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?