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Love for the Leisure Class

I has a money. What I do wif it?
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Courtney Milan’s first published work will be her novella contribution to the “In the Heart of Christmas” anthology headlined by Mary Balogh. I had the opportunity to read this story and I was struck immediately by the fact that the characters were of the lower class. William is a clerk earning not very much money and Lavinia tends the bookstore owned by her family that also generates very little money. William feels like he could never get married because he doesn’t have sufficient income to support a wife, particularly in a lifestyle he believes someone like Lavinia deserves.

Few books really deal with the issue of poverty. If poverty is an issue, it is almost always resolved because one of the main protagonists is rich or at least very well off (usually the man). There was one Stef Ann Holm book I read years ago where the heroine was beyond broke to the point that she constantly wondered how she would feed her family or keep a roof over her daughters’ head. The incessant worry really wore me down. Even when the heroine was “saved” by the rich hero (and that might have been part of my irritation with the story), I left the story thinking that if I really wanted a rundown of the cost of goods, I’d read the Consumer Price Index.

I loved Courtney Milan’s story. On the one hand, I think that there are too many stories devoted to the leisure class. One thing I enjoy about the Harlequin Blaze books (and Lori Borrill particularly) is the focus on more average, so to speak, individuals.   Not everyone has to own a business, be a tycoon in order for there to be a romance story saleable to the reaaders, right?   Yet even I am inexorably drawn to the TYCOON BILLIONAIRE and I constantly scan the books for which character is going to be able to set the financial security for the couple.   (of course, I’m also the kind of person who, during action shows, wince at the wanton destruction thinking “who’s going to pay for that”).

I think the affection for the wealthy characters is two fold.   First, is that ambition is very attractive characteristic for males.   There are few slacker heroes in the genre and even the slackers are almost always revealed to be secret tycoons.   In Carnal Innocence, one of my all time favorite Nora Robert contemporaries, Tucker Longstreet is viewed by the heroine to be a kind of lay about but the truth is that Tucker has a savvy head for business:

“Do you do all of this?”

“All of what?”

“This!” Frustrated, she grabbed up a pile of papers and shook them at him. “Do you keep all these records, these books? Do you run all of these businesses?”

He stroked a hand over his chin thoughtfully. Then he punched a few buttons, and the monitor winked off. “Mostly they run themselves. I just add the figures.”

“You’re a fraud.” She slapped the papers down again. “All that lazy-southern-wastrel routine-‘I’d rather sleep than sit. It’s just a front!”

In Nancy Warren’s Under the Influence, the hero again appears to have no ambitions which bothers the over ambitious heroine to no end. She’s pacified when she finds out he is a property owner of some considerable amount.

No, even the slackers are really only enjoying life because they have the means to do so.

The second reason (but not necessarily the most important) is that romance is a fantasy genre. It’s transportative and nothing can kill a buzz faster than having to worry about whether the water  bill is going to get paid. As if recognizing that law enforcement employees aren’t the best paid folks in the job market, Linda Howard carefully recounts for her readers how comfortable her characters are financially. In Dream Man, Detective Dane is facing a house remodel to get it ready for Marlie:

Dane considered it. Unlike most cops, and not counting Trammell, his bank account was healthy. He was single and had cheap tastes in food, clothes, and cars. He had inherited the house from his grandparents, so he didn’t have a mortgage payment every month. He actually lived on half of his income, so the other half had been accumulating in the bank for years.

In Kill and Tell, Detective Marc Chastain owns a house on the Quarter:

They walked back to the body.

“Yeah, I’ve got a house on St. Louis.”

“How’d you manage that, man?”

“Inherited it from my grandmother.”

While there are a slew of impoverished heiresses, some impoverished noblemen, many a poor virgin or near virgin in categories, there is hardly a happy ending that doesn’t find the couple to be financially secure. Even Courtney Milan’s novella ends with a certain financial surety for the couple (although it’s not a deus ex machina).

Is financial security a must for a happy ending? Would you be more interested in stories about the lower class in historicals? Do you prefer the millionaires and tycoons?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Nadia
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 04:19:43

    Well…people usually prefer to be rich rather than poor. Since readers are rooting for h/H (or they should if the author did her job right), they probably want the h/H to have some financial security.

  2. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 04:40:38

    Oh, Cinderella is popular for a reason. We all want to escape from sweeping the cinders to have someone else do it up at the castle. In the very early days of my marriage, my husband and I were each paid just once a month. That last week before the next paycheck was tricky enough for it to stay with me years later. Financial security, if not largesse, seems to be a reasonable expectation. It’s hard to have great sex when you’re wondering about being able to pay the rent.

  3. Meghan
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 05:34:52

    I totally agree that it’s a fantasy genre. After all, not many of us are going to fall in love and decide to get married in the space of a week. In real life we have a lot of worries and I think many books are intended to help us escape real life for a little while. I’d say the emotion in romances is true to life but not much else is. So I doubt readers really want worries about finances interrupting a good story. And to be honest, it’s not often that you come across extremely poor characters in most genres except literary fiction. Unless you deliberately want to say something about real life, it can take away from the story.

  4. Tara Marie
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 05:40:14

    There was one Stef Ann Holm book I read years ago where the heroine was beyond broke to the point that she constantly wondered how she would feed her family or keep a roof over her daughters' head. The incessant worry really wore me down.

    Wasn’t that the point, it was supposed to wear you down. The reality of poverty isn’t pretty or romantic. It’s about real anxiety and fear.

    Romance is about fantasy and escapism and happily ever after and it’s much easier to believe in the HEA if the h/h aren’t left to struggle to live.

  5. Marsha
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 05:42:04

    It's hard to have great sex when you're wondering about being able to pay the rent.

    And that’s pretty much the size of it. Significant worry of any kind interferes with the care and feeding of a relationship, whether the source of the worry is money, health, danger (a kid off to war, for example), etc. We know that financial concerns are among the top issues over which couples separate. If we’re meant to believe in an HEA then the worries need to be resolved or at least addressed.

    This isn’t to say that everyone has to become rich in romance, there just needs to be no obvious “however will we make it” in the plot. If food, clothing and shelter are left as dangling worries then there’s not so much an HEA as an HFN. They may have found True Love, but if I’m left with the feeling they’re eventually going to be eying the last piece of bread, wishing there was still jam in the pot and secretly wanting it but pressing it on the other…well, that’s not really that romantic. Gritty and real, perhaps, but not romantic.

    And? I’ve got any number of news outlets for this kind of thing.

  6. Gina
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:02:02

    I raised two boys alone for nearly sixteen years and worry had become ingrained in every minute of every day. Housing, food, education, safety, etc. Books were my time out from all that. For the few minutes a day that I could immerse myself in some fantasy romance where the hero really does ride in and save the day, whisking me off to his mansion in the clouds… Those few moments transported me out of my worry. I had real life aplenty, give me my fantasy romance with a side of millions and devoted tycoon thank you very much.

  7. joanne
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:14:13

    Who wants to read about poverty (in romantic fiction) when we read about it, or live it, every day? I do like stories that show either the hero or heroine or both succeeding, the characters often seem to be more interesting if they’ve started with nothing or very little and had to work for their financial security.
    Always, always depends on the writer.

    My question: When did millionaire turn to billionaire? I don’t remember when it
    happened, but unless they fall under the banner of Tycoon, the billion dollar mark seems to be the norm now. I like it, I just didn’t see it coming. The first time I remember reading that standard may have been with Roarke from the In Death books but there may have been others (titles, characters) that came first.

  8. joanne
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:18:29

    Love, love, love the pic of the kitty with coin!

  9. Marianne McA
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:22:17

    Seeing you mention Nora Roberts, I do remember being put off some of her books because of the very wealthy lifestyle portrayed (I’m thinking one example might have been one of the Born in… books, but It was years ago, and I didn’t reread it, so I’m blanking on details.)

    And, even at the time, I thought myself stupid, because Ms Roberts must be wealthy herself, and why shouldn’t she write wealthy characters? Clearly, rich people need love too. But still, I find it easier to relate to characters who aren’t overtly wealthy (they may own huge ranches or whatever, but they don’t live a jet set lifestyle.)

    I sort of warm to a character who has to make his way in the world before he could think of marriage. Partly because it’s unusual, but also because it demonstrates all sorts of characteristics like prudence, fidelity and forward planning that I just find attractive. (Off to order the anthology.)

  10. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:47:34

    One of my favorite Nora Roberts characters is Grace, a hard working single mom with two jobs in Rising Tides. Ethan, the hero, is a crab boat fisherman? Not exactly a billionaire.

    Another character I love is Rachel from SEP’s Dream a Little Dream. Homeless, starving, on the run. The hero had money, if I remember correctly, but he lived modestly.

    For me, the fantasy is all about falling in love. Fulfilling an emotional deficit. Being comfortable financially is great, but I don’t need a palace or a huge portfolio to believe in the HEA.

  11. MicheleKS
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:47:39

    To me, reading about a struggle to pay the bills is not romantic. Or something I want to read about period. A brief mention or two is okay but a whole book? No. And I like reading about characters who don’t have to worry about money- it’s a lovely fantasy and a much-needed one when your bank account is gasping for air.

    And I’ll not only take Roarke’s billions, I’ll take him too.

    And ‘Carnal Innocence’ is my all-time favorite romance. Love Tucker Longstreet’s approach to life (if all else fails, take a nap).

  12. Susan Laura
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:54:29

    I just finished (and very much enjoyed) the book, “One Reckless Summer” by Toni Blake. I realized after I was done reading that one of the reasons I liked it so much was because the characters were just normal people – the hero is a brick mason and the heroine is a schoolteacher. Nobody had a trust fund or a rich relative on the brink of death. And maybe I found their HEA was all the more sweet for just this reason.

  13. Inez Kelley
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:56:25

    This is one reason I keep steering people toward Karen Templeton’s “A Husband’s Watch”. More women’s lit disguised as Romance, but it remains on my keeper shelf. These are real people, with normal lives. They suffered a financial set back after a tornado. Normal enough and that tragedy is what strengthens their marriage.

    At one point, the hero says they will just tighten their belts and forgo the extras and the heroine replies, like what, the gas bill?

    Yet, they do not make an issue of this. It is just life. They never get rich, they work for their money and it is not crammed down your throat.

  14. RStewie
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 06:56:42

    I’m willing to read any story about upper-, middle-, and lower-income h/h, provided their circumstances match their income. I grew up poor (my dad was in the military, my mom was a stay-at-home mom) so although my family is firmly middle-income now, I know and understand the struggles and sacrifices that come with having a lower income.

    That doesn’t make your life less happy, it just makes it a little harder, so seeing a couple build their future and work toward their financial and other life goals doesn’t bother me. For contemporaries in particular, I love when the h/h both are working professionals, on equal footing and end up working together for the future they want. That, to me, is very romantic.

    For historicals, of course, it’s hard to get away from not having money; the poor back then were poor and their life was a daily struggle, so I can understand why a certain level of income would be a necessity for the h/h then. It would be a hard read to follow the ins and outs of a shop girl back then, I think.

  15. Lori
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 07:32:15

    It’s true that struggling to pay the bills is a total buzz kill. However, there’s a big gap between “poor and struggling” and “billionaire tycoon”. I wish there were more books, especially contemporaries, that were about normal people. When I read too many billionaire tycoon books the financial aspect actually ends up killing the fantasy for me rather than enhancing it. It starts to feel like the genre is saying that you can only be happy if you’re incredibly wealthy.

  16. ginger
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 07:51:14

    Contemporary romance novels about normal people don’t sell that well in category (no idea about single title). Harlequin’s best selling line is Presents. Presents is about Uber Alpha males, Billionaires, Sheikhs, wealthy exotic locations etc. The only way Harlequin is going to start producing less stories about Billionaires is if they stop selling.

  17. Denise
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 08:19:55

    I like reading about both, although for a historical in particular, I prefer reading about the leisure class. As you mentioned earlier, there’s a form of escapism to be had in reading about this level of socio-economic living.

    You did bring up one point that is the key for me though. The rich male protagonist cannot be a slacker. Rich is fine; titled is fine, but he better be do something more with his time than hanging out at Whites or strolling through Hyde Park. I have too much of a hard time envisioning a heroic aspect in a person who is nothing more than a lazy parasite lucky enough to be born into a fortune. While that may have been the reality in many cases, I don’t read this genre for that reality.

  18. Natalie Hart
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 08:48:12

    While the fantasy elements of huge wealth can be fun to read, most of my favorite romances involve people who have to earn a living, and not always a really sexy living. Jennifer Crusie’s characters don’t always have sexy jobs (art forgers notwithstanding): actuaries, accountants, stay-at-home moms, business owners, yes, but their wealth is not a driving point in the plot. These are the characters whose stories affect me and stick with me, possibly because I can enter into their lives more easily, possibly because I like my characters to struggle, to have to deal with upheaval in their personal lives and then still have to make a living.

  19. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 08:56:56

    I like stories with people earning a living. As long as people go to work and can pay their bills comfortably with a little left over for books and movies–and they’re happy with that and secure in their jobs, I’m good.

    But poverty? No.

    In lieu of wealth, I want to see some financial security in the characters’ lives however the characters define that.

  20. LauraB
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 08:59:54

    I think the poverty point is kind of like the hygiene question in medieval romances. We know people stank, refused to bath and dumped their refuse willy-nilly. We know that nobility had bad teeth because of all the sweets and rich food they were able to eat. These details can spoil the fantasy. Likewise, $$ is part of the fantasy in most romances. They don’t need to be super rich (as many have pointed out), but money problems shouldn’t shadow the HEA.

  21. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:03:08

    Wealth is not a requirement for happiness. But financial security is, let’s not be too blunt about, one of the most helpful buttresses of contentment.

    It is evolutionary. The whole of evolution is geared toward amassing the most resources for survival. Lack of resources below a certain level calls one’s survival into question. Love becomes secondary to the needs of the stomach.

    In more modern societies in which people generally do not starve, lack of resources below a certain level still calls one’s dignity into question.

    And this is particularly acute for a man. A woman’s reproductive system–viewed in an evolutionary manner–is a valuable resource. A man has no such intrinsic biological value. So he must bring other things to the table, and the other things he bring to the table is usually measured by the resources he has at his disposal.

    It’s like one exchange I had with an old classmate. He wondered why women are all drawn to rich men. I asked him why men are all drawn to beautiful women. It’s the same. Beauty is a signifier of reproductive health–what males desire evolutionarily in a mate. And wealth represent security for the offspring–what females desire evolutionarily in a male.

  22. Natalie Hart
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:05:25

    Oops, no SAHM, am thinking of a teacher who was off for the summer. [No more posting at work, where I have no access to my books!]

  23. Kristi S.
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:06:52

    I enjoy reading about all kinds of people. In the end, I like to see that the happy couple has a plan, not necessarily a mansion or castle.

    I am an aspiring writer, and I find it really hard to come up with stories about super-rich people acting super-rich. My first completed manuscript actually has a very successful & well paid lawyer hero taking a massive pay cut and lifestyle change in order to do the kind of work that he really wants to. And my heroine starts out dating a rich boyfriend, but is working her tail off to make the rent. And the rich part of the boyfriend doesn’t overcome their lack of connection. In the end, the Happy Couple ends up happy, not rich. Then again, I don’t know if anyone will ever buy that story….

  24. Kathleen MacIver
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:12:50

    OMGOsh… I, too, can’t enjoy action scenes, ’cause I’m too busy feeling sorry for the character that would have to pay for it…especially if “good guys” are the ones doing the destroying! I find myself marveling at their insensitivity and wondering just how “good” they really are!

    Anyway… yeah, it’s fantasy, so we like the rich…but I’m actually more drawn to books of middle and lower class where the “fantasy” is that they learn to live a happy fulfilled life DESPITE their lack of money.

  25. Jody W.
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:21:37

    In romance, I like to read about smart people who are willing to work hard to make their relationship succeed. Even if they’re not book-smart, even if they start out with chips on shoulders or issues, by the end of the novel I want to see mature emotional intelligence, grown-up commitment, and the ability to make wise decisions about life and each other. Then I can buy the HEA.

    I also like to think that smart, hard working people can be financially secure, if not rich. Is that a fantasy? Maybe. But who wants to get to the end of a genre romance thinking these two poor saps are going to wind up bankrupt, losing it all, because they can’t make ends meet? Or that their horrible jobs grind them into a grey, depressing paste? We have lit fic if we want to read that.

  26. votermom
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 09:24:18

    Having grown up poor, I can’t find poverty romantic at all. So I do need to know that the characters will have some sort of financial security. They don’t have to be rich.
    If one character is facing dire poverty, I want to see her or him make sensible choices to address this.
    In historicals, I like those Amanda Quick arcane romances where the the heroine & hero both have to earn a living, by investigating or photography or investing or whatever.

  27. lijakaca
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 10:14:32

    I would also like more diversity in romance, and as mentioned by Lori, there’s a huge gap between poverty and billionaire.

    Plus, the quote from the Nora Roberts book makes me think that hero would annoy me. It sounds like false modesty – “I just add up the numbers” – when really, any job that pays very well requires either a lot more work than that, or privilege to get. What I mean is, there are some nice cushy jobs around, you usually have to know someone or be part of ‘the good ol’ boys’ network, which kind of turns me off.

  28. Robin
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 10:19:12

    My question is what constitutes “financially secure”? I think there are all sorts of reasons the genre favors well-heeled protags, but what always strikes me is the sheer extremity of the financial security issue. It’s like the protags are either in the “Whispers of Heaven” situation, where they’re escaping with only the love on their backs to a new life (where we assume they will prosper), or where there’s just so much money we don’t have to ever worry about them (and should one of the protags give up his/her $$ for a good cause, there is often a surprise inheritance).

    I can’t help but think of two Judith Ivory books — The Proposition and The Indiscretion — where the author plays on these genre expectations. Mick manages to inhere at the end of TP, but rather than making him happy, it creates a lot of anxiety for him. And in TI, Sam is much much richer than Liddy ever imagined, which angers her, since HER fantasy of him relied on the idea that he was a bumpkin of sorts. And then, in Black Silk, there’s the whole issue of Submit’s being shut out of the inheritance, and the unique way she finds herself back in at the end. Ivory seems to play on these issues a lot, actually.

    Is it more in historicals where the money issue seems more pressing? Where the typical American, ‘you can be anything you want to be’ philosophy is not operative? Although I’m wondering if most of the protags in contemps and in RS and paranormals would be considered “middle class.”

  29. votermom
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 10:55:11

    Or that their horrible jobs grind them into a grey, depressing paste? We have lit fic if we want to read that.

    LOLOLOL. So true.

  30. Lori
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 10:56:11

    I like working class heroes myself. Give me a librarian and a carpenter and I’d be happier than with a quadrillionaire and his virgin mistress.

    But I think this also touches on what each of us need for our own brand of escapism. I like relating to the heroine in some ways and usually a woman working a regualr job where she might feel underappreciated is going to ring a bell for me. And heroes who are the guy next door are my favorite heroes.

  31. Karen Templeton
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 10:57:14

    Inez — thanks so much for the AHW rec!

    Most of my stories are about average, middle-class or blue-collar folks. And while, no, they don’t enjoy Presents-style earnings, they do fairly well. ;-)

    “Success” is measured differently for different people. I’ve written several heroines who are really struggling financially at the beginning of the book, although they usually (if not always) overcome their challenges through their own ingenuity, even if they end up with a wealthy dude at the end. I’ve even written a financially strapped hero. The anti-billionaire, as it were. :) In most cases, the story’s about the couple combining their resources — intellectually as well as financially — so the reader feels secure that they’ll be fine, that their businesses or other endeavors will continue to support them in the coming years.

    For those who want the Cinderella fantasy, true, those stories won’t work for them. But category is more than the Presents line. Supers, SSEs, Har Americans and other lines all regularly feature stories with financially average protagonists. Just FYI. ;-)

  32. anon
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 11:09:07

    Stories about people who are rich or very comfortably well-off are boring.
    I would much rather read about characters who have to be creative to survive and to make do. Their situations are usually more interesting, and the stories more heart-warming when that character finds someone to love and hold on to through all the dark, scary parts of life. Like H.G. said in that old 80’s movie– every age is the same. Only love makes them bearable.
    Stories that run along that line are more powerful, meaningful, and romantic to me.

  33. Mireya
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 11:17:07

    I’d rather not deal with financial insecurity in the stories that I am actually reading to escape my own reality. Nowadays, I have to consider myself lucky because I actually have a job, even if I live (barely) from paycheck to paycheck. The very last thing I want to deal with is financial worries in the fiction I read. Bottomline, yes, I am fine with having heiresses, wealthy noblemen or whatever else the author comes up with to show that the happily ever after will not have financial woes thundering in the background.

  34. Elyssa Papa
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 11:28:27

    Like Jane, I had the opportunity to read Courtney Milan’s debut novella. I absolutely loved it.

    I really like reading stories where both characters aren’t rich, but just “normal” people. I think that’s why Toni Blakes One Reckless Summer worked so well for me.

    And now I want to read Carnal Innocence.

  35. Caligi
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 11:34:56

    I would love, LOVE, more working class heroes and heroines. I agree that actual poverty could get a bit wearying for a transportive genre like romance, but working class characters satisfied with their place in life would be refreshing.

    Where I come from – eastern MA – there is a much more pronounced sense of class, I think, than in other parts of the country. I have a different accent than my husband, despite us growing up 30 miles away from each other and equidistant from Boston, because I grew up working class while he’s from the middle class. The famous Boston accent they butcher in movies? That’s almost totally unique to the various working class enclaves of eastern MA. We’re as proud of our dirty hands and broken fingernails as we are of our accents. I have no desire to “ascend” to the middle class, and I openly detest the wealthy, though I suspect I detest them the same way I detest the Yankees and Canadiens.

    More stories that show people finding love and happiness while remaining true to their roots would be a dream come true. Not only that, but blue-collar guys are totally sexy. I’d take a plumber’s work muscle over a stock brokers gym muscle any day of the week.

    Well, in terms of fantasy, anyways. IRL, I married a web designer, whose hands are softer and more manicured than mine. C’est la vie.

  36. Jane O
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 11:45:08

    On love and poverty, from that not-always-romantic Romantic, John Keats:

    Love in a hut, with water and a crust,
    Is, Love forgive me, cinders, ashes, dust.

  37. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 12:16:25

    I actually turned to the US authored romance novel to get away from all the misery and poverty in the UK version. The saga, otherwise known as “clogs and shawls,” and the mis-lit books are really not my cup of tea. I’d rather read about people who don’t have to worry where the next meal is coming from, who don’t have to wear the same dress every day, and scour the newspapers for a job. Some people, over here at least, love it, but it just isn’t to my taste.

  38. Maili
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 12:29:23

    Why so extreme?

    Not all working class people were that financially strapped. It depends on where they live and how they lead their lives.

    Perhaps, judging by what some of you have described, we’re talking about the poor class? It’s usually characterised by chronic poverty, struggles to survive on the hand-to-mouth basis, etc.

    IMO, there was more freedom among the working class than there were among the upper middle class, the nobility and the wealthy elite in some areas, i.e. marriage and the social life.

    In many ways, the upper middle class resembles modern-day Gossip Girl (or Dynasty, etc.), which portrays a lifestyle that I’m not keen on. Polo matches, tea parties, society balls, etc – not my idea of fun.

    Obviously, I’m a fan of romance novels that portray characters from ordinary backgrounds or the working/middle class. I prefer those set outside Britain and other British-ruled countries, though.

    Because regardless of characters’ financial status, the British class system was seriously the (invisible) law, which completely ruined my chances of escaping into a fantasy. A vicar’s daughter falls in love with a future Duke, and he does the same? Dream on, boy and girl.

    Even if the vicar somehow managed to inherit lotta money from a dead relative, he still won’t be able to marry her off to a duke. Lower your aim a bit, mon. Like a viscount, say. Or a baron. :D

  39. Caroline
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 12:36:50

    It is a known fact that historicals with ‘duke’ in the title sell better than other books, even if the other books also in fact star a duke. I suspect it’s like the ‘billionaire’ in HP titles, a code for “this happily-ever-after will be a life a comfort and ease, where the happy couple will be able to afford quality medical care, some travel, pretty clothes, and as many children as they want to have, and will never, ever have to fight about money.” I just can’t see it being part of any happy ending for the couple to be left in actual poverty (not the chick-lit poverty of not being able to afford the newest Ferragamo pumps). I love the idea of a working class couple being happy with a modest living, though, especially in contemporary stories.

    I suspect I detest them the same way I detest the Yankees and Canadiens.

    Don’t forget the Jets… It’s my dream to write a romance between two working class people, one a NY fan and one a Boston fan…

  40. Bev Stephans
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 13:06:53

    Catherine Cookson used to write about working class people in the Tyne and Wear district of England. True, some of these people were pretty poverty stricken, but she always seemed to make the characters come alive for me. I don’t remember being at all depressed reading her stories.

  41. Angelia Sparrow
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 13:08:42

    I like my heros to work for their happy ending.

    I’m tired of playboys and tycoons, casino owners and such.
    Give me truckdrivers who are willing to share the last half of their jar of peanut butter with a hitchhiker…at least until payday. Or clerks whose indulgence is a cup of real coffee on payday.

    Too poor is a buzzkill. I’ve been at the dumpster-diving/foodstamp using level of poverty. I don’t want to see the guys fighting the little old lady at the bread-store for the last loaf of 25c bread that she’s buying for the squirrels.

    But I want to see them have to save in order to go on the Christmas shopping spree for the Children’s Home, rather than just tossing it off, with the attitude they could buy the whole Home if they wanted.

  42. Michelle
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 14:20:35

    A romance between a NY Yankees fan and a Boston Red Sox fan? That would take some HUGE skill to pull off and make me believe it. :)

    American-set historicals – particularly westerns and americana stories (which may not even exist anymore) – tended to have characters who had to worry about money. Yet another reason for me to miss those stories….

  43. Caligi
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 14:33:54

    You know, I once had a raging crush on my die-hard Yankees fan roommate. The night we got drunk and I put his hat on, and he wore mine, was captured in a photo that was passed around, considered as damning as a photo of us in each other’s underwear.

    They happen. It’d make a great forbidden love story, since their families would never approve. I would totally buy that if you wrote it, Caroline, seeing as how I buy all your books anyways just because you’re local (and because I like them.) Petty tribalism at it’s best!

  44. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 15:12:34

    I think in historicals we’re always going to be writing about the “haves” (hell, I think this is true of Romance, whatever the subgenre). Whether our hero is a duke, a Texas lawman, a Highland warrior, or a Tang Dynasty minister, they’re the “haves” in some important aspect of their society. And yes, since books with “duke” in the title DO sell like hot cakes, clearly readers (generalizing here) are looking for their heroes to have the mantle of power, money, and strength firmly on their shoulders.

    IMO, the thing that gives our hero *spark* is his own bit of “have”. For example, in Anne of Green Gables, Gilbert is the town golden boy, the smartest kid before Anne shows up, and he grows up to be a doctor. In Wives and Daughters, Roger is a world famous explorer. Both these men are your basic middleclass hero, but in their own realm, they both have that certain something that sets them apart (and they're both smart enough to know that their respective women are the real prize).

    I think making the hero a billionaire or duke is easy shorthand, but any hero is going to have to possess qualities and talents that I think firmly plant him in the “have” grouping. If he didn't, what would the heroine see in him?

  45. Jennifer
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 15:19:39

    In real life, I was engaged to a guy who was a financial loser. Could NOT handle money. I can at least survive on my own, but dear lord, he tried to learn and never managed it. And yeah, it was worry all the time. I won’t deny that it pretty much ruined the romance to be in a constant state of fear and knowing that I was going to have to 100% take care of him with no help. I’m not saying that’s “okay” or “not okay” given the gender setups, but at the very least I want someone who can handle themselves now. Learned that lesson.

    Has anyone here ever read The Sherwood Ring? It’s got a framing story around the far-more-interesting bits taking place during the Revolutionary War, and the “modern day” hero Pat is a literal impoverished earl and boy, does he ever go on and on about how poor he is and how poor he and Peggy will be when they’re married and how they won’t be able to afford a coat and umbrella at the same time and she’ll spend all her time darning his socks. He’s saying this stuff during the marriage proposal, mind you. Dear GOD, is that ever a romance crusher. I don’t like Pat and Peggy all that much compared to the folks featured during the war, and that’s mostly why. Pat is the voice of crushing reality.

    I prefer both characters to at least be able to support themselves financially. Tycoonness is not a requirement, and can come across as awful and cliched a lot of the time when it’s used. I remember reading Born in Fire and not liking Rogan because he mostly was the cliched tycoon sweeping in to Take Care Of Her and Maggie was the sort who didn’t need it, in my opinion. (Note that all three women end up loaded financially by the end….) Tycoons also tend to be portrayed as assholes, which doesn’t help me like them any better either. Okay, so there’s the occasional Rourke, but mostly they just come off icky to me.

  46. CEmerson
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 15:28:30

    I love the idea of a hero who, though industrious, can’t afford to marry. Actually I don’t mind a slacker viscount, either. Both of those would be a refreshing novelty amid the overwhelming preponderance of uber-competent males who just need to learn how to love.

  47. library addict
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 16:11:49

    I think Nora Roberts' books run the gamut of über-rich to working class. The thing about her working class heroes and heroines is that they are always willing to work.

    There are a lot of category books out there with poor single moms who do wonder how they're going to pay the bills, but then the rich hero enters the scene and all is saved :P

    I enjoy reading a mix of stories in various socioeconomic settings. I no longer read a lot of historicals, but I've never had a problem finding contemporary romances, both single titles and categories, that are about more “middle class” folks.

  48. Jet
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 16:21:18

    I think that there are few authors that can pull of the reality of poverty and struggle in a romance novel and make it work. If anything I think its a fantastic obstacle for an author and a leading couple. Moments of stolen pleasure and fun are all the more touching when the world around you is closing in… At least that’s my opinion. My family grew up poor, lived poor, and now I barely make ends meet which is why stolen moments of passion ring so true to me as a reader. That I can identify with. A heroine or hero that struggles every dayand finally finds time to make a relationship work… that’s love… that’s romance..

  49. Venus Vaughn
    Sep 15, 2009 @ 18:10:09

    I don’t mind a bit more realism in my romances. A few real jobs, some actual discussion about being able to afford to the fancier things.

    That being said, I don’t want financial concerns to take over a book. I don’t want to be depressed by either of their financial situations and I definitely want any financial concerns to be resolved by the end of the book.

    Sometimes there’s so much else going on in the book what with his n hers emotional problems, someone trying to kill them and / or the vampire in the closet that there’s no room for the realities of money troubles. So the author takes a shortcut and gets rid of one of those troubles before it even starts. Hence the billionaire tycoon. I wouldn’t mind a few men who can’t take the week off because they have to pay the mortgage though.

  50. Jane Lovering
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 07:12:19

    I write ‘ordinary’ heroines, one’s a newspaper ad sales girl and another is a single mum and part-time bookshop assistant. Trouble is, having women who earn less than they really need just gets your books labelled as ‘chick lit’. Even if it’s not shoes and clothes but rent and Christmas gifts that they can’t afford. I think it’s nice when the men have money, but that fact is used just to give the ‘happy ending’, not to rescue the women. We can rescue ourselves, thanks very much.

  51. Caroline
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 08:19:01

    any hero is going to have to possess qualities and talents that I think firmly plant him in the “have” grouping. If he didn't, what would the heroine see in him?

    That’s exactly it: no one wants to marry The Dude.

    @Caligi: Hey, thanks! I’ll send you the first copy.

  52. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 09:18:59

    any hero is going to have to possess qualities and talents that I think firmly plant him in the “have” grouping. If he didn't, what would the heroine see in him?

    That's exactly it: no one wants to marry The Dude.

    OMG, I can’t believe you managed to work a The Big Lebowski ref in, LOL!

  53. Pamela
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 13:21:24

    While a survey of my favorite reads shows a personal preference for the fantasy of wealthy main characters, it obviously depends on the situation and the character. I think a good story could work either way.

    And I have to mention one of my favorite rich girls. Heiress for Hire. Reversed situation as the heroine is is rich (though cut off at the moment) and the hero is a farmer (not stated to be poor but can’t imagine he’s got much in the bank). For a character that sounds like Paris Hilton on paper, she’s anything but. Still one of my favorite rereads.

    Am currently reading With Seduction in Mind by Guhrke and I think the hero is a good example of balancing the money issue. Though deeply in debt and worried (can’t pay the servants), he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom as he knows he can borrow from friends as a last resort. The issue if there and advances the story, but doesn’t overwhelm with concerns about the price of food, etc.

  54. Patricia Rice
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 14:54:43

    I enjoy writing about class, period. I would like to be able to do more lower class but as you can tell by the above responses, I would probably starve if I did so. So I’ve put my creativity to work finding ways to write financial struggles while maintaining the fantasy issue. Money is a reality, but we can play with many levels and aspects of it and still keep it interesting, IMO. My next series is about the impoverished younger sons of aristocracy, so I can have the fantasy of nobility and balls while dealing with the reality of how in heck they paid for anything without going into deep debt (which was the reality). I’m having fun.

    But if we could just go back to westerns someday…

  55. Courtney Milan
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 17:54:25

    I was wondering whether I should post on this, since Jane mentions me, but then Patricia Rice posted about what she thought, and this isn’t a review….

    So here’s my two cents. I actually think that writing and reading about poverty is not something I want in my romance. If you want to read a book about poverty, go read George Orwell’s Wigan Pier and be done with it. Or any of the other fine, fine books (and I don’t mean that sarcastically) about poverty and being poor and all that stuff. I don’t think I would like to read a book that focuses on poverty at all. And I don’t think it matters to me whether that book is about the lower classes or whether it’s about someone living in genteel poverty, trying to figure out a way to makeover her gowns one last time. If the focus of the story is “how do I get money?” I feel like I’m getting cheated of the emotion I want in my romance.

    Someone mentioned Laura Lee Guhrke’s “With Seduction in Mind,” and I think that’s a great example. For me, what really worked about that story was not that the hero had a fail-safe, or that nothing truly awful would happen, or any of the other many things you could imagine. That helped, but the reason I loved the story was the *way* the money issue played out. The hero needed money, and although you were aware of it, the money issue was there as an echo of the emotional one–that the hero was deep-down afraid that he’d come to the end of his creative self, that there was nothing left for him to give. And so the fact that the money had dried up was merely a symptom of that emotional fear. The book was about that emotion; the money was just an echo, one that gave that emotion substance and flavor. But ultimately, we care about the hero’s healing and working through that emotion, discovering that he had not come to the end of himself. And once he gets there, the money follows.

    I (hope) that I managed to do something the same with my novella, although I can’t claim to manage it with the skill and capability that Laura Lee Guhrke has. That is, I tried not to make money a concern in the sense that readers will ever wonder “will the rent get paid? can they afford to eat?” but set it up so that the financial status plays an emotional role in my hero & heroine’s growth.

    So I have to register a vote for “please don’t bore me with money”–I don’t want to read about someone who can’t make rent, who is homeless and begging for a crust on the streets. But I love to read about emotions, stemming from all sources, and I think that the effect of money on a person’s emotional growth is one that I like reading about–whether that person is a duke or an earl or a lowly clerk.

  56. Patricia Rice
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 07:13:11

    Excellent point, Courtney! I hope if I hadn’t been so brain dead last night I might have thought of it, but probably not. “G”

    Emotion should always drive a romance plot. So maybe the question is–have we become too lazy to figure out how to develop emotion without all the fantasy trappings of wealth?

  57. The Hero’s Agency - Dear Author
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 04:01:07

    […] As I thought about it more, I realized that what readers in the romance want is a hero with agency  not necessarily one with wealth. […]

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