Guest author Jill Marie Landis shares the romantic lure of Victorian Hawaii.
Hawaii. Just the word itself conjures up the image of palm trees standing tall against a deep blue sky, trade winds carrying the scent of exotic blossoms, the sound of gentle waves lapping against a golden shore at sunset. What better place to set a historical romance than in a tropical paradise?
Not only did the lush backdrop of the islands inspire me as I sat down to write Glass Beach, but I knew two of the essential elements historical romance readers crave were present during the Victorian era; lords and ladies and rugged cowboys.
In the late 1800’s, Hawaiian kings and queens and members of the Hawaiian monarchy emulated the style and grandeur of European royalty. (Hawaii’s Iolani Palace in Honolulu is the only official state residence of royalty on United States soil.) Since 1832 when King Kamehameha III brought in Spanish vaqueros from California to teach his men how to round up wild cattle, Hawaiian cowboys, known in the islands as paniolo, have been celebrated in story and song.
The landscape of the island along with diaries, accounts, and vintage photographs of the late 1890’s inspired scene after scene. It was easy to envision island women on horseback in flowing white Victorian gowns, flowers in their hair or adorning their hats as they rode along a beach or up a pali (cliff) trail.
Young courting couples of standing would have been chaperoned, thus outings included others so a party atmosphere ensued. A luau or traditional Hawaiian feast as well as picnics were as popular then as now, especially when blue skies and balmy breezes invite all to spend as much time as possible outdoors.
Horseback rides took revelers across streams into verdant valleys. They would have picked mountain apples (ohia) along a mist shrouded upland trail, spread blankets in the shade and put out decorative china, wooden calabashes full of fruit, finger sandwiches, sweets and savories. Nearby a fire of lehua wood might be lit, covered with an iron grill over which beef ribs were be grilled. Not only were memories made and romance inspired, but so were stories and songs.
Queen Lili`uokalani, was the last reigning Hawaiian Monarch and an accomplished composer. While touring Oahu during her first act as the newly appointed heir apparent in 1877, she was departing Maunawili Ranch, a secluded estate both she and her brother, King David Kalakaua, often visited for respite. Pausing to look back as she rode through the gate, Lili`uokalani witnessed a young man of the entourage receiving a lei, a wreath of flowers, from a young Hawaiian girl who lived on the ranch. With the girl’s lei around his neck, he returned the loving goodbye gesture with an embrace and a kiss as he bid the girl farewell.
Inspired by the romantic scene she witnessed, the Queen wrote the haunting melody and lyrics for the song “Aloha ‘Oe” – “one fond embrace, a ho`i a`e au, until we meet again.” Well known authors of the era, Herman Melville, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson all succumbed to the seduction of Victorian Hawaii.
Jill Marie Landis has written over twenty-five novels which have earned distinguished awards and made national bestseller lists including the USA Today Top 50 and the New York Times. Look for her cozy mystery series set in Hawaii, The Tiki Goddess Mysteries.