Beyond the Haute Ton in Regency and Victorian England
Fairytales like “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” give little girls the image that what they are looking for when they grow up is a prince to make them happy. As they become adolescents, they correlate their prince with men whom everyone looks up to picturing men in society’s highest ranks. Such men, particularly in Regency (1795-1837) and Victorian England (1837-1901), were thought to be members of the haute ton or haute monde, the English aristocracy, which is why so many historical romances involve Lords and Ladies, Countesses and Earls, Duchesses and Dukes, and Marchionesses and Marquises.
In favor of contemporary thinking, romance novelists have looked beyond England’s haute ton and found other types of heroes, tapping into a cache of some wonderfully magnetic men outside of the ton’s perimeters. These men range from managers of prominent establishments and gifted scientists to daring privateers and government officers. Today’s authors look beyond the stereotypical English gentleman and have discovered gentlemen among the common folks, and what amorous characters these authors have created.
Cam Rohan, the hero in Lisa Kleypas’ “Mine Til Midnight” is a fine example of a gentleman who need not be a member of the ton to fit the image of the desirable prince. As the manager of a gentleman’s club in London owned by Lord St. Vincent, Cam is half Irish and half Romanian gypsy with the intelligence that can rival those in the ranks of society’s elite and the prowess of a sensual lover that can inspire men to take notes on the fine art of lovemaking.
Baxter St. Ives, the unassuming hero in Amanda Quick’s (pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz) romantic adventure “Affair” is delightfully sensual and powerfully intelligent, which challenges the lady whom he wishes to court, Charlotte Arkendale. The story merges the lives of automation scientist St. Ives and private investigator Arkendale as both embark on a murder case and realize they are after the same individual. Quick breaks tradition and creates a role reversal as St. Ives, the figure of masculine initiative, is hired by Arkendale, the portrait of feminine kindness and inner strength. Their relationship is pure storybook romance.
Speaking of role reversals, Sabrina Jeffries puts the hero, Daniel Brennan, the son of a highway man and now a smuggler turned detective, in a similar position being hired help in “A Notorious Love” as Lady Helena Laverick seeks his assistance to locate her younger sister, whom she fears has eloped with a fortune hunter. A professed scoundrel, Brennan is the only man with the necessary investigative prowess to find her sister. The two must masquerade as husband and wife for appearances sake as they cross the countryside sharing their vulnerabilities as well as their bedchamber, naturally evolving their storyline into a smoldering love affair.
Karen Robards takes masquerades to another level in “Scandalous.” The hero of the tale, Captain Nick Barnet pretends to be his murdered friend Marcus Banning, the seventh earl of Wickham. Marcus’ death prompts his half sister, Lady Gabriella to go along with the charade, though she knows the man playing her half brother is an imposter. With Captain Nick and Gabriella pretending to be half brother and sister until Nick finds his friend’s murderer and Gabriella can secure betrothals for her two younger sisters, suspenseful clinchers arise when Nick is shot, first by the vivacious Gabriella and then at the ending when the murderer is revealed and Nick can return to his real life. In the true sense of romance, Nick and Gabriella reel the reader into their storyline and win them over with witty bon mots and passionate love scenes.
Romance novelists today are not bound by the traditional roles of the hero coming from the English stock of the haute ton. Indeed, many authors have discovered other types of romantic heroes among the common folk pool who embrace their heroine both physically and intellectually, thus, showing that princes can be men from all classes not exclusively the English aristocracy.
A graduate of New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I have been a freelance writer for ten years and have contributed thousands of articles to various e-zines including: Associatedcontent.com, Fictiondb.com, TheReadingRoom.com, Suite101.com, Jazz Times, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books, Hybrid Magazine, and Musicdish.com.
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