Nov 3 2011 9:30am

Learning the (T)ropes of Historical Romance: Putney, Carlyle, and Chase

The Bargain by Mary Jo PutneyThere is no new thing under the sun. This is probably especially true of Historical Romance. It’s hard to find a Historical Romance that is not built around one trope or another. Just recently, Miranda Neville did a wonderful job of melding several historical romance tropes in The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton.

This is not to say that these tropes are a bad thing. Far from it. In fact, when handled deftly, they have provided some of the best of Historical Romance. Let’s look at a few.

Marriage of Convenience

I’m not sure anyone has done this better than Mary Jo Putney  in The Bargain, in which the heroine marries a major dying of wounds received at Waterloo in order to inherit according to the terms of her father’s will. She makes a deal with the major that she will care for his younger sister after he is gone if he will marry her. He does. As in all romances, the hero does not die. And the story proceeds from there, as the hero and heroine’s relationship develops from convenience through friendship into love.

Her mouth opened under his, and a current of energy scorched through her, searing her senses and scattering her wits. He’d kissed her once when out of his head, and she’d wondered what his kiss would be like if he was fully aware. Now she knew, and the knowledge was shattering.

Of course it was. And it should be. No good marriage of convenience story ends without the shattering evidence of love.

A Deal with the Devil by Liz Carlyle


This trope usually takes the form of a governess or housekeeper in the employ of a wealthy, titled gentleman. I can think of several excellent examples of this particular plot, but one of my favorites is Liz Carlyle’s  A Deal With the Devil. Here we find a housekeeper living under an assumed name to escape from a false charge of murder and an upright nobleman, living in London with little time for the welfare of his country estate. Our nobleman disregards the countless letters sent him by said housekeeper until an accident and a murder bring to his estate. When he finally journeys to Castle Cardow—well, the sparks fly. After their first kiss, they find themselves alone in a barn during a rainstorm (another trope which we examine at another time).

He turned fully to look at her then, his silvery eyes urgent and searching. “But was it so terribly unwise, Aubrey?” he asked. “Beneath all your anger all my arrogance, there was a burning passion.”

“I am your servant, my lord,” she answered.

The earl formed a fist with one hand, then let it drop impotently into the hay. “You are a woman, Aubrey. A beautify, desirable woman. How can wanting you be unwise?”

Whether or not the desire and the passion is unwise, it is there, and the precursor to love that supersedes whatever else is between them.

Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase

Road Story

The road story is one of my favorite tropes because it forces the hero and heroine into prolonged contact and provides many opportunities for growing intimacy. Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase is a nearly perfect road story. Benedict Carsington, the Lord Perfect of the title and Bathsheba Wingate, the proper offspring of a disreputable family go on the road in pursuit of their young charges (his nephew and her daughter). During this wild trip, they check into inns identifying themselves as variously the Dashwoods, the Woodhouses and the Bennets (much fun for any lover of Jane Austen). At the inn at which they have registered as the Bennets, they acknowledge that they have probably lost track of the children they are trying to find.

“Stop that,” he said, reading everything in her countenance. Yet he said it gently, and came to her, and wrapped his arms about her. She broke then, and wept.

…When she quieted, he said, “You are fatigued.”

“I am not fatigued,” she said, “I slept for hours.”

He muttered something, then picked her up and tossed her onto the bed.

She bounced up from the pillows. “I am not a child and I do not need a nap.”

“Well I do,” he said and swung up and onto the mattress beside her.

As in all good road stories, they do not nap. And, in the end, they find the errant children and each other.

So, what are your favorite Marriage of Convenience or Employer/Employee or Road Story Historicals? I know you have them.


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, and on Twitter @Myretta.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Michelle Harlan
1. Michelle Harlan
My favorite historical "marriage of convenience" story is Lisa Kleypas' The Devil in Winter...absolutely loved Lord St. Vincent.
2. Janga
I loved The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton. Neville did many things extrordinarily well in that book.

Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly, To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton, Silver Linings by Maggie Osborne--these are just a few of my favorite marriage-of-convenience tales. And I love the twist Mary Balogh gave the trope in A Matter of Class.

Mr. Impossible is wonderful, but I like Lord Perfect, also a road book, even better. Other road romances at the top of my list include Julie Anne Long's The Runaway Duke, Sherry Thomas's Not Quite a Husband, and MJP's One Perfect Rose and Angel Rogue.

Laura Lee Guhrke has used variations of the employer-employee trope in my favorites of her books: Guilty Pleasures, And Then He Kissed Her, and Scandal of the Year.

Listing theses makes me want to reread them all.
Myretta Robens
3. Myretta
Oh, Janga! I considered almost every one of those before I chose the three I wrote about. I can't believe how similar our reading tastes are. And, since that's true and I haven't read Silver Linings, I'm putting it on my list. I'd forgotten about A Matter of Class. That was a teriffic take on the Marriage of Convenience.
4. Janga
Myretta, I love Osborne, and regularly mourn her retirement. But most of her books are American Westerns. They are very different from the others on my list. I can't think of anybody else who writes like Osborne. Certainly Louise "Low" Downe is about as far removed from a Regency heroine as I can imagine.
Myretta Robens
5. Myretta
I'm up for it, Janga. I'll let you know how it goes.
Alie V
6. ophelial
My fave trope is marriage of convenience. Can't get enough of it sadly, even better if it includes a Duke!
Louise Partain
7. Louise321
Marriage of convenience? hmmm Jo Beverly's An Arranged Marriage and Georgette Heyer's A Civil Contract. Seems these marriage of convenience tropes really make the heroines work for their HEA.

Employer/Employee -- really liked A Deal With The Devil and another Carlyle novel Beauty Like the Night as well.

Road Trip -- There just isn't a better one than Lord Perfect! I do so love those Carsington men!
Louise Partain
8. Louise321

Just thought of a road trip that was almost as fun and certainly as engrossing -- My Lady Notorious again by Jo Beverly and another one by Jo Beverly fairly entertaining was A Lady's Secret. Also the Cobra Quartet by Stephanie Lauren -- all 4 books were road trips, though not as fun a road trip as any of the above mentioned books. I mean I got my idea of a fun road trip from the The Road To . . . pictures. So I expect them to be fun.
Louise Partain
9. Louise321
Oh and Janga -- recently reread One Perfect Rose and Angel Rogue. Mary Jo Putney is a wonderful story teller!
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