One of the best known tropes in historical romance is the arranged marriage. Two people are thrown together, often by their parents’ wishes, and made to marry even though they don’t know--much less love--one another at all. The reader is then afforded the pleasure of watching them find their way, albeit often bumpy, to falling in love. This is one of my favorite tropes in romance, which is why you find elements of it in my new historical romance, Only Scandal Will Do.
The situation is founded on reality--for the upper classes and nobility up until the late 19th century, arranged marriages were the rule rather than the exception. Marriage was seen not as a joining of two individuals who loved one another, but rather as a merger and acquisition deal. Money, land and station were the critical factors. Great houses sought connections to gain wealth, political clout, and family ties through the marriage of their offspring, quite often with no regard for the feelings of the parties involved. Some times the husband and wife were able to reach an accord, even an affection for one another. Many more did not. And during this period infidelity on both sides was extremely common. Because love rarely entered into marriage, people sought it elsewhere.
Hardly the stuff romance novels are made of.
However, romance writers have taken the real life situation--two people who don’t know each other, don’t like each other, don’t have anything in common--as the major conflict for their novel. Circumstances vary--the arrangement may be made by parents, it may stem from some financial need, it may arise from some indiscretion or scandal that forces the couple to wed. But the romance writer is bound by the unwritten (and sometimes written) rule that there must be a Happy Ever After ending. To that end, the arranged marriage serves as an inciting incident to the action of the novel, which is to create conditions through which the couple is able to fall in love.
As noted above, this is a very popular plot, especially for historical romances. And depending on the way the complications are managed and the set-up of the book is handled, these can be some of the most rewarding reads in romance. Two of my favorites are from multiple-RITA winner, Jo Beverley. Her first two Company of Rogues Regency titles have arranged marriages at their hearts. The first, An Arranged Marriage, has hero Nick Delaney marry the woman his brother raped to save her reputation. The second, An Unwilling Bride, has a father arrange a marriage between his son (who is actually not his blood relation) and his illegitimate daughter so the family bloodline will remain intact even though it will be through the female line. The challenges to the couples in both books are great, but watching them slowly learn to know, trust, and eventually love one another is romance at its best.
My own novel, Only Scandal Will Do, uses this trope to an extent. The Marquess of Dalbury compromises the daughter of a peer and has to convince her to marry him to avoid the ensuing scandal. Lady Katarina fights against the marriage because she fears the marquess’s reputation as a rake will prohibit any happiness for her. The Marquess has to use every ounce of his charm to persuade the lady that he is, in fact, the perfect match for her.
Excerpt from Only Scandal Will Do:
“I assure you, there was never a night like that before.” Lord Dalbury spoke quietly, and Katarina sensed a tension in him. “I had never done such a thing before. Never participated in such an auction. Never tried to take a woman unwillingly to my bed.” He stopped speaking. Just stopped. Then his breath hissed as though he’d slowly released it.
“I cannot find the words to tell you how deeply I regret I was not a better man that night.” He paused, and she held still and waited. “What I tried to do was madness, without thought, without honor. I do not even have an excuse other than my base desires, and that your abundant charms overwhelmed me.” His face was shadowy in the scarce light of the sickle moon, but he sounded contrite. “I have no right to ask for your forgiveness. I have no right to expect it. But I would ask you to allow me to attempt to remedy the situation.”
Kat shook her head slowly. “What on earth do you believe you could do, Lord Dalbury, that could even come close to a remedy for the terror and humiliation you put me through? Do you think now that I have met you, heard your feeble attempts at an apology, and rejected them, the memory of that night will magically disappear?” She fought to control her anger, though she yearned to blast him with it. “What magic potion would you have me take that would erase the memory of you pinning me to the bed? Because if you have such an elixir, then yes, I will gladly take it from you and obliterate you absolutely and irrevocably.”
He stood silent at her words, then said simply, “I have only myself to offer, my lady.”
“You would have me kill you, my lord? In that, too, I agree I would oblige you, but not at the cost of my own life. I understand the English law punishes those who do murder quite severely.” Kat was astonished when he lurched backward, as from a blow.
“No, my lady, I would not have you kill me,” he said, sounding grimly amused. “Though indeed that would probably give you most satisfaction. I meant I would have you marry me.”
His words surprised a laugh out of her. “Marry you?” The laughter grew. “I see, my lord, you think me both a whore and a fool.”
“I think you are neither, Lady Katarina.”
“Then you are the fool to believe I would put such a man as you in control of every aspect of my life.” That he thought she would even entertain the suggestion was insulting.
The pale moonlight shadowed his face, but she could read displeasure there just the same. “You judge me solely on one act that, I assure you, was grossly out of character for me. You cannot possibly know what kind of husband I would be.”
“And never will, Lord Dalbury. I can swear to you that I would not marry you if I were in Hell and you were my only hope of Heaven.”
He inclined his head toward her, a faint smile touching his lips. “I believe you made a similar claim about dancing with me, Lady Katarina. Yet we have indeed enjoyed a dance together despite your words.” His tone was soft, the sensuous, cajoling one he had used to seduce her that night in the House of Pleasure.
Kat trembled, recalling the incredible sensations of his hands, his mouth on her body. Damn. He could not do this to her again. Not just with his voice.
“Is there nothing that would entice you to leave your Hell for my Heaven?”
She struggled to answer, opened her lips to deny it, only to find her mouth completely sealed by his.
Jenna Jaxon is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary romance who has been reading and writing historical romance since she was a teenager. A romantic herself, Jenna has always loved a dark side to the genre, a twist, suspense, a surprise. She tries to incorporate all of these elements into her own writing.
Jenna lives in Virginia with her family and a small menagerie of pets. When not reading or writing, she indulges her passion for the theatre, working with local theatres as a director. She often feels she is directing her characters on their own private stage.
She has equated her writing to an addiction to chocolate because once she starts she just can’t stop.
Kidnapped and sold at auction in a London brothel, Lady Katarina Fitzwilliam squelches an undeniable attraction to the masked stranger who purchased her, pits her wits against him, and escapes him and the scandal that would ruin her life.
Unable to resist temptation in a London brothel, Duncan Ferrers, Marquess of Dalbury, purchases a fiery beauty. She claims she's a lady, but how can she be? No lady of his acquaintance in polite society is anything like her.
Then he discovers she is who she says, and that this latest romp has compromised her reputation. He knows how that is. One more scandal and he'll be cast out of London society, but he needs a wife who'll provide an heir to carry on his illustrious family's name. He seeks out Katarina, intending only to scotch the scandal, but instead finds his heart ensnared.
He's betting their future he'll capture her heart, but does he have what it takes to win the wager?WARNING: A blade-wielding heroine who crosses swords with a master of sensuality.