Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Infidelity in romance

Last week there was a post on Dear Author about infidelity in romance novels. I read the comments with great interest because my new historical romance WIP is about how a couple recovers from the husband's adultery and builds a relationship of love and trust.

My hero and heroine enter a marriage of convenience on short acquaintance and are then separated for years by the demands of his military career. Neither is at their best at the time of the wedding, and they go into their separation regretting that they're saddled with each other for life, but there's not a heck of a lot they can do about it given the divorce laws of early 19th century England.

So the hero does what's realistic for a man of his place and time estranged from and at a distance from his wife: he has mistresses. As for the heroine, she lives a celibate life, but is sufficiently a creature of her place and time that she wouldn't expect a man to do likewise for years on end. What gets under her skin isn't that her husband HAS affairs, but that he isn't remotely discreet about them, to the point she believes, not without justification, that everywhere she goes people are pitying her and/or laughing at her. So when he comes home expecting her to give him an heir and a spare or two like the meek, colorless, obedient wife he thought he'd married, she informs him he's got some serious apologizing to do if he wants her willing.

It's a story of its time, because neither the marriage of convenience nor the fact they can't readily divorce their way out of it would make any sense in 2011. Yet it's also about forgiveness, and trust, and putting aside mistaken assumptions--and, oh, of course, love and passion--all of which I think are timeless.

I know there are some readers who'll find my hero's behavior unforgivable and irredeemable, period. But I'm curious what you who are reading this blog now think: would the historical context and/or this couple's specific circumstances make the infidelity plot more palatable for you?


  1. I am a reader who is not bothered by it because I've seen couples recover from it IRL. There was a (mostly negative) passionate response to the infidelity in Dreyer's Never a Gentleman. Personally, I loved that book. I hope you keep going with what you're writing. I'd really like to read it.

  2. Doesn't bug me in general--I'm under the impression that there are a fair few *modern* couples who have the "just be discreet, FFS" thing going on--but the historical and circumstantial context would make it absolutely fine.

  3. Not a problem for me at all. This is infidelity BEFORE there's a romantic connection between the hero and heroine (never mind that they are married). Infidelity is only problematic when it interrupts the romantic connection. To me.

  4. Good to hear. I can get so steeped in the mentality of the times that my 1811 brain accepts things my 2011 self would never put up with (and vice versa, on occasion), and I occasionally need reminding that most people do not, in fact, HAVE an 1811 brain.

    I'm definitely going to keep going with the story, but I'm glad I came across the discussion on Dear Author. Now I'll be prepared in advance for it to be an issue with some readers. I know you can't please everybody, and I feel like the manuscript is shaping up to be something good, so I'll push on.

  5. I've lived most of my adult life in open if not poly relationships. What turns me off is disrespect, not infidelity. I like the HEA promise of romances but wish more of them had "complicated" pre-HEA relationships.

    Besides, in my first ever conversation on the subject, my mother told me that while she was pretty sure my father had never cheated on her, she wouldn't want to know if it only happened once, and wouldn't automatically leave him if she did find out.

    So count me as actively in favor. Romance HHs can be grown-ups too.