If You Like….

Julie had an excellent suggestion for this week’s If You Like: marriage of convenience plots.

It’s one of my favorite plot tropes. What happens when you take two people and put them in a situation where they’re stuck making it work? Will they grow and learn together? Will it be a massive disaster? The stakes of the relationship are heightened by the intimacy into which they’re thrown prematurely.

I’d like to make a distinction between marriage of convenience plots, in which it’s a (relatively) amiable bargain, usually for mutual benefit, financial or otherwise, and forced marriage plots, in which the couple is discovered in some compromising situation and forced into wedlock. I’ll do a post on those later this summer.

For now, if you like marriage of convenience plots, you’ll probably like….

— Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage, in which our spunky heroine coolly arranges her own marriage to her sister’s betrothed so that her sister can marry the man she loves with family honor preserved. Of course, it turns out along the way that Horry is far better suited to the Earl of Rule than her sister would ever have been.

— Far more controversial is Heyer’s A Civil Contract. I love this book– but it isn’t to everyone’s taste. It’s a familiar plot: an impoverished nobleman marries a merchant’s daughter to save the family estates, resigning himself to losing the woman he thought he loved. Watching Adam and Jenny, over the course of their first year of marriage, learn to understand and appreciate each other makes it, in my opinion, a deeply rewarding and deeply moving novel. (You can find a piece I wrote about it, “A Not So Fine Romance”, in the Assorted Ramblings section on the Diversions page.)

— Joan Wolf is a master of the convenient marriage. Her Golden Girl is a variant on the “aristocrat marries merchant’s daughter” theme (but more palatable to modern sensibilities than Heyer’s Civil Contract).

–I’m also a fan of Wolf’s The Pretenders, in which the heroine agrees to a marriage of convenience with her childhood best friend in order to get his trustees to release his inheritance. Naturally, their friendship quickly turns into something more….

— Kasey Michaels’ The Illusions of Love is another old favorite of mine of the “aristocrat forced to marry merchant’s daughter” variety, deeply atmospheric, with an appealingly vulnerable heroine and attractively tormented hero.

It’s easy to list historical examples, but the marriage of convenience plot is also a staple in contemporary romance. To list just a few:

— Debbie Macomber’s Morning Comes Softly, in which a bachelor rancher, left with sole care of his dead brother’s small children, advertises for a wife (cooking, sewing, and singing a plus), and finds much more than he expected in a shy librarian from Louisiana;

— Judith McNaught’s Remember When, in which a recently jilted magazine magnate marries the brooding tycoon she once knew as a poor stable boy in order to save her reputation (similar in some ways to The Pretenders theme of old friends striking a marriage bargain for external purposes);

— Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heaven, Texas. Okay, this is an engagement of convenience story rather than a marriage of convenience story (a former football star ropes his personal assistant into posing as his fiancee to drive off the marriage-minded females in his hometown), but the same principles prevail.

— There’s also one of Phillips’ older books, Kiss an Angel, a true marriage of convenience plot, in which ditzy socialite Daisy is forced by her father into a marriage of convenience with a brooding Russian circus owner.

What are your favorite marriage of convenience novels?


  1. Kat on June 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

    lol. “Brooding Russian circus owner.”

  2. Ammy Belle on June 4, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Ooh a great trope! I prefer the engagements by convenience best of all – then at the end, there is the opportunity for the couple themselves to decide whether or not they will make it official.

    Love this one! Thanks for the recommendations – am so looking forward to that broody Russian circus owner! 🙂

  3. Joanne M. on June 4, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas is a good one.

  4. AngelB on June 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Another Heyer one I like, but it is not the typical marriage of convenience romance, is The Reluctant Widow.

  5. Jeffrey on June 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I LOVED The Convenient Marriage and Georgette Heyer was one of the reigning queens of getting inconvenient and potentially incompatible couples together.

  6. Julie H on June 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks, Lauren!

    The only one I’ve read so far is Remember When, and I really liked that one, so my TBR list has just grown quite a bit!

  7. Andrea on June 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Lauren — For those of us who haven’t read any of Georgette Heyer’s books, which would you recommend for the first-timer? There are loads available on bn.com and I just haven’t a clue where to start…

  8. Lauren on June 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    My first ever Heyer was “The Nonesuch”, which I thought was a very good introduction. I’d also recommend “Arabella” as a first read.

  9. Lucy on June 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    My favourite marriage of convenience plot is a little different as it is a YA Fantasy Book – HAWKSONG by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. It’s about the heirs of two warring races who decide to get married to try and save both their kingdoms. It’s a very fast-paced story involving culture classes, battles and assignations and burgeoning romance.

  10. aniko on June 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    I really loved Highland Scandal by Julia London – kind of marriage of convenience, not for the couple, but for a third party who stood to benefit. Lots of fun!

  11. Céline on June 5, 2012 at 6:38 am

    A friend of mine just read (and liked) Confessions from an arranged marriage, by Miranda Neville… i was thinking of reading it, but with all those suggestion, what do I choose? 🙂

  12. leslie on June 6, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Andrea, Lauren’s right The Nonesuch is a good start. I also recommend Frederica or Black Sheep or Lady of Quality. The Grand Sophy is my favorite Heyer, it is very funny.
    A Civil Contract is the pattern book for the marriage of convenience trope in my humble opinion. The pace is slower than most of her books, but such a bittersweet love story. Thank goodness for Mr. Jonathon Crawleigh to keep things lively.
    I also liked Devil in Winter, very steamy.

  13. Lauren on June 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

    How could I forget “Devil in Winter”?? I love that book.

  14. Kari on June 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I do love Joan Wolf, my favorite ever is The Gamble. But I guess that will have to go under marriage by compromise!! I guess I am little late to this discuss!

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