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URING MY RESEARCH for my debut Bringing Down the Duke a few years ago, I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. A Victorian woman showing her leg was much more scandalous than her wearing a too low-cut gown, so I was intrigued. The women pictured were pit-brow lasses— female coal miners. The majority of British women depended on manual labor for survival at the time, but coal mining is such a physically demanding and dangerous job that the pit-brow lasses’ existence seemed entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty angels in the house. I knew at once that I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the League of Extraordinary Women series. In trying to square this chapter of history with a love story, I came up with the background story of the hero of Portrait of a Scotsman. The book features a self-made businessman from a mining community and an upper-class suffragist as the main couple; a set-up which allowed me to explore class difference as well as the intersection of women’s rights and workers’ rights once the couple travels to a mine in Scotland. It is great fun to focus on the dazzling and whimsical things of the Victorian era—the sumptuous gowns, the art, the bonkers customs and technological inventions, and we do see these things in Portrait of a Scotsman. But much of that glittering world was propped up by women in trousers who worked very hard. Female coal miners grafted both in the mines and at home because care work was still considered women’s work. This is also called this the second shift, which effectively kept working women from public participation, and their lack of input led to legislation that frequently worsened rather than improved their lives. I was eager to include their story since it shows us how far we have come, and on the other hand, it all felt rather too familiar because some of the issues persist to this day.

Tell us about Portrait of a Scotsman! What inspired you to write this story? In a sentence, Portrait of a Scotsman is a loose retelling of the Greek Hades and Persephone myth. More specifically, it’s a Victorian romance between a selfmade broody Scotsman and a sunny English artist who end up in a marriage of inconvenience, where they have to deal with the obstacles of cross-class relationships; the intersection of women’s rights and workers’ rights; only one bed, and possibly pirates. Inspiration for the story sparked during my research for my debut Bringing Down the Duke, where I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. The women in question were pit-brow lasses—they worked on the coal fields and frequently underground. Their existence was entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty angels in the house, and I knew I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the series. The Hades and Persephone blueprint and the sociopolitical subplot come together in the hero, Lucian Blackstone, a successful self-made man who began his journey underground in a Scottish colliery.


What do you feel are the main themes/issues that are addressed in the book? One of the themes is about finding one’s place, with the added challenge of the external and internalized constraints of Victorian society and marriage. The heroine, Hattie Greenfield, is conflicted between wanting romantic love and working as an artist, which requires a certain level of independence. The hero, Lucian, comes from nothing but now has everything, and he is uncomfortably in limbo between his past life and current reality. Since he doesn’t have an official place in either world, he made his own as a lone wolf, but is he happy? The story also explores how romantic relationships can potentially help or hinder a sense of belonging—it’s a love story after all. There is also the theme of old money vs. new money vs. the working poor, and what a fortunate individual could or should do for society in those days. Did selfmade men like Lucian have a responsibility to care for systemically disadvantaged people? If yes, what are the obligations but also the limits? And as a suffragist, Hattie must understand how economics interlinks with the questions of women’s rights. As I was writing the book, I realized how this theme was inspired by personal experience. I was the first woman in my family to attend university, and my father, while well-educated, was an immigrant. I soon outearned both my parents and moved in previously inaccessible circles—alongside people who had never had to integrate, who had family wealth, who had easy access to great opportunities. There is a tension in having a each in various camps, but it also offers insights when reflecting on how society works and where to make a difference. Can you tell us a bit more about the research you did for this book? I delved into Victorian coal mining history, the state of worker’s rights, and the different schools of economic philosophy that influenced public discourse at the time. I also found papers written on the nineteenth century labour movement through a feminist lens quite helpful, and I researched the particular laws that effectively turned married women into her husband’s property. Since the heroine switches from painting to photography as she grows into herself, I also did my share of research on state-of-the-art photography in 1880s Britain. This was great fun because I had help from an actual photographer, a Scotsman who just so happened to be trained in Victorian whole-plate photography. What do you hope readers will take away from this story? The heroine of the story finds the courage to break with generic rules and to define her own boundaries. She learns that romantic love can heal and that it can set someone free to become their best self, but that the prerequisite for a healthy relationship is knowing herself and her own needs a bit, too. Perhaps Portrait of a Scotsman inspires a reader or two to eke out a few more stretches where they truly march to the beat of their own drum for a while.

Pit-brow women, Northern England & Victorian coal mining village

Victorian whole-plate camera, 1880

Highlands castle

Female photographer

Celtic lovespoon

Scottish heatherfield

1. Portrait of a Scotsman is inspired by the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone. Hades, god of the underworld, is enchanted by Persephone at first sight, but Persephone’s protective mother forbids marriage. Hades leaves his dark realm to abduct Persephone, then tricks her into staying by his side below ground for half the year. Sheltered Persephone is unhappy at first but eventually falls in love with her husband and her powerful position as queen of the underworld. Considering that our sensibilities about proper courtship have changed since Ancient Greece, why do you think this myth continues to inspire retellings? 2. The ideal woman in the Victorian era belonged in the domestic sphere, where her role was to be a pure, gentle, and mood-lifting presence. The majority of women at the time, however, worked hard outside the home to make ends meet, and their income was required to keep their families fed. Why do you think such an unattainable image was promoted, and do you see any parallels to society today? 3. Poverty, combined with traditional demands on a woman’s time in the home, formed a real barrier between working Victorian women and conventional political participation. Working-class suffragette Annie Kenney wrote in her 1924 memoir, Memories of a Militant: “After a hard day’s work in a hot cotton factory you have very little life left.” Can you think of comparable examples today or in recent times? How and where do you see this explored in Portrait of a Scotsman? 4. Lucian struggles with his position as a self-made man and feels ambivalent about both his roots and his new social class. Why do you think he feels torn? Do you think he handles his new power well? Why or why not? 5. Lucian believes a governance system can be reformed from the inside out. Do you agree or disagree? Why? 6. Hattie argues with Lucian that a woman is always more disadvantaged than a man regardless of their socioeconomic status—because in the power structures of the 1880s, any woman was held back on the grounds that she was a woman. Do you agree or disagree? If you agree, how have things changed since?

7. When she first explores married life, Hattie clearly prefers to be submissive in the bedroom. Do you think this preference is at odds with being an emancipated woman? Why or why not? 8. There were two ways of thinking about art in the late Victorian era. The Decadents, led by Oscar Wilde, rebelled against societal constrictions by focussing on beauty and refusing to model moral behavior in their work. Other artists began to understand their work as a political tool that could be used to bluntly address societal ills and raise awareness. Do you think art has a moral or political role to play? What are potential risks when expecting artists to create in accordance with particular political ideologies? 9. Hattie demands a separation and leaves Lucian to live on her own for a while, despite his willingness to literally put his life on the line for her. Why do you think taking this step was important to her? Do you agree or disagree with her decision?

EVIE DUNMORE is the USA Today bestselling author of Bringing Down the Duke. Her League of Extraordinary Women series is inspired by her passion for romance, women pioneers, and all things Victorian. In her civilian life, she is a consultant with a M.Sc. in diplomacy from Oxford. Evie lives in Berlin and pours her fascination with nineteenth century Britain into her writing. She is a member of the British Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). EvieDunmore.com •

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