Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
December 16th, 2012

Why I Write WWI Romance Novels

Stretcher-Bearing in Difficulties

Stretcher-Bearing in Difficulties © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3801)

The words seem incongruous–“Romance” and “WWI”. To many historians (academic and family), it might seem insulting to situate a “bodice ripper” in the midst of a violent, tragic, and heartbreaking war, and to many readers, it might seem too sad and hopeless a setting to believe in the fantasy elements of the genre. As I fill my hard drive and bookshelves with research books I live with the carnage and blood and despair, but I also live with the bravery and pluck and determination of WWI society, and yes, also the humor.

What attracts me most is that women have an even greater agency than before. Things loosened up considerably during the Edwardian era, but the war showed women what they were made of, whether they became a VAD nurse or ran large charities. Another attraction is the shaking-up of the class system. It wasn’t entirely demolished, but the foundations of the upstairs/downstairs life, as well as the divide between the have and the have-nots, were tested and challenged. After all, what does rank and wealth matter in death or in perilous situations?

When it comes to the actual romantic life during WWI, from the outside looking in (or rather looking back from today), it seems depressing, but do people ever stop falling in love? Does hope and joy absolutely end? I think not, and all of that–particularly wanting to honor the living, the survivors of that time–is what I hope to capture each time I write a romantic novel set during the Great War.

November 9th, 2012

What I’m Reading Now: War Girls by Janet Lee

War Girls by Janet Lee

Fleur Demorest, the heroine of my NaNoWriMo novel is an ambulance driver. There were multiple women’s ambulance units working in France throughout the war (the Voluntary Aid Detachment, the Women’s Reserve Ambulance [Green Cross Corps], the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, etc), but the most famous were the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. It was founded in 1909 with the aim of creating a unit of nurses who could ride onto the battlefield to administer first aid. The technology of WWI quickly changed the focus from horses to automobiles, and since access to and skill with both horses and autos were the prerogative of the well-to-do and aristocratic classes, the FANY was typically made up of upper middle class and upper class women who could drive and also afford to kit themselves out.

The duties of each ambulance unit were rather similar–ferrying the wounded, meeting hospital trains and ships, knowing a little First Aid, etc–but as Lee points out, the FANY stood out as independent, gutsy, and insouciant in a world where the proper place for a woman was only as a nurse or rolling bandages on the Home Front (the Land Girls, clippies [bus conductresses], policewomen, etc also butted heads with this notion).

Nursing widened the scope of women during WWI, but being able to hop into an ambulance and drive like a man was an even bigger leap, and Fleur’s choice to take this road instead of remaining at home results in her estrangement from her parents. Her unorthodox wartime work also opens her up to gross insinuations…which leads to much angst between her and Ivor!