In Defense of Dukes

Too Many Dukes? Or Not Enough to Go Around?

There’s this pernicious statement that keeps popping up among authors of historical romance to the effect that In Real Life there were only a very small number of dukes and that historical romance as a genre has more dukes than ever existed in the entire universe and isn’t that just completely unrealistic?

I get a little hot under the collar every time I hear (read) someone say that because it misses the ENTIRE POINT. Which I will get to after I point out a few things.

A population explosion

Every genre of fiction is over-populated with its principal archetypes. There sure are a lot of detectives in mysteries. And Romantic Suspense seems to be dealing with an absolute deluge of serial killers. Throw in Thrillers and maybe you should be wondering about your neighbors. Because if you aren’t the serial killer on your block, then sure as heck someone else is. Right? Is he REALLY just taking out the garbage or is that body parts? And dukes in historical romance! You can’t swing a dead cat in 1815 without hitting a duke.

Give ’em The Boot!

If we follow the logic of the argument against dukes in historical romance, then we should ask the other genres to stop with the detectives and sleuths and serial killers. And elves, let’s do something about them too, because you know what? There are too damn many elves in High Fantasy. Don’t get me started on the dragons. Those don’t even really exist and they’re all over the place. They should leave town with the hero raised in poverty who is actually the King’s long lost son AND HE CAN DO MAGIC!!!

A Book is An Island

Here’s my problem with statements like there are too many dukes. It conflates the world of a book with the world of every other similar book. But each book, each story, is a world unto itself. That story is an island unto itself and when the bell tolls, it’s only for that book. In this book in which the hero is a duke, it doesn’t matter if there is another fictional duke in another book. It just doesn’t.

It’s up to the author to make him real in the story in which he is the hero.



Let’s Keep our Arguments Straight
The argument against dukes in historical romance conflates cliche and familiar tropes with the fictional world of the book. Those are two separate problems. A reader might well decide she’s tired of dukes in stories and wish for a story without one. But that is not the same problem as pointing out there are more fictional dukes than there ever have been IRL. That last one, in my opinion, is a big so what?

A duke in a story is a cliche if and only if he is written badly and without care. A story that doesn’t somewhere in its guts think about why the hero is a duke and then use that in subtle and non-subtle ways is a book that will probably feel cliche. And it won’t be because the hero is a duke. It will be because the author was lazy,

It’s also not the same problem as wishing there were historical romances without dukes. And, I’m happy to say, there are.

What do you think? Are you tired of dukes?

About carolyn

Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has two cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

22 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Karenmc
Karenmc
11 years ago

I’m not so much tired of dukes as I am tired of books that don’t hit the mark. If characters jump off the page, demonstrating some idiosyncrasies, I don’t give a flying fig what their social status is. Dukes, younger sons, rat catchers, con artists – it doesn’t matter as long as they’re three-dimensional and interesting.

Dtchycat
11 years ago

I could never get tired of reading about Dukes, or Earls, or Marquis, Viscount or even Barons…provided they have an adaquate house in London and a country house where there will be parties and balls…oh! and there must be servants! Yes, has to be servants so that I can pretend my own servants are going to magically clean my clothes, house and cook me dinner as my butler tells everyone banging on the door that I am not ‘at home’ while I sit in my fantasy land…

Rachel
11 years ago

I don’t mind if the DH is a duke although I prefer Marquesses because I love the female title Marchioness. But that’s just my personal belief. I think you make a great point, Carolyn. If there were 171 Dukes in one novel then yes, that would be problematic, but one or two is fine. Each book stands alone…the entire genre doesn’t stand together.

The one thing that has started to bother me lately is in women’s fiction. I read this genre frequently and am evening trying to write in it. I find that I am tired of two things in women’s lit that could be compared to the endless number of dukes. I hate how many of the DH’s turn out to be secret millionaires. It just seems like after making so many bad men decisions that the women are being rewarded by finally making the right decision and are given a secret millionaire. But maybe my real problem is in the books I’ve read that have this current problem I wasn’t really happy with the female character at all because they just weren’t real and some of the DHs were lackluster. My other big problem is how all the heroines have these jobs that I guess I feel are sexist or something. They are all in PR or event coordinators, but are rarely pilots or CEOs or lawyers (most if they are lawyers are unhappy and end up leaving law by the end of the novel). I guess I’m looking for a smart heroine who can have a job that might be considered a man’s job. But maybe I need to take your advice and step back and see the book as one land and not just one of many.

Elena Greene
11 years ago

I’m guilty of the too many dukes complaint, so I may be part of the problem of conflating issues.

Part of my problem is that some authors (perhaps urged by publishers) are using dukes rather than any other rank, because the hero has to be “the best” and it’s shorthand for “this guy is really, really rich”. Neither of which impresses me, especially if the book is written without an awareness of the responsibilities a duke inherits along with his wealth.

I also like a lot of variety in my fantasy men, so why not have different ranks, some military men, some naval heroes, some misters (like a certain Mr. Darcy) etc…

So I’d rather authors make the hero a duke if that is what they really are aiming for (the wealth plus the influence and responsibilities, the burdens as well as the advantages) rather than because it’s considered good marketing.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

I’m with you, Elena. To me, the problem is not that there are too many dukes, but when authors write the duke as a generic “titled person,” but richer.

My thinking is that a duke is a special category of titled person, a man of great privilege, but also with enormous responsibilities. He just is not going to act like a baron or an earl. Make him act like a duke and have the life a duke would have had and I’ll believe in him. Otherwise I’m going to think the author made him a duke because “dukes sell.”

I’d feel the same about a detective who didn’t act like a detective, or a serial killer who didn’t act like a serial killer.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

I’m not sure I’d feel the same about elves and dragons, though, because who knows how they’d act?

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

I made a similar comment on the Beau Monde loop at some point (at least I think that’s where I made it). My dukes and Julia Quinn’s dukes and Eloisa James’s dukes and Carolyn Jewel’s dukes do NOT all exist in the same time/space continuum (any more than Anne Rice’s vampires and J.R. Ward’s vampires and Charlaine Harris’s vamps are all competing for victims). Their existences are discrete and limited to the world of their own books.

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

Now I can’t stop picturing a Romancelandia version of The Eyre Affair where all of our dukes cross paths . . . You can’t the tallest, richest, smartest man in England, because I am the tallest, richest, smartest man in England!

Rachel
11 years ago

Oh Isobel!!! That’s too funny. I’m also picturing some of the detectives running into each other. That’s good fun…thanks for the laugh.

Carolyn
11 years ago

By the way, next Wednesday I intend to blog about why there are too many dukes.

I completely agree with karenmc, Elena and others who complain about dukes who are dukes um because uh, oh look! A duke! He’s rich. It’s about the world and creating real characters for that world.

Elena doesn’t complain that there are too many dukes in books BECAUSE IRL there were only a few, her objection, and I agree with it, is there are too many carelessly cast dukes. It’s a craft issue.

Dtchycat, I’m with you. I like nobles in my historical romance. I really do. But I’m on board with romances that don’t have them. I want a story I believe in.

Rachel: I don’t read a lot of women’s fiction so I don’t have an impression of the heroine’s jobs, but I agree, there certainly seems to be a lot of women in PR. On the other hand, that tracks with reality because we’re still dealing with all the gender-based bias etc that diverts women into these careers. I have this vague and possibly inaccurate notion that part of the reason is that these books are written for an audience that likes a homier heroine than you’d have if she were a doctor or a lawyer or neuroscientist. But I’m sure someone can correct me on that. I recently read one where the heroine was the police chief, which I thought was pretty awesome. I had major issues with the book for other reasons.

LOL on all the fictional duke and fiesty heroines meeting up IRL. That’s hilarious, Isobel!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
11 years ago

I agree with Diane and Elena. There is a reason why there have been so few Dukes in history (24 at the moment), it is the highest rank that can be conferred, one step below Prince. It should not be confused with generic rich guy. Marrying a Duke is a coup, and I think it should be reflected in romance fiction. If you read Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s autobiograpy, you get a clear picture of the responsibilities and privileges that go along the rank. It’s not just getting to live in a palace like Blenheim.

Carolyn
11 years ago

Elizabeth: Then you also agree with me and with this post!

Barbara E.
11 years ago

Nope, I’m not tired of Dukes. I like all of the aristocracy, but there’s nothing like a great unattached Duke to get the unmarried ladies excited. And I love to read about just that.

Susanna Fraser
11 years ago

I suppose I’m a bit tired of dukes, at least insofar as when I see “duke” in a book’s title, I’m less likely to pick it up–it needs to be well-reviewed and/or from a favorite author to overcome my “not another DUKE” reaction. But basically I’m with everyone who says they’re tired of dukes who seem to have acquired their rank solely for marketing purposes and don’t seem to have, as Elena says, “the wealth plus the influence and responsibilities, the burdens as well as the advantages.”

And when I read for escape, I’m often looking for escape into a more adventurous world, where the stakes are higher and there aren’t quite so many monotonous daily routines as my real life has. So dukes (with the exception of certain FIRST dukes) don’t appeal to me as much as warriors or younger sons or self-made men because I figure your average duke’s life may be a lot more GLAMOROUS than mine, but it isn’t any more ADVENTUROUS.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

I do like the idea that a duke in historical romance exists only in the realm of the book he is in, and therefore he cannot be one duke too many.

I do agree that the most important thing isn’t necessarily his title as much as it is his character. I want any hero to be well-written, believable, human, flawed, sexy and definitely alpha. And yes, he has to be rich and responsible or on his way being such.

I’ve written a duke, a baron and a marquis so far. My fourth book , a WIP, has the brother of an earl and yes, he’s a viscount has its hero. However, I have plans for a future book that will make this hero a mere mister when his brother marries and has a son.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the character comes first and then the title. When that is done well I am happy to read it.

Carolyn
11 years ago

I think we have a consensus that Duke + marketing = BAD.

My very first book had an earl as the hero and in big letters on the back blurb were the words “A Devilish Duke” and that book came out in 1988 so Dukes and marketing have been flirting for a really long time.

Jane George
11 years ago

Dukes are really limited because of their position. They tend not to be my favorite heroes because of that. But if he’s well-written, I’ll fall for him, it’s just a tougher initial sell.

Pat
Pat
11 years ago

LOL! People think the number of dukes is unrealistic? What about the number of Englishmen who are handsome? with chins? with black hair? with decent teeth?

The titles are the least unlikely aspect.

I may want the story to be believable, but if I want harsh reality, I read the newspaper.

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
11 years ago

Actually, one of my favorite books about a duke was Julia Quinn’s “Mr. Cavendish, I Presume”, about a man who was raised to be a duke his whole life and then, suddenly, wasn’t a duke anymore. It’s much more common for romances to have heroes who inherit unexpectedly, and it was fascinating to think about how one would respond when the opposite happened and one’s identity, job, and social relationships were snatched away.

I am a bit tired of dukes for all the reasons Susanna Fraser said, just as I think the inflationary spiral that turned all of those millionaires into billionaires in category romance has got out of hand. I know each of the dukes exists in his own universe within the book, but it’s a bit like eating too many chocolate truffles in too short a time. The first one is delicious, but after the sixth you need a palate cleanser (a mere baron perhaps?).

Rachel
11 years ago

I think maybe instead of too many Dukes we should discuss the problem of too many Socialist chauffeurs in Masterpiece Theatre….any thoughts?

downtime
11 years ago

Liked the thought of all dukes & heroines converging somestorytime…like “In the Woods”, Stephen Sondheim play where fairytale characters all converge & Prince Charmings are competitive, adulterous and form a support group! …Dukes D’nonymous is next!

Carolyn
11 years ago

Dukes d’nonymous! Heh. Yes, they need a support group!