Karen Brooks, author of The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, writes about the historical background of her latest novel set in 17th century London, and her ‘literary mission’ to tell women’s stories from history.
So much of our history is not only recorded by men, but features them almost exclusively. This is especially true when it comes to trade. Women have always been integral to business and commerce, yet we know so little about the roles they played in various industries, whether candle-making, brewing, baking, wool, etc. They provided ideas, support, labour and, in times of war and sickness, stability. Yet their contribution isn’t really known or valued.
I made it my literary mission to address this through HERstory – the writing of (extra)ordinary women back into history.
The Chocolate Maker’s Wife is my latest novel to do this. Set in the 1660s in Restoration London, it was a period renowned for improvements to women’s social position, flourishing of the arts and sciences, the birth of journalism, as well as war, plague and the Great Fire – tremendous backdrops for any writer and, frankly, irresistible.
Chocolate, as a drink, was just being introduced into England, coinciding with the return of the exiled King Charles II and the beginning of his rather decadent reign. Chocolate, along with coffee (which was starting to become very popular), was considered a sober alternative to beer and ale. Like coffee, it facilitated conversation, gossip, and a sense of community. Consequently, a few chocolate houses began to appear.
Chocolate also had the reputation of being an aphrodisiac and was regarded suspiciously as part of a foreign plot to undermine British sensibilities and faith – in God, family and King – so it carried connotations of danger too.
The idea of putting a woman in charge of a venue that not only sold such a naughty drink (it was known as “sin in a bowl”), but invited men to enter the chocolate house and conduct business, discuss news, politics, exchange ideas, and plot was not only alluring but made historic sense.
Rosamund Tomkins, my heroine, is strong, clever and kind, with great business acumen and able to hold her own in a man’s world. Using her skills, she manages to set up and run a successful business, earn the trust of her clients and workers and their respect too.
But Rosamund is not the only resilient woman in the book. Bianca, an African-Italian slave, is someone who manages to both survive and thrive despite the limitations set upon her and the terrible bigotry she experiences. She has a core of steel and a huge heart.
Other women also populate the book – those who make dreadful choices and suffer for it and cause others to as well. These women, while cast in a less favourable light, also exude strengths.
Depicting women working alongside men, supporting, undermining, guiding and loving or loathing them, we get not only a better understanding of bygone eras and the people who lived through them, but ourselves.
That’s why her story is so important. HERstory is history – made richer, more balanced and real – even when it’s a work of fiction, like The Chocolate Maker’s Wife.
The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen Brooks
Damnation has never been so sweet…
When Rosamund Tomkins enters the world she is so different, with her darkling eyes and strange laughter, that the midwives are afraid, believing her a changeling. But Rosamund’s life is set to be anything but enchanted…
Born into poverty, brutalised and ignored by her family, it is only when she is married off to a nobleman that her life undergoes a wondrous transformation, as he recognises that Rosamund infuses magic she does not know she possesses into everything she touches.
Clever, quick and irrepressible, Rosamund soon becomes the darling of the haute ton, and presides over her luxurious chocolate house where the rich go to be seen and indulge in their favourite pastime, drinking the sweet and heady drink to which they’ve become oddly addicted.
But Rosamund stands on the brink of losing all she has worked so hard to achieve and will be forced to make a choice: walk away from all she knows and has grown to love with her soul intact, or make a deal with the devil?
Australian author Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this sweeping, breathtakingly researched tale of 17th century London. Set against the backdrop of Restoration London, the plague and the Great Fire, this is a tale of cruelty, revenge, redemption, love and hope, and the sweet, sinister temptation of chocolate.
To find out more, and for your chance to WIN visit Herstory: books that write her back into history.
Posted on January 29, 2019 by harlequinaustralia