Evie Dunmore on Writing a Suffragist Romance

Posted by Sharon on September 1, 2020
In most historical romances, love and marriage go together like...well, a horse and carriage.

But what if the girl part of the girl-meets-boy equation is an outspoken advocate of women’s rights? And what if girl and boy live in a nation and a time when wives were considered the legal property of their husbands? That might just throw a pretty big wrench into the whole falling in love thing.

This conflict forms the plot of Evie Dunmore’s sophomore romance, A Rogue of One’s Own. A follow-up to her breakout 2019 debut, Bringing Down the Duke, Dunmore’s second book continues her League of Extraordinary Women series, which follows a set of female trailblazers living in 1880s England.

In the novel, passionate suffragist Lady Lucie has a plan to secure the vote for women, and acquiring her own publishing house is key. But her longtime nemesis, Victorian-era bad boy Tristan Ballentine, stands in her way. When he issues a proposal of the indecent variety, Lucie finds herself waging a very different battle from the ones she’s used to. And if she doesn’t keep her head, she might just lose her heart along the way.

Dunmore spoke with Goodreads about Victorian politics, writing morally gray characters, and the first romance novel she ever read.

Goodreads: How did you become a romance reader, and why did you decide to start writing in this genre?

Evie Dunmore: I found my first romance novel under the guest bed when visiting with relatives in the States—Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey, hidden in a brown paper bag, so of course I read it. I was very intrigued, but I didn’t dare buy anything like it because I was 17 and too embarrassed, bless.

Years later, I picked up Sarah MacLean’s Love by Numbers series and I became unapologetically hooked. Reading romance was the best way to unwind during my long commutes.

I started writing because I kept hearing Annabelle and Montgomery argue about politics. The romance genre is special to me because it’s a place where the love interests get everything they want, and deserve, in a relationship: the passion, the support, and emotional safety. I’ll keep writing romance for now because of that and because I like my novels to have a HEA.

GR: Tell us a little bit about Lucie and Tristan, the protagonists in this book. Were you already planning to pair these two up when you introduced them as side characters in Bringing Down the Duke?

ED: Yes, they were always meant to be. They’ve known each other since childhood and as adults they are both rebelling against Victorian society in their own way. Lucie is a leader of the women’s suffrage movement and lives and breathes the cause.

Tristan’s character was inspired by the Decadent movement driven by playwrights and poets like Wilde and Swinburne—to our eyes he might look like a hedonist, but in the Victorian era, when literature was supposed to fulfill a moral function and “guide” society, the Decadents challenged that idea by focusing on sensuality and beauty and refusing to model “proper behavior” in their writing. I’d call Tristan a morally gray character, and he and Lucie lock horns for a long time until she dares to admit how well-matched they are outside the bedroom.

GR: Your novels bring in very specific details about Oxford in the late 1870s and early 1880s. What is it about this particular place and time in history that made you choose it as the setting for this series?

ED: Nostalgia. Women had gone up to Cambridge and the University of London for years before Oxford deigned to open its gates for female students, but I studied at Oxford, so I picked the place I know and love. It also has the most incredible libraries.

The late Victorian era fascinates me; it was a time of significant social change and technological developments, which feels particularly at odds with the continued legal oppression of women and minorities at the time.

GR: Do you have any favorite novels that also feature Oxford or this moment in history?

ED: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which is set at the university in the 1920s. The prose is brilliant and it still accurately (for the most part) portrays Oxford’s atmosphere today.

GR: For readers who might be less familiar with the ins and outs of Victorian politics, what was the Married Women’s Property Act, and why does it form such a crucial part of the conflicts in both your books? 

ED: British common law decreed that a woman was subsumed in her husband’s legal persona when she married, effectively making a married woman her husband’s property. She also lost any property to him. The Married Women’s Property Act was supposed to remedy this, but in 1880 the Act was still weak and did very little to support married women.

And because voting rights were tied to property qualifications for both men and women at the time, the early suffragists pushed for a reform that would allow married women to keep their property. The goal here was to have both married and unmarried women ready and able to vote when the day came.

I wondered: How can you possibly fall in love when marriage meant giving up your rights?! But this was the reality for British women until the Act was properly amended, and many of these women were suffragists. I wondered what went through their heads at the altar.

GR: Your heroine in Bringing Down the Duke is one of the first women admitted to Oxford. Were you able to do any research in the Oxford archives about the university’s earliest female students?

ED: Yes! I had a great time in the archives of Lady Margaret Hall, one of Oxford’s first two women’s colleges. I got to see the old photo albums, journal entries, letter exchanges, and the manifesto on women’s higher education by LMH’s warden, Elizabeth Wordsworth.

GR: Did you turn up any particularly fun or surprising facts about that time?

ED: I was surprised that Ms. Wordsworth didn’t support women’s suffrage—she believed women’s minds were capable but different from men’s and that a woman must not be too educated or else she wouldn’t make a good, attentive mother and wife. Yet, she put her own money on the table to create another Oxford women’s college, St Hughes.

But over the years, many of her students became suffragists, and then they began riding bicycles, and that was the beginning of the end, really…

GR: Your master’s degree is in international diplomacy. Do you find that your professional experience in this field helps you write romance (or vice versa)?

ED: I had an interest in the suffrage movement since my gender politics classes, but I went on to work in business right after uni and there’s zero connection between my day job and my writer’s life. It’s my general interest in politics and women pioneers that inspires my research.

GR: The title of this book plays off of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which famously argues (among other things) that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Do you have a dedicated space where you write? Can you describe it for us?

ED: I have that quote pinned over my desk because it is as true today as it was then!

For me, the biggest enemy of getting into the creative zone is constant interruption, so I’m rather ruthless about closing that door behind me. My workspace is typical for the old Art Nouveau buildings in Berlin—shabby walls, 12-foot-high ceilings edged with paint-caked stucco; very bright thanks to tall windows facing south. Orchids, a poorly fig tree, and too many empty coffee cups also keep me company.

GR: Who are some romance authors you admire? And what romance novels would you recommend to Goodreads members?

ED: For historicals, I will one-click anything written by Lisa Kleypas, Mimi Matthews, and Joanna Bourne. Eva Leigh’s recently published Would I Lie to the Duke was also so much fun. For contemporary: Talia Hibbert’s wonderfully British Take a Hint, Dani Brown and Emily Henry’s delightful Beach Read. And I have to give a shout-out to Rosie Danan here—her debut, The Roommateis coming out this month and I adored it!

GR: Finally, what are some books you’ve read and loved recently? Anything you can’t stop recommending to your friends and family?

ED: Sally Rooney’s Normal Peopleit’s not a recent read but there’s a TV series now if a lack of parenthesis in fiction isn’t your cup of tea. I also shoved Chanel Cleeton’s The Last Train to Key West at everyone. And I’m very much looking forward to the fabulous Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents, which comes out in September.


Evie Dunmore’s A Rogue of One’s Own will be available in the U.S. on September 1. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Fern (new)

Fern Loved Evie's first book - going out today to buy A Rouge of One's Own -

message 2: by Misty (new)

Misty My pre-order copy of Rogue arrived today and I cannot wait to get alone with it. Thank you Evie Dunmore for writing my favorite kind of romance!

Heather LiteratureChick I preordered my copy and I can't wait to read.

message 4: by Rita (new)

Rita Mahato I am waiting for my copy.

message 5: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Loved Bringing Down the Rogue!!!! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

message 6: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn I loved Bringing Down the Duke. I just purchased A Rogue of One's Own and cannot wait to start reading it!

message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel C Love the book recs!

message 8: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Hayward Pérez Rachel wrote: "Love the book recs!" Me too

message 9: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Hayward Pérez The books sound great, thanks for the interview

message 10: by ClaraBelle (new)

ClaraBelle All of these sound so good! Will put on my WTR list❣️

message 11: by Jane (new)

Jane No thanks, I prefer my Victorian romances without feminism.

message 12: by Lyle (new)

Lyle I will not be reading these books.

message 13: by Ximena (new)

Ximena Loaiza Suena genial, no pensé encontrar un romance histórico con esa temática!

message 14: by Fernanda (new)

Fernanda Palhari I loved Evie's first novel and can't wait to read this sequel! <3

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