Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes Blog Tour

MISTRESS SUFFRAGETTE by Diana Forbes, Historical Fiction, 392 pp., $6.50
(Kindle edition) $20.48 (paperback)


Author: Diana Forbes

Publisher: Penmore Press

Pages: 392

Genre: Romance/Historical Fiction/Victorian/Political/NY Gilded Age Fiction

A young woman without prospects at a ball in Gilded Age Newport,
Rhode nIsland is a target for a certain kind of “suitor.” At the
Memorial Day Ball during the Panic of 1893, impoverished but feisty
Penelope Stanton quickly draws the unwanted advances of a villainous
millionaire banker who preys on distressed women—the incorrigible Mr.
Daggers. Better known as the philandering husband of the stunning
socialite, Evelyn Daggers, Edgar stalks Penelope.

Skilled in the art of flirtation, Edgar is not without his charms,
and Penelope is attracted to him against her better judgment. Meanwhile a
special talent of Penelope’s makes her the ideal candidate for a paying
job in the Suffrage Movement.

In a Movement whose leaders are supposed to lead spotless lives,
Penelope’s torrid affair with Mr. Daggers is a distraction and early
suffragist Amy Adams Buchanan Van Buren, herself the victim of a
faithless spouse, urges Penelope to put an end to it. But can she?

Searching for sanctuary in three cities, Penelope will need to
discover her hidden reserves of courage and tenacity. During a
glittering age where a woman’s reputation is her most valuable
possession, Penelope must decide whether to compromise her principles
for love.

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Tuesday, June 6, 1893BostonMassachusetts

As luck would have it, the speaker
at Tremont House that afternoon was a woman. I use the term loosely. Her name
was Verdana Jones, and her topic, “The Dangers of Irrational Dress.” I had
never considered the complex maze of corsets, petticoats, and bustles
“Irrational,” but apparently others of my gender did and the sentiment had
blossomed into a full-fledged Movement. Some of these undergarments were
encumbrances, but they were all perfectly logical. Moreover, every woman in the
world wore them.
            Like me,
Verdana had red hair, but she wore it cropped in a mannish fashion that was
most unbecoming to her otherwise fine features. She had a square chin and
large, childlike eyes, and in a Boston
fog I’d be willing to bet that she was often confused with a young boy. Her
outfit contributed to this confusion. It was outlandish by modern standards and
excessively unladylike. She sported a loose white tunic worn over ankle-length
trousers, known as “bloomers,”
and big, chunky boots instead of shoes.
            A small
rectangular wooden platform rimmed the front of the spare lecture hall. Twenty
hard-bitten women and three scraggly men dotted the aisles. The women, many
sporting bonnets, looked dour and preoccupied as if they were gearing up for a
contest of who could show the least expression on their faces. Verdana clomped
up to a wooden lectern to deliver her tirade. I couldn’t help feeling that, by
her dress anyway, she was a poor advertisement for her cause.
            “Those who
would keep women down argue that ‘ladylike dress’ symbolizes discipline,
thrift, respectability, and beauty,” Verdana bellowed in her giant bloomers.
Her voice sounded throaty from too many cigarettes. “But any dress that
requires corsets and tight-lacing is degrading and dangerous to a woman’s
health,” she boomed. “Corsets and tight-lacing are designed to make our waists
look tiny and our bosoms look large. Our undergarments are crafted to make us resemble
ornaments. We women, outfitted like hourglasses, are ornaments in our own
homes. And we spend all day inside our homes trying to struggle into our
corsets, laced petticoats, complicated boned lining, and bustles, all so that
we may decorate them on the outside with frills, ribbons, and lace. We are so
pampered—or are we?”
            Her voice,
thick with meaning, rose a horsey octave. “Instead of fretting over whether we
have twenty-inch waists, we would be better served worrying about why we must
depend on men to dress us up in these outrageous, unhealthy outfits. Why can’t
we earn our own keep and decide for ourselves what we should wear?”
            One or two
women applauded. Others silently knitted: some knitted clothing; others knitted
their brows. All in all it was a sullen group. Mother was right about this
Movement. It was filled with hardened, bitter women. I didn’t want any part of
Verdana’s harangue I rose to leave, in dire need of fresh air. I had never
heard so much drivel about the evils of ladylike dress and the positive
attributes of horrible bloomers. But Lucinda looked up at me like a sorrowful,
brown-haired puppy dog that could not be wrested from her spot anytime soon.
Her dark face wrinkled into an accordion fan of disappointment. I hesitated,
not wanting to let down my friend.
there. The lady in the bustle!” Verdana cheerily called toward my buttressed
behind. Recognizing that I was one of the few women in the hall outfitted in
the very clothes she’d just lambasted, I intuited that she must be talking to
me?” I asked, turning around to face her. I felt twenty pairs of women’s eyes
and three pairs of men’s riveted upon my rear.
            “Yes, you,”
she called out from where she still stood on the stage. “Tell us. What do you
think about Rational Dress?”
not certain you want to hear.” Where oh
where was the exit?
she prefers Irrational dress,”
Lucinda playfully called out from her seat. She cupped her hands to her mouth
like a speaking trumpet. “Just look at what she’s wearing.”
            I heard
laughter from the crowd directed at me, even though Lucinda’s dress was not
markedly different than my own.
            “This isn’t
supposed to be a lecture,” Verdana announced. “It’s supposed to be a
conversation. So, instead of leaving the fold before we’ve been properly
introduced, why don’t you join me up here on the dais and defend what you’re
wearing to the group.”
            Everyone in
the room laughed.
            “Because I
hate speaking in public,” I said, to even more laughter.
            What was it
that my little sister had once said in the heat of an argument? You’re quite good at boring your class to
don’t think of it as public speaking,” Verdana shouted. “Just come up here, and
tell me how you feel.”
            I sighed.
How did I feel? I felt betrayed. I felt that my parents should not have asked
me to support them. They should have protected me instead of trying to send me
to New York. I missed my home and
my horse. I even missed Lydia
a tiny bit. I was nowhere near old enough to be living on my own in a strange
city. Verdana wanted my opinion? Then very well, she would get it. I liked corsets and petticoats and
bustles. They offered some support in a world that was mostly unsupportive.
            I stared at
Verdana. Did I want to dress like her? Not in a lifetime of Sundays. How would
I feel if corsets were forbidden? As if the last domain over which I exerted
any control had been taken away from me. They could take away my home. They
could take away my fiancĂ©. But I’d be damned if I’d let them take away my
            I silently
prayed to God that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. Then I took a deep breath
and strode up to the small wooden platform. I opened my mouth to speak. But if
I had a thought, it flew out of my head.
            My mouth
hung open. No words came out. I was speechless.
            “Just speak
from the heart,” Verdana urged quietly. “It’s always best. You’ll see. So, I
take it you like corsets?” she asked
me in a normal speaking voice.
            “Uh—yes,” I
said to her.
nodded. Under her breath she said, “Good. Now, just explain why. Pretend
there’s no audience and that you’re just talking to me.”
            “Fine,” I
answered, frustrated at how small my voice sounded.
            She smiled.
“Believe me, it’s a knack that develops with time. Just breathe.” She continued
to slowly nod her head, silently willing the reluctant words from my mouth.
            I took
another deep breath and felt my lungs expand. “Hello, my name is Penelope.” I
exhaled. Phew. That was hard.
            “Your last
name?” she asked.
            “What is
your last name, dear?” she coaxed.
I felt my face get hot. Little wisps of hair stuck to my face.
relation to Elizabeth Cady Stanton?”
            “No.” I
felt like I had to think about each word, almost like a foreigner struggling to
speak English.
            “Good,” she
said, continuing to nod her head. “You see? It’s not so very difficult. Keep
            I pushed
the wet hair up off my face and turned to the crowd. “I enjoy the prevailing
fashions, as you can see.” Thank God. A whole sentence.
            “I can,”
she said, with a broad wink at the audience. “Tell us more.”
            I pointed
to my light pink gown. I twirled around to model it for the group. Some tepid
applause followed, which surprised me. Two women set aside their knitting.
I continued. “But I came to Boston
to escape from the advances of a particular man, not all men, and do hope that
what I’m wearing today won’t prevent me from socializing with the men, or more
importantly, the women of Boston.”
            A few women
clapped. I thrust back my shoulders, lifted my chin, and met Lucinda’s eyes.
“To me, it matters not if a woman’s waist is twenty inches, twenty-one inches,
or even twenty-six inches—as long as it doesn’t prevent her from keeping her
mind open.”
            A burst of
light applause followed, and I only wished that my sister had been there to
witness it.
and petticoats offer some structure,” I pressed, “in a world that unravels as I
speak.” My voice was strong, and the words were coming readily. “Every day,
another bank fails. Our institutions falter. As women, we can fall to pieces or
we can stay strong.” I pointed to my torso and looked about the audience,
meeting one woman’s eyes and then another. “Structure, shape, support. I will
wear my corset proudly, as I face another day.”
bowed her boyish head at me and stretched out her arms diagonally, one below
her hip, the other high above her head. “And that, ladies and gents, is the
other side of the argument,” Verdana boomed to heartfelt applause.
            “Sorry I
didn’t let you finish,” she whispered, as the audience applauded. “For a
novice, you were brilliant.” Verdana clapped her arm around my shoulder. “But
speaking in public is also a matter of knowing when to stop. You always want to
leave your audience wanting more.”
            “And do you
think the audience did?”
squeezed my shoulder. “Of course they did. They clapped, didn’t they? Boston
audiences are difficult to rouse, believe me. But you did, and now they want
            I nodded.
Perhaps that had been the problem with my French classes. No student had ever wanted more.
            “And how
does it feel?” she pressed. “To leave them wanting more.”
            Here on
stage I’d felt almost like a different person. Brave, gutsy, and confident. I
wouldn’t mind feeling that way every day. What was it about this stage that had
caused me to throw caution aside and just express my feelings?
            Her eyes
widened as we both waited for me to put words to my emotions.
I said.
(C) 2017 Excerpt from
copyrighted Mistress Suffragette by
Diana Forbes (Penmore Press, 2017)

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Diana Forbes is a 9th generation American, with ancestors on both
sides of the Civil War. Diana Forbes lives and writes in Manhattan. When
she is not cribbing chapters, Diana Forbes loves to explore the
buildings where her 19th Century American ancestors lived, loved,
survived and thrived. Prior to publication, Diana Forbes’s debut won 1st
place in the Missouri Romance Writers of America (RWA) Gateway to the
Best Contest for Women’s Fiction. A selection from the novel was a finalist in the Wisconsin RWA “Fab Five” Contest for Women’s Fiction. Mistress Suffragette
won 1st place in the Chanticleer Chatelaine Award’s Romance and Sensual
category, and was shortlisted for the Somerset Award in Literary
Fiction. Mistress Suffragette won Silver in the North American Book Awards and was a Winner of the Book Excellence Awards for Romance. Mistress Suffragette
was also a Kirkus Best Indies Book of 2017. The author is passionate
about vintage clothing, antique furniture, ancestry, and vows to master
the quadrille in her lifetime. Diana Forbes is the author of New York
Gilded Age historical fiction.


Interview with Diana Forbes

How did you come up with name of this book?

I came up with the title of my novel, Mistress Suffragette, at a literary conference that I attended in New York City. Before that, my novel had a very pretty working title, but it wasn’t as specific. I thought Mistress Suffragette said more, with an economy of words.

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?

Yes. I read widely, both fiction and nonfiction. Broadly, I love the classics the most—Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, and Charles Dickens. I also read nonfiction to deepen my understanding about the time period I am writing about. Occasionally I like to read a book about writing, mainly as a refresher. And sometimes I will read a collection of short stories. For me, it’s good to vary my reading diet—both for my personal enjoyment and also to see how writers solve problems. I read for at least an hour a day, and I consider doing so an essential part of my writing routine.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

I prefer to write in silence, and I think my office must be located on the quietest block in Manhattan. It’s on a dead-end street. Writing in silence helps me “hear” the dialog better. I want it to wink at late 19th century dialog without being as long-winded as it truly was.

What do you feel you can accomplish with this book?

I wanted to write the kind of book that I love to read, that is a story with a real hook that whisks me away. But I also saw Mistress Suffragette as a way to explore the choices that women still face today. Many early readers of Mistress Suffragette said that the obstacles women face have not changed all that much since the late nineteenth century.

What is your next project?

I am writing the sequel to Mistress Suffragette. And after that, I will write the third novel in the series. I am really excited about the progress I am making on the sequel.

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