Today we welcome author Miranda Neville to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Miranda's forthcoming release, Lady Windermere's Lover, has a married couple who've been apart for a year (his choice, not hers!), only to find that when they do reunite, each has changed in the course of those twelve months. Miranda offers her thoughts on this beloved separated spouses trope, with some excellent examples of historical authors that use it flawlessly. Thanks, Miranda!
Sooner or later, I am convinced, every romance writer gets to every common trope, at least once. For me, with Lady Windermere’s Lover, it’s time for separated spouses and what happens when they meet again. As a storyline, it’s connected to estranged spouses, but not identical. Couples can be separated for reasons that have nothing to do with quarrels, or can be estranged but living in the same house. Writers like Sherry Thomas have almost made a career out of unhappily married couples, starting with her brilliant debut Private Arrangements. Most recently Laura Lee Guhrke tackled the subject with the intense How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days.
The writer I most associate with the trope is Mary Balogh, who has treated the subject on numerous occasions in many different ways. Among my favorites are two of her traditional Regencies. A Counterfeit Betrothal is in theory about the daughter of the couple, Sophia, who sets up a fake engagement in order to force her parents, separated for fourteen years, to meet again to plan the wedding. My goodness, Balogh packs a lot of plot into one slim volume. As a fan of the original Parent Trap movie as well as the children’s book it was based on, I very much enjoy the interfering child(ren) as means of reconciliation plot line.
Olivia and Marcus had an idyllic youthful marriage, spoiled by one stupid act of Marcus’s. They’ve lived apart on different estates, communicating in a chilly but amicable manner about Sophia’s upbringing. It’s quite obvious that neither has ever fallen out of love, but there’s years of hurt and baggage to get over before they can come back together.
As usual, Balogh manages to pack one heck of a sexual wallop into her restrained story and she does so also with The First Snowdrop, a book that features one of the worst-behaved heroes I’ve ever read. I’m still not sure how I feel any sympathy for a man who doesn’t even have the decency to grovel properly, but it’s Balogh’s genius to make me care. Alexander, Viscount Merrick, heir to a dukedom, and Anne Parrish are accidently compromised and forced to marry. The marriage is consummated, but Alexander dumps her at his country estate and goes off to London where he lives the life of a bachelor (infidelity alert!) and intends never to see her again. Meanwhile, Anne gives herself and the estate a makeover, and is reasonably contented until summoned to a family house party at the ducal mansion of Alexander’s parents.
Alexander is impressed by Anne’s transformation from plain Jane to elegant lady and they resume a satisfactory sexual relationship, but he continues to treat her quite badly. There’s a lot of mistrust, misunderstanding, and patented Balogh angst to get through.
Eloisa James has also written several separated spouse stories. My favorite is Gemma and Beaumont from the Desperate Duchesses series, but since their story unwinds over several books I will pick the earlier Duchess in Love. Cam, Duke of Girton, was forced at the age of sixteen to marry the even younger Gina. He promptly took off for Greece and never returned. As she grows up, Gina takes over the running of the ducal estates. But she also wants a real marriage and becomes “engaged” to the Marquess of Bonnington. Cam returns to England to organize an amicable annulment and gets off to a good start when he doesn’t even recognize his own wife. He does, however, find her hot and soon there’s a real danger that their marriage will become a real and most inconvenient one.
“Mayn’t a wife kiss her husband?”
Her lips were full, cherry red, luscious.
Cam could feel a headache coming on.
“We have to stop this nonsense,” he said woodenly. “Enough. Another few moments and your marquess will find himself cheated.”
“He would be cheated if I lost my virginity,” Gina said. “But we’re nowhere near that point.”
“So you think!” he snapped.
Will Cam resist the lure of the Greek Isles and remain in England? Will he resist his wife? And will he win Gina away from Sebastian Bonnington? (The world’s hottest virgin, but that’s another story.)
Jennifer Haymore’s A Hint of Wicked features an apparently insoluble conflict. Garrett, Duke of Calton, believed dead at Waterloo, in fact was suffering from amnesia and shows up eight years later. He finds his wife Sophie in bed with his cousin and heir, Tristan. Not only that, Tristan is now the duke and Sophie has married him. Oops. Sophie loved Garrett and she also loves Tristan. What on earth is she going to do? The novel is sexy, emotionally compelling and, that great rarity in romance, leaves the reader guessing about the outcome for a good portion of the book. Well played, Ms. Haymore.
All my examples are historicals. That’s what I write and what I know best, but separated spouses aren’t confined to the genre. There are many contemporaries when divorced couples get back together. As with marriage of convenience, I love the trope in historicals because of the inherent tension of a marriage that’s almost impossible to walk away from. In Lady Windermere’s Lover, Damian and Cynthia aren’t quite estranged, but they are very far from happy. Both married for convenient reasons, and, after a hideously awkward honeymoon, Damian grabs an excuse to go abroad for a year on a diplomatic mission. He returns with good intentions and immediately hits a quandary. His dowdy wife has bloomed into quite the beauty but she appears to be having an affair with his former best friend, the Duke of Denford. Damian can’t just beat the crap out of Denford and take Cynthia away because he’s been given a new mission that involves renewing his relationship with Denford. As for Cynthia, she always hoped to win her husband’s love but she has good reason to be angry with him. The path to reconciliation is, naturally, strewn with complications.
What are your favorite “separated spouses” books? I’d love to hear about some non-historical examples. Can you think of a separation book where the couple actually looks forward to coming back together?
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville, out June 24, 2014:
Miranda Neville grew up in England before moving to New York City to work in Sotheby's rare books department. After many years as a journalist and editor, she decided writing fiction was more fun. She lives in Vermont.