Tag Archive | marriage laws

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #3: Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies

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

Deal breaker #3 is: anachronistic behavior and historical inaccuracies.

So many of the newer historical authors seem to be turning out what I consider contemporary stories in historical settings, and it seems as though many readers don’t care. The curvy girl on the cover wears a beautiful gown, and the novel is full of balls and handsome dukes, and if the girl sneaks out to the garden and engages in steamy sex with someone, reviewers praise it to the heavens for being “hot.” Am I the only one who questions the assumption that a gently-born young woman would be allowed to accompany a gentleman on the terrace for more than five minutes without her chaperone coming to look for her?

While I have to acknowledge that readers new to this genre may not recognize these problems, too many indications of the author’s ignorance of the time period can ruin a book for those of us who know better. And it may well be that the author doesn’t care. If all she is looking for are a few extra dollars and some temporary éclat, the ease of self-publishing can give her the platform, and her devoted friends and family can shower her work with favorable reviews until she moves on with her life.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the self-published stories that feature egregious historical inaccuracies. It seems as though the editors—if they still exist—are also unfamiliar with the time periods of the books they handle. Either that or they are so over-worked they hope the readers will be too engrossed in the story to balk at a few “minor” issues. And it’s true: I find I can ignore a problem or two in an otherwise wonderful read. However, if there are too many, or if the entire plot is dependent upon some unlikely scenario, that’s when the book ceases to be a pleasurable experience and becomes a wall-banger for me.

Here are some anachronisms and historical inaccuracies I have encountered just within the past five months in books considered historical romances (not erotica*), all involving young, innocent heroines:

  • The heroine is allowed to leave her home and walk around London without any sort of chaperone, in some cases even going to call on a single gentleman alone.
  • The heroine attends a house party hosted by a gentleman known for his scandalous house parties—which is enough in itself to ruin her reputation—but she is so loosely chaperoned that she and her lover can easily sneak into each other’s rooms at night.
  • In a medieval, the hero and heroine cannot marry because their siblings are married to each other, which by church law makes them siblings as well. So they run off and pretend to be married. Really? While our 21st century wisdom tells us this law is ridiculous, these characters lived with medieval cultural and religious mores; the guilt over time would eventually take its toll, even if their deception were never uncovered. NOT a satisfactory HEA.
  • The heroine attends a ball and inadvertently has sex with a stranger in a library so dark they cannot see each other’s faces.
  • The heroine’s father wants her to marry an old lecher and tells her to allow him whatever liberties he wants.
  • The heroine is allowed to remain alone in the family home with no supervision.
  • The heroine is allowed to host her brother’s scandalous house parties.
  • The heroine goes shopping for a gown to wear at a ball that very evening. (I suppose she dropped in at Harrod’s to look through the dresses on the rack?)
  • Waffles are served for breakfast.
  • The heroine is allowed to entertain gentleman callers and ride in a closed carriage with a gentleman with no supervision.
  • The hero is a male prostitute in a brothel where aristocrats bring their daughters to be “breached” prior to the wedding night. (!!!)
  • The author doesn’t understand British titles and refers to a young girl as Lady Davenport instead of Lady Camilla. (HINT: before writing a historical novel set in England, read up on the proper use of titles. It’s really not something you can just guess at.)
  • An illegitimate son is the heir to his legitimate half-brother’s title and estate.
  • A man is allowed to marry his father’s or brother’s widow, or a woman is allowed to marry her deceased sister’s widower.

What anachronisms and historical inaccuracies make a book a wall-banger for you?

 

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

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]:

regentThe Prince of Wales became Regent in 1811 when his father was deemed unable to reign due to madness. He is often caricatured in historical fiction. Dubbed as “Prinny,” (and other, less polite sobriquets), the king’s eldest surviving son was intemperate in just about every area of his life and generally disliked by the populace.

So naturally, one of the first topics I broached with Lady Pendleton when she arrived on my doorstep was the Prince Regent and what he was like. And she did have a lot to say…but then, she usually does, doesn’t she?

Lady P:

I didn’t meet the Prince Regent until just after my marriage, and although we traveled in the same social circles, Pendleton did not approve of him, and not just because of politics. The Prince was a confirmed skirt chaser before his eighteenth birthday, and he tended to be attracted to older women. Though not normally a jealous man, Lord P did not like to see me much in company with him. I mean, how does one turn down the attentions of a future monarch without incurring rancor and courting future ill-will? No indeed, Pendleton remained riveted to my side whenever we accepted invitations to Carlton House or any event at which the Prince was expected to put in an appearance. [Sighing] Of course, my dear husband never knew of the handful of times I met the Prince at one of Georgiana’s salons at Devonshire House. But then, Lord P would never have countenanced my attendance at a Whig affair, so I simply omitted mentioning it. For his own good, of course.

maria_fitzAlthough I saw His Royal Highness eyeing my form with appreciation on occasion, he never importuned me in any way. No doubt it was due to the fact that he was already infatuated with Maria Fitzherbert, who, like me, was a half dozen or so years older than he was. He’d already had several mistresses by then, including that unfortunate actress, Mary Robinson, but this was different. He was well and truly besotted with Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Susana:

Is it true that he contracted an illegal marriage with her?

Lady P:

Oh, indeed he did. Georgiana told me she was particularly asked by His Highness to assist Mrs. Fitzherbert’s acceptance in the ton. Of course, she could not refuse, although it was exceedingly distasteful to her. She and Maria detested one another, and as fond as she was of the Prince, Georgiana could not like the rashness of his actions in making such an imprudent marriage. Besides the fact that the law prohibited him from marrying without the approval of his father, she was twice-widowed already and a Catholic. [Shaking her head] Could he have found anyone less suitable to be spouse of a king?

Susana:

So it was widely known that he had married without permission. Did his parents know? I wonder how they could countenance his marriage to Princess Caroline, then. Would that not be bigamy?

Lady P:

Well, even when he was sane, George III despised his eldest son. His illness notwithstanding, the old king was a conscientious ruler and I’m certain he despaired of the nation’s future well-being under his dissipated, self-indulgent son. [Shrugging] As to the unsuitability of his marriage, well, there was nothing to be done but to ignore it. I’m sure Maria was offered money to destroy the marriage lines and take herself off, but she was a good Catholic and considered herself married in the eyes of God. Well, the Pope himself declared the marriage valid.

Susana:

Ah yes, no doubt he had hopes of bringing the English back into the True Faith.

Lady P [snickering]:

As if that would ever have happened! Although he lived on and off with her for the better part of two decades, the Prince philandered with others during that time, and even severed his relationship with her just prior to his marriage to that German princess, Caroline. When that turned out to be a colossal disaster, he reconciled with Maria briefly, but when that ended as well, the affair was well and truly over and one couldn’t even mention her name without incurring tirades of anger and bitterness.

Susana:

And yet, didn’t he make a request to be buried with her cameo, or some such trinket?

mariaseyeLady P [sighing]:

It was a miniature of her eye, something she’d given him in the early days to remind him of her—that she was watching him—when they were apart. Despite everything that happened, he kept it, and they said he did speak of her affectionately at the end.

But she was a fool for throwing her lot in with him in the first place. Royal princes don’t marry commoners, and royal heirs marry for state reasons. At least they did in my day. I must confess that it warmed my heart to watch Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton on that computer contraption of yours, although I find it fascinating that she is related to Lord Shelbourne, who was prime minister for a year or so before Charles James Fox’s Whigs trounced him out of office. Why, Lord P and I knew him well.

Susana:

It’s a small world, or so they say.

Lady P:

Indeed it is. Everyone is related to everyone else. It is enough to boggle the mind. I wonder if you and I could be related to each other, Susana? Have you ever thought of that possibility?

Susana [chuckling]:

Well, you do bear a certain resemblance to my mother. But no, I haven’t yet found a connection. I wonder if a DNA test would help?

Lady P [puzzled]:

A DNA test? What can that be? Do explain yourself, Susana.

Susana [to the Reader]:

Well, our conversation took a different direction at that point, but I’m sure I shall have an opportunity to pick her brain further about the Prince Regent at another time.

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”

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 #3: Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies

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.

Deal breaker #3 is: anachronistic behavior and historical inaccuracies.

So many of the newer historical authors seem to be turning out what I consider contemporary stories in historical settings, and it seems as though many readers don’t care. The curvy girl on the cover wears a beautiful gown, and the novel is full of balls and handsome dukes, and if the girl sneaks out to the garden and engages in steamy sex with someone, reviewers praise it to the heavens for being “hot.” Am I the only one who questions the assumption that a gently-born young woman would be allowed to accompany a gentleman on the terrace for more than five minutes without her chaperone coming to look for her?

While I have to acknowledge that readers new to this genre may not recognize these problems, too many indications of the author’s ignorance of the time period can ruin a book for those of us who know better. And it may well be that the author doesn’t care. If all she is looking for are a few extra dollars and some temporary éclat, the ease of self-publishing can give her the platform, and her devoted friends and family can shower her work with favorable reviews until she moves on with her life.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the self-published stories that feature egregious historical inaccuracies. It seems as though the editors—if they still exist—are also unfamiliar with the time periods of the books they handle. Either that or they are so over-worked they hope the readers will be too engrossed in the story to balk at a few “minor” issues. And it’s true: I find I can ignore a problem or two in an otherwise wonderful read. However, if there are too many, or if the entire plot is dependent upon some unlikely scenario, that’s when the book ceases to be a pleasurable experience and becomes a wall-banger for me.

Here are some anachronisms and historical inaccuracies I have encountered just within the past five months in books considered historical romances (not erotica*), all involving young, innocent heroines:

  • The heroine is allowed to leave her home and walk around London without any sort of chaperone, in some cases even going to call on a single gentleman alone.
  • The heroine attends a house party hosted by a gentleman known for his scandalous house parties—which is enough in itself to ruin her reputation—but she is so loosely chaperoned that she and her lover can easily sneak into each other’s rooms at night.
  • In a medieval, the hero and heroine cannot marry because their siblings are married to each other, which by church law makes them siblings as well. So they run off and pretend to be married. Really? While our 21st century wisdom tells us this law is ridiculous, these characters lived with medieval cultural and religious mores; the guilt over time would eventually take its toll, even if their deception were never uncovered. NOT a satisfactory HEA.
  • The heroine attends a ball and inadvertently has sex with a stranger in a library so dark they cannot see each other’s faces.
  • The heroine’s father wants her to marry an old lecher and tells her to allow him whatever liberties he wants.
  • The heroine is allowed to remain alone in the family home with no supervision.
  • The heroine is allowed to host her brother’s scandalous house parties.
  • The heroine goes shopping for a gown to wear at a ball that very evening. (I suppose she dropped in at Harrod’s to look through the dresses on the rack?)
  • Waffles are served for breakfast.
  • The heroine is allowed to entertain gentleman callers and ride in a closed carriage with a gentleman with no supervision.
  • The hero is a male prostitute in a brothel where aristocrats bring their daughters to be “breached” prior to the wedding night. (!!!)
  • The author doesn’t understand British titles and refers to a young girl as Lady Davenport instead of Lady Camilla. (HINT: before writing a historical novel set in England, read up on the proper use of titles. It’s really not something you can just guess at.)
  • An illegitimate son is the heir to his legitimate half-brother’s title and estate.
  • A man is allowed to marry his father’s or brother’s widow, or a woman is allowed to marry her deceased sister’s widower.

What anachronisms and historical inaccuracies make a book a wall-banger for you?

*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.