Love for the Leisure Class
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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?