There are readers — many of them — to whom Eloisa James will need no introduction, and others to whom she will. Inasmuch as she leads a singularly interesting life, let’s introduce her first before getting on to the business of “Paris in Love,” the most recent of her many books.
When Eloisa James is not Eloisa James, she is Mary Bly, the daughter of the poet Robert (“Iron John”) Bly and his first wife, the late Carol Bly, a respected writer of short stories. As Mary Bly, she has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and post-graduate degrees from Oxford and Yale. She is on the English literature faculty at Fordham University in New York, whose Web site describes her specialty as “early modern drama, with interests in boys’ plays, queer theory, puns, London.” She has published two academic books — “Consuming London: Mapping Plays, Puns, and Tourists in the Early Modern City” and “Queer Virgins and Virgin Queens on the Early Modern Stage” — and is at work on a third, “The Geography of Puns,” which the Fordham site calls “a project addressing the geographical and linguistic economies of early modern London.” She also lectures frequently on Shakespeare and other subjects, and delivers several such lectures during the period covered in “Paris in Love.”
So, you think, a conventional 21st-century academic career, complete with scholarly works that probably never will be read outside the tiny circles of “early modern drama” and its related studies. Well, think again, for Mary Bly, like Clark Kent, slips into the nearest telephone booth, quickly changes clothes and zooms out as . . . Eloisa James! Who, you ask, is Eloisa James? She is the author of 25 romance novels, all of them apparently hugely popular. Published as paperback originals by Avon, they include “Desperate Duchesses,” “Potent Pleasures,” “The Taming of the Duke,” “Your Wicked Ways” and “Pleasure for Pleasure.” Their vivid covers invariably show gorgeous women and, from time to time, muscular but sensitive men. Go to www.eloisajames.com, and you will be presented with a panoply of pleasures, all obviously designed to put you in the mood not so much for love as for plunking down $7.99 for “The Duke Is Mine,” the latest of her bodice-rippers.
But wait! Not merely is she a scholar and a romance novelist, she’s a wife and a mother. Her husband, Alessandro Vettori, is an Italian nobleman who teaches Italian at Rutgers University, and they have two children, Luca and Anna. They live in New York except during the summers, when they move to Tuscany to be with Vettori’s mother and his extended family.
If that sounds to you like a pretty good life, that’s the way it sounds to me, too. Not only has Eloisa James clearly given them enviable financial flexibility, but leading the academic life gives them plenty of time off. So awhile back they decided to take a sabbatical year and live in Paris. They sold their house in New Jersey, found “an Italian school in Paris that our bilingual children could attend” and headed to France: “In August we moved to an apartment on rue de Conservatoire, a two-block-long street most notable for the music that floats, on warm afternoons, from the open windows of the conservatory. We found ourselves in the 9th arrondissement, in a quartier that is home to various immigrant populations, the Folies Bergere, and more Japanese restaurants than I have fingers.”