I’ve heard a lot of critical murmurings about historical romances (The Duchess Hunt included) that dismiss the theme of dukes (and other lords and ladies) marrying far below their station. While many readers seem to adore the Cinderella trope, to some readers, it is unrealistic to the point of being annoying. Even ridiculous.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot (mostly at about 3 am in the morning!). To me Cinderella romances hold a strong appeal (both as a reader and a writer). But, truly, is it unrealistic for a duke to marry the gardener’s daughter? Is it impossible?
I’m the first to admit that in my writing I add a very healthy dose of fantasy to my history. I have a deep-rooted mad love for the fairy-tale fantasy—I have ever since I was a little girl (Have I told you how many times I was a princess for Halloween? My mom was so tired of my endless crowns and pink dresses!).
I also love the themes and conflicts of people marrying people who are different than they are…whether it’s a difference in race, religion, or class. I love exploring what can happen when two such people meet and fall in love and the struggles they face in their search for a happily ever after. I think one of the reasons I love these themes is because I myself married someone of a different race, class, and religion. It is a fascinating conflict to me, because it is so very personal to me.
Obviously, this is also a huge theme and conflict in The Duchess Hunt. The Duke of Trent is looking for the woman who will be his duchess. It doesn’t even cross his mind that Sarah, the gardener’s daughter, might be a candidate for such a position. Why? Because even though the duke is a man of high moral standards who always strives to do what’s right, he’s also a man of his time. In the Duke of Trent’s world, men don’t marry servants. It’s not even within the realm of possibility. It’s not something he’d even consider. Ever.
Through the course of the book, however, the duke changes. He learns that not only is Sarah a potential candidate for his duchess, but a candidate who far exceeds the qualities of any of the candidates society deems worthy of him. This is the duke’s character arc—how he changes in the course of the book. He starts off the book, very subtly, as a classist, someone who—very subtly—considers himself superior to people in Sarah’s position. He is never cruel to Sarah. He never openly demeans her and always respects her. But since birth, it has been ingrained in him that people of her ilk are not worthy of lifelong relationships with people of his. They are not worthy of marriage to someone like him. That ingrained classist in him is slowly desiccated as he learns how perfect for him Sarah is. And when the light bulb goes off, completely burning away the rest of his prejudice, then we get to see a duke who has finally risen above the inherent classism of the society he was born into. A duke who actually deserves Sarah.
Improbable? Yes, definitely. Unfortunately, most people—most dukes—of the time were far too prejudiced and entrenched in their classist society to even consider a person like Sarah as a lifelong partner. But I’m okay with that. I write fiction, after all, and writing the improbable is my job. I love realistic historicals—I love history books—but I write the fairy tales.
So a duke/servant marriage is surely improbable. But impossible? Nah. As I’ve pointed out often on this blog over the years, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Last night, in the middle of the night, I started thinking of all the true historical relationships I’ve read about that break the mold. Stay tuned, because over the next few days, I’m going to try to share some of them here.
So what do you think? Do improbable duke/servant relationships (and the like) in romances rub you the wrong way, or do you love the fairy tale aspect of these relationships? And this not only applies to historical romance but romance in general. (Think of all the popular stories out right now about 20-something self-made billionaires out there with all kinds of time to woo the simple, middle-class girl next door. I admit I love these stories too!)
And can you think of any real-life historical relationships that broke the mold?