For Valentine’s Day – True Life True Love

So not being really a romance writer, and having pretty much washed out of the lists of matrimony personally, I still have managed to write about romance … mostly by pulling in a little bit of inspiration from here and there from real-life couples. For instance, the main romantic couple in my first book, Dr. John and Elizabeth in To Truckee’s Trail were inspired by … you’ll never guess. Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning! A married couple, wildly, passionately, crackers-in-love with each other after twelve years of marriage – why not? The romance doesn’t and shouldn’t end at the altar, but it should go on. I rather liked the Victorians, by the way – they weren’t nearly as prudish as they’ve been painted, nor were their emotions quite so stifled. Robert fell in love with her through reading her published poetry – and lest that sound rather stalker-ish, it worked out. They married blissfully, although she was an invalid and several years older than him. They went off to Italy and were more or less happy for the rest of their lives together, just as I imagined Dr. John and Elizabeth to have been. Men and women alike poured out their souls in letters and poetry, and they weren’t ashamed or repressed in the least, especially when it came to a good manly weep or putting down on paper how they really, really felt.

I didn’t particularly have a literary model for the central romance and tragedy in the Adelsverein Trilogy – that between Magda Vogel, the immigrant German girl, and Carl Becker, the former soldier and Ranger. I did think at first that it might be one of those sparkling Beatrice and Benedict-type confections, where they poured witty scorn at each other, and only later realized that they were in love. There did have to be a romance, of course – between the daughter of an immigrant family, and a representative of the country they were coming to – bridging the two worlds, as it were. But I just couldn’t make it work in that way; Magda turned out to be rather humorless and stern, and Carl was just too reserved. I did recycle the Beatrice and Benedict angle for the romance in the third book of the Trilogy; with Peter Vining and Anna Richter. They both had a sense of humor, and were quite aware that their sharp teasing of each other amused the heck out of anyone who had the luck to be in the vicinity.

Another great historical romance happened between two very real people, and which I put into Deep in the Heart; the marriage between Sam Houston and Margaret Lea Houston, which initially horrified her family and dismayed his friends. Some of them gave it six months, tops. He was twice her age, twice and disastrously married before, had a reputation of being a drunk, a rake and a reprobate, and being the hero of Jan Jacinto and the President of an independent Texas just barely made up for all of that. Marry a gently-bred Southern girl barely out of her schoolroom? Everyone confidently predicted disaster – and everyone was wrong. They were devoted to each other. She had a spine of pure steel, unsuspected under those fashionable Victorian furbelows. For the rest of their lives, whenever they were apart – and they were often separated, since Sam Houston spent much time at his official duties as a senator in Washington DC, or campaigning for office – they each wrote a letter a day. Margaret Lea bore and raised a large family of children, made a comfortable home for him whenever he was there to enjoy it, made him stop drinking and eventually to be baptized. His very last words included her name.

And my final real-life romance inspiring a romance between a couple of my characters is that of the painter Charles M. Russell, and his wife, Nancy – who, like Margaret Lea, was very much younger than a husband who had a bit of a reputation. Half his age, a bit prim and self-contained, Nancy also had steel in her spine – and she was a much better marketer and business agent than her carefree cowboy artist husband. C.M. Russell lived for art, and likely would have been no more than locally known as a wrangler-cowhand who had a talent with a paintbrush, but he made a partnership with Nancy, and she put him on a wider artistic scene. And that is the angle for one of the romances in the current book – between a young prospective professional artist, and a woman with a head for business. Because it all isn’t just love – it’s a partnership between a woman and a man, each filling in each other’s lacks and supporting each other in a mutual endeavor called life.
(cross-posted at my book-blog)