Romance Unlaced: First Children, Then Love in Historical Romances

Romance Unlaced: First Children, Then Love in Historical Romances
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Authors know that children represent special challenges as characters. They aren’t just short adults. Getting their voices and viewpoints right takes a special talent.

I went looking for some historical romances that do that, to see what kinds of stories make room for the little ones. I wanted books that did not merely have children in the background, but where the children are integral to the story, conflict and romance.

Vanessa Riley uses children often in her works. That is true of her newest novel,  A Duke, The Lady, and A Baby (forthcoming June). It is a “Regency version of Three Men and a Baby meets First Wives’ Club,” she said. In it the welfare of Baby Lionel and who gets a say in raising him are central concerns for Busick Strathmore, The Duke of Repington, and Patience Jordan, the displaced mother who has to pretend to be a governess to be near her babe.

Since Vanessa has experience with child characters, I asked her if this one presented any special challenges. “The challenge was to make sure Lionel, even as a very young baby, has a personality. He’s not a decoration or an ornament, but a child that has suffered upheaval. How he bonds with Repington and how Repington bonds with him are very important to the story. How Patience deals with the growing attachment of the two weighs on her mind. As with any mother, she wants the best for Lionel, but does sacrificing her freedom and her identity outweigh the dangers of remaining in England near Repington? Retreating to a Caribbean island certainly has its appeal.”

She pointed out that although Lionel is critical to the story, the story itself is a romance. “The child’s physical needs come first, but then you have the two most important people in Lionel’s life discovering their own similarities and needs. They may have been brought together by Lionel, but what keeps them together has to be much more. For the sake of the child it has to be lasting.”

Callie Hutton’s book The Bookseller and the Earl (Merry Misfits of Bath, Book 1) is the story of a dyslexic woman, Miss Addie Mallory, who buys a bookstore in Bath with the dowry money she cajoled from her parents once she gave up on the London Marriage Mart. Lord Berkshire, the father of a deaf boy, Michael, visits her bookstore to seek information on the affliction, which Addie eagerly involves herself with to help the boy.

I asked Callie how the child impacts the romance. “The sub-plot is Lord Berkshire trying to help his son, Michael, to communicate since Berkshire’s sister-in-law is petitioning the court to have Michael declared incompetent so her son can step into the heir presumptive spot,” she explained. “Michael impacts the romance because he brings them together in their determination to thwart the sister-in-law’s plans. Berkshire sees Addie as a warm, loving, helpful woman and she sees him as an honorable man.”

A child as catalyst to a romance is also a feature of Cheryl St. John’s Joe’s Wife. In this American western historical, the hero discovers he has a child with the town prostitute and on her deathbed, she asks him to take the little girl. Since he is in a marriage of convenience, the presence of the child changes the dynamics of a practical arrangement and leads to romance.

Cheryl finds it fairly easy to write about children because she is the mother of four and grandmother to eleven. “I’m always amused and humbled by the way children think. They have a fresh and innocent perspective on people and situations that adults take for granted. They ask thought-provoking questions and show unique wit and intelligence.”

Nicole Locke’s Her Dark Knight’s Redemption (Lovers and Legends series), set in the 13th century, has a child at the center of an unusual plot.  Once Reynold of Warstone realizes the child in question truly is his, and the mother’s dead, he’ll do anything to protect her identity from his murderous family. So, he rescues this street thief named Aliette, tells her she’ll be a servant in his household, and demands she pretend to be the mother. Aliette is wary of Reynold, but having been abandoned as a child herself, she’ll do anything to protect this child…even from a man who denies he’s the father, a man she calls Darkness.

I asked Nicole how an author balances the child’s needs and presence with the romance so the child does not take over the story completely. She said it was not a danger. “How the hero and heroine interact with children reveals much about their character. Thus, children only enhance the romance and can never overtake it. Plus, discovering sneaky ways for the hero and heroine to get together is part of the fun.”

Bronwyn Scott’s The Secrets of Lord Lynford (The Cornish Dukes, Book 1) is the story of the Marquis of Lynford, who has all but given up hope of ever having a family of his own until he meets widow Eliza Blaxland and her young daughter, Sophie. With them, he dares to dream of again of what might be.

The book shows the transformation that this relationship has on the marquis. “The presence of the child Sophie in the story is a tangible reminder to Lynford of all he wants and all he’s been denied in life. She also complicates his relationship with her mother Eliza. For Lynford, raising a dead man’s child can fill the void in his own life, but Eliza wants more children, something he cannot give her.”

Bronwyn chose to use a child, even though she thinks not every story benefits from having children in them. “The Cornish Dukes series has a strong core theme throughout all four books of familial love and care for one’s community. Starting the series off with Lynford, a man who believes he cannot achieve the core values that guide his intimate set of family and friends, sets the tone for a thought-provoking series.”

Governess stories always involve children, and that is true of Ann Lethbridge’s A Family For the Widowed Governess (Widows of Westram series). In it widowed governess, Marguerite, teaches her employer, Lord Compton, to stop overprotecting his three motherless daughters. When,Marguerite departs, the children devise a way to throw the couple together, hoping they will finally see sense and become a proper family.

Ann also drew upon her own experiences in getting the children’s characterizations right. “I have written children as secondary characters before, but never three, all different ages, in the same book. Getting the dialogue and abilities right for each age is tricky. Once my hero stopped wanting to wrap them in cotton wool, he began to remind me of my own dad That made easier to get them right, since I have two younger siblings and could draw on my own experiences.”

So how much historical romance is there with children impacting the romance? Plenty, both in terms of plot, and regarding the development of love and intimacy between the two main characters. 

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