Cinderella in Reverse

The last post by Emily Cooper described annoying tropes in romance. Everyone hates them, and yet many readers lap up what others detest. There is a reason there are so many billionaires and dukes among romance heroes, while the female leads tend to come from far more modest backgrounds.

But how happy are such unions likely to be in the long run? Realistically, the bride is going to face resistance and disdain from her in-laws and her man’s social circle. Unless she is extremely adaptable and astute, she will be considered a social climber for a long time. For all we know, even Cinderella may have endured snubs by fellow royals after wedding her prince.

Looking back on the series of seven historical novels I have written over the past year (five published, the other two currently on pre-order), I find that I have played around quite a bit with variations of the Cinderella trope:

In The Impostor Debutante the hero’s social standing is far superior to that of Charlotte, even though James is is only the younger brother of an earl –  her birth is illegitimate. His mother’s outrage at this misalliance is still unabated six volumes and three children later in the series.

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In His Last Marchioness there are two couples – in one, the lady is of higher birth and elects to wed a man from the professional classes when she could have married a duke’s heir.  (How realistic is that? Well, sometimes love does win out.)

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The Sister Quest features the traditional rich man – poor woman trope, but my hero is a mere commoner, without even a baronet in his family tree. After amassing a large fortune Jonathan is hoping to marry up, into the aristocracy. It would have been logical, for in a class-ridden society, not only women harboured such ambitions. Cherry does not even know her parentage, she was adopted as a baby.  Jonathan renounces his social climbing for her sake, and finds himself richly rewarded.

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From the author’s perspective it is great fun to play around with social status, confounding both the reader’s expectations and my characters’ ambitions.

Catching a Rook presents a rare inversion – a duke’s heir is yoked against his will to a lady of yet higher rank, a foreign princess. The social gulf between the aristocracy and royalty was enormous in the 19th century. My story illustrates that matches across such large divides are inevitably problematic, especially when neither side feels  love or desire.  In the end, both find happiness with partners closer to their own status.

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Lady Susan’s Bargain returns to the theme of a rich, well-born lady marrying “down”. Nobody in her family can understand why she would want to do so. The reason is unusual, but she gets her way through daring manipulation.

As the cover shows, this book is not part of the Amberley series. It has more sex, and darker themes.

Some reviewers have objected to the mercenary motives of particular characters. I contend that such motives are highly realistic, especially in people who have known want and neglect, and crave security at any cost. (Remember how quickly Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice gets Charlotte Lucas to accept him, and how money and inheritance issues colour everyone’s attitudes and status in Emma.)

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The heroine of Lady Anthea’s Choice is also well-born and well dowered, but needs to learn to stand up to social and family pressure. Her choice is between a rich, handsome lord who is also a selfish bully, and a slightly less aristocratic but kind and supportive young man. Abysmal ignorance (euphemistically called “innocence” at the time) further complicates her situation.

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And after all that, in The Perils of Lord Pell, to be published at the end of February, I go back to the traditional Cinderella story – my young heroine marries through necessity, and her man turns out to be a fabulously rich marquis intent on spoiling her. What’s not to like? (I do show the reception she gets from his family, and her misgivings at this drastic change in status.)

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Yet wealth and social class are just one element of a good romance.  Mutual compatibility, sympathy, and especially a good measure of sexual attraction are also essential.

Most women consider wealth and power attractive attributes, but for my heroines honour, loyalty and kindness trump every other consideration when it comes to the crunch.  They learn to understand that rank without love and friendship can only be considered a consolation prize. Some lucky girls get it all – but the others still get what will make them happy in the long run.

Now, if only it worked like that in real life…

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