The Role of Injury and Illness in My Historical Romances

A Convalescent by James Tissot, 1876.
(Sheffield City Art Galleries)

In my historical romance novels, I often have characters who have experienced a catastrophic injury or illness. As many of you know, several years ago, I broke my neck, so the journey of coming to terms with a disability is a very personal subject to me, and one I suppose I’m constantly working out through my art.

To that end, I’m extra sensitive about criticisms that claim a hero or heroine is “weak” because of their disability. In my opinion, physical strength has very little to do with being a strong person. I do, however, often begin an injured or ill character’s journey—such as with Arthur Heywood in The Work of Art or Maggie Honeywell in Gentleman Jim—from a point of their having given up hope. Again, this is based on my own experience.

A sudden health catastrophe brings up all sorts of emotions. When that catastrophe has the effect of robbing you of the one thing you valued most about yourself—your athletic ability, for example, or your independence—it can lead to a period of extreme depression as you struggle to come to terms with your limitations. I know it did for me.

This is not the end of the journey.

With support and encouragement from friends and family, it is possible to forge a new sort of life and to find happiness and fulfillment in that life. At the start, it may take a little prodding from your loved ones. In The Work of Art, Philly had to encourage Arthur to walk and ride again. Similarly, in Gentleman Jim, Maggie’s best friend, Jane, is initially the one to help draw Maggie out of her malaise.

This is not about “fixing” a disability. This is about reclaiming one’s sense of self. By the end of my stories, I always hope I’ve shown that characters have regained their fire. That they’ve embraced life again on their own terms, and are ready to move forward in whatever way best suits them.

It may not be the way you have handled your own injury or illness—or the way you imagine you might if you had one—but it’s reflective of what happened to me.

*Gentleman Jim will be out on November 10th. I hope you’ll all enjoy it!

Coming November 10th

Gentleman Jim
A Tale of Romance and Revenge

Find out more or Read an excerpt

Order Today
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Advance Praise for Gentleman Jim

“Matthews serves up a savory blend of suspense, erotic infatuation, and marriage intrigue. Her characters are sharply drawn and captivating with lots of Hogarthian quirks; her scenes of balls, drawing-room manners, and vaporous anxieties over deportment are full of piquant details; and the dialogue is tartly elegant…A vigorous, sparkling, and entertaining love story with plenty of Austen-ite wit.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Matthews ups the ante with a wildly suspenseful romance, filled with scheming and betrayals, and featuring a courageous heroine in fragile health paired with a hero bent on retribution who isn’t too good to be true.” -Library Journal, starred review

“Equally passionate and powerful…Mimi Matthews proves once again that she is a master of historical fiction in Gentleman Jim.” -Readers’ Favorite

“Rollicking and romantic, passionate and intriguing, Matthews has delivered a gorgeous love story, rife with legendary romantic tension…Regency romance does not get any better than Gentleman Jim.” -Relz Reviewz

“Full to the brim of a passionate spirit that almost bursts from the pages…This is Mimi Matthews on Caffeine…This will charge your brain and light your heart…I freaking LOVE this book.” -Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration

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Alexandria Szeman
Alexandria Szeman
6 months ago

One of the things I like most about your novels is how damaged some of the characters are. Whether physically or mentally challenged, they become more real and human to me. I didn’t know about your own neck injury, and I am sorry if you still struggle with that injury, but I appreciate what your own struggles have done with your writing, which is magnificent, and your characters, whom I adore.

Jennie Goutet
Jennie Goutet
6 months ago

I didn’t know that you went through that. I adore the depth of your characters and particularly how they overcome their hurdles.

6 months ago

I adore your books; your characters come alive on the pages. I wouldn’t change anything about your writing. I am sorry you have experienced such difficult physical challenges. I have had physical problems over time and have had to work my way through them also. I still struggle, I am grateful you have poured such effort and love into your writing. Your readers are blessed by your skill.

Christie Stratos
Christie Stratos
6 months ago

“I am more than my body. My body has no attachment to my inherent worth as a person.” – Chrissy King, fitness coach.
I love that you include challenges, illnesses, and disabilities in your books. I think it’s a unique aspect to cover, particularly for the time period (the same one I write in!), and it belongs in fiction so that those who have never experienced the same thing can understand and walk in those characters’ shoes. ❤️

Mary T
Mary T
6 months ago

Having just recently read THE WINTER COMPANION, Neville Cross was fresh in my mind as I read this post. It is true – a disability does not define the strength of a person. It is interesting to think of what life was like for those with disabilities in the middle of the 19th century.

You write such wonderful, well defined characters!

Anastasia Katopodis
Anastasia Katopodis
6 months ago

This is expressed so brilliantly in your novels. Your personal challenge comes through in your characters, and their coming to understand themselves is poignant and respectful. I absolutely love your characters and now understand why you portray them so authenticity. I read Gentleman Jim and I loved it. Thank you for writing books that are not fairy tales, but depict stories that most people can understand others’ struggles.

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