In Linda Howard’s Shades of Twilight, Webb Tallant marries not one but two of his second cousins (not at the same time). This book, published in 1996, takes place in present-day (or 1996-day) Alabama and no one even blinks when Webb marries first Jessie and then Roanna. And you know what? I didn’t blink either.
Marriage between cousins has long been a topic of discussion in this country, and cousin Romance novels have been few and far between. But that’s just us. First cousin marriage is legal in only 20 U.S States (yes, Alabama is one of them), but second cousin marriage is legal everywhere. So what’s the big deal? Moreover, cousin marriage is perfectly legal in that other English-speaking country we love to read about: England.
Well, none of this cousin marriage stuff bothers me, and that might be because, when I began reading romance, I was reading in the English Regency and I was, particularly reading Jane Austen. Of Jane Austen’s six heroines (or seven if you count two for Sense and Sensibility), two are courted by cousins (Anne Elliot and Elizabeth Bennet) and one marries her first cousin (Fanny Price).
Nor does Georgette Heyer scruple to throw in the occasional cousin romance. The Grand Sophy presents us with the irrepressible Sophia Stanton-Lacy and her stick-in-the-mud first cousin, Charles Rivenhall. The match is inevitable, although Heyer leads us into it through an intricate dance of manipulation and intrigue and ends with a chapter worthy of the Marx brothers and the perfect proposal:
“Devil!” said Mr. Rivenhall, and caught her into so crushing an embrace that she protested, and Tina danced around them, barking excitedly. “Quiet!” commanded Mr. Rivenhall. He took Sophy’s throat between his hands, pushing up her chin. “Will you marry me, vile and abominable girl that your are?”
“Yes, but mind, it is only to save my neck from being wrung!” Sophy replied.
I mean, with a proposal like that, who cares what their degree of consanguinity is?
Several Regency-set Romances, following the lead of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, feature romances between cousins with varying degrees of kinship. As recently as 2009, Lauren Willig gave us quite distant cousins, Charlotte and Robert in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. The two reunite with this delicious scene:
“Charlotte?” he asked again, with a bemused smile. “It is Cousin Charlotte, isn’t it?”
“Cousin” wasn’t’ quite the endearment she had been hoping for.
“Cousin?” Charlotte echoed. Although her grandmother claimed kinship with any number of peers and minor princes, the Dovedale family tree had run thin for successive generations. There were very few with any right to call her by that name. “Cousin Robert?”
Do you have a problem with this? No? Neither do I.
In my search for books about romance between cousins, however, I did come up with one that sort of skeeved me out. This was a Harlequin Presents from 1997 by Robyn Donald called Tiger, Tiger. The ick factor in this book really has very little to do with how close these cousins were on the family tree. It turns out that their common ancestor was sometime in the 19th century. Not a big deal. The ick factor was not even due to the black moment when they thought they might be half brother and sister (although that was pretty icky). No, it revolved around the fact that they apparently looked like twins and fell in love with each other at first sight. Narcissus anyone? My problem with this one did not really have anything to do with cousinhood. Really, it didn’t.
So… cousins in love, kissing cousins, cousin marriage. It doesn’t really bother me. Is this because of my roots in 18th century England? Or is it because… well… it’s really not that big a deal?
How do you feel about this? Is cousin marriage only okay in the distant past or are you rooting for Webb and Roanna to live happily ever after?
Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta