Not a Traditional Beauty...
Winifred de la Coeur, the heroine of Where Your Treasure Is, is not a traditional beauty.
Neither were Lillie Langtry or Sarah Bernhardt, yet as young women and mature doyennes they dominated public imagination.
In the 1880s, Pear’s soap reproduced Langtry’s image to great commercial effect. She was one of the first “personalities” to become an advertising icon. At the beginning of her career, she was neither a debutante nor an actress; she was simply herself, and her simple black dress (initially worn out of necessity) became a fashion statement for women as influential as Beau Brummell’s trousers for men.
While the allure of Bernhardt’s lithe figure and distinct profile escaped many of her critics, others who met her knew better. She flashed onto the world stage like Streisand, and stormed it like Lady Gaga. As with Langtry, who counted Edward VII as one of her many paramours, Bernhardt’s lovers were legion. Men literally went mad for her.
These women were different, unique; and they owned it.
World over, people who had never seen either of them perform collected their images on picture postcards. Even as older women, they exerted their goddess-like fascination on the masses.
It wasn’t merely Langtry’s and Bernhardt’s unusual looks that got people’s attention. These women flouted convention and lived on their own terms. They had spirit.
Advertising has come full circle and caught up with these mavericks.
Magazines reflect multiple standards of beauty that were “invisible” when I first opened them in the ‘70s. We like powerful women. We’re attracted to the Unique.
Though it was tempting in later drafts of Treasure to tailor Winifred’s character to current ideals of feminine power, I resisted. Except for her unconventional looks and undeniable sex-appeal, Winifred is an old-fashioned girl. Her decisions are bound by Victorian conventions, many of them from much earlier decades than the time in which she lives. After all, whose parental voices are ever, truly au courant? The feminine influences that seek to safely guide Winifred to matrimony and motherhood are themselves shaped by values from a prior generation or two. In the 1890s, women’s suffrage was another generation away. Changes in property and marriage laws offered more protection for women, but not much. It was still a man’s world.
Women like Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt lived beyond the pale. But they were
entertainers—professionals who even at the turn of the century were still considered outsiders. Like certain musicians, actors, and some artists, they moved in a world still redolent of the courtesans and high-class prostitutes of an earlier age.
The cost for choosing an unconventional life for women was high. They risked losing their children, their property. In the most extreme cases, they could be institutionalized.
What happens when an old-fashioned girl like Winifred de la Coeur realizes her only road to happiness lies off the beaten track? Will she risk all for freedom and love? Or are the stakes too high?
Where Your Treasure Is, a Victorian romance, is now available for preorder to libraries and bookstores from all commercial and independent outlets. Launch date, April 23, 2021.