Romance hasn’t just been having a moment — it can really be described as the moment, especially given its staying power in publishing, and in terms of all the subgenres through which we get our love stories, it’s clear that historicals are here to stay. But the beauty of even historical romances is that they can be set across the backdrop of some of the most fascinating and differing eras of our past. There’s the Regency, of course, as well as the medieval era and anything involving Scottish highlanders, but these days, the Gilded Age (which spanned approximately between the years 1870 to 1900) is starting to emerge as a period through which to tell tales of people falling in love.
This development in economic prosperity is where Harper St. George’s Gilded Age Heiresses books, which follow the independent and determined women the series is named for, are set. Not only do they have to navigate the intricacies of society, but they also face scorn and potential ostracization thanks to the fact that they come from “new” money, rather than anything that can be tied to an inheritance. Then again, the heiresses themselves are hardly eager to marry into the stuffy British aristocracy, either — and the conflicts that result between what is considered a duty versus matters of the heart are as exciting and stirring as St. George’s prose.
With The Duchess Takes a Husband, there’s a new heroine on the cusp of love: Camille, the titular duchess herself, who hardly has a leg to stand on in society in spite of her title. However, when she crosses paths with the intriguing Jacob Thorne, an illegitimate son and co-owner of a club that practically invites scandal, she approaches him with a surprising proposition. (Those of us who love romance to our bones will know where this fake engagement + tutelage in pleasure conceit is headed!)
Here’s how the publisher describes the story:
Despite her illustrious title, Camille, Duchess of Hereford, remains what she has always been—a pariah. Though her title means she’s technically accepted by London Society, the rebellious widow with her burgeoning interest in the suffrage movement and her American ways isn’t exactly high on every hostess’s guest list. But Camille starts to wonder if being an outcast is not without its perks when the tantalizing answer to her secret fear appears in the shape of Jacob Thorne, the illegitimate son of an earl and co-owner of London’s infamous Montague Club.
Jacob is used to making deals with his club members—he’s just not accustomed to them being beautiful women. Nor have the terms ever been so sweetly seductive as Camille’s shocking proposition. To finally buy his own club and gain the crucial backing of investors, Camille offers Jacob the respectability of a fake engagement with a duchess. In return, the tempting widow has one condition: she wants Jacob to show her if it’s possible for her to experience pleasure in bed.
The lure of such a bargain proves too delicious to resist, drawing the enterprising rogue and the wallflower duchess into a scandalous game and an even more dangerous gamble of the heart.
The Duchess Takes a Husband will be released on April 11, 2023, but we’re so excited to be able to exclusively reveal the cover to you right now—along with an interview with St. George herself, who can preview what’s to come from Camille and Jacob’s romance, what drove her to set her popular historical series in the Gilded Age, which real-life figures from history inspired her characters, and more!
Paste Magazine: What made you want to set these novels in the Gilded Age specifically? What was it about the time period itself that appealed to you?
Harper St. George: The Gilded Age is a fascinating time in history. We see the rise of so many families that we recognize today, like the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Hearsts. Some of these men (often through unethical business practices) became the richest anyone had ever been in the world up until that time. This brought about a level of opulence and decadence that had never been seen in America. Women were paying $10,000 for ball gowns. People were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to furnish their homes with priceless art and furniture from Europe. The homes themselves were like palaces.
Against this backdrop of wealth and extravagance, drastic social issues and changes were taking place. We see the rise of the fight for women’s rights and racial equality. The middle class is being created. Discussion of workers’ rights are coming to the forefront, largely because this wealth was being accumulated amidst a depression and these workers had no protections. It was an exciting time and there are so many stories waiting to be told.
Paste: Did you take inspiration for the Crenshaws from any real-life figures, or draw on true moments in history while crafting the series?
St. George: This series was completely inspired by the Dollar Princesses. These were American women from new money families who married European aristocrats in a bid to raise their social status. The families that gained their fortunes in the Gilded Age, like the Crenshaws, were known as “new money,” which meant that they were excluded from high society. There was nowhere this was more apparent than in Manhattan. The Knickerbockers of Old New York, including the well-known Astors, resented the implication that new money should be allowed into their social circles simply because of their wealth. With fashionable New York ballrooms closed to them, these women—or often their parents—turned to Europe to find husbands.
These unions were known as “cash for class” marriages. Industrialization had caused many noble families to lose their generational wealth. With these marriages, the nobles saw their fortunes restored, and the American daughters gained titles and entrance to society. Over a period of nearly 50 years, there were around 350 of these marriages.
A few of the more famous Dollar Princesses were Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome; Princess Diana’s great-grandmother, Frances Work; and Consuelo Vanderbilt. Consuelo was forced by her parents to marry the ninth Duke of Marlborough. Contemporary reports claimed that she could be heard crying as she walked down the aisle, and the marriage was famously unhappy. Consuelo’s experience, in particular, was my inspiration for Camille, Duchess of Hereford.
Paste: Camille is a character whose story has played out largely in the background of the previous novels in the series. Now that she has her own romance on the way, what was most important to illustrate about her journey to love?
St. George: Camille is forced to marry the much older and unyielding Duke of Hereford very early in the first book of the series and we see how unhappy she is throughout the books. She becomes the cautionary tale that make the Crenshaw heiresses so unwilling to compromise their future happiness by marrying a title to placate their parents. She has experienced a marriage that was controlling and abusive and it has left her understandably shaken and insecure when the marriage is over.
I wanted to show her coming to terms with what happened to her in the past and eventually overcoming it by not letting it define her present or future. Her journey demonstrates how it is possible to triumph over the bad things that have happened in our lives and to find love, but, most importantly, to still love ourselves.
Paste: Can you tease anything about what’s in store for Camille and Jacob’s romance?
St. George: After her marriage, Camille is left with trust and intimacy issues. She is definitely not looking for love or a relationship, and she wonders if physical intimacy is even possible for her. She turns to Jacob for help because he has a certain reputation with women, and she knows he is someone she can trust.
Jacob, on the other hand, has never had problems with physical intimacy. His problem has always been running away from any sort of emotional involvement with women. He’s learned from his parents that romantic relationships can be messy and painful, so he’s decided they’re not for him. When he and Camille come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, they both get a little bit more than they bargained for.
Paste: This cover is the latest in a series of absolutely stunning ones. How involved are you in the design process at this point, and what sort of feeling did you want to convey with the cover for The Duchess Takes a Husband?
St. George: I am so incredibly lucky to have gorgeous covers for these books! The Berkley art department and Rita Frangie have created beautiful works of art.
I knew that I wanted the books to focus on the heroines because they are absolutely the focus of the series. I also wanted them to convey the opulence and richness of the setting. Other than that, I sent over a few comp covers and dress color suggestions and my editor and the art department handled the rest. Each one has been so very stunning. I get so excited each time a new one pops into my inbox.
Paste: Any plans for more books in the Gilded Age Heiresses series after this one? Or are you working on any other projects at the moment that you can talk about?
St. George: Right now, I am working on a spin-off series called Doves of New York The series starts in 1878, picking up where the Gilded Age Heiresses left off.
The Dove family consists of three illegitimate sisters who come to London in search of titled husbands. The Doves are briefly mentioned in The Duchess Takes a Husband, and Camille and the Crenshaw sisters agree to help them on their quest.
Paste: What books have you read lately that you can’t stop thinking about/obsessing over?
An Unsuitable Duchess by Laurie Benson—-This is an old favorite that I recently reread. It’s set in 1818 London and is about the very first (fictional) duke to marry an American.
A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera—The heroine in this one is an heiress who owns a rum distillery and it is set in Belle Époque Paris.
The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews— love Mimi’s writing and how she’s able to bring in a true feel for the period in her writing. This one stands out because the hero designs the heroine’s riding habits for her, which is so unique.
Carly Lane is an Atlanta-based writer who considers herself a lifelong Star Wars fan, newbie Trekker, diehard romance reader, nascent horror lover, and occasional live-tweeter. She is the senior TV editor at Collider, a former contributing editor for SYFY FANGRRLS, and has also written for Vulture, the Boston Globe, Nerdist, Teen Vogue, Den of Geek, The Toast, and elsewhere around the Internet.