Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Gamblers Anonymous: Romance’s Sweet and Sexy Take on the Underworld

d9f22093-35a4-4022-8606-21ccc7df82da

I was reading Cecilia Grant’s blurb for her June 2012 book and the blurb makes it clear that the story is about gambling.  Gambling plots have a long history in romance and in popular culture.  Card playing is  not viewed as a vice but rather an activity at which any decent hero of distinction excels (much like swiving).

I’m not sure what about gamblers are so attractive, but mobsters have long held a place of romanticism in the public eye. It may be based on the concept of family, wealth, or even violence.

The first gambler romance that I can recall is Lisa Kleypas’ famous “Dreaming With You” originally published in 1994.  Derek Craven owns London’s most exclusive gambling den.  He falls in love with authoress Sara Fielding who came to London to research gambling dens for her next novel.  Derek speaks in cant  or some version of mangled English that the lower classes apparently spoke in the Regency time period.   The book is filled with gentle humor and a sweet romance but it is, amongst other things, a beauty and the beast story.  While Sara is not considered beautiful to most people, to Derek she is the finest thing that has ever crossed his threshold and he doesn’t believe that he is worthy to lay a single finger on her being let alone be allowed to love her.

Kleypas revisits the gambling club scene in her 2009 book “Devil in Winter” with the heroine being the daughter of Ivo Jenner, an infamous underworld figure.

The next few months include a number of gambling set books. Anne Mallory’s “In Total Surrender” is the second of a duology featuring a pair of men who own a gambling den.  (The first is reviewed here)  In Total Surrender is billed as a dark romance primarily because of the tortured hero who is constantly being stalked by assassins.

There are common themes that run amongst the gambling stories:  a loyal crowd of retainers, usually comprised of gruff old men and young boys pulled off the street; a tortured past for the hero; and a saintly female.  One of the books that goes agains the grain is Suzanne Enoch’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes“.  (This title has nothing to do with the book. In fact, I wondered if it was intended for a different book and got stuck on this book in some marketing papers and that was the end of it).  The heroine in Enoch’s book is opening an exclusive subscription gambling club because she is broke and she doesn’t want to marry again.  Through trickery and blackmail she gets an old lover to stake her and train her girls.  Her house becomes an accidental haven for well bred girls and not so well bred girls who are attempting to live on their own.  As the house gains in popularity and financial success, the heroine’s former brother in law comes to challenge her claim. (This is the weakest part of the book).

I think one of the challenges featuring a BAD MAN as the hero is that so rarely do you ever see the gamblers and thieves doing anything bad.  You don’t rise to the top of the criminal pile by being super good.  You do it by being too dangerous to cross.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s November book, “Scandalous Desires“, features a river pirate as a hero.  Not quite the gambler hero but of the same cloth.  He grew up poor and used criminal means to gain power and fortune.  The hero, Charming Mickey O’Connor actually ruined the heroine, just because he could.  He did it to show off his power and power meant everything to Mickey O’Connor.  In fact, that was the crux of the conflict.  The heroine, Silence, told him that what he did hurt innocent people like herself and her dead husband and in order for them to be together, Mickey O’Connor would have to give up that power.

Another popular pirate turned hero is Rhys from Meljean Brook’s “The Iron Duke“.  We see him being plenty bad.  After all, he takes, or at least tries to take, whatever he wants.  He cares little about anyone except to those in his inner circle.  The challenge for Mina, the heroine,  is to make Rhys understand that life is not about just taking what he desires.

All these gambling, criminal underworld elements make me wonder about the trade class.  Why so few books about them?  We can have courtesans, gamblers, pirates, spies but people who own businesses, are in trade, seem to be missing.  The last one that I can recall would be the hero in Evangeline Collins’ “Seven Nights to Forever.”  The hero was a wealthy merchant.

The conclusion I’ve drawn (maybe incorrectly) is that gamblers and pirates and other criminals are viewed as rogues to be redeemed and wealthy merchants are boring.  Maybe after decades of books telling us that people who earn money legitimately “stink of the trade” and thus aren’t good enough (or bad enough) to be leading characters.  I guess that would be one more thing to blame Georgette Heyer for?

What does the readership think?  Are you anxious to read stories about the merchant class?  Do you feel like there isn’t enough drama, conflict, excitement in books about those types of people?  What makes the underclass sexy for you?  Or is it just one author (Kleypas) popularizing a trope for the entirety of the genre?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. DM
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 04:48:37

    I think we get gamblers, rogues, and criminals, because they’re short hand for tough and sexy, and the author doesn’t have to show them being bad, climbing to the top of the heap or defending their position up there. All of that pesky character development that might make the hero unlikable for some readers takes place off-stage. Of course this tends to undermine the whole redemption idea. If we never see the hero being bad, we won’t feel anything when he turns good. But editors are wary of any qualities that might make a character less likable and sell fewer books, so we end up with a lot of books no one hates…but no one loves either, because they pull their emotional punches.

    My favorite merchant hero is Thornton in the BBC’s adaptation of Gaskell’s North and South. He’s not very likable at the beginning of the series. We see him through the eyes of the heroine, and he seems like a brute. That makes it all the more powerful when we and the heroine come to understand his actions, and it’s truly moving when he changes. I’ve read very few romances this year that moved me as much as that series, and I think a big part of the reason is authors and editors playing it safe with their heroes.

    For drama, conflict, and excitement, give me Thornton over most of the faux rogues, gamblers, and criminals I’ve read lately.

  2. Lorenda
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 05:32:37

    I think the pirate, gambler, etc characters are seen and seen again because it’s much easier to plot. With a character dabbling (or all-out swimming) in the unsavory side of life, you get a near limitless list of “bad guys” to disrupt the romance. The gambler/pirate can’t fall in love; he’s too busy running from X who’s out to kill him.

    The businessman? He can’t fall in love because he’s too busy…working?

    I just think it’s tough to craft a plot around the everyday ins and outs of life that most of us live. It’s possible, just very, very tough.

  3. Deb
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 05:41:30

    Because my grandfather was a gambler and it had a devastating effect on my mother’s family, I’m never going to see those people as romantic heroes.

  4. Jan
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 05:53:37

    I miss the merchants as well. The closest we get is merchants daughters who want to marry a title.

    I love Gaskell’s North and South with a severe passion. Thornton is one of the best romance heroes around, and he’s not even in a romance novel. I love it as well because it’s such an excellent study of the rural south vs the undustrial North, and the various social classes and conflicts. Oh, how I love that book. And the mini-series wasn’t bad either, but then Thornton was played by Richard Armitage, so that only helps.

    Anyway. I don’t like Lisa Kleypas at all, but her book I disliked least was Secrets of a Summer Night, which features a butcher’s son merchant I think.

    There’s also a Goodreads list for Dukeless Historical Romance. There’s a lot of Kleypas on there, and a lot of army/navy people, but there’s probably some merchants hidden there. (If you’re a GR member it’s also very easy to add books to lists).

    On topic: I dislike the bad boy type that isn’t really bad. It seems like everyone is called a rake or a rogue lately, even when they’ve just slept around a little bit with merry widows.

    I prefer men and women with real vices and real crimes.

    Gambling as a setting is something that doesn’t interest me really, but the June 2012 book by Cecilia Grant features a gambling hero and heroine, she definitely isn’t saintly, so I am intrigued by that. (She just posted the blurb on her blog today, that’s why I’m excited)

  5. sarah mayberry
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 07:11:50

    Huh. I just re-read Then Came You and Dreaming of You last week. I didn’t really pay much attention to the gambling setting until I was reading Dreaming of You and Kleypas attempted to square away the reader’s possible distaste for the fact that Derek Craven kept “house wenches” by letting us know that the women were allowed to keep whatever they were paid by customers for themselves and that Derek didn’t take a cut. As a reader, I was very aware that this was probably not a very likely scenario in the times and that it had been put there to stop me seeing him as an exploiter. There is also a story in one of the books about a young lord gambling away an estate he is only heir to. Of course, he cannot honor the debt, but the notion really brought home to me that Derek Craven’s success was built on other people’s misfortune, greed and addiction. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment hugely, but I wouldn’t rush out to explore more books with this setting.

  6. Avery Flynn
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 07:55:40

    I think DM said it best: “I think we get gamblers, rogues, and criminals, because they’re short hand for tough and sexy, and the author doesn’t have to show them being bad, climbing to the top of the heap or defending their position up there.”

    That said there are bunches of ruthless businessman heroes and you could argue those are simply pirates and gamblers in modern clothes. I’ve yet to read about a plumber hero. :)

  7. jayhjay
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 07:57:14

    OMG that picture is so my cat Kurt. Thinks he is all stealthy and my other cat just laughs at him!

  8. Isabel C.
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 08:20:10

    I’d say we don’t get a lot of businessmen-or-women because most of us have to work in some variant of the corporate world, and most of us find it dead boring. I can’t remember the last time I or a friend in the cube trade said something like “the most exciting thing happened at the office today!”*

    And when the corporate world isn’t boring, it’s…kind of evil, particularly these days. Honestly, if I had a choice between the average professional gambler and the average Wall Street executive…morally speaking, at least the gambler doesn’t pretend he’s good for the country, y’know?

    That doesn’t have to carry over to historical merchants–Thornton is, indeed, the hotness, though Richard Armitage does not hurt in that regard–but it does make them harder to write, particularly if you don’t concentrate on the reforming aspects.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of contemporaries featuring billionaire businessmen, so maybe I’m totally off base.

    *”Oh my God, work *blew goats in 3D today*, let me tell you about it,” sure.

  9. Jane
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 08:24:17

    @Isabel C.: I’m talking specifically about historicals. I probably didn’t make that clear in the post.

  10. Marguerite Kaye
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 08:40:24

    The problem with making trade in a historical context sexy is that it’s innately exploitative. Gamblers can be redeemed, they’ve got in-built conflict whereas merchants, unless you make your conflict about freeing slaves or building philanthropic communities, or have your merchant want to be a nobleman, then the fact that they’re a merchant isn’t really relevant. Is it?

  11. Isabel C.
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 08:46:22

    @Jane: Or I misread–pre-coffee and all. :)

    I wonder if there is carry-over into historicals, though. Trying to think of heroes who are factory owners, for example, only Thornton comes up, but I can think of a lot of villains–and likewise for merchants.

    Is this because we think “trade=bad”, I wonder, or because our own argh-I-*hate*-that-boss experiences–retail, corporate, etc–are with people closer to merchants than to aristocrats? Or both?

  12. LG
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 08:59:46

    The only merchant-class romance I can think of is in a Japanese series of books (which were popular enough to be made into anime and manga) – Spice and Wolf. I don’t think it would necessarily be classed as romance, but there is definitely romance brewing between the two main characters. Lawrence is a traveling merchant whose dream is to one day settle down and own his own shop. His friendships are business relationships, and he can’t seem to help but mentally calculate the potential worth of everything he looks at. His traveling partner, Holo, is a wolf goddess of the harvest with a gift for making profit.

    I’ve only read one book (I much prefer the anime), but, judging from that, it’s definitely possible to write a fun romance involving someone of the merchant class. Spice and Wolf gets most of its charm from Lawrence and Holo’s interaction, not so much from action, although there is a little of that. I imagine that it’s probably more work for an author to make this kind of thing interesting, though.

  13. Carolyn Jewel
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 09:33:11

    What an interesting post. Dreaming of You was my first Kleypas book! Such fond memories. Ahh….

    Anyway, as to the issue of Trade in historicals, no this is not something we can blame on Heyer. Where “Trade” falls in the sexiness scale depends a lot on when the book is set. During the English Regency, there wasn’t a middle class as we know it. It took the Reform Bill of 1837 (I believe it was ’37) and the Industrial Revolution to create that middle class and give those men meaningful political and economic power. The Reform Bill should not be underestimated in the eventual scope of its impact — it spelled, really, the beginning of the end for the politically powerful aristocracy.

    Until those two things happened, meaningful political reform and the Industrial Revolution, being in Trade was anathema to the ruling class. It meant you had to work for a living, you had (gasp!) a job. The aristocracy continued to look down on trade through the Victorian era, but it’s in the Victorian era that we see the rise of the great Industrialists whose money was “new” and the eventual need for British aristocrats to marry American money.

    Gambling is one way for a non-aristocratic pre-Victorican historical romance hero to have a “job” that allowed him to blend in with the gentry. He could appear to be idle (that is, living on income from real property) even though he was not landed. Until the late Regency, gambling was a form a peer-evaluation (and sorry for the pun, it’s intended, actually) but eventually fell out of favor (See Reform Bill)

    Being in Trade meant you worked damn hard and probably under brutal conditions. Your money did not come from any interest in Real Property. Such a hero would not have access to meaningful political power or the sort of leisure afforded the gentry. He wouldn’t be a member of the political and economic elite — and that membership is, more or less, at the core of the Regency Romance hero.

    You’d have to set a book in mid-Victorian times before you could craft a hero with realistic economic and political power.

    And that’s just for English set historicals. The market for American set historicals is pretty tough, but that’s where you could have a hero in Trade without as much of the class problems that arise in English set books.

    The sad thing is I could just keep going and add in all the stuff I’m leaving out…

  14. Amber
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 09:34:44

    I’m not totally convinced that there are more bad-boy heroes than upstanding citizens. I can think of several right off the bat (It’s Always Been You, As You Desire, SEVERAL historical Kleypas heroes, I think she actually has more of these than she does Derek Cravens) and I know there’d be plenty more should I run down my read list. But the difference is that since there’s inherently less conflict in a wealthy merchant, their work is not featured in the book. It is a side thing (oh, and by the way, they are ridiculously rich from their “business interests” and that’s why he can afford everything in the world) and the focus is on the romance and perhaps some sort of suspense plot (that might spin off of the business, but just as easily might not).

    But yes, I also have a problem when our “bad boy” is shown only doing good. Maybe we don’t have to actually SEE him torture someone, but if he’s 100% the gentleman the entire time, then the show doesn’t match the tell.

  15. Jane
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 09:38:01

    @Carolyn Jewel:

    Being in Trade meant you worked damn hard and probably under brutal conditions. Your money did not come from any interest in Real Property. Such a hero would not have access to meaningful political power or the sort of leisure afforded the gentry. He wouldn’t be a member of the political and economic elite — and that membership is, more or less, at the core of the Regency Romance hero.

    This doesn’t convince me why there are not more merchant heroes. Are you saying that romance readers only want a person of leisure in their stories?

  16. MarieC
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 09:46:54

    The closest I can think of is by Laura Lee Guhrke, “And Then He Kissed Her”, where the hero is a viscount but is a newpaper publisher (scandalous!)and the heroine is his secretary. I like that the story’s conflict was not regarding titles, but personality and perception.

    On a side note, ever notice how many rogues, rakes and ne’er do wells are illegitimate?

  17. Joy
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 10:33:32

    It seems to me that there are Bad Gambler Villains in historicals, too, you know the ones who lose the family fortune and auction off the heroine’s virginity or marry her to a syphilitic lecher just to keep food on the table. Just like there are bad pirates who actually rape and pillage. What makes Bad Gamblers good is that they win reliably.

  18. SAO
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 10:55:12

    Bingley from Pride and Predjudice got his money from trade, his plan was to buy an estate and become landed gentry. You can’t say Jane Austen was influenced by Heyer. I think Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey was also tainted by money from trade, as opposed to Henry’s more aged wealth.

    I suspect the practice of entail helped make property seem safer. A business could go bankrupt, a feckless heir could gamble away a fortune, but land protected by entail would always produce a profit.

    Plus the whole notion of an aristocracy is that birth makes them better. If anyone can buy their way in and be as good as those born into it, the entire concept is gone. And, perhaps, along with it, the idea of a hereditary monarchy.

  19. Darlynne
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 10:56:13

    @Deb: I agree, I can’t get past the negative impact gambling can have on everyone involved. For the same reason, I don’t enjoy heist films like Ocean’s 11 because, bottom line, they’re thieves.

    Both Anne Perry’s series of Victorian-set mysteries are about characters who are definitely not wealthy or even as high as middle class (at least initially). I find this view infinitely more interesting than the titled balls-and-furbelows set.

    @Jane: Maybe it says readers want people of power in their romance novels. You don’t have to worry about the hero being ground under someone’s heel or treated badly, not when he’s the most powerful SOB in the area. If someone else has the power to destroy the hero, if the world is skewed so far in favor of a ruling class, how can he keep the heroine safe?

  20. Corina
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 11:20:36

    Maybe I’m an oddball, but I’d have a harder time rooting for an industrialist hero than the owner of a gambling den in a historical. I’m sure there were a few “clean” ways for a non-propertied, non-aristocratic male to make a living in England in the 1800s, but most fortunes were made on the backs of workers (including children) subjected to truly wretched conditions and living in grinding poverty. And I just don’t want to read a HEA built on that.

    For some reason I find it easier to suspend my judgment of a fictional hero who is legitimately a criminal (because it seems less real?) than for your garden variety industrial despot. Now, a merchant hero, someone who wasn’t involved in making goods, but simply trading them . . . I’d be ok with that. Except then, depending on the time period, you’ve possibly got the taint of slavery to deal with.

  21. Cecilia Grant
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 12:06:51

    Not to go too far into this, because the book won’t be out until June, but I do want to clarify that my hero in A Gentleman Undone is not a habitual gambler, but a decent guy who needs money in a hurry for a noble purpose.

    My heroine, however, is a remorseless cheater. One of my preoccupations in reading & writing historical romance is the difference in what behaviors we’ll accept/forgive from a hero, vs. what we expect from our heroines. So this book is partly an experiment in how far down the Pit of Irredeemability a heroine can go without alienating readers altogether.

    Enough about my book. I would love to see more historical romance in which one or both characters came from the merchant class. I think Rose Lerner did a fabulous job, with last year’s In for a Penny, of dramatizing all the inherent conflict of a cross-class Regency marriage (penniless earl married rich brewer’s daughter for her dowry, and they really struggled to get their relationship out from under the shadow of that mercenary beginning).

    Also, people who work are just interesting. I’ve forgotten the name of the dressmaker heroine in the latest Loretta Chase, but for me she really came alive when she was doing her job; thinking about what colors & fit would most flatter a client, etc.

    As far as the super-bad-boy hero, in theory I’m not a fan. In practice, I’m waiting on pins and needles for Joanna Bourne’s Black Hawk, because I find amoral, unpredictable Adrian so fascinating.

  22. JenM
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 12:57:31

    I love historicals featuring non-gentry, but they are few and far between. Speaking of Rose Lerner, her newest book features a hero who I believe is half-”gentry” but who has chosen to follow his non-gentry uncle into trade. I think he works as a tailor. I,ve got the book on my Kindle, just haven’t read it yet. I loved In For A Penny, precisely because it didn’t just gloss over the class differences.

    I also just recently read a Liz Carlyle where the hero was in trade – Never Deceive a Duke. Of course, he inherits a title, but it’s all quite unexpected, and he’s spent his life working in trade and built a thriving shipping business.

    Let’s see, Elizabeth Hoyt occasionally features non-gentry, but she also tends to set her books in the Georgian period, and often has heros who are not gentry themselves, but who are friends with gentry, either due to military service, scientific/farming pursuits, etc.

    Then there’s Susanna Fraser’s book, The Sergeant’s Lady, a really lovely story where the hero is a simple farmer who went into the army, became a sergeant (about the highest rank a non-noble could obtain) and falls in love with a noblewoman.

    Can you tell I like books with non-gentry? (and non-gamblers). I think there is plenty of excitement in them, but it does take a skillful author to dig a bit deeper and come up with an interesting plot.

  23. phemie
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 13:28:18

    Dorothy Dunnett’s protagonist Nicholas de Fleury, from the House of Niccolò series is a merchant.
    The House of Niccolò is a series of eight historical novels set in the fifteenth century.
    Dunnett makes trade look very exciting in her books. ;-)

  24. Maili
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 13:53:15

    It’s funny because when I think of gambling or gambler heroes, I think of American historical romances as there were loads in older works. Riverboat gamblers. Western gamblers. Turn-of-the-century San Francisco gamblers. All seemed the offspring of Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind.

    (On the other hand, heroines in those tended to be hot-tempered southern belles, ice-blooded Russian princesses, or rough-and-ready petite pickpockets whilst pretending to be boys.)

    The conclusion I’ve drawn (maybe incorrectly) is that gamblers and pirates and other criminals are viewed as rogues to be redeemed and wealthy merchants are boring.

    That’s my conclusion as well. It’s a pity.

    Many merchants, shop keepers and artisans of yesteryear did lead interesting and often dangerous lives, especially in cities. I feel they are much more interesting than the nobility. Particularly those in cut-throat businesses. I like to think they are cleverer and more savvy, too.

    Industrialists, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. I wouldn’t like to have one as a hero (or heroine for that matter). I think that’s one of reasons why I don’t feel that comfortable with Gaskell’s North & South and many of Catherine Cookson’s books.

    Anyroad, I’m a huge fan of unusual professions in Romance. Heroines do have those, but it’s the heroes who lead boring lives–as spies, rogues, gamblers, customers of prostitutes, and blah blah while whining about how bored they are with life. Awwww. O, how my heart bleeds.

    I’m still sorry that I didn’t memorise title and author’s name, but the most unusual profession award goes to hero who works as a ‘catchpole’ (bailiff). In case anyone’s interested, the heroine is a daughter of a debt-ridden English baron who’d made bad investments including a scam involving the Suez Canal. The father offers her marriage hand to the hero to get him write off the debts. He reckons the hero would be ambitious enough to use the daughter as a stepping stone. He’s right. The heroine, once she’s figured out what’s going on, says “Screw that!” and attempts to burn all *her* bridges to deny her husband’s attempt to enter her world, making it a cat-and-mouse game between two classes. It was a thrilling read. It’s a Masquerade Historical Romance if that helps.

    Baliff hero. Who knew it’d work? I didn’t. I would like to see more of that kind.

    I’d be much happier if they weren’t secret or lost heirs, too. When it happens, it pisses me off like there’s no tomorrow because, I suppose, I take it as a slap in the face.

  25. LG
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 13:56:24

    @JenM: I think you’ve added to my TBR list. You might try Deanne Gist’s Maid to Match, if you haven’t already – it features romance between a maid and a footman. It’s an inspie, but it’s not heavy-handed about it.

  26. DM
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 14:43:03

    I do think Jane is onto something when she asks if we have Heyer to blame for the monotony of aristocratic heroes. From a storytelling point of view, a self-made man–whether he is in trade or the army or the navy or some other pursuit–is a lot more intrinsically interesting than a hero who inherited money and took good care of it. There’s more conflict to mine, more opportunities to illustrate character through action. What’s the juicier scene? A young naval officer with no connections who faces court martial for beating another, more privileged officer to a prize? Or the Duke who must make the decision whether to repair his workers’ cottages or not? Higher stakes all around for the self made man.

    So why so many aristos? Is it because those are the models we’ve got, and so many of us eat at the same table so to speak? Are we failing to go outside the genre for our inspiration? Niccolo is a great example. Richard Sharpe is another.

    The cause of all this sameness is probably related to the Tyranny of the Regency–authors know how to write it, publishers know how to market it, readers can expect a certain level of quality from these stories and because they’re on familiar territory, they can sketch in the details for themselves in books with mediocre writing. The upside is few utter duds. The downside is even fewer shooting stars.

  27. Sunita
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 14:46:39

    I’m kind of struck by the many ways “trade” and “merchant” are being used here. Given the Industrial Revolution’s key developments occurred in the second half of the 18thC, you certainly had important merchants by the early 1800s, especially in northern England. You also had merchant traders of many items other than people from medieval period onward. A substantial percentage of Members of Parliament held shares in the East India Company in the 1760s, and not everyone who was going to the subcontinent or the rest of Asia was the younger son of an aristocrat, at least not if my archival sources are anything to go by.

    If you insist on staying in London, you have the merchants and bankers and commercial entrepreneurs in the City.

    And if you were the exploited tenant farmer or landless laborer of a feckless and irresponsible aristocrat, I’m not sure how much worse off you were than a mill worker.

  28. Jane
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 15:21:22

    @Darlynne

    Maybe it says readers want people of power in their romance novels. You don’t have to worry about the hero being ground under someone’s heel or treated badly, not when he’s the most powerful SOB in the area. If someone else has the power to destroy the hero, if the world is skewed so far in favor of a ruling class, how can he keep the heroine safe?

    I think you may be on to something. It’s not necessary men of leisure or men of money, but men of power. Men who have agency and direction over their own lives. I would assume that there were non titled individuals who had power but I don’t know who they would be. (not a historian)

  29. DM
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 16:09:44

    If someone else has the power to destroy the hero, if the world is skewed so far in favor of a ruling class, how can he keep the heroine safe?

    I’m not sure many periods popular in romance today actually fit this description–they’re just written this way. The English Regency was not a feudal society. Statesmen, merchants, artisans, explorers, soldiers, navy men, ship captains, scientists, artists and writers who were not titled aristocrats did have agency and direction over their own lives. In fact, they were out there shaping modernity. So much so in the American colonies that they threw off British rule and dispensed with Dukes, Earls, and Viscounts altogether. But writing about individuals like this means…writing about individuals. It’s harder than getting your stock Duke-who-takes-care-of-tennants character off the shelf and dusting him off for voila! Instant hero power! With no research needed! Who cares what was being discovered, explored, written about, invented or manufactured when you can just plug in tenants and crop rotation. After all, you’ve read about them in other books. They must be right, right?

    I wish more writers were like Courtney Milan or Sherry Thomas–writing individuals. I can’t remember much about the last several dozen Regency Dukes I’ve read, but the heroes of Unveiled and Not Quite a Husband are crystal clear in my mind.

  30. Darlynne
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 18:40:03

    @DM:

    The English Regency was not a feudal society. [Non-titled aristocrats] did have agency and direction over their own lives.

    This is the part that gets lost, it seems, in historical romantic fiction. Most of the other characters that populate these books are servants, doctors, merchants, seamstresses, all of whom are dependent on or subject to a ruling class, and that’s why I mentioned the balance of power. When push came to shove, who, historically, had the advantage? Even Downton Abbey, which begins in 1912, makes it pretty clear (albeit fictionally) who controlled so much of the then-every day world.

    Personally, I’d prefer to read about ordinary people.

  31. Kathryn
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 18:46:32

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Sheri Cobb South (The Weaver Takes a Wife) or Carla Kelly (Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind) since both authors have drawn some of their heroes from the middle and working classes.

  32. JMM
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 19:12:12

    I doubt that the tenants and servants of “the nobility” were all coddled and cared for by their noble overseers.

    Life was tough back then. I don’t have sympathy for those who gamble and then whine about how they were taken advantage of.

    I like self-made men; I’d like to read about self-made female characters.

%d bloggers like this: