Jennie Goutet is an American-born Anglophile who lives with her French husband and their three children in a small town outside of Paris. Her imagination resides in Regency England, where her best-selling proper Regency romances are set. She is also author of the award-winning memoir Stars Upside Down, two contemporary romances, and a smattering of other published works.
In this interview, Jennie shares some of her thoughts on her latest novel, The Sport of Matchmaking.
FF: You are an American in Paris writing regency romance novels. What made you decide to write the Clavering Chronicles Series.
I began Clavering Chronicles by imagining what would happen if Sir Lucius Clavering, a baronet who lives to please himself—although he’s not entirely to blame as everyone, including his family, wants something from him—is hunted down at his country house by a young woman pretending to need assistance, who really hopes to lure him into marriage. Except that this would quickly be followed by a second young woman, Selena, who gets stranded in the snow and actually does need his assistance. This is the start to A Fall from Grace, where Selena, through no fault of her own, is cast into the role of a companion-governess drudge at a neighboring estate. Lucius learns to overcome his selfish nature as he grows increasingly fond of Selena and increasingly indignant about how she is treated. He now has to convince her he has changed enough to be a worthy suitor for her hand and that marrying him will bring her happiness.
The next two books in the series are about Lucius’s brother and sister, Philippa (Philippa Holds Court) and George (The Sport of Matchmaking). And we get to follow each of these siblings as they discover their perfect match and bring the ensuing hope and joy into the Clavering family. Of course, the road to love is anything but smooth.
FF: The final book in the series is called The Sport of Matchmaking, an intriguing title. Tell us more about this title, and the story.
The Sport of Matchmaking is a fun book from start to finish. There is little of the tears and heartache that sometimes accompanies love stories before their happy ending, only the witty banter of two obstinate people who know an opportunity for sport when they see one. George considers himself too young to think of marriage, so it is only fitting when he meets Lady Alice—who is also uninterested in being wed—to let down his guard in her presence. He is not afraid that she will view him as marriage material, besides the fact that she’s the fifth daughter of a duke and well above his touch. The only problem with the arrangement is that both of them have so much delight in each other’s company, deciding what match will best suit their friends, they neglect to realize they’re falling in love. This dilemma is best summarized like this:
For both, what began as a friendly bet between two bored guests at a ball turned into an earnest desire to help their protégés find happiness. And if some deeper feelings should stir in George to win Alice’s heart, then he has no choice but to dampen them. After all, Lady Alice has sworn she will not marry, and George has applauded her decision. For him to try to weaken her resolve now would be…unsportsmanlike.
FF: Lady Alice St. Claire seems very determined not to get married; why did you write a character so unusual in her time.
Hearts don’t change very much, and I believe in the Regency era people were very much like us today. There were some who were sentimental and others who were practical. There were some who fell dramatically in love and others who thought such a sentiment beneath them. In Lady Alice’s case, as her friend points out to her, she already has an independence and if she marries, it will only go to her husband. The risk is that she will then be left with no independence, and her husband will fail to respect her as promised. That chilling reality makes her afraid. And as Alice has never fallen in love, the most logical choice is to refuse to marry.
Of course, what makes the book fun is that she meets the hero and she does fall in love. Then she has to step into the unknown and accept on faith that he is a worthy man who will not treat her badly or use her for what she brings into the marriage. In a way, it parallels the steps of faith we all have to take in accepting an unknown future. And if you throw in some complications that confirm her belief that men are untrustworthy (even when it’s a mistaken belief) it makes for a fun—okay maybe a little tortuous, but mostly fun—path to their happily-ever-after.
FF: There are so many elements to writing regency romance: the characters, the culture, even the wardrobe. What is your process in keeping everything true to the period?
I think it helps a great deal that I’ve always read classical literature. The cadence of speech and the customs impressed themselves on my young mind, and that makes it easier to reproduce in my own books. However, there is so much research that goes into a historical romance, and I also depend on the wisdom of other historical writers. I depend on edits, critique partners, and early readers to point out inconsistencies. I read research books and look things up or ask if I can’t find the information. I’m constantly checking the etymology of a word to make sure it was in use in that period, or looking up the dress, the fashionable colors, the style of various carriages, or what significant event occurred in a particular year. My novel writing is accompanied by never-ending research.
FF: Introduce us to another of your favorite characters from The Sport of Matchmaking. Is there a particular one you connected with, or just enjoying writing about?
Well…if I were to write yet another book in the series, though I consider this technically my last for Clavering Chronicles, I would be interested in telling Bartholomew’s story. He is Lady Alice’s brother and heir to the dukedom. He is still young and impressionable, eager to throw off his parents’ influence, and he does get himself in some hot water. But he has enough of a steady character that with time and perhaps the right woman at his side, he would make a formidable hero. I’ve had requests to write some of George’s friends’ stories, as well as that of Christopher’s, who is the troubled older brother of Philippa’s swain in book 2. But I think it’s Bartholomew who would be most fun to write.
FF: We may have readers who have never read regency romance; how would you convince them to give it a try?
Oooooh. I just love Regency romance because a great deal happened historically in the early 19th century, and there are so many elements that can flavor the story. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice or watched the movie when it came out (perhaps watched it several times?), well then, you’re already a fan of Regency because Jane Austen lived and published her books in that time period.
It’s a different world, where the strict social customs really allow the character to shine. Women do not have the same choices that we have now, so they’re forced to dig deep to find a solution, all without letting go of their beliefs and quality. I’ve always thought that reading books like this growing up inspired my own young character towards more noble traits, and it’s fun to write books in that same vein.
FF: Talk a little about your life in Paris, and how being there helps influence your stories.
My husband comes from an old French family, so we have antique furniture, jewelry, and dishes that date to the Victorian era, and some to the Regency or Georgian era (except it’s all French). It’s easy to plunge myself back in time when I use the large skeleton key to open the wooden armoire or stir soup with a massive silver spoon. There are also the museums that are within easy reach. I spent a day with my kids at the Hôtel des Invalides, which is essentially a museum for Napoleon. And the Château of Fontainebleau is also the only château that housed both an emperor (Napoleon) and kings. When you’re surrounded by all this history, you realize that it doesn’t take much to reach back and give voice to the souls who lived in the early 19th century. After all, it is not all that long ago. And that, essentially, is what a historical author does.
The Sport of Matchmaking
Clavering Chronicles Series #3
Genres: Historical Romance, Regency Romance
Release Date: May 17, 2022
For once, he has met a lady less inclined to marry than he is. How unfortunate that she is the only bride he will consider. George Clavering is much too young to think about getting married. Yes, his older brother and even his younger sister have managed to tie the knot, but he has plenty more years of play and sporting events ahead of him before he need consider such a thing. Even matchmaking becomes a sport when gentlemen bet on the Season’s successes or failures in the club. He will not give them an opportunity to bet on him. Furthermore, why settle down when there are young women like Lady Alice who liven the sport of matchmaking with friendly wagers? Lady Alice St. Clair is the fifth daughter of the Duke of Carr, and as she is independently wealthy and may do as she pleases, she has no reason to wed. She certainly has no intention of doing so. If the marriage mart offers nothing more than the unattractive boors who have presented themselves at her door for the past five seasons, it should hardly surprise her parents she cannot be persuaded to the altar. True, George Clavering has a full head of dark hair and a smile that is as mischievous as it is attractive, but no lady of character would change her mind for one above-average specimen of the male race. For both, what began as a friendly bet between two bored guests at a ball turned into an earnest desire to help their proteges find happiness. And if some deeper feelings should stir in George to win Alice’s heart, then he has no choice but to dampen them. After all, Lady Alice has sworn she will not marry, and George has applauded her decision. For him to try to weaken her resolve now would be unsportsmanlike.
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