Probably they are professors themselves, diplomats, politicians.
But I’m willing to bet I’m the only one who got a romance novel out of that class.
Trevor Bailey is on the cusp of opening the greatest hotel in London. His days as a gutter snipe are behind him, as he enjoys a life of wealth, society, and clandestine assignments as a spy in the service of His Majesty. Until one tumultuous night churns up the past he’d long left behind…
Turned out by her employer for her radical beliefs, Lucy Greenleaf reaches out to the man who was once her most beloved friend. She never expected that the once-mischievous Trevor would be so handsome and gentleman-like and neither can deny the instant attraction.
But Lucy’s reformer ways pose a threat to the hotel’s future and his duties as a spy. Now Trevor must choose between his new life and the woman he’s always loved…
About the Author: Jenny Holiday started writing in fourth grade, when her awesome hippie teacher, between sessions of Pete Seeger singing and anti-nuclear power plant letter writing, gave the kids notebooks and told them to write stories. Most of Jenny’s featured poltergeist, alien invasions, or serial killers who managed to murder everyone except her and her mom. She showed early promise as a romance writer, though, because nearly every story had a happy ending: fictional Jenny woke up to find that the story had been a dream, and that her best friend, father, and sister had not, in fact, been axe-murdered. From then on, she was always writing, often in her diary, where she liked to decorate her declarations of existential angst with nail polish teardrops. Eventually she channelled her penchant for scribbling into a more useful format. After picking up a PhD in urban geography, she became a professional writer, and has spent many years promoting research at a major university, which allows her to become an armchair stronomer/historian/particle physicist, depending on the day. Eventually, she decided to try her hand again at happy endings–minus the bloodbaths. You can follow her twitter accounts @jennyholi and @TropeHeroine or visit her on the web at jennyholiday.com.
Excerpt 1: “Stop cleaning,” Trevor said.
Lucy turned. “And a good morning to you, too.” Another precept she’d always tried to instill in her pupils—a false show of confidence could sometimes lead to the real thing. Not that she was preaching affectation. Never that. Mrs. Wollstonecraft—her guiding light in all things—would not approve.
He did not stop scowling. “You are a guest here. Guests don’t clean.”
“Well somebody has to. Beds don’t make themselves.”
“Why make them at all?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t make mine. Why bother? You’re just going to get into it again later.”
She would have laughed, but he seemed perfectly in earnest. And she had to admit there was some logic to his position. Still, she felt compelled to defend herself. “A servant worth his or her salt would not be able to look at an unmade bed and not remedy it. You have no servants at all?”
“I’ll have an army of them when the hotel opens—a hiring spree is my next major task, in fact, and not one I’m looking forward to. For now, I have a woman who comes in for half days and cooks. But no one enters my private apartments. Ever.”
“Yes.” He moved to the bed and threw the counterpane back, undoing her work. “And you’re not a servant.”
She had to cover her shock at his deliberate mussing of the bed. “That’s debatable. The fate of the governess is to be forever lodged in the limbo between the household and its staff. She is not quite a servant, not quite a member of the family. Mary Wollstonecraft once wrote, ‘A teacher at a school is only a kind of upper servant, who has more work than the menial ones. A governess to young ladies is equally disagreeable.’” Clamping her mouth shut, she checked herself. There was no need to start up with Mary. That was exactly what had landed her in this mess to begin with. It’s just that Mary’s words were always so close to Lucy’s heart. It was difficult to censor herself sometimes. But that’s exactly what she had to learn to do if she was lucky enough to secure another position.
“Be that as it may, at the Jade, you are a guest.” He set a package on the unmade bed. “Put this on, and then we’re going out. I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
He was gone before she could answer.