Tag Archive | adultery

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #2: Adultery

Blast From the Past: Susana is traveling in Scotland this week and she thought some of you might enjoy revisiting some of her previous posts on Susana’s Parlour.

Decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

The second one is adultery involving the hero or heroine.

I’ve seen scenarios where the non-hero husband is cruel and abusive, even threatening to kill the heroine (especially in medievals), but I don’t find that a good enough excuse for adultery. I wouldn’t tell a 21st century abused woman that she either has to go back to her husband or go to a nunnery (perhaps the closest thing to a medieval equivalent of a shelter for battered women), but in medieval times there weren’t many other options. In one story I read recently, the abused wife ran away to a distant town with her lover and they pretended to be married. But the guilt of their deceit had already started to tarnish their relationship before the book’s conclusion, leaving the reader with a very unsatisfactory HEA. (In fact, the story was set up in such a way as to make a satisfactory HEA impossible.) I know this isn’t fair by 21st century standards, but you really should not write a novel set in medieval times and then proceed to ignore the social and religious mores of the time. Less knowledgeable readers might not notice, but those of us who have read widely in the genre will recognize an amateur when we see it. [Historical inaccuracy, another deal breaker, will be discussed in a later post.]

What about a spouse who is ill, disabled, or confined to a mental institution? Or a spouse who has run off with another person and disappeared? While I do not expect a hero to remain celibate forever under these circumstances, I cannot like the heroine to be his mistress. Remember Jane Eyre? She knew she couldn’t have a proper HEA with Edward while his wife was living, even if she was a lunatic. I mean, how can you justify stigmatizing your children with the label “bastard”? Somehow, the HEA has to include a legal marriage, and I can’t believe a heroine who starts out as a mistress can have that much confidence that her husband/protector won’t eventually deceive her as well.

Oh, and the plots where the sterile husband invites his best friend to impregnate his wife? NO! Forget it! It doesn’t matter if the husband is good or evil, the whole adultery/deception angle opens up a Pandora’s box of guilt and fear that always manages to tarnish the HEA in some way.

What about you? Do find adultery in a historical romance acceptable in some situations?

 

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana (To the Reader): I’ve always been fascinated by what I’ve heard about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, who was a great-great-great aunt of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and who counts among her descendents (through her illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtenay) Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Lady P discussed her problem with gambling in Episode #3, but seeing as she and the Duchess were contemporaries—Lady P is two years older—I’ve asked her to tell us a bit about the infamous Duchess’s life.

carolinelambLady P: Lady Caroline Lamb, that silly woman who chased after Lord Byron even after he cast her off, was the daughter of Georgiana’s sister Harriet…if you recall, Harriet was the one who had to be bailed out of the Fleet for debt. Truly, there is something seriously not right about that Caroline. I suppose it’s not to be surprised at, since Bessborough, her father, was such a brute that Harriet and Caroline departed his house and lived with the Devonshires. Caroline grew up there, along with Georgiana’s children, and, of course, the illegitimates.

Susana: Illegitimates?

Lady P: Well, that is the polite term for them. I’ve heard them called worse, let me tell you. First, there was the duke’s daughter by the maid, Charlotte, I believe was her name. Georgiana took her in after her mother died…at the Duke’s request.

Susana: That was generous of her. There were more, you say?

eliz.fosterLady P: Indeed. Georgiana became great friends with a woman estranged from her husband, one with a shady past, if you ask me. That was Lady Elizabeth Foster, and dear Georgiana took pity on her and invited her to stay with them until her situation improved. No money, you see, and no home either.

Susana: The Duchess seems a very kind person indeed.

Lady P: Harrumph! I told her on many an occasion that she was far too kindhearted for her own good. Why, everyone saw through that conniver, Bess Foster, except for Georgiana. And the Duke, of course. She lived with them for twenty-five years, mind!

devonshire_dukeSusana: She was friendly with the Duke as well?

Lady P: Oh, very. She gave birth to two illegitimate children by him!

Susana: Goodness! And Georgiana knew this was going on?

Lady P: Of course she did. Everyone knew. Not that she was happy about it, mind. But by that time, she was far too dependent on Bess to cast her aside. It’s not like she and the Duke were a love match, you know. And Bess helped her deal with her creditors too; I don’t think she could have managed without her.

Susana: This blows my mind. So the Devonshires lived in a ménage à trois surrounded by illegitimate children for twenty-five years, and yet Georgiana was an acclaimed leader of the ton?

devonshireLady P: Indeed. You see, Georgiana’s personality was such that she made it the fashion to be different. You should have seen the hats she wore…some of them scraped the ceiling and one nearly caught fire when it brushed against a chandelier! She was a great friend of Marie-Antoinette, you know, before the Revolution. Georgiana ruled the French court as well, when she was in France. Everyone sought to imitate her.

Susana: Including her lifestyle?

Lady P: Dear Susana, you mustn’t assume that the leaders of the ton actually practiced the morals they espoused for others. No, indeed. Society was full of rakes and drunkards and wife beaters even then. People whispered about the Devonshires, of course, and perhaps even spoke of them openly, but it didn’t stop them from worshipping her. Not even when she fled to France to give birth to her own illegitimate daughter.

Susana: No, really?

Lady P: Georgiana was no paragon, you know. She had love affairs of her own. She fell in love with Charles Grey, who was seven or eight years younger than she, and would have run away to live with him had the Duke not threatened to keep her children from her. As it was, the Duke banished her to France to have Grey’s daughter, and Eliza was raised by Grey’s parents as their own daughter.

Susana: So Georgiana had to give her daughter up while the Duke’s illegitimate children lived in the household with his legitimate children? How hypocritical!

Lady P: That is the way of things where I come from. The men rule—or think they do—and their wives or daughters have little recourse but to become beggars or do as I did, and become an expert at diversion.

Susana: Diversion?

Lady P: Well, I certainly never told Pendleton I had become a Whig follower. He was a Tory through and through, and he would never have allowed me to join Georgiana in her marches for Charles Fox. No indeed. So I never mentioned it, and whenever he asked me what I had done on those days, I simply told him I was at the milliner’s and began chattering away about lace and ribbons and the latest fashions until he changed the subject or stalked off. Of course, now that I am widowed, I can do as I please. Of course, I do miss my dear Pendleton, but I must confess, the freedom of widowhood is much to be desired.

Susana (To the Reader): Our time is up for today, but I’ve asked Lady P to continue her memories of the Duchess, particularly her political activities, in our next episode. Thanks for dropping by.

And, as always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

The Lady P Series

Episode #1: Susana’s Adventures With Lady P: The Introduction

Episode #2: Lady P Talks About… Pride and Prejudice?

Episode #3: Lady P and the Duchess Who Lost a Billion Dollars

Episode #4: Lady P and the Face On the $100 Bill

Episode #5: In Which Lady P Discovers Sparkly Fabrics and Ponders Violating the Prime Directive

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #7: The Political Exploits of Lady P and the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #8: Lady P and the Prince Regent’s Illicit Marriage

Episode #9: In Which Lady P Depletes the Cooking Sherry During Her Discussion of Caroline of Brunswick

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Episode #12: Lady P’s Revelations Regarding George III and His Peculiar Progeny

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Episode #15: Lady P On Assignment in 1814 Kent

Lady P Quizzes Jane Livingston, the Hero’s Sister From “A Twelfth Night Tale”

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #2: Adultery

Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

The second one is adultery involving the hero or heroine.

I’ve seen scenarios where the non-hero husband is cruel and abusive, even threatening to kill the heroine (especially in medievals), but I don’t find that a good enough excuse for adultery. I wouldn’t tell a 21st century abused woman that she either has to go back to her husband or go to a nunnery (perhaps the closest thing to a medieval equivalent of a shelter for battered women), but in medieval times there weren’t many other options. In one story I read recently, the abused wife ran away to a distant town with her lover and they pretended to be married. But the guilt of their deceit had already started to tarnish their relationship before the book’s conclusion, leaving the reader with a very unsatisfactory HEA. (In fact, the story was set up in such a way as to make a satisfactory HEA impossible.) I know this isn’t fair by 21st century standards, but you really should not write a novel set in medieval times and then proceed to ignore the social and religious mores of the time. Less knowledgeable readers might not notice, but those of us who have read widely in the genre will recognize an amateur when we see it. [Historical inaccuracy, another deal breaker, will be discussed in a later post.]

What about a spouse who is ill, disabled, or confined to a mental institution? Or a spouse who has run off with another person and disappeared? While I do not expect a hero to remain celibate forever under these circumstances, I cannot like the heroine to be his mistress. Remember Jane Eyre? She knew she couldn’t have a proper HEA with Edward while his wife was living, even if she was a lunatic. I mean, how can you justify stigmatizing your children with the label “bastard”? Somehow, the HEA has to include a legal marriage, and I can’t believe a heroine who starts out as a mistress can have that much confidence that her husband/protector won’t eventually deceive her as well.

Oh, and the plots where the sterile husband invites his best friend to impregnate his wife? NO! Forget it! It doesn’t matter if the husband is good or evil, the whole adultery/deception angle opens up a Pandora’s box of guilt and fear that always manages to tarnish the HEA in some way.

What about you? Do find adultery in a historical romance acceptable in some situations?

*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.