Inside The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband

  • I rarely model my characters after real people (in looks or personality) but I happened to be watching Poldark while I was writing the early chapters of The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband, and I was so struck by Eleanor Tomlinson’s eyes, that I decided to give them to Cecilia.
Eleanor Tomlinson, in character as Demelza on BBC’s most recent production of Poldark.
  • Speculaas are spiced shortbread biscuits that were traditionally baked for St. Nicholas Day (December 5) in the Netherlands. They are thin, slightly brown, and crispy, and US air passengers might recognize them as the type of cookies given out on many flights under the Biscoff label. In recent years, Trader Joe’s has started using speculaas type cookies to make their now-famous Cookie Butter. TJ’s refers to the cookies as speculoos, which is the Flemish spelling of the word.
  • British forces occupied New York City for most of the Revolutionary War, and many prisoners of war were held on prison ships moored not far off the coast. These vessels were generally damaged or obsolete, and thus not useful in battle, and conditions on board were appalling. It is estimated that well over half the men held on these ships died during incarceration, most due to malnutrition or disease.
  • One thing about Manhattan hasn’t changed over time: space is at a premium and real estate isn’t cheap. The British army, desperate to find room for all of its soldiers, commandeered countless buildings, including churches like the one used as a hospital in the early chapters of The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband.
  • In Edward’s letter to Cecilia from Newport, Rhode Island, he mentions that some of his men were billeted in a synagogue. Although I didn’t mention it by name, this refers to Touro Synagogue, which is the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in North America, and indeed, the only one that dates back to the Colonial era. Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, founded in 1654, is the oldest U.S. congregation, but its early buildings are no longer in existence and the current synagogue, on W. 70th Street, dates from 1897.
    The Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI Interior

    The Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI Exterior
  • Margaret Tryon was a real historical figure. She was born Margaret Wake, and when she married she brought with her a dowry of £30,000. Her father was the East India Company’s Governor of Bombay from 1742 to 1750, and her mother hailed from an old and influential Norfolk family. Indeed, it was through these connections that Margaret’s husband William Tryon secured his first major position in the New World, that of Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina in 1764. Margaret was thought to be an eccentric, and indeed a little “mannish,” due to her interest in military matters over more traditionally feminine pursuits.
  • In 1773, the New York Governor’s Mansion burned to the ground, and the Tryons’ daughter (also named Margaret) was saved when her governess threw her out a second-story window into a snowbank. Ironically, Margaret Tryon (the younger) later died during a botched elopement in England when she fell from a ladder and impaled herself on a fence.

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