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Interview with Harper St. George

A dark-haired woman in a formal evening gown with wide purple skirts, topped with gold flowers and set against a backdrop of trees in leaf; cover of Harper St. George's The Stranger I Wed

People who love romance novels tend to have clear expectations of how a story will develop and where it will end up. As a result, it’s usually not a surprise, once you identify the leads, that they will end up together. The issue is how, and good romance novelists know to throw plenty of obstacles in the way and include other interesting twists to keep readers hooked.

Harper St. George has had plenty of practice with this, and it shows. As discussed in the interview below, the opening to her new series introduces the Dove sisters and their mother, who exist at the edge of New York’s Gilded Age high society. Although the girls’ father belongs to the wealthy Hathaway family, he never married their mother, and in 1877 illegitimacy is a big deal—not in a good way. Charles Hathaway has supported his second family, up to a point, but he doesn’t want them in his life, embarrassing him before the Four Hundred. And thus the stage is set. Since Harper St. George was kind enough to answer my questions, read on to find out more.

You have written, by my count, more than twenty romance novels, mostly historical—most recently, the Gilded Age Heiresses series. The current novel is the first in a new series about three sisters. What inspired this latest project?

After the success of the Gilded Age Heiresses, I wanted to continue writing stories in the vein of American heiresses marrying into the British aristocracy. It is such a fascinating period in real American history with so many colorful characters populating the true landscape that there are almost an unlimited number of stories to tell. I love the research involved, and I feel that I could stay in this world for years to come and never run out of things to say. In my new series, The Doves of New York, I wanted a new challenge.

My previous series focused on an industrialist family from New York hoping to marry their daughters off to titled husbands. This territory has been well-documented in the historical record. But I wondered if the prospect of money would be enough to overcome a woman’s illegitimacy in getting her a titled husband. After some research, I found that it would in the real story of Almina Wombwell. She was English, not American, but she was the illegitimate daughter of an industrialist. Her biological father wanted to see her married well, so he used his money and influence to see her married to an earl. She became a countess and mistress of Highclere Castle, which Downton Abbey viewers will recognize from the show. Once I stumbled across her story, the idea for the Doves of New York was born.

Cora Dove is the heroine of The Stranger I Wed. When we first meet her, she has decided to confront her father. What does she want from him?

Cora and her sisters have been secrets that their biological father has kept ever since they were born. Their mother was his mistress, whom he had promised to wed, but he promptly reneged on that promise once his parents disapproved and threatened to disinherit him. He did his duty and married a society woman instead and tried to hide the Doves away.

At the start of the book, Cora has received a letter telling her that her grandmother has left an inheritance for her and her sisters. Cora confronts her father to collect that inheritance, but there is also a part of her that wants some sort of acknowledgment and acceptance from him. Deep down, she wants to feel that she is worthy of him and his affection and that maybe he hasn’t forgotten about them at all.

Tell us a bit about the background and challenges facing Cora and her two sisters, Eliza and Jenny.

Since they’re illegitimate, they’ve never had the social graces education that other heiresses in their situation might have had. Their mother is a retired actress and does know how to behave appropriately in social situations thanks to her training, and she taught her daughters that skill. They also received some education when they were younger. However, they still lack the polish of other young women hoping to make good marriages.

Also, as much as she helps them, their mother is a hindrance to them. She grew up an orphan in Chicago, which was the wild west at the time. As a teenager, she ran away from the orphanage to pursue her stage career. She also married and divorced at an early age. All of these things are secrets that should probably stay buried if the Dove sisters have any hope of landing respectable husbands.

As you can imagine, their mother is very accustomed to doing as she wishes when she wishes. She may know how to pretend social skills, but she doesn’t really understand why she might need to use those skills. She thinks the upper class is a bit full of themselves and doesn’t mind telling them so. Obviously, this attitude coupled with the secrets could pose a problem for daughters hoping to marry into that class.

Leopold, the Earl of Devonworth, is the stranger Cora weds (although I loved the reminder late in the book that she is also the stranger he weds). Introduce us to him, please, as a personality.

Leo inherited the title from his father relatively early in his life, so he was forced to assume a responsibility that was beyond his years. This caused him to take on a very serious and studious personality. He understands and appreciates his privilege in life and has used it to help others and to attempt to undo some of the damage his late father wrought. He is also suffering the lingering effects of a broken heart. The woman he thought he loved decided to marry someone wealthier, and it’s taken him a while to recover from that rejection. When Cora comes into his life, he’s determined to accept her as his wife because he needs to marry. The last thing he expects is to allow her into his heart.

How does their “meet-cute” take place?

Cora and her sisters have been fortunate in having a dowager duchess (an American heiress from my previous series) sponsor their entrance into Society. The dowager has compiled a list of bachelors she thinks will make suitable husbands. She then takes the sisters out to view the potential suitors in secret as the men go about their ordinary lives so that the women can judge their true personalities. They find Leo playing in a football (soccer) game, and Cora inadvertently wanders onto the field of play. Leo quite literally runs into her, and she’s immediately smitten with him.

One thing that draws Cora and Devonworth together—although it also causes some conflict—is their shared interest in social change. What can you tell us about that?

Cora has grown up feeling very much less than because of her father’s rejection. It’s made her keenly aware of her limitations as a woman, probably more than if her parents had married and she’d been raised with the privileges of a daughter of Fifth Avenue. Because of this, she’s developed an intense interest in pursuing equal rights for women. She wants to have the option of obtaining an education and a meaningful career instead of relying on the handouts from her father.

Leo also had a difficult relationship with his father. His father was very much a part of the older generation of aristocrats who thought they were entitled to wealth because of their birth and didn’t appreciate their position as stewards of their land. Leo sees the need for forward thinking as a means of keeping up as the world around him is changing.

This forward thinking on both of their parts is truly what draws them together. Cora comes to admire Leo and his logical position and reasoning. Leo comes to see Cora as one of his only sources of support rather than another burden placed on him. This is important because Leo is very much someone who needs to develop an emotional attachment before feeling a more primal attraction. He slowly lets her into the inner sanctum of his heart as his respect for her grows.

This novel includes a snippet from the next book in the series, Eliza and the Duke. Are you still working on that one, or are you already on to something new? And either way, what can you tell us about your current project?

I’m currently editing the next book in the series, Eliza and the Duke. Eliza is the youngest Dove sister. She’s intelligent, impulsive, and adventurous, which makes her a lot of fun to write. While Eliza was initially on board with the idea of finding a titled husband to collect her inheritance—who wouldn’t want that sort of stability in their life?—she starts to have second thoughts. The nobleman she’s engaged to marry doesn’t seem very fun at all, and she’s certain he won’t allow her to pursue her goal of attaining a higher education. As their wedding date approaches, she becomes increasingly desperate to have one last hurrah before settling down to a marriage of convenience and in an act of sheer desperation, or stupidity, does something that brings her face to face with a man who is entirely unsuitable for her. It's too bad that she can’t forget him.

Thank you so much for answering my questions!

A smiling dark-haikred woman in a blue dress; head shot of author Harper St. George

Harper St. George is the author of more than twenty historical romances—most recently, The Stranger I Wed. She lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and children. Find out more about her books at

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