Annoyances and domestic disturbance

It’s been a funny sort of week.

First, chez Mullany most of the contents of the kitchen are strewn around the living/dining room. I have a really small house so you sort of notice when you find the toaster on the sofa or you start looking for a clean plate on a chair and find very ancient containers of spices under the table. This is because we have had a new kitchen ceiling installed and for the first time in years we can now open all the cabinet doors all the way and I’ve cleaned some of the cabinet shelves for the first time in … a very long time. The cat was extremely traumatized by having Men in the house.

I should also announce with pride that I have finally finished unpacking from RWA Nationals last year and had a marathon washing of silk session.

But that’s not what annoys me. No, the number one annoyance of the moment is Austen spelled Austin. Really REALLY REALLY annoying.

Number two, heroes in historicals who fall into one or more of these categories:

1. Marry the heroine without intending to have sex with her (see below).
2. Marry the heroine without intending to have children with her (see below).
3. Don’t want to marry anyone, heroine included, because they have so many cousins, brothers, male relatives of all sizes and shapes they don’t need to provide an heir although they will never be at a loss for sequels (see below).
4. Stride everywhere.

Number four doesn’t actually have anything to do with 1 thru 3 but I must say that all that striding is very tiring for the reader. In some contemporaries I’ve attempted to read both the hero and the heroine, to prove her kickassedness, stride all the time, everywhere. She strode to the bathroom to clean her teeth. She strode to the Mr. Coffee. And so on.

Let’s take a look at the Church of England marriage service. I’m not sure exactly which version of the Book of Common Prayer would have been in use during the Regency, but it would have been something closer to this (1662) than any modern version:

[Marriage] is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

But wait, there’s more.

For a brilliant exposition on the reasons why men married and wanted to marry–not just to avoid fornication, as reason number two in the service says–read Amanda Vickery‘s Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.

For a decade or so popular historical imagination has been dominated by two sorts of Georgians. The first are the libertines, the frisky Casanovas who wink knowingly at their unborn Victorian grandchildren before setting off on yet another erotic frolic. The second lot are the tasteful Georgians, the ones who spend all their time polishing their tea caddies and getting giddy on the fancy new fabrics pouring in from the east. Both types might be described as residing behind closed doors. But it is the second group, the curtain-hanging, figurine-fingering kind, whom Amanda Vickery dissects in this brilliant book. Review in The Guardian, 10/24/09.

Marriage, for the Georgian man, represented a state of maturity and social achievement; if you could afford to marry and set up house with the sort of woman who’d strike bargains with warehouse proprietors and wallpaper hangers, the sort of woman defined by Vickery as a “sexy battleaxe” you had arrived. You no longer had to send your laundry home to mama (yes, men really did that), worry about having enough plates for your dinner party, or suffer guilt and remorse about squalid erotic adventures.

So I wonder why romance clings so strongly to the completely historically incorrect picture of the carefree bachelor–or is he really the irresponsible ingrate who won’t even take responsibility for directly siring his heir (he doesn’t have to enjoy it, for god’s sake)? Do you think this is a bit of anti-history that works well for romance? Could you find a hero yearning for a sexy battleaxe to order his domestic life romantic?

I know that I could use a battleaxe, sexy optional, to organize my domestic life at the moment!

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Susan in AZ
11 years ago

Funny you should mention that. I’m currently reading a book with a hero who does not stride, expects to have sex and make a baby WITH his wife, and is apparently not a rake. It’s from last year, Annie Burrows’ The Viscount and the Virgin (one of those cringe-worthy Harlequin titles). The book, actually quite good, involves a second son who is now in line to inherit and an orphan raised with 3 stepbrothers who did not learn how to be a girl.

11 years ago

What a fun post, Janet. And I totally know what you mean about strange Men traumatizing the animals. None of mine can even hack the mailman, and he’s been coming for, like, years. Not inside the house, mind, but…

Well. Anyway. It is interesting to me that men are not much different these days. True, longstanding bachelors mill about here and there, but no normal girl actually wants to date them. In the South, if a guy’s over forty and unmarried, something’s wrong with him. At times, the over 30’s raise brows.

As far as the romance novel goes, I really love a story in which hero & heroine are already married or become married at the beginning of the book–SUCH a rare find! Two of my favorites: The Marriage Bed by Laura Lee Guhrke & Improper Relations by some chick named… err, um… Mullany? Is that it? Yes, I do believe it is Janet Mullany. 🙂

Nancy Kelley
11 years ago

Could you find a hero yearning for a sexy battleaxe to order his domestic life romantic?

Doesn’t that define Mr. Darcy rather neatly? He claims he fell in love with Elizabeth’s “liveliness of mind.” It doesn’t take much to extract a certain strength of will from that characteristic. She wasn’t afraid of him, she didn’t back down from his approach.

As to your other point, I think we can state unequivocally that he planned to have sex with her and children by her. Jane wouldn’t have created him any other way.

So, syllogism: Darcy fell in love with a battleaxe; Darcy planned to have children with her; ergo, men who marry battleaxes and plan to father children by them are romantic.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Nicely put, Nancy !! I like a man who sees what he wants, is perfectly honest about it and goes after her!

And Janet, if you find that battleaxe send him or her my way. I have got to get this house in some semblance of order so I am not mortified to have my dog sitter in to take care of my crew. Bad enough my chihuahua tries to assassinate her. The least I can do is give her a fighting chance by clearing the way from the bedroom to the back door so she can make a quick escape!

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Now you have me worried that my hero might have strode all over the place!!!!!!!

11 years ago

*flees to scan one of DG’s novels*

Elena Greene
11 years ago

My guess is the carefree bachelor is popular because of the kudos to the heroine for “taming” him.

Even if it was more the norm to marry (for those who could afford to) I can’t fault any particular author for having her hero buck the trend. Individuals always do and that is who we are writing about. I can deal as long as it’s clear that the character is bucking a trend (preserving historical accuracy) and it’s done for a reason, not just to fit a popular romance trope.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
11 years ago

What a great post Janet, and what a juxtaposition that would be. A hero who actually wants to get married, who craves domesticity either because his mother was a Georgian libertine or whatever reason you can come up with and a heroine who doesn’t want to get married.

11 years ago

I thought it was just me who found some of these plots to be annoying! I understand that authors have tons of no-no’s though that prevent them from actually being more historically accurate in which the couple marry and he heads off Tuesday and Thursdays to see his mistress while managing his weekly bedding of the bride in a hope of begetting an heir…that he will see maybe an hour or two a week… But honestly, I actually find the heroine who is determined NOT to marry actually even more annoying as realistically, she needed to marry in order to maintain or better her position and would not want to be a burden (which I am sure those who were were constantly reminded of their expense) to her siblings.

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Had an insane afternoon (dayjob) and evening preparing to travel today and found out my flight was cancelled and I’ll be leaving at approximately the time I expected to arrive. I will meet the lovely Alyssia today!

I love the idea of guys yearning for domesticity and companionship and sex all in one nice tidy bundle, and if the bundle unwraps with an onslaught of passion, so much the better.

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

Interesting. As I’m writing younger sons, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why they would want to marry (or not) and I’ve had to pay attention to their circumstances and ability to support a wife. I can’t give them all vast independent fortunes inherited from elderly aunts, LOL! Mostly, I’m enjoying putting men who never thought they’d be in a position to marry in circumstances where they either have to do so, or really, really want to do so.

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

And it’s Nancy Kelley with a logic problem for the WIN!

Jackie Horne
11 years ago

Yes, yes, yes, about how annoying the blindly repeated assertion that men in this period did not want to marry is! As John Tosh, in his wonderful book, A MAN’S PLACE: MASCULINITY AND THE MIDDLE CLASS HOME IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND, notes, “the complete transition to manhood depended on marriage…. To form a household, to exercise authority over dependants, and to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining and protecting them – these things set the seal on a man’s gender identity…. The bachelor was sometimes envied for his freedom from responsibility, but he occupied a marginal status, always in danger of being regarded as less than a man because he had renounced the office of patriarch” (108). Though Tosh writes of the middle class, I wonder how different it would be for the aristocratic class, as they are just as, if not more, invested in patriarchal ideology than the middle classes. If I only had a free moment, I’d sit down with my Debrett’s and analyze how old heirs to peerages were at the time of their first marriage during the early 19th c…

The shift toward delaying marriage for men, Tosh argues, did not occur until the late Victorian period: “[I]n late Victorian England a much keener sense of the drawbacks of domestic life for men was articulated, and this coincided with a growing reluctance to marry, in circumstances where marriage would previously have been taken for granted as part of a natural progression from youth to manhood. Increasing numbers of middle-class men either chose not to marry, or delayed marriage until they were on the threshold of middle age” (172). Contemporary society’s ideas about men delaying marriage seem to stem from this time; perhaps in order to make their novels more appealing for today’s readers, writers project this newer ideology onto the Regency and early Victorian period?

11 years ago

When you find that battleaxe, sexy or otherwise, let me know. I am fighting a loosing battle at my house. I started trying to sort through things and it got out of hand. We have both my aunt’s and my mother-in-law’s complete households boxed up and moved to our house, furniture and all. My old boss moved and left half her household stuff for me to take care of (I offered). I have given truckloads of stuff away, we work with several charities that have clothes closets and one that provided items for transitional housing. My problem is I have more stuff I want to keep than I have space to put it. Our stuff takes up enough room. When I sort, I end up with more boxes. I am really spinning my wheels. I’ll keep trying, but basic house keeping has slid. Either I am busy sorting and moving stuff, or I can’t reach what I need to dust and clean.

On a totally unrelated topic. The headpieces, both hair and hats, on the cover of BEHIND CLOSED DOORS are so out of proportion. Were they really this big?

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