Jul 02

The American Victorian: Manners and Morals in the 1880s by Sydney Jane Baily

SJB 963-300dpi-v2Please welcome fellow Love Historicals author, Sydney Jane Baily.

Thanks for having me on your site, Anna.

My romance time period is called Americana; it’s Victorian really but set in America. I recently wrote a prequel, An Intriguing Proposition, after the fact, as another of your guests did, Kae Elle Wheeler. I backed up the years a little from the first of my three books in the Defiant Hearts series, An Improper Situation.

Because An Intriguing Proposition is novella length, about 25,000 words, the story stays firmly in one city, Boston. My other books have a lot of travel in them as my characters crisscross the country, usually by steam train and occasionally on horseback.

To contain the story to Boston, I had to refresh my memory on the city itself, which was also featured in Book 1. I took another look at the geography, the street names, Beacon Hill in particular where the heroine’s home is, as well as the financial district because my hero works in a bank.

Once again, I was struck by the modernity of these city folk over a century ago, juxtaposed with their antiquated set of manners and mores. They lived by rules that seem so arbitrary to us in the 21st century but were nearly unbreakable to them. Of course, most of my characters consciously break rules but usually with the highest good in mind.

Take Elise, the heroine and oldest sister in the Malloy family, featured in Books 1 and 2, as well as in Book 4, which I’m currently working on. Elise is not necessarily a rule breaker and definitely not improper. When she wants to meet a man, she asks her father to discern his status and availability, and would never think of approaching the man herself. However, as the oldest sibling, she feels a responsibility to her family, which causes her to act more like the “man of the house” than she otherwise would, after her father passes.

She does ride out unaccompanied in her carriage, which is a little risqué. However, it’s the simple act of hiding an important letter and handling family business at a bank—business that ought to be taken care of by her brother—which sets her apart. She begins a process that leads her to deception, being blackmailed, and finally, true love.

In the course of the story, the small but important rules are constantly skirted, adhered to, or ignored entirely. Elise would never intend to be alone with a man, but it happens anyway, much to her consternation and eventual delight. Names and the formality of them is very important in this time period. What you called someone depended on your relation, gender, acquaintance, and familiarity. Surnames were a must, nearly until marriage. Therefore, Elise’s hero, Michael, is quite affronted when their nemesis calls her “Elise” instead of “Miss Malloy.”9781614176046

Naturally, this being America and not Victorian England, the rules are a tad relaxed in my stories; otherwise, as the author, I’d need to spend too much time explaining etiquette on every page. For example, my characters give out a few calling cards but not to the extent that they were used in Victorian England, with two to three family cards given out at every meeting, gathering, party, or visit.

As I conclude this post and stand up, all the gentlemen present must stand, the ladies may remain seated as I take my leave. Since I arrived first, I must leave first, and I will keep my hands at my sides and never put them behind my back. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Latest release: An Intriguing Proposition By Sydney Jane Baily


Following her father’s untimely death, eldest daughter Elise Malloy discovers that the family home is collateral for a mysterious loan. With no record of payments made from her father’s accounts, whoever was paying the bank has now stopped, and foreclosure is imminent. Desperate to keep the news from her grieving, funds-starved family, Elise answers the bank summons and faces Michael Bradley, an old flame who still owns her heart. When Michael extends an unseemly dinner invitation, Elise invents a nameless suitor as an excuse.

Now, to save face, she must produce him. Jonathan Amory, Esquire, seems the perfect choice, until her long-desired relationship with Michael unexpectedly catches fire, and Jonathan makes it clear he will stop at nothing to destroy her family and lock her into a loveless marriage.

Available in print and ebook.

Links for all Sydney’s books are in one convenient location at http://www.ebookdiscovery.com/SydneyjaneBaily.html

(Psst. If you like the look of my website, you can thank Sydney. She designed it!)



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  1. Nancy Morse

    Hi Sydney,

    This sound like another good one. I’m currently working on a sequel to one of my books and it’s hard enough keeping all the prior stuff in mind, so I can’t imagine doing a prequel. I do love it, though, when characters break the rules.

  2. Jacquie Biggar

    Good morning Sydney, love your name 🙂 Thanks for the etiquette lesson, I never knew whomever arrived first must leave first, my DH would hate that, he’s always the last to leave, lol

  3. Christy Carlyle

    Sounds like a great read, Sydney! I love stories set in Victorian America as much as those set in 19th century Britain. Thanks for the etiquette examples too. 🙂

    Wishing you much success with this and all your books.

  4. Jill Hughey

    So much research! Aaaahhhh!

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sydney

    Just wanted to pop in unforgivably late, but was away from PC all day.

    Thanks to those who stopped by and commented. There is so much to learn, and I always find something I wish I’d known about when I wrote an earlier novel. At least, with this time period, it’s so well-documented, we can always find out what our characters should be doing or how they should be behaving. Then we can break the rules as we see fit.

    I hope you all have an enjoyable July 4th. We are in for a bit of a hurricane where I am.
    Best wishes

  6. Melissa Keir

    I know I wouldn’t do well with rules. I’m a horrible rule breaker. 🙂 I love the cover and the book sounds wonderful. Boston was such a beautiful place to visit!

    1. Sydney Baily

      Thanks Melissa for weighing in. You’re right. Boston is a beautiful city. The heart of it still seems small enough to be a European one.

      City developers destroyed a lot of historic buildings in the govt./financial area unfortunately. And the new buildings, big blocks of cement, are not only ugly, but they create wind tunnels of freezing air in the winter. I try to see past them and imagine when my characters were there.

      Best wishes to you.

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