The Regency Era – a period of time in the early 1800s in the United Kingdom – is known for its elegance, achievements and change in the many fields of art, architecture, politics and economics. It was a time of high society and manners. And, of course, it was the perfect time for a woman to do research on the coccinellidae (or lady beetle).
Meet Cindy Anstey, an author who set her novel Love, Lies and Spies in the Regency Era. The story follows Juliana Telford, a young woman with a research passion for lady beetles instead of marriage and fashion. When her father sends her to London to stay with her cousin’s family, Juliana is swept up into a season of high society. Even though romance is the last thing on her mind, Juliana can’t help but feel a pull toward Spencer Northam, a gentlemen who might just also be a spy for the War Office.
“I have always loved traditional Regency romances — the comedy of manners type. I like exploring the contradiction between characters’ thoughts and their behavior,” said Anstey.
While she had always known the style and tone of her book due to the love for the Regency era, her inspiration came from a reference to passing secret messages during the Napoleonic Wars. “A tumbling mix of ‘what ifs’ instantly swirled through my mind. The villain jumped to the fore — as villains usually do — however, it wasn’t until I pictured a figure watching from the top of a cliff that the rest of the cast leapt out of the ether and staked a claim to their part of the plot.”
(Love, Lies and Spies does begin on a cliff.)
But before Anstey’s book could come to life, she had to do a lot of research to make sure everything about the time period was accurate. “I actually had to force myself to stop researching — especially 19th century social and cultural history,” exclaimed Anstey. “I bought countless books and spent many hours in the library. I also read the fiction of the time — Jane Austen, of course, but also Ann Radcliffe etal.” Even with all of this research, only a small fraction of her knowledge ended up being used.
One snippet of that knowledge was the importance and focus of the Beau Monde, the title of high society at the time. Young women, like Juliana and her cousin Carrie, were taught the best of etiquette, manners, and fashion in order to be presented at the Season, a time of many social engagements. And while many young women in the novel strive to find husbands, that is not the goal for Juliana.
“[Juliana’s] situation is unique,” explained Anstey. “She does not have to marry to sustain herself as most women of the gentry did at that time. It allows her the freedom to choose her own path.” And this freedom allows Julianna to focus on getting her research published instead.
The research, written by Julianna and her father, is focused around the coccinellidae, otherwise known as the lady bug in the United States today.
“I choose the lady beetle for several reasons,” began Anstey. “They are common enough that Juliana would not have to hike mountains or ford streams to find them, and they exist worldwide. Also, I could not find any scientific references to them dating back to the early 1800s. Therefore, it was feasible that Juliana and her father would be the first to call attention to the cute little insect.”
“And lastly, I find them rather charming.”
But even with her sights set on getting their research published by a house in London, Juliana cannot help but get swept up in parts of the Season since her cousin Carrie is interested in it. While Juliana thinks fashion and manners is quite silly, Carrie was raised to always look and act her best towards society.
“Despite their differences, Juliana and Carrie care for each other. I wanted to show one gently brought up young lady working with the ‘system’ and one who wished to go her own way. Both could/would be happy with their choices.”
And Juliana is very happy with her choices, which also includes Spencer, a gentlemen — and spy — intrigued with Juliana’s passion, despite its ‘unladylike’ tendency.
With pretty dresses, handsome spies, and cute bugs, Love, Lies and Spies is a great Swoon read to check out.