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?