Risky Regencies

The Spanish Bride

I’m continuing to immerse myself in research for my hero’s military background. I didn’t want to break from it even during my Easter travel, so I brought along THE SPANISH BRIDE by Georgette Heyer. It’s the fictionalized account of Brigade Major Harry Smith and his bride, Juana, whom he married after the siege of Badajoz, and their succeeding adventures from the Peninsular War through Waterloo.

A review on the inside cover from The Sunday Times states “Altogether, it is an exceedingly able reconstruction of historic events, in which the love story, though delightful enough, takes second place.”

This was probably a necessary warning to fans of Heyer’s Regencies that this book is not one of them. Personally I think the review is spot-on; I found the descriptions of military life far more interesting than Harry and Juana’s romance. There was plenty of story conflict in terms of the war but not much romantic conflict. Apparently it was love at first sight, and neither cared much for culture differences. Harry spoke fluent Spanish; Juana adjusted readily to the army life. The story is peppered by minor marital spats followed by passionate reconciliations, all of which would have been merely annoying had they not been brief. In fact, a few times I felt Juana was behaving like a melodramatic teenager before I remembered that she was indeed only fourteen when they married and just seventeen by the time of Waterloo.

Anyway, even though the circumstances were more exciting than usual, Harry and Juana’s story isn’t the stuff of a romance novel. That cover quote made me think about what people think of as a love story. Some diss romance for being unrealistic. I’ve always thought it was because they don’t believe in happy endings. But maybe it’s the other way around. I know many happily married couples whose stories (met at a party, dated, fell in love and decided to marry) are just not that interesting to anyone but those close to them.

Maybe some people think a romance novel is all one long romp in a flowery meadow and there’s no conflict worth following. Maybe they don’t realize that romance authors try to give their characters deeper problems to solve than most real life couples face. And these problems are not only external, such as the hazards of war Harry and Juana Smith faced, but something that challenges the relationship. Admittedly, some authors fall short, relying on misunderstandings or cardboard villains to keep things going. It’s probably one of the toughest challenges in writing a romance: to come up with two people who are perfect for one another and a powerful and believable problem that their love will have to overcome.

What sorts of conflicts do or don’t work for you? If you have read THE SPANISH BRIDE, what did you think?


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Cara King
14 years ago

I shamefacedly confess that I’ve never read The Spanish Bride! I believe it’s one of only three Heyer novels I haven’t read (the other two being Simon the Coldheart and The Great Roxhythe.)

(I’m not sure why I’ve never read it — it was really a series of accidents, I think! I mean, good heavens, I even plowed through My Lord John and Pastel!) 🙂

As to conflicts: I think one difficulty is if the conflict is too good — then it’s very hard for the author to come up with a believable solution. 🙂


Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

It’s been years since I read The Spanish Bride, but it’s among my favorite Heyers. Which is probably not surprising, given my overall tastes and interests.

As for conflicts, it really is a challenge to make a couple compatible but still conflicted. A lot of romances don’t work for me when the couple spends so much of the book working against each other that I can’t believe they can maintain a commitment for the long haul. My favorites are stories where the initial conflict arises because the h/h can’t see the compatibility that’s obvious to the reader, and the romance is a process of discovery–a lot of Jenny Crusie’s books fit that pattern, IMHO, and Pride & Prejudice is a classic example.

But I have to admit one reason I’m enjoying writing an adventure story where romance is a subplot is that I feel like it’s OK to write couples who are compatible and know it and just have to overcome external opposition to be together because it’s not quite so front-and-center. (One of the things I kept hearing from contest judges and even sometimes from editors with my Romance That Came Close But Didn’t Sell was that my conflict was too external.)

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Cara, if you could plow through My Lord John, you’d find The Spanish Bride easy reading.

Not surprised you liked this book, Susan! I enjoyed it but it isn’t my favorite Heyer by a long shot. I guess I prefer romance with a side of military history rather than the other way around. 🙂

As to conflicts, I agree some are too strong. If the hero and heroine have deeply felt and incompatible desires in life (like whether they want children or not) I don’t want to see one of them have to settle to please the other.

My own approach is in terms of character growth as in P&P; the h/h have different strengths and weaknesses. They drive each other to change in ways that are good for them but not easy.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Wow we’re quiet today!
I have not read The Spanish Bride, but you make me want to! I love to read the military stuff and can’t wait for your books, Susan W (which MUST be published. I insist!)

You raise some interesting ideas about conflict… In a romance it must:
1. be internal, not just external
2. not be such that one person must settle
3. that it be interesting, ie not like real life!

How do we do this? It’s hard!!!

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“1. be internal, not just external”

This one definitely! I tend to get bored when the couple really has nothing to keep them apart except an eeeeevvvil villain. 🙂

I’m with Cara–this is one of the few Heyers I’ve never read, and I’m not sure why. I think I even have a copy of it around here somewhere. Must find it.

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

I love to read the military stuff and can’t wait for your books, Susan W (which MUST be published. I insist!)

From your mouth to God’s ears, Diane! (From your keyboard to God’s, um, inbox?)

14 years ago

Hmm. Lots of good info here on what makes a romance readable. I will be writing all of this down, thank you very much. I tend to agree that I don’t like for the conflict to be such that you cannot believe they solved it or you feel as if one or the other character has settled or given up who they are for the other.

14 years ago

I’ve never read The Spanish Bride, but since I love period military novels, it’s definitely on my extended list (along with An Infamous Army which I also haven’t read).

I think you have put your finger on exactly the problem of writing a good romance. It’s very hard to get the balance right, where the conflict is enough to keep them apart, but not so much that it’s unbelievable that they could ever get together and make it work. Even great writers can miss. Susan mentioned Jennifer Crusie, whom I adore, but I must say that Fast Women didn’t work for me because a) the hero and heroine seemed to be too incompatible to make it work, and b) the book makes such a convincing case that even good relationships can die and fall apart that at the end I didn’t believe that Happily Ever After was assured for anyone!

I read a Barbara Metzger once–sorry, can’t remember the title–which had the opposite problem. Hero and heroine more or less fall in love at first sight, and there is nothing really to keep them apart, so it was vaguely maddening that they didn’t just get married and go off on their honeymoon already.

Given the difficulties, I admire it all the more when an author pulls it off very well! That’s a lot of what makes a romance satisfying for me.


Elena Greene
14 years ago

I love to read the military stuff and can’t wait for your books, Susan W (which MUST be published. I insist!)

Me, too. Just because romance is my favorite dish doesn’t mean I don’t like a main meal of adventure now and then. Otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy Sharpe, even though he goes through women a bit like James Bond. 🙂

As to conflicts, I do think they can be drawn from real life. I like to tap into realistic issue myself, like the previous bad marriages in LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE. I’m sure there are real couples who’ve dealt with things like previous bad relationships, losses, etc… It’s just that in my experience, there aren’t as many of those as the happily-dated-then-married kind.

Kalen Hughes
14 years ago

I liked The Spanish Bride, but I LOVE An Infamous Army. The description of the Highlanders marching out to battle makes my cry every damn time (and I adore Barb!).

The conflicts that don’t work for me are the ones that could be solved by a SINGLE CONVERSATION (aka “the mig mis”). I hate it when the author stretches out the book by simply not allowing the protagonists to voice their concern or issue. It irks me.

Kay Webb Harrison
Kay Webb Harrison
14 years ago

I read The Spanish Bride so long ago (1960s)that there is not much about it that I remember–only that I liked it. As an hispanophile, I have always glommed anything having to do with Spain. In the early 1970s, I read a Spanish book with biographies of famous/interesting Spanish women; Juana Smith was one of them. Of course, the Spanish text was easier to understand because I had already read Heyer’s story.

Back in the 1960s–when I was a teen–my school and public libraries provided me with almost all of Heyer’s Regency and Georgian books, just about all in hardcover. The Unknown Ajax has always been my favorite.


Cara King
14 years ago

The Unknown Ajax has always been my favorite.

Ooh, yes, I love that one, Kay! Definitely one of my top three. Or maybe top five. Or top seven??? I really love a bunch of hers….but definitely top tier for me! 🙂


14 years ago

*standing shamefacedly with Cara*– haven’t read The Spanish Bride either… 🙁

I agree with other commenters that the conflicts that make the most sense in romances are internal, and that they should be ones where the characters and their relationship sort of grow into the solution. I hate the ones where the problem(s) are based solely on misunderstandings and could be SO easily resolved if the two would just have a decent conversation!

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I hate the ones where the problem(s) are based solely on misunderstandings and could be SO easily resolved if the two would just have a decent conversation!

I couldn’t agree more about the issues that could have been solved with “oh, that was my brother I was hugging” sort of explanations.

On the other hand, sometimes people versed in the Rules jump on any misunderstanding and say it’s an invalid conflict. But I think it can work when there are reasons behind the misunderstanding AND it can’t just be explained away but may need to be proven somehow.

If you look at it the wrong way, much of the conflict in P&P could be called a misunderstanding.

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