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?