Thursday, December 13, 2007

Historical Clichés

They're tried, they're true, they're trite. They've made their way into infamy among readers, who decry them as much as they love them (in the way you love your husband who always leaves the seat up, or your sweet aunt who sends you the same ugly sweater every year). What's that, you say? You've never read about virgin widows or brooding heroes? Gentle reader, there is no way you've read more than one historical romance if you've never encountered a single genre cliché. Actually, chances are you haven't read any at all.

So after looking at the clichés, what are some examples of atypical historical elements you've encountered? Characters, settings, plot lines? Tell us your favorite unusual historicals.
Common clichés found in historicals

1. The heroine is a blushing virgin who is so unaware of her genitals and what they do that she is shocked and perplexed when the hero gives her pleasure. Double points if she's at a loss for words to describe what's happening.

2. The Virgin Widow: The heroine's cruel/inattentive/impotent husband either never consummated the marriage or never gave her an orgasm.

3. The heroine is the innocent, inexperienced ward; her unwilling guardian is older, wealthy and socially prominent, has had a string of beautiful and enticing mistresses. Let us guess whom he falls in love with...

4. He's got the bluest blood of the realm! If you believed Romancelandia, every other peer in England is a duke--and a handsome, unmarried one at that!

5. Old Boney won't get the best of him! The hero is a peer but is also secretly a spy for England! Bonus points if he works with a secret cabal of other spies, all of them dashing and brooding and rich...and future heroes in an on-going series, of course.

6. The innocent governess and her dark, vaguely threatening master of the house is a gothic classic. Bonus points if he has a relative locked somewhere on his estate.

7. You can't have a governess without a child, and one of Romancelandia's favorite clichés is the dissolute rake forced to raise a child (usually a daughter who is unnaturally bright and/or saucy), only to be transformed by her innocence and the love of her female caregiver.

8. The Devil of Fill-in-the-Blank always wears black, always rides in a black coach with matching black horses and always tosses about dark stares and sardonic glances as he storms around Regency London.

9. You can't have Beauty and the Beast without the Beast! Thankfully, minor burns and scars are enough to make many Romancelandia heroes brood excessively about their hideous features. Hey, sometimes even a limp will do!

10. Heroines should have flaws. Unfortunately, many of them seem to share the exact same flaws--either fiery tempers and brash manners or bookish ways and a need for spectacles, without which they cannot be trusted not to trip, fall and tumble onto any available lap in a moment's notice.

11. Apparently young girls in all historical periods knew the best way to meet the man of your dreams was to masquerade as a boy. Be a squire to his knight, stable lad on his estate, new footman in his townhome, or cabin boy on the ship he captains.

12. Get thee to a nunnery! If a medieval heroine's not already in a convent (where she probably nurses the hero back to health), she's on her way to one.

13. The hero or heroine must marry as soon as possible or they'll lose their fortune/disgrace the family's good name. Bonus points if the reluctant marriage is mandated in the will of a recently deceased parent or guardian.


Anonymous said...

I don't read many historicals, so I can't add to your list, but...after reading a few of these LOL-funny Thursday Thirteens, I want to work with y'all about as much as I want to write for y'all...and that's pretty damn badly!


Anonymous said...

A few more that I can think of

The virginal lass's deceased father has beggared (yes that's 'beggared') the family estate thus forcing her to become a woman of ill repute (though she has no notion of what that entails) yet she finds the rake of her dreams, reforms him with her innocence and they live happily ever after.

The innocent virgin finds a viking/ pirate/ bandit/or rogue bathing in a secluded cove where she goes for santuary. He immediately kidnaps her and takes her off to the high seas where she manages to master the hazards of shipboard life in voluminous petticoats and high boots. she also captivates the sardonic heart of her rogue so that he does not sell her off at the next port to the highest bidder.

Also, I am constantly surprised at the number of nubile young virgins who posess heated cores. I know some relationships can be volcanic, but really???

Evangeline Holland said...


Anonymous said...

I know it's not a popular era with many readers, but I love romances set in the Roaring Twenties. One of the first books I acquired for Ellora's Cave was Secret Services by Margrett Dawson. It's set in 1929 England. I just read a contest entry sent in 1920s New Orleans. Such a colorful and active era.


Nick Conrad said...

I have to second Raelene's comment! I have a special soft spot for stories whose settings fall between the start of the Roaring Twenties and the end of World War II.


N.J.Walters said...


Going through the list, I realized how many of those kinds of books I'd read, and will still read. They may be cliched and trite, but I still love them--Especially #8 and #9. *g*

Spy Scribbler said...

Oh, but if the cliches are written well, I'll take the gothic ones over and over and over again.

(I just read Jane Eyre three times, so ... I might be a tad obsessed!)

Anonymous said...

Holy Hell!

You need to turn this into a board game! You could call it Thirteen Regency Street.

...go directly to the master's bedroom, do NOT under any circumstances pass go with him. Extra points however, if you discover you have genitals.