MOC = Marriage of Convenience, though in historical romance novels the union is usually inconvenient for at least one of the parties. It's an "arranged marriage", perhaps not to everone's liking, and/or a forced marriage.
It's a particularly powerful drama if it's a union of enemies, but that requires situations unlikely in today's most popular period, the British Regency. In fact, arranged marriages can be tricky to set up in the civilized Regency. They're easier the further back in history we go.
For example, in the middle ages dynastic marriages were fairly common, as were the marriages or pledged unions of children, who are less likely to object -- at the time, at least. Fantasy settings can often be created for MOCs.
By the time we get to the Regency, the notion of affectionate marriage ruled, providing fertile ground for many novelists, including Jane Austen. A hundred years earlier most people would have consider the plot of Pride and Prejudice absurd, and would wonder why Elizabeth wasn't forced to the altar with Mr. Collins for the good of the family. Or, looked at another way, why rich Mr. Darcy didn't simply visit Mr. Bennet and say, "I wish to marry your daughter Elizabeth. Let's draw up the settlements."
A crucial turning point was the Marriage Act of 1754, but I don't have time or space to get into it here. Follow the link above to learn more. Why does the article date it at 1753 when I date it at 1754? Because that's when it was passed, but it didn't come into effect until 1754, which was a distinction important in my novel, The Secret Wedding. That starts with a forced wedding, which was only possible before the Act.
In comparison to an Austen novel, consider a true case from 1719.
Charles Lennox, Earl of March, heir to the Duke of Richmond was only 17 when his father summoned him from his education and ordered him to marry Lady Sarah Cadogan to settle a gaming debt. The bride, aged 14, was brought from her schoolroom. She was simply bewildered, but he protested at being married to such a dowdy creature.
The marriage took place as ordered, but wasn’t consummated and Lord March left on the traditional Grand Tour. He returned to England three years later in no hurry to meet his wife again. Instead, he attended the theatre, where he saw an enchanting lady in an opposite box. He asked someone who she was, and was told she was the reigning toast of London, Lady March.
He hurried to her side.
Their meeting must have been interesting — Did she remember his insulting words? Was she annoyed that he’d ignored her for so long? But however their early days went, they became a deeply devoted couple. He died in August 1750, aged only 49, and she died a year later of grief.
They were the parents of the famous Lennox sisters, subject of the book and television series The Aristocrats.
Why does the arranged marriage story appeal so much?
I invite your answers to that question, but here are some of my suggestions.
We are intrigued by the forced intimacy of strangers, regardless of whether the book contains explicit sex or not. Simply learning to live together is challenge enough.
An arranged marriage removes responsibility and/or the pressure of affection. Neither party has to woo or negotiate, or try to decide if the marriage would be wise or not. If it doesn't work, someone else is to blame.
In a novel, it can get the hero and heroine together quickly. That can be difficult in a historical setting where for many people society did its best to keep spinsters and bachelors apart. If the hero and heroine already dislike each other or are natural antagonists, so much the better.
Do you have some other ideas?
Do you particularly like arranged marriage stories?
Do you dislike them? Why?
I like to write MOC books, for the reasons above.
On April 5th, my latest will be available in print and e-book -- The Viscount Needs a Wife.
The new and reluctant Lord Dauntry decides a sensible wife will relieve him of many of his problems. A friend suggests widow, Mrs. Kathryn Caterill, who definitely needs a new husband.
You can read the set up in two excerpts, the first one beginning here. http://jobev.com/tvnawexc.html
I've always liked Arranged Marriage stories - I've written two myself. It's something to do with the 'having to work it out' between them bit and the clash of ideas or backgrounds. He has the class - she has the money, sort of thing.
I agree with you that there are more possibilities the earlier the story is set: he is a Norman baron and he's been granted land which belongs to her family. She, of course, is Saxon. Georgette Heyer uses it very successfully in 'The Conqueror'.
I must say the Earl of March - Lady Sarah Cadogan marriage sounds wildly romantic!
Good luck with your 'The Viscount Needs a Wife.'
In my first historical, Lord of My Heart, I did a twist on the Norman/Saxon thing. He's a Norman knight who's half English a nephew of Hereward the Wake, and she's Norman, having inherited an English estate from her father. The king orders the marriage to ensure his allegiance. I do like twisting things!
Thanks for the lovely post, Jo, I really enjoyed reading it. I came across that delightful little anecdote before, about the Earl of March learning at the theatre that the gorgeous creature he admired was actually his wife. Indeed, what a meeting that must have been.
I greatly enjoy arranged marriage stories, for the very reasons you mentioned: that the couple is brought together without all the caveats imposed by society, and they have to learn to live with each other before they even know how - especially tricky if they start as antagonists.
I was reading through the Hardwicke Act earlier this morning to research a story I'm writing, and the turns of phrase are quite a maze, especially for the modern reader who hasn't got the experience of legal and contractual speak, with all the hitherto's and thereof's, but the more delightful for it.
Best of luck with 'The Secret Wedding' and Happy Easter!
I absolutely adore MOC stories! So, authors, please keep on writing them.
My favorite is An Arranged Marriage and An Unwilling Bride...my favorite storyline is MOC too.
I do love MOC, it's my favorite plot, with all its many variations. I'm not sure why, maybe it's the forced proximity, and the domestic negotiations? You get to see what a person is really like when you're living in the same house, as opposed to courting. And also, it's a situation that's far removed from modern Western society.
I love the MoC stories and forced marriage stories. I enjoy how the H&h have to learn to accept each other and there is no way out like today where someone can just walk away. Thanks for the info on the marriage act of 1754. Its a good reminder for hist-rom writers. And thank you for the lead on The Aristocrats! I love dramas set in the 18th century, and boy those are hard to find. Now i will have to see if I can get that on one DVD. I love watching the spy series:TURN, and Poldark, too. I will be picking up a copy of your new release, too!
A friend who writes Western Historicals has written some mail order bride stories, and she told me there are people who read nothing else. That surprised me, but I think the same elements that hold in the marriage of convenience stories also apply to mail order brides: sudden intimacy with a total stranger, having to find a way to connect and make a solid marriage, with the outcome in doubt.
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