For well over four decades, authors of historical romance novels have found that the conflict between American and British cultures adds interesting layers to the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Granted that sometimes these American characters, born or brought up in the United States, seem little more than stereotypes, but when they are believable, distinctly American characters, they provide a more egalitarian perspective with bourgeois values that contrast, sometimes sharply, with the manners and mores of the British aristocracy.
The first American protagonist I remember in an English-set historical romance is Christina Tretton, the heroine of Jane Aiken Hodge’s Watch the Wall, My Darling (1966), an adventurous romance with Gothic elements. The novel is filled with masked highwaymen, smugglers, spies, and threats of French invasion, all of which, along with her newly met English family, test Christina’s intrepidity. She exhibits her American independence when she, unlike most of her English relatives, refuses to be ruled by her controlling grandfather.
By the 1980s when traditional Regencies topped my list of favorite reading material, the American protagonist was not quite so rare. Regency Sting (1980) by Elizabeth Mansfield was a particular favorite because the American hero, Jason Hughes, Viscount Mainwaring, enjoys playing to his English connections’ assumption that he is a graceless yokel badly in need of tutoring in how to look and behave in ways befitting his newly inherited title. I reread another favorite oldie, Joan Wolf’s American Duchess (1982), not long ago. The basic plot anticipates the “Dollar Princesses” of the late 19th century, the American heiresses who came to England looking to exchange their wealth for marriage to a titled gentleman. While the situation between the rich American heroine, Tracy Bodmin, a dutiful daughter who accepts her father’s plans for her, and the impoverished, aristocratic hero, Adrian, Duke of Hastings, who needs an infusion of cash to protect his family and his heritage, is standard fare, Wolf adds details that make American Duchess more realistic and more substantive than similar tales.
[There is no better marriage than an heiress and an impoverished duke in want of a wife...]