At the turn of the century, the Victorian upper classes live in a vibrant but strictly-ordered world that encourages gentle, intellectual pursuits. Theirs is a life of ease and elegance, but it can be snatched away from them in an instant if the rules of polite society are not followed. Gothic novelist Geoffrey Hawes has never been willing to let such restrictions hold him back, and he refuses to honor conventions for which there is no discernible value. When he spends a social season in a community created to celebrate the Arts, music, and philosophy, he is unexpectedly befriended by the daughter of the Governor, Miranda Claridge.
Bitter and disenchanted with the privileged and wealthy, Geoffrey finds his beliefs repeatedly challenged by the intelligent and vivacious Miranda. In the midst of their heated debates on the mores of the upper class, this unlikely friendship blossoms into a passionate love. He encourages her to pursue her interest in painting and gives her a new understanding of what relationships between men and women should be. Meanwhile, Miranda begins to open his eyes to all that is wonderful and beautiful and good in the world.
Geoffrey at last accepts that he has fallen in love with Miranda, but misunderstandings and lies come between them. Knowing that Miranda believes it is her duty to marry, he prepares himself to hear news of her wedding. Geoffrey attempts to escape the pain of her perceived rejection by traveling and throwing himself into his work. However, he cannot run forever. One day, he encounters Miranda again and soon discovers that she is not the same woman he left behind. Can the couple realize that they each must relinquish some of their prejudices and preconceived notions before it is too late? Can love really conquer all?
To celebrate the release of Elizabeth M. Lawrence’s debut novel, I decided to get her to talk us through the setting and characterisation of The Truth Seekers. Here’s what she had to say…
You’ve set The Truth Seekers in Victorian times. What was it about the era that you felt suited the story better than setting it in today’s society and did this thinking impact on creating a male main character rather than a female one?
In order to address this properly, I have to go back to the very beginnings of The Truth Seekers.
The manuscript originally started out as letters that the two main characters were writing to each other. The first “voice” I heard was the female main character, followed by a response from the male. The words just popped into my head one evening, so I wrote them down. I was left to figure out what had led these people into the conflict and how it would be resolved. This forced me to construct a story around that conflict. As my ideas developed, it soon became clear that this was really the man’s story. Miranda’s point of view was simpler, more accessible, and it didn’t need the kind of insight that the reader could get from showing events through her eyes. It had to be Geoffrey, then, who guided us through this world. His motivations and principles and feelings were not straight-forward; therefore, the reader needs to see what lies behind his words and actions. Without understanding Geoffrey’s thought processes, it is much more difficult to see him as a sympathetic or romantic character.
The era in which the story is set also contributes to this a great deal. Miranda’s world is very restricted, and there are limits to what she can get away with while staying true to her character. Geoffrey, as a man, is given far more freedom to behave badly and make all sorts of trouble. Because of Miranda’s personality, she is not going to rock the Victorian boat, no matter how many boat-rocking ideas may occur to her. Geoffrey is able to be the catalyst in their exchanges, and so focusing on him gives the story more depth and variety.
As to why the Victorian era, that is much easier to explain. The setting for the first half of this story is based upon a real location, Chautauqua Institution in New York State. This community was created during the Victorian period as a haven for the study of religion, philosophy, art, music, dance, literature, theater, and learning. It still exists today and is one of my favorite places to write. The grounds have been preserved in their Victorian glory as much as was possible, and so you can walk along the same streets, sleep under the same roofs, and experience the arts in the same buildings that were used over one hundred years ago.
When I wrote the initial exchange between Miranda and Geoffrey, the formality and structure of the language made it necessary to set it in the past. After that, choosing to set the story in a Victorian utopia for creativity and thought was not a great leap, although I took a great deal of creative license when approaching some of the details. However, Geoffrey’s small apartment really exists, as do the hotel, the grand mansion, the lakeside gardens, and the lecture hall that appear in the novel.
Although I enjoyed writing about a period and a location that fascinate me, I would not consider myself an historical novelist. Despite the considerable research I did while working on this book, The Truth Seekers is meant primarily to be a story of two people falling in love, and not a recounting of Victorian society. There are novelists out there who excel at historical fiction; I do not pretend to be one of them. My muse simply seems to enjoy excruciatingly precise syntax and the idea that two people can fall in love and help each other find something greater, despite the limitations of their era.
Elizabeth Lawrence is the author of both contemporary and period romances. Each book incorporates its own unique blend of humor and reverence, the peculiar and the mundane. In addition to her novels, Elizabeth serves as a freelance editor. A lifelong writer and former paralegal, Elizabeth divides her free time between her husband and two sons, her three cats, her collection of cozy murder mysteries, and her mildly severe caffeine addiction. A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Elizabeth now works from her home in Cleveland, Ohio.
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