If You Like….
There’s a running joke in Romance Land that if you add up all the dukes running around (and it is, of course, a truth universally acknowledged that a single duke must be in want of a duchess), you’ll come to a number greater than the actual population of the British Isles at the time. Add in all those marquesses and earls (also in want of wives) and you have an entirely ahistorical aristocratic population explosion.
So what about all the normal people? Where are those non-ducal heroes and non-aristocratic heroines?
Part of the fun of writing The Passion of the Purple Plumeria was that Colonel Reid is a plain old army colonel (in the East India Company’s service, which was considered rather déclassé) of uninteresting ancestry, while Miss Gwen, although otherwise extraordinary in oh so many ways, is nothing more than a minor landowner’s daughter (and a landowner of mercantile extraction, at that).
It’s hard to find them through the swarm of amorous dukes, but if you like historical romances featuring non-aristocrats, you’ll probably like…
— Of course, there’s always Pride and Prejudice. Lady Catherine de Burgh may be lurking in the background, but Mr. Darcy is a gentleman and Elizabeth Bennet a gentleman’s daughter. This is romance by the gentry, for the gentry. The same goes for Emma Woodhouse and her Mr. Knightley in Emma. No dukes here!
— Georgette Heyer’s Arabella, which falls very much in the P&P mode: Mr. Beaumaris is fabulously wealthy, but not titled, and Arabella is an impecunious gentleman’s daughter.
— Carla Kelly’s Marrying The Captain, in which the hero is a naval officer and the heroine is the illegitimate daughter of a viscount.
— Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming of You, where the heroine is a novelist and the hero, who has come up from the gutter, owns a gaming club.
— Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel mysteries. Kestrel moves in Beau Brummel’s circle, but his birth is (deliberately) dubious. In the first book, he confides that his father was a gentleman– who married an actress. Kestrel’s position both within and without society is part of what makes these books so compelling.
— My own The Orchid Affair: the hero is a lawyer (and French!) and the heroine is a career governess of non-aristocratic extraction.
Sad as it is to say, short of continuing to list books by Heyer, Kelly and Kleypas, I’m tapped out. I can think of many novels with an aristocratic hero and non-aristocratic heroine (and a few vice versa), but I’m having a great deal of trouble coming up with books where neither of the main characters has a peerage in their past.
Who are your favorite non-aristocratic heroes and heroines?
Although there is an occasional noble scattered throughout, the main characters of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are commoners. Of course, one is an American, is that okay to include her on this list? I am glad you included Carla Kelly, as this is on reason why I like her books so much.
Several of Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove books come to mind, for the heroines, at least. Can’t quite recall which titles, though.
Simply Love by Mary Balogh. H is the younger brother but works as a steward, while h is a schoolteacher with an illegitimate son.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this list. I don’t like to read about titled characters, and often have a difficult time finding a good historical romance novel. And I’m glad to hear your most recent work–which I just purchased–features title-free leads.
I agree with Susan about many of Mary Balogh’s novels – Simply Love’s H&H, Sydnam and Anne have a wonderful story. Also, Lisa Kleypas has several series with many untitled people spread throughout – the Wallflowers series has some sel-made men as heroes and also Americans in England. The Bow Street Runner series is excellent too!
I’d say Emma & Mr. Knightly win my vote. Followed by Lizzie & Darcy!!
I enjoyed Orchard Affair and Turnip’s Mischief of the Mistletoe because of the different perspectives. Tessa Dare’s Beauty and the Blacksmith & A Week To Be Wicked and Lisa Kleypas has a few novels (tthe Wallflower series books 1 and 4) with non titled characters.
Elizabeth Hoyt’s Scandalous Desires starring river pirate Mickey and housewife Silence. It is my favourite in the excellent Maiden Lane series.
What a great idea for a list! I am going to have to find all of the above mentioned books that I haven’t yet read.
Some, but not all, of Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green books have non-noble main characters. Each books features a Redmond or an Eversea – those families aren’t titled (though they’d like to be), but sometimes the other half of the couple is.
Is there a duke in all of Austen? There are some titles but mostly I think don’t think of Austen as being mostly untitled with titles like baronet being the exception.
Of course in Arabella Robert Beaumaris is the grandson of a duke just not on the side that counts. (His mother was the daughter of a duke and duchess: no inheritance for him!)
I like Heyer’s Black Sheep, which features no titles of any kind. Although again great wealth!
I also am reading Carla Kelly now. In general she does ordinary folk.
It says a lot about you and the romance genre that we consider fabulous wealth to be normal. I consider normal to be middle class non fabulously wealthy.
Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed (the hero is a knight but he was granted that honour for the book he wrote. The heroine is a courtesan), Unraveled (hero is a magistrate and the heroine is a poor girl.- the daughter of actors). Both of these heroes are the brother of a Duke (who was a merchant/trader until he came into the title in Unveiled). In her most recent, The Heiress Efffect, Oliver, the hero is the illegitimate son of a Duke raised by his stepfather and mother on the family farm. He is an aspiring politician. The heroine is a wealthy heiress, but not titled. Her novellas are also primarily about non-titled characters.
I highly recommend them.