Romance Unlaced: First Children, Then Love in Historical Romances
This is the more intriguing, because a fair amount of heroines are maidservants. Instead she spends most of her time winning debates about sexual morality with her arch hypocrite of a master, being abducted, fending off his attempts by fainting, or solemnly writing down the compliments she receives.
However, her status is that of a servant, and that is the point. It is a version of the Cinderella motif, where a powerful man is won over by the physical and moral attributes of a fair damsel of lower social status, and ultimately marries her. Therefore, a man who married a low born woman elevated her in status. The reverse was not true, however much money the woman might have.
In the eyes of the eighteenth century, where women had no separate legal identity after marriage, a woman could not elevate a low born man by marrying him. This is the — probably not generally understood — reason why there cannot be a male Cinderella equivalent in English novels. There can be no fairytale ending with one. There is another aspect, of course: while all romantic heroes do not have to be Alapha males, they do have to have some element of power about them. Working men were historically cut off from power throughout the world.
In Britain, where so much of historical romance is set, they did not have the vote until This makes for difficulties, at least with the Alpha type of male lead. A romantic hero is supposed to be impressive, to dazzle the heroine not only with this looks and charm, but also with his influence, his status among his peers and all the rest of it.
That is rather easier to do if he can fill her with awe as the titled owner of a rambling mansion with a team of devoted servants, with attractive and eligible women throwing themselves at him and a thousand connections… …Whereas, if he can only offer her a broken chair by a smoky fireplace in a leaky cottage and a nice slice of pease pudding, it becomes a little harder to dazzle… The working class hero, then, is that much harder to depict as a romantic figure.
It can be done, but it takes more work, and it does frankly lead to a level of realism in the story that that many romance readers might find offputting. When I wrote The Peterloo Affair, my main interest was in recreating the historical injustice of the Peterloo Massacre of However, I hoped to show as well that romantic love is not incompatible with poverty. Heroes are not meant to kowtow to anyone.
A footman, for instance, was employed to make life easy for his masters, to wear a fine uniform and wait at table, to bring up the coals, and solemnly to deliver the mail to the master or mistress on an ornamental tray. This is hardly work of the sort that is generally seen as fitting for hero material.
Gentlemen staged races between their footmen, with high stakes placed on them. It remains true a background of poverty and overcrowding even Richardson is realistic to make Pamela usually share a bed — though not willingly with Mr. B hardly fits in with the fantasy aspect of the story demanded by romance readers. The Cinderella motif remains perennially popular. From the wildly improbable trials of Pamela at the hands of the would-be rapist Mr. B , on through the haughty but decidedly non-rapist Mr.
There are, of course, exceptions. There have been many variants of Pride and Prejudice, invariably from the point of view of characters belonging to the gentry. Longbourn shows the point of view of the servants. As I have noted elsewhere, unlovely realistic details abound.
When she first sees the male lead, who is taken on as a general servant, he is wearing a pair of broken shoes with ludicrously flapping soles. A servant performed squalid tasks, and had little privacy and less leisure in which to pursue romantic entanglements.
Eighteenth century commentary is full of resigned references to insolent, underworked footmen. Exaggerated as these no doubt were, as so often, male servants were still usually better off than the women, if only because they earned more money and did not have to do the washing. A footman who had the luck to be tall and strapping could demand a better wage. In fact, some young, handsome footmen could live almost as a sort of part time gigolo rather than a menial, if the reminiscences of the vain John MacDonald, as reported in The Life and times of John MacDonald , are to be believed.
This is, so far as I know, the only autobiography published by a manservant. Which brings me round full circle to the love lives of manservants… While there are far more dukes than drudges featuring as romantic leads in historical romance — a comment on the escapist nature of the genre, given that excluding royals, there were only about 28 dukes in Great Britain in out of a population of about 10,, — there are exceptions to this.
I did come across this list of romantic novels featuring servants on Goodeads. However, as it includes maidservants as well as manservants , I am not sure how many actually feature a manservant for the male lead. There is also a fair sprinkling of governesses, which is odd, as governesses were never classified as servants, though they were hirelings.
These stalwart, muscular, stoic young men with a reckless gleam in the eye in due course either turn out to be a man of title or heir to one. That is certainly true of Love, the Tryant , where the heroine Esther Vancourt engages her distant relative, the disguised Sir John Vancourt, as a foreman on the home farm of Vancourt Towers — which is of course, part of his estate.
It is also true of Wicked Sir Dare , where the hero disguises himself as a gamekeeper in order to be nearer to his estranged bride. Neither of these, of course, demeans himself by taking on a post that requires servile courtesy.
Both work outside, as befits their hale, hearty temperaments. Share this:.
And everyone in the room knew instantly that she did see. Sophie hazarded a smile in their direction. The smaller one smiled back, but the older one, whose hair was the color of spun gold, took her cue from her mother, pointed her nose in the air, and looked firmly away.
Sophie gulped and smiled again at the friendly girl, but this time the little girl chewed on her lower lip in indecision and then cast her eyes toward the floor. Right next to Sophie. Sophie watched the new family walk up the stairs and then, as they disappeared onto the landing, she turned to Mrs.
I could show the girls the nursery. Gibbons shook her head. Surely that was a bit old for taking naps. Gibbons patted her on the back. I could use a bit of company, and Cook told me that she just made a fresh batch of shortbread. Sophie smiled. It would be glorious to have sisters. As it happened, Sophie did not encounter Rosamund and Posy —or the earl and countess, for that matter— until the next day.
When Sophie entered the nursery to take her supper, she noticed that the table had been set for two, not four, and Miss Timmons who had miraculously recovered from her ailment said that the new countess had told her that Rosamund and Posy were too tired from their travels to eat that evening. But the girls had to have their lessons, and so the next morning they arrived in the nursery, trailing the countess by one step each. Sophie had been working at her lessons for an hour already, and she looked up from her arithmetic with great interest.
Somehow it seemed best not to. She looked, Sophie thought, as pretty as the porcelain doll the earl had sent up from London for her seventh birthday.
She is eleven. She is ten. Unlike her mother and sister, her hair and eyes were quite dark, and her cheeks were a bit pudgy.
Sophie, put your slate down. It was the truth, of course, but no one had ever said it aloud. At least not to her face. The countess grabbed her chin and squeezed and pulled until Sophie was forced to look her in the eye.
Abruptly, the countess let go of her chin. Furthermore, you are not to speak to Rosamund and Posy except during lessons. They are the daughters of the house now, and should not have to associate with the likes of you. Do you have any questions? And an awful lot of tears.
In time, Sophie learned a bit more about her precarious position in the house. The countess, whose given name was Araminta, had insisted that very first day that Sophie be removed from the house.
The earl had refused. But she had to put up with her. He never regained consciousness. Everyone was quite shocked. The earl was only forty years old. Who could have known that his heart would give out at such a young age? No one was more stunned than Araminta, who had been trying quite desperately since her wedding night to conceive the all-important heir. I could very well be with child. He left bequests to loyal servants.
He settled funds on Rosamund, Posy, and even Sophie, ensuring that all three girls would have respectable dowries. Araminta stood. Indeed, one cannot take two steps without being forced to listen to some society mama speculating on who will attend, and perhaps more importantly, who will wear what. Neither of the aforementioned topics, however, are nearly as interesting as that of the two unmarried Bridgerton brothers, Benedict and Colin.
Before anyone points out that there is a third unmarried Bridgerton brother, let This Author assure you that she is fully aware of the existence of Gregory Bridgerton. Although the Misters Bridgerton are just that —merely Misters— they are still considered two of the prime catches of the season.
It is a well-known fact that both are possessed of respectable fortunes, and it does not require perfect sight to know that they also possess, as do all eight of the Bridgerton offspring, the Bridgerton good looks.
Will some fortunate young lady use the mystery of a masquerade night to snare one of the eligible bachelors? Or at least an eardrum. Rosamund gave her pretty head a shake. Rosamund was forever ordering tea, then not bothering to drink it until an hour passed. By then, of course, it was cold, so she had to order a fresh pot.
Which meant Sophie was forever running up and down the stairs, up and down, up and down. Sometimes it seemed that was all she did with her life.
Up and down, up and down. You do have such a knack for picking out my clothing. She is determined that one of us snare one of the remaining Bridgerton brothers, you know. Not, of course, that Sophie had ever had the chance to see the Marriage Mart for herself.
But if one read Whistledown often enough, one could almost feel a part of London Society without actually attending any balls. But Whistledown was great fun.
When the single-sheet newspaper had debuted two years earlier, speculation had been rampant. Even now, whenever Lady Whistledown reported a particularly juicy bit of gossip, people starting talking and guessing anew, wondering who on earth was able to report with such speed and accuracy. And for Sophie, Whistledown was a tantalizing glimpse into the world that might have been hers, had her parents actually made their union legal.
But she could not —or at least should not— complain. She might have to serve as maid to Araminta and her daughters, but at least she had a home.
Which was more than most girls in her position had. Well, nothing but a roof over her head. His will had ensured that she could not be turned out until she was twenty.
There was no way that Araminta would forfeit four thousand pounds a year by giving Sophie the boot. And she ate what the rest of the maids ate— whatever Araminta, Rosamund, and Posy chose to leave behind.
And Sophie had stayed. And Sophie had no idea which would be worse. I should really be getting to the kitchen with it. Oh, and I suppose the matching shoes should be readied as well.
I got a bit of dirt on them last time I wore them, and you know how Mother is about shoes. And Sophie trudged down to the kitchen. The Queen Elizabeth gown had, of course, been delivered from the dressmaker as a perfect fit, but Araminta insisted that it was now a quarter inch too large in the waist.
How does that feel? The nerve of the man. Step-daughters, Sophie silently corrected. It is so difficult to find a proper house to rent.
And so expensive as well. Araminta snapped her fingers. Sophie had asked if she was planning to put a ring of faux blood around her neck. Rosamund had not been amused. Araminta pulled on her dressing gown, cinching the sash with swift, tight movements. Araminta narrowed her eyes as she tried to figure out if Sophie was being insolent. She stalked off to the washroom. Sophie saluted as the door closed behind her. Sophie squared her shoulders and gave Rosamund a steely look. If she did as Rosamund asked, Rosamund would tattle on her the very next day, and then Araminta would rant and rage for a week.
Now she would definitely have to do the alteration. I have no idea how it happened. Sophie sighed. Rosamund made a rather huffy sound and then hurried out the door to retrieve her costume. Posy nodded. I found some green ribbons that look a little like seaweed.
There are shades of Romeo and Juliet with the whole Cavalier vs Roundhead conflict. Riley also has other unusual historical romances in this period. Enter Felix, Lord Rivendale.
The setting of Victorian England is nothing special, but the characters are wonderful. Louisa is a perfectly ordinary heroine without either impressive looks or impressive brains.
Delilah is vivacious, slightly materialistic, and quite willing to pull a pistol on anyone who rubs her the wrong way. Meanwhile, inoffensive beta hero Jack Langdon stumbles into her path of destruction… Jezebel by Koko Brown Celeste Newsome is a notorious girl. A dancer in New York, she uses men and alcohol to numb her demons. Then along comes Shane Brennan, a prizefighter determined to get under her defenses. This book, as well as being a cute romance, was a very interesting look at the racial situation of the time.
Unusual historical romances, here I come! Jeremy Maubrey, tenth Duke of Ainsley, wakes up one morning feeling curiously itchy down there. To his horror, he discovers someone has shaved him and given him a mortifying tattoo. In the course of her duties she meets Colin Faulkner, Earl of Clifton. But they can never be together, because the year isand an entire continent — plus her loyalty to her father — lie between them.
Najja is a great heroine, and Burke writes some excellent sexual tension between her and Colin. The entire concept of her training and occupation makes this one of the more unusual historical romances!
A wager presents itself. In six weeks, can she turn a poor working man into one who passes for a viscount? This reverse twist on the Pygmalion story is carried off by the heroine who having fallen on hard times works as a linguist, as well as the refreshingly non-tortured hero. The setting totally makes the book. A great addition to the world of unusual historical romances!
The heroine of this Western is very similar to Morganna first book in this list. Both are intensely reserved, struggle with expressing their emotions, and end up with charming heroes strong enough to withstand their ice.
Historical Romance Novels That Will Make You Fall in Love with the Genre
Lily is a lot more ruthless though. This is where Oliver Woodruff comes in. Oliver is a beta male while Mattie is decidedly an alpha. First we have Peggy Grahame, a year-old girl who goes to live with her uncle Enos. It soon transpires that her house is filled with the ghosts of her Colonial ancestors. As they relate to her their own humorous, frustrating and romantic life stories, Peggy develops a flirtation with a local scholar against whom her uncle has a mysterious grudge. Hassan is able to divide himself and be in multiple places at once, with each persona having different strengths and weaknesses.
Though weaker than the other servants on this list, Hassan's potential would be maximized by Kirei, since the man is ruthlessly trained in subterfuge. With his strategic genius, Kirei could capitalize on his opponent's weaknesses, potentially assassinating the competition simultaneously when they are at their weakest.
Together, the two were a fearsome team, between Iskander's military prowess and Waver's magics. However, his Noble Phantasm, Ionioi Hetairoi, is one of his greatest strengths.
With increased mobility due to his Rider class, along with Waver's genius in magic, the two could have completely destroyed the competition. Caster-the princess Medea from legend-is a magus who is unmatched by the magical capabilities of any of the mage masters in the Grail War. Bonded through love for one another, the two fought to keep alive.
Had they turned their attention towards winning the war, things may have ended differently. I could sit here and tell you about how Great Britain has been racially diverse for centuries upon centuries.
I could tell you about the notable Black, Chinese and South Asian communities in Britain during the s alone. I could point out individual Black British socialites, South Asian aristocrats, Chinese technocrats, and so much more.
You read that correctly. Because stories are about the improbable, the impossible, the special—and that applies to romance in particular. Romance is about the special. So what message does it send, when entire swathes of people are effectively barred from a romantic sub-genre? And that message is vile… so I reject it. I want to read about a black duke waltzing at a ball, or a brown heiress flirting at a house party, because I just bloody do, okay, and because I deserve it. We all deserve it.
And now Netflix is giving us the opportunity to watch that. Well, sugar, I disagree, since it did. Not the duke thing, but the other stuff. Stories are about taking things that might not have happened and saying, Okay, but what if it had?
Of course not. You only read about the bathroom breaks that are relevant to her story, if any. Remember: this is a story. Do you hear that sound? That siren in the distance? I want to ask you something, and I want you to consider the answer carefully.
24 Unusual Historical Romances You Absolutely Need to Read
In the historical romances you read and enjoy, are atrocities being committed daily, worldwide? Is the society your beloved characters are a part of inherently rotten?
If those books are, ahem, realistic, the answer to all those questions is yes. Therefore, you have been reading about vile, disgusting creatures who symbolise all that is wrong with the world and have no conscience to speak of. Would your favourite historical hero really enjoy the blood money gained by the violent theft of land?