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What’s wrong with the arranged marriage trope?

I guess my title should be why isn’t there any arranged marriage stories? Or maybe it should be why isn’t there any arranged marriage stories portrayed in a positive light? Two young adult books have been released in 2010 that dealt with arranged marriage. One, Passion Play presented the gang rape of the female protagonist and the position as camp whore as the preferable alternative to arranged marriage. Another, Nightshade, presents the arranged marriage as a catalyst for rebellion, particularly when the female protagonist meets a boy who challenges the societal structure of the arranged marriage. Even in Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin, the idea of arranged marriage is met with resignation at best by the heroine and in the end she runs hard from it, choosing love over duty.

The arranged marriage is presented a bit more positively in Cold Magic by Kate Elliott as the female and male protagonists try to navigate their way around each other and their lives as they face the inevitability of their marriage.

In romance, however, I can’t think of a book in which arranged marriages are positively portrayed even though there are hints of it. For example, in the Loretta Chase’s Carsington series, the Carsington papa secretly finagle their sons into marriage. The whole subtext is that they are maneuvering in the background:

SOME HOURS LATER, after the bride and groom had retired to their assigned apartments, their eldest son joined Lord and Lady Hargate once more in the garden.

"Well, well," said his lordship. "It appears some unfortunate assassin got his head cut off for nothing."

"And the prodigal son returns triumphant," said Benedict. "Married. To Cousin Tryphena's brilliant and handsome young widow friend. The one with the handsome fortune." He smiled a very little. Smiles had never come as easily to him as to Rupert, and less easily still in the last two years.

"Tryphena will be delighted," said her ladyship.

"I had wondered why you sent him to Egypt, of all places," Benedict said.

His father merely lifted an eyebrow.

"Well, I am happy for him," Benedict said. "They suit each other very well, and naturally, the end justifies the means. At any rate, he's settled at last. Now you may give your full attention to Darius."

With that he took his usual distant leave.

His parents stood looking after him.

"Not Darius, I think," said Lady Hargate.

"No," said his lordship. "Not Darius."

As I understand it, one of the basic philosophies behind arranged marriages is that the parents of the children understand them best and are thus able to make the best matches for their children. Some of the largest cultures in the world still observe the practice of arranged marriages.

In thinking about arranged marriages, I’ve come to the conclusion that the practice of arranged marriage is unromantic for three reasons:

1) No free will.

2) Disadvantaged individuals, mostly women, treated as property.

3) Union not based on love.

Marriage of convenience tropes depend, primarily, on one party not having a good option to not marry. For example, in Madeline Hunter’s Rules of Seduction, the heroine is forced into destitution by the hero and he offers her marriage to “save” her. In Jane Feather’s Almost a Bride, the heroine is again driven to destitution by the hero and he marries her in revenge against her brother, to obliterate the family name. In other books, the hero will often blackmail the heroine into marriage. But arranged marriages? They seem to be a no no.

Romance already has a plethora of books that feature marriage not based on love, treating women as property (the women as paid debts for the gambler father or brother), and marriages when women have no other option than to sell themselves or to marry. So all the reasons that I could think of that are drawbacks for arranged marriages are already prevalent within the romance genre.

The publishing world is becoming smaller in that books that are written by people from other cultures and other worlds are already, or are going to become, readily available.   One of the reasons I’m excited about the penetration of romance in other world markets is because I hope to find new and different tropes or even new views on old tropes.

Are arranged marriages disliked because they are culturally foreign? Is it because the idea seems unromantic and if so, how does it differ from tropes that are already in the genre? Why is it often so villianized when marriage of convenience or blackmailed into marriage are not? Do you have a recommendation for arranged marriage stories?

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

61 Comments

  1. blodeuedd
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 04:32:00

    Not that I like them, but there really should be more of them in books considering how things happened in high society before

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  3. ms bookjunkie
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 05:19:39

    You’re forgetting Nora Roberts’ MacGregor series, where in at least half the books the main characters meet through Daniel MacGregor’s instigation.

  4. Lisa
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 05:37:11

    I think arranged marriage becomes a do or die situation in books when there’s no out clause. You have to be with them, no divorce, no separation etc which causes the trapped and must escape reaction.

    We still see plenty of “arranged marriages” in books by family who want to link their business dynasties together. I’m postive I’ve read plenty harlequins or M&Bs that deal with this and the couple agrees to give it a go and end up falling in love etc, etc.

    Also the “Matchmaking relative/ Matchmaking Company” scenario is another variation that is alive and well :)

  5. Evangeline
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 05:38:45

    That you mention that arranged marriages are common in other cultures is very interesting. Back in High School, I had a friend from the Zoroastrian faith. She was intelligent and fully wanting to go to university. She also expected that her parents will arrange a marriage for her when she was older. I was nonplussed at the time, but I got the feeling that an arranged marriage was something that she looked forward to. An interesting thought.

    Anyway, I’ve read an enjoyed a couple of Georgette Heyer’s arranged marriage books, Cotillion being my favourite. I liked how a couple grow to love each other, and it is a true love that they have.

  6. Alisha Rai
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 05:44:02

    Interesting…I’m in the process of writing a contemporary erom where the couple’s marriage is arranged and I’m curious how it will be received.

    Personally, I’ve seen loving marriages that started this way last til death, so I have warm and fuzzy feelings for it as far as a cultural phenomenon–consideration of the practicalities of a life spent together and the involvement of parents and family in the decision making process don’t automatically preclude love and sex and romance. Then again, I’m looking at it from my generation and the one above mine and can see how the arranged marriage has evolved to fit modern day life. I get how others may still view it as something unromantic/oppressive/confined to historicals.

  7. Jill Myles
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:10:27

    I *love* the arranged marriage trope. There’s something about the whole “We did not choose this but now we’re stuck in it together so let’s see if we can make something of it” sort of scenario that appeals to me.

    But then again, I am also a fan of the soulmate cliche, which is pretty much the paranormal version of arranged marriage (just to a more sweeping degree).

  8. Lenice
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:16:23

    It’s note quite romance, but “Everything Happens For a Reason” by Kavita Daswani features an arranged marriage. I wasn’t wowed by this book, but that’s more because I don’t tend to go for this style of writing rather than the set-up of the relationship. It has some nice moments in raising some of the cross-cultural conceptions about arranged marriage. It also gives a strong voice to the female protagonist negotiating living in an arranged marriage in a Western country.

    The book was given to me to read by my mother-in-law who had an arranged marriage. She met my Father-in-law on the day of their wedding. I think perhaps she gave it to me to help bridge our cultural and generational divide ;-)

  9. Jessie
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:23:10

    You know, I think another reason people might be…unconsciously…averse to arranged marriages is that it kind of takes away some of the alpha-ness of the hero. If you’re really into the hero being strong and in charge (not necessarily of the heroine, just in general), it would be a turn off to read about him passively accepting or being unable to get out of through strength or cleverness an arranged marriage.

  10. Sally
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:34:46

    IRL I don’t find arranged marriages/marriage of convenience/forced marriages romantic at all, but since I read romance for the fantasy, I absolutely love these marriage tropes.

    Arranged marriages sometimes come up in Harlequins. Here are some of the good ones:

    Wedlocked: Banished Sheikh, Untouched by Carol Marinelli
    Captured and Crowned by Janette Kenny
    The Sheikh’s Virgin Princess by Sarah Morgan
    Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin by Sandra Marton
    Saved by the Monarch by Dana Marton

    Huh. All but the last one are Presents, and all but one carries the royalty trope. Interesting….

  11. Alyssia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:44:56

    In my first novel, Betrothed, the hero & heroine are, well… betrothed. Their duke fathers, officers in the Napoleonic wars and long-time friends, arranged their marriage after Waterloo. Naturally — because it’s romance, and we want to see two people fall in love — they grow to welcome the idea and, indeed, fall head over heels for each other.

    Funny, now I think on it, I’ve never read a romance where this is so. As someone pointed out earlier, marriages of convenience were more the thing — at least during that time. Earlier, of course, arranged marriages between wealthy families took the cake on couples pledging their eternal love to each other.

    If someone were to put one out there, however, I’d love to read it.

  12. Shana
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 06:45:55

    Just as a point of fact, Passion Play is NOT a YA book. If you found it in the YA section, it was definitely misshelved.

  13. Joanne
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 07:43:56

    I love the trope. As a young woman I was fortunate to meet and know other girls from different cultures and financial backgrounds and several of them were from families who had arranged their future marriages.

    What strikes me, looking back, was how liberating it was for those girls. Some of them were scratching at the cage walls, but really, not too much. They could study, start careers and have a great deal of fun without worrying about attracting a man because, woot and damn, one was waiting in the wings. And he had a job. And she was comfortable with his family. And bad hair days meant Nothing to them, because again, waiting to get her to the altar was Mister Almost-invisible.

    In fiction I find the arranged marriage a perfect way to have the romance center stage. What sometimes makes it unromantic is the financial arrangements but then romance is a lot sexier if the couple doesn’t to worry about being evicted.

  14. Natasha R
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 07:55:33

    Personally I would like more arranged marriage stories. I come from a culture where arranged marriages are the norm. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like “marriage of convenience” stories so much. I like reading about how the protagonists come to love each other after spending a lot of time with them. Gives me hope :)

  15. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 08:04:57

    Ugh, I just had to follow the link to Passion Play. Now I want to wash my eyeballs.

    I like the stories where after finding out about an arranged marriage one of the two goes out in disguise to check out the other party and then falls in love.

  16. Keishon
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:11:14

    I mentioned “arranged marriage” in a conversation with a colleague a few years ago and got a nasty response and remember it to this day. I don’t mind arranged marriage stories. In fact, I was told that the divorce rate for “arranged marriages” is comparatively low because the marriage is more of a business arrangement and not for love which would make sense. Not sure how true that is today.

    Somewhat off topic, one of my best friends had to fight her way out of an arranged marriage and got to choose for herself. That’s only because she had a professional degree and her family are somewhat “Americanized” but still, I find nothing wrong with the trope.

  17. LG
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:14:50

    @Jill Myles: I’m with you there. The first thing I thought as I was reading the post’s lists of reasons why arranged marriage is considered unromantic was the reasons some people don’t like the soulmate thing in paranormal romance. I LOVE paranormal romances with soulmates, but I also read reviews by book bloggers who hate them.

    I’d probably enjoy a contemporary or historical with an arranged marriage that is not presented in a negative manner. In fact, I have this half-remembered quote floating around in my head in which a character from something (a book? a movie? I can’t remember) is telling her daughter that her own marriage was arranged, and look at what a happy marriage they managed to make for themselves.

    I think one of the things I like about the soulmate trope that I would like about arranged marriages in another romance subgenre is that circumstances outside the characters’ control require that they be together, but their actual happiness depends upon them working out the details of their relationship themselves. I enjoyed reading about the process they go through, of learning about each other and making things work.

  18. LG
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:17:36

    @ms bookjunkie: I would call what happens in the MacGregor books “matchmaking,” not “arranged marriages.” The MacGregor picks out people he thinks would do well together and arranges for them to meet, but he doesn’t tell them, “You two are getting married.” There’s a difference.

  19. Jane
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:31:59

    @Shana Thanks. I thought it was but was misled, likely, by the female protags young age.

  20. Jane
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:32:20

    @Alyssia I’m intrigued. Where can I buy your book?

  21. Jane
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 09:33:02

    @Sally Thanks for the recommendations. I’m a big HP fan so these are right up my alley.

  22. abbe
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:01:04

    I think partly because the arranged marriage provides such an excellent foil for the forbidden “true” love.

    But I would love to read more stories about arranged marriages. You may need to work at it a little more but I think that the growing love and respect between two characters can be just as romantic if not moreso than Big Strong Man sweeps woman off feet to rescue her from labor/loneliness/wealth/poverty/etc.

  23. ms bookjunkie
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:03:42

    @LG: You’re right. It’s more arranged *meetings* and very determined matchmaking with Daniel MacGregor.

  24. DM
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:17:51

    Arranged marriage plots are rare because they rob the story of a good deal of conflict. A romance is the story of the obstacles encountered by two people as they fall in love and struggle to be together. The most compelling reads blend internal and external obstacles. If the couple come together in an arranged marriage, you’ve removed a lot of the external obstacles. If family arranges and society approves their union, and both parties agree to it, what is the story?

  25. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:19:53

    My book coming out in April (contemporary/women’s fiction/whatever) has TWO arranged marriages (two different couples). One went through and turned out badly, and the other was preempted by elopement to a different man.

    In both cases, the arrangements were based on deceit, in that the one with the most to gain from the marriage(s) had to manipulate and hide his true motives to get it done.

  26. Isobel Carr
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:25:19

    Seems to me the “arranged marriage” trope is very popular, it’s just called “fated mates” . . .

    As to why you don’t see a lot of them in historicals, I’d guess it’s partially because the idea of them is essentially anathema to modern Western culture and because the most popular periods (Regency and Victorian) are post-Enlightenment and the rise of the belief that a couple should marry for love (which really gets going in the 18th century, see the fabulous Rise of the Egalitarian Family for a wonderful analysis of this).

  27. Kati
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:46:37

    I love, love, love the arranged marriage trope. LOVE IT! I’m also a sucker for the soul mates trope.

    I love the idea that a couple is “forced” for whatever reason to work through something that neither had necessarily asked for.

    One soul mates story that I think is being handles extraordinarily well is Patricia Briggs’ Alpha & Omega series. In that case, the H/h are werewolves and their wolves chose each other. It’s about the human form trying to catch up with the wolf form. It’s very well done, IMO.

  28. Niveau
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:46:37

    I don’t see true arranged marriages often, and this is including Presents, because usually those ones are arranged between the hero and the heroine’s father/uncle/guardian/whatever. Which doesn’t fit what I think of when I think of arranged marriages, but, I assume, is done so as to keep the Alpha hero in control. I think it’d be awesome to see more, but since that would require the hero following someone else’s wishes, I doubt it’ll happen any time soon.

  29. Niveau
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:46:38

    I don’t see true arranged marriages often, and this is including Presents, because usually those ones are arranged between the hero and the heroine’s father/uncle/guardian/whatever. Which doesn’t fit what I think of when I think of arranged marriages, but, I assume, is done so as to keep the Alpha hero in control. I think it’d be awesome to see more, but since that would require the hero following someone else’s wishes, I doubt it’ll happen any time soon.

  30. Sandra
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:47:22

    Where do you draw the line between arranged marriages and marriages of convenience? Is it that marriages of convenience are arranged by the protagonists and arranged marriages are arranged by the protagonists’ parents/guardians? After all, both types are for the mutual benefit (power/land/money) of the protagonists and their families.

    And there are many arranged marriages in historical romance. True, its usually parents and or siblings, and whether or not these are happy marriages depends on the point the author is trying to make in regards to the protagonists. Unhappy arranged/convenient marriages = protagonists wanting to marry for love. Happy marriages = protagonists willing to settle for same, until they meet THE ONE.

  31. LG
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 10:57:03

    @Sandra: Yes, I see arranged marriages as being arranged by people (or forces, if you think of soulmates in paranormal romance as being a version of arranged marriages) other than the couple in question. Marriages of convenience are a different thing, to my mind.

  32. Janine
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 11:07:21

    Like Keishon, I have a friend who had to fight to escape an arranged betrothal. In my friend’s case, her parents’ marriage was arranged and she didn’t think it was romantic.

    I thought @Jessie had a good point that for some readers a hero who is unable to escape an arranged marriage might not come off as strong enough.

    Still, I’m not oppposed to this as a premise for a romance. I think arranged marriages used to be more common in historicals than they are today. Mary Balogh had some arranged betrothals in her trads, and though I haven’t read it, I know Jo Beverley had a book called An Arranged Marriage. Searching Amazon’s “Books” department under “An Arranged Marriage” yields several books with that title or similar titles, and most are romance (including some HPs) or chick lit.

    My favorite arranged marriage story is Archangel by Sharon Shinn. It’s an F/SF story set on another world peopled by “angels” and “mortals.” In the first scene, the leader of all the angels learns from an oracle that their god has decreed his marriage to a woman from a humble background. It’s a great book and Shinn doesn’t sacrifice the hero’s strength at all by having him go along with the arranged marriage. He does it because of his faith.

  33. LG
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 11:39:21

    Hmm, I think _Goddess for Hire_ by Sonia Singh might have an arranged marriage (or at least one in the works), but I can’t remember. The book is more chick lit than romance.

  34. FD
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 11:46:25

    @Janine:
    I was going to mention Archangel, but you did it for me. ;)

    It’s interesting the dearth of genuinely arranged marriages – I too distinguish ‘arranged’ from ‘convenient’. The ones I can think of are mostly medieval time period, with the few exceptions being HP for contemporary settings. I would hazard a guess that the reason why there are so few arranged marriage stories might be the same reason as why there are so few non-western set stories – it’s not culturally familiar and therefore publishers are less willing to take risks on it.

  35. Anon
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 12:39:50

    It’s not a romance novel, but perhaps you should try the movie “Arranged” for a Friday movie review. It’s on Netflix Watch Instantly and gives an interesting view of arranged marriages in America.

  36. Antonia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 14:33:43

    Hmm….arranged marriage trope… it’s a favorite. I can think of two books on the top of my head that fit the brief:

    Jenna Petersen – “The Unclaimed Duchess” (H/h in an arranged marriage)

    Eloisa James – “When the Duke Returns” (H/h married by proxy)

    I don’t know if Julia Quinn’s “Mr. Cavendish I Presume” counts since the H/h are engaged for most of the book. Sort of.

  37. Jayne
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 14:47:53

    @Anon: It’s been in my Netflix queue for a while now. ;)

  38. orannia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 16:58:48

    OK, I’ve got my head screwed back on now. I was reading ‘arranged marriage’ as ‘marriage of convenience’, but they’re not quite the same thing, are they? *thinks*

    Didn’t Mary Balogh write a recent novella with an arranged marriage trope? A Matter of Class?

    Also, my favourite Harlequin Presents (because it deals with a particular topic never discussed in romances) – Blackmailed into Marriage – is an arranged marriage IIRC. The heroine’s grandfather arranges the marriage with the hero.

    And now my brain has gone blank :)

  39. RobinC
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 17:33:35

    My grandma and grandpa had an arranged marriage.

    My great-grandpa had a lady on the side just off the reservation by his ranch. She had my grandma and died a couple years later. Mim came to live on the ranch with her father’s wife and kids. She was much younger than the others and he was pretty old. They were not too welcoming, what with the half-breed and daughter of the mistress thing going on. Afraid she would be abandoned when he died, he made an agreement for one of the ranch hands to marry her in exchange for some acreage and stock. Mim was 14; Poppy was 40.

    They were married 61 years; raised 7 kids; lost that land; lived on the res for a while; did some bootlegging; lost another ranch; worked the oil camps, and finally settled in west Texas to raise cotton. She died a few years ago 2 days short of 100.

  40. Isobel Carr
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 18:50:46

    @Janine:

    Like Keishon, I have a friend who had to fight to escape an arranged betrothal.

    Me too. A good friend from college is Pakistani and had a marriage she didn’t want hanging over her head all through our college years (if she’d refused it then, her parents would have stopped paying for college). She got around it by marrying an American and staying here, but her parents never spoke to her again (one of her four brothers is in touch though; the one who lives in London).

  41. Patricia Briggs
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 19:58:22

    Arranged marriages don’t happen as much in a modern US society so they’re not going to appear much in contemporary novels — though I believe that there were several early Jayne Anne Krenz stories involving arranged marriages/business deals that were pretty good.

    Arranged marriages happen much more often in Regency/Georgian romances than they do in modern ones. Mary Balogh has several books that play with this (both as a good thing and as a bad one), also I believe at least one of Joan Wolf’s marvelous 1st person voice regencies had an arranged marriage. There was also a very good short story by Mary Jo Putney about an American heiress married to a British lord based on a real life marriage in “Wedding of the Century”. Arranged marriages that worked out eventually were a trope of the 80’s and older medieval/historical romances of several of my favorite authors like Kathleen Woodiwiss, Laura London (Gypsy Heiress is awesome) and (my favorite) Roberta Gellis. Gellis’s Bond of Blood may not be the most PC book anymore, but I still love it — and it is, as all of her books are, correct for the attitudes of the period of history.

    I also read sometime in the last five years a pretty good SF/romance about a woman who married an alien to save her people. I read too many books — and I don’t honestly remember if this was an ebook or a paper book, but it was interesting and fun. Also Eileen Wilks Lupi books deal with arranged marriages (arranged by a demigod — but still, it is without consent of either party and does not mean they have to love each other or be happy about it). I just finished Blood Challenge which was delightful. I recommend you start from the first book Tempting Danger.

    The problem with a “successful” arranged marriage from the viewpoint of a modern author is that it requires a certain amount of perceived passivity on the part of the participants that is less easily twisted into an interesting story. It also too easily sets a story up with morals like “Parents do know best”, or “accept that some things are out of your control”. Though “make the best of the bad situation” has possibilities, you can see the inherent problem.

  42. Patricia Briggs
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 20:16:41

    After discussing this with my husband for a while —
    Arranged marriages are prevalent in societies in which family is more important than individual needs. This is not a popular sentiment in our (US Culture) because we no longer depend upon our family for survival. Although it does still happen, particularly in ethnic groups that hold onto their culture. For example I grew up with a girl who parent’s marriage had been arranged (they were 1st generation Greek). It was not a happy marriage.

    In real life, arranged marriages are brokering a commodity or sealing a deal — not a very romantic thing.

  43. patricia
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 22:38:31

    I love arranged marriages. Thanks for the trope.. I always get good book recommendations from myBantu.com. You can try it as well.. You can search for the books and buy them instantly.

  44. Ridley
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 23:29:28

    I’d like to see more happy ending arranged marriages. I knew a number of girls whose families picked their husbands and, like any marriage, they were a mixed bag. Sure some turn out poorly, but many turn out quite happily. The right author could spin a perfectly interesting story just by making such a marriage look sensible to Western readers. There’s still a romance to write and conflict to mine, it’s all just after the wedding instead of before.

  45. SonomaLass
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 00:18:09

    Fascinating. I’d never really thought about the differences between arranged marriage, marriage of convenience and forced marriage, especially as they affect the dynamic of romance relationships. I can see how allowing someone else to choose your spouse could be tricky for a romance hero, though.

    Meljean Brook’s Guardian series has an arranged marriage plot device, as I recall; the character (a woman of Indian heritage) has agreed to allow her grandmother to arrange her marriage — but then paranormal stuff happens and that really isn’t workable anymore. I remember thinking when I read it that it would be interesting to read a romance where an arranged marriage was the central story.

  46. orannia
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 01:40:42

    @Patricia Briggs – is the heroine of the Mary Jo Putney novella called Sunny? I have that anthology. I always re-read at Christmas :)

  47. Evangeline Holland
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 02:44:57

    @RobinC: What a fascinating and intriguing story. The writer in me never says never to a storyline pregnant with conflict and character growth, so I actually enjoy the concept of arranged marriages. Like Jane, I too hope the growth of a global romance genre will translate into new romance genre tropes or new takes on those tropes outside of the ‘Western’ perspective.

  48. Ros
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 09:05:08

    The place I still see true arranged marriages (with neither hero nor heroine involved in the negotiations) is in sheikh stories. Off the top of my head I can think of Carol Marinelli’s Wedlocked: Banished Sheikh, Untouched Queen (which has one of the most misleading titles and bizarre plots twists EVER), and Sarah Morgan’s lovely The Sheikh’s Virgin Princess. I’m sure there are others.

  49. Amy B.
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 10:23:52

    Great post! I completely agree, it would a great trope to see explored. Also, I must share a story.

    Once when my mom was flying to visit me in NY, she got to chatting with a woman from India who had just been visiting her daughter in Colorado. Her daughter had just received her business degree, gotten a great job, and was generally a successful professional. During the visit, marriage came up, and the mother told her daughter that, if she wanted, she didn’t need to have an arranged marriage, that her family was perfectly fine with her choosing for herself. The daughter’s response?

    “What? No. That’s your job. I’m too busy to date.”

    I’d never had anything against arranged marriage, but a daughter seeing it as her parents’ duty to find her a husband fascinates me. I’d love to see that story played out. :)

  50. TaraR
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 10:46:35

    Being from Asia and having observed arranged marriages personally for many years, I think the reason for its negative portrayal is entirely cultural. What might be completely unromantic to Western writers of romance might seem intriguing to readers who have been exposed to a culture where arranged marriages are common. I can easily imagine a couple marrying to appease their parents and then discovering that they complement each other in ways they never imagined. I have seen it happen. A friend recently told me about how weeks after her cousin’s wedding (arranged by his family), he (the cousin) updated his Facebook status to say that he was “utterly and irrevocably in love with his wife”. Seven years and a kid later, they’re still going strong. These are the kind of stories I get to witness.

    Both my grandparents’ marriages were arranged. My parents’ marriage was arranged. My aunts on both the sides of the family had arranged marriages, as did my uncles. Two years ago, my sister’s marriage was arranged, with her full consent, to a wonderful guy who fits in with our family quite seamlessly. Someday, I expect to have an arranged marriage too. In fact, I’d be downright surprised if it were any other way.

    I think this is the reason why I like the marriage of convenience trope so much. I would gladly welcome more romance novels that portray arranged marriages in a positive light. Because I have seen that it’s not necessarily a “trap” or totally unromantic, the way many plots tend to depict it.

  51. nasanta
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 11:16:24

    Would it be considered an arranged marriage if the future husband arranges a marriage with the future bride’s father? If so, I have two that turned out okay:

    Her Vampire Husband by Michele Hauf
    To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton

    There was a revelation about the bride’s father in To Wed a Stranger that really dismayed me, but otherwise, I liked watching two strangers wed and learning to love each other.

    I think The Brat by Lynsay Sands might also have this trope but I’m not 100% certain.

    There are also:

    When a Duke Returns by Eloisa James
    Somewhere I’ll Find You by Lisa Kleypas
    The Foundling by Georgette Heyer
    The Perfect Wife by Lynsay Sands
    The Chase by Lynsay Sands
    Duchess in Love by Eloisa James

    I think there is also an arranged marriage story in Further Observations of Lady Whistledown.

    I don’t mind arranged marriage tropes if they were well done as I thought To Wed a Stranger was. I sometimes wish that my parents would arrange mine. I have too much of an avoidant personality to feel comfortable seeking my own HEA.

  52. Jane
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 21:18:34

    Thanks for all the recommendations guys. I’m going to check some of them out. I think I own some of these titles.

  53. Anesthezea
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 04:19:13

    Julia Garwood’s “The Gift” was an arranged marriage. Married by proxy as children. I think he was 14 and she was 4 or 5.

  54. Anesthezea
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 04:40:54

    @TaraR – your story and family sound lovely. :)

    I love arranged marriage stories that are positive. One of my favorite variations on the theme is when the two people involved begin as strangers, move on to friendship, and grow into something more. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. Probably because that’s how my hubby and I got together. We were friends for years, even roommates a number of times. Everyone teased us because we did everything together, but we weren’t “together”. I cooked, he cleaned, we shared cars, went on trips, had movie nights, and late night talks about everything under the sun. It was five years of that before one of us finally made a move. :)

  55. job
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 19:50:07

    Coming in late.
    I wanted to add
    Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Kiss an Angel

  56. Elizabeth
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 03:48:38

    I love arranged marriage stories!

    “I like the stories where after finding out about an arranged marriage one of the two goes out in disguise to check out the other party and then falls in love.”

    Beast by Judith Ivory is one of these, and very good. IIRC, it’s another, like the two that Nasanta mentioned, wherein the bride’s father arranges the marriage with the groom.

    Lord of Midnight by Jo Beverley is also great, and involves an arranged marriage. The hero is ordered to marry one of the three unmarried young women related to the man whose property the hero has just inherited: the late man’s daughter or younger twin sisters. The hero chooses the daughter, and things seem to be going well until she realizes that the hero inherited her father’s stuff after killing him….

    I think that another of Beverley’s medieval stories, Lord of My Heart, also deals with an arranged marriage, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

  57. Hydecat
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:18:44

    Interesting discussion! I’ve discovered that I have mixed feelings about arranged marriages in fiction depending on the type of the arrangement. I tend to dislike stories with the One True Soulmate paranormal plot (that some commenters brought up) because it typically comes off to me as a supreme lack of choice, and it especially bugs me in novels that focus on the heroine’s lack of choice in this matter, rather than the hero’s. I also dislike marriages arranged manipulatively. Nora Roberts’s MacGregor books are my prime example — I just got the combined volume of Serena and Caine and while the stories were good, it bothered me that Daniel underhandedly sets Serena and Justin up. I like The Winning Hand much more because Darcy and Mac meet on their own. I absolutely detest Whitney My Love because it is an underhanded arrangement on a massive scale. On the other hand, I like arranged marriages and marriages of convenience stories where the arrangement is man-made and clearly explained to the couple, and the couple then discovers love. For example, A Civil Contract by Heyer, where the hero believes he loves someone else but enters into a marriage of convenience and then falls in love with his wife. I also wonder, though, if my reactions to these plots has anything to do with my age — I think at the age of 16 I might not have appreciated the pragmatic love of a Civil Contract and have been much more in love with the idea of Soulmates Forever.

  58. Saved by the Monarch – Dana Marton (Harlequin Intrigue) : avidbookreader
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 00:01:24

    […] at Dear Author, Jane led an dis­cus­sion about arranged mar­riages and ques­tioned why there aren't very […]

  59. Sherry Thomas
    Jan 27, 2011 @ 13:44:09

    What is the difference between “arranged marriage” and “marriage of convenience”? Is it that the former is done by parents and other authority figures and the latter entered into by the spouses themselves?

    Huh, I think I’m in the middle–or first third, to be more exact–of writing an “arranged marriage” story.

  60. Tonya Jones
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:20:03

  61. Tonya Jones
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:21:30

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