That was Then, This is Now

Last week I blogged in support of dukes. You can read that post here. But the gist of my argument had a fairly narrow focus, in that I blogged about people who complain that dukes in stories far out number real dukes during the Regency.

This week I take up the opposite case, and that’s in spite of the number of people who anticipated this in the comments.

The Real, the Hyper-Real and the Meta-Real

Genre fiction has several challenges one of which is home grown. Focusing on Romance as the genre of choice for this discussion, when a writer is working with some set of known parameters (a happy ending, say) then BY DEFINITION the reader knows that certain terrible things, even if threatened, will not actually happen. Neither the hero or the heroine will die. The obstacles in the path to love WILL be resolved.

Because of this, a Romance writer has to be even more adept at crafting those elements of the story so that they rise above the trope (or don’t fall into cliche, take your pick) and still give readers the satisfaction they expect from a Romance.

Let’s Get Historical

In Regency Historical Romance, the world is typically a rarefied one. The characters tend to be socially comfortable, and given the gender/class/economic divisions and that emergence of a true middle class is several years down the road, the characters tend to be the economic and social elite and the men tend to wield more power than the women.

That is, the heroes are wealthy and the women marry up into a strata and to a husband that offers them protection that is economic, physical and emotional. The women are made safe in all these realms while the hero tends to be made safe in the emotional realm since he’s usually already safe economically and physically and almost always safe socially.

Why Dukes?

Readers love that social imbalance of power and the rise of a heroine into that balance. The hero is powerful in all the things that will offer a heroine safety during a time when women were dependent on men for their safety. He’s Prince Charming and his heroine is going to democratize him. Within that socially elite setting the nobleman is almost (but not exclusively) the only option for the hero.

Trouble On the Horizon

Part of any story is the adept use of contrasts. The hero needs to be socially and economically powerful. A nobleman pretty much fits the bill. So, says the author. My hero must be UBER powerful so he better be a duke! (Because, rats, there’s only one Prince and that job is filled, and there’s only one King, and he’s incapacitated.)

And right there’s the problem that so many pointed out in last week’s comments. My Hero must be the MOST powerful so he’s a duke! Yay! Duke. And that’s all the thought that goes into it. He’s a duke the way a 21st century rich man drives a Lamborghini. Because it’s a symbol.

If all a writer does is pick the symbols and nothing more, that way lies tedium.

And that, my friends, is why it can feel like there are too many dukes.

Now What?

I adore a well done duke. I really do. But I want him to actually be a duke. I don’t want his nobility to be just a symbol.

What about you?