May-December Plot Devices

The age debate going on downaways on this page has made me ponder. And that’s pretty much the pattern here -Candy fires off with opinion, but as I am a hormonal mess of emotions, I sit and ponder – ruminate, even! But I may make an opinionated pronouncement. Be wary!

In terms of age and difference, I know it’s the norm for historicals, particularly Regencies, to have a good amount of age difference between the hero and the heroine. Usually the hero is older, in his 30’s, and has sown his wild oats, served as a lordly rake in said oats, and experienced the world, gone on the Grand Tour, etc. The heroine is usually much younger, and is often a recent deb who has just had her first, or second, or maybe fourth season. I am well aware that this is the standard – and I was surprised to re-read a Julia Quinn recently wherein the hero was 29. That’s my age! What?! He’s supposed to be much older than that!

But I do know that when I’m reading, unless there’s some significant disparity in experience that reminds me constantly of the differences in age, I tend to equate the heroine and the hero in age in my mind, and don’t see her at a disadvantage, age-wise, to the hero. Eventually, as their relationship reaches some level of equilibrium, so do their ages in my mind. They partner in my imagination in every sense.

There have not been many books in which my perception of the relationship between the hero and the heroine was affected by my opinion of their age difference. As I said, if the hero is still young enough to be part of the social scene, a 10 to 15 year age difference is not so big a deal. But I can’t remember ever reading an historical romance where the hero was ages older than the heroine, to the point where I was squicked out.

Likewise, I don’t remember a historical with an older heroine, though I have read a few contemporaries where the heroine was older – in one case, she had been the hero’s baby sitter. There was a measurable squick factor when they went from talking about old times to hopping into the sack. In my mental organizational tree, they could all be housed under the heading of “Stella’s Groove Is Back Romances,” or, if you’re feeling the squick in a major way,  “LeTourneau Romances.”

Candy mentioned that older hero and heroines give her the jibblies along the same lines of “old people doing it” that give many of us the jibblies. My husband’s grandmother used to speak openly about her amorous life at the dinner table and I was ready to hide under the table and wish for death during those moments. But I have read a few romances, historical and contemporary, where older, often parental secondary characters find romance to parallel the hero and the heroine. I suppose if the main couple gettin’ busy is young and nubile, the older farts gettin’ their groove on in the background is ok – after all, you can ignore the secondary characters if you want to. And certainly they aren’t the most prominent elements of the story.

Off the top of my head, the only romance-esque book I’ve read recently about older people as romantic leads was the first book or two of the Mitford series, about a small town priest in North Carolina. I read the first two when I found them in the lending library of a resort we stayed at in Mexico. Not bad, and not solely romance, but there was a romantic element for the main character, who was older, and a new woman in town, also older. However, since the Mitford series certainly doesn’t feature sex scenes, there was no older-people-mattress-boogie factor.

For some of you, though, is age difference sexy? Is there something fiesty in the differences of age between a hero or heroine that gets your motor cranking? I have to admit some level of recent fascination with the idea of Guardian/Ward historical romances, and am thinking of trying a few out – though much like Candy, I bet this request will turn around and feast on my petard in short order. Any suggestions of good books with that element employed?


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Candy says:

    Two Guardian/Ward romances I really liked were Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros and Vixen by Jane Feather. The Jane Feather book is really unusual in that the hero is an alcoholic. And I mean, he’s in pretty bad shape. Also, he used to be in love with his ward’s mom back when they were very young. Little bit of squickishness there, but I love the book.

    Oh, and sort of related, Karen Robards wrote Morning Song, a historical about a girl falling in love with her stepfather. It’s a terrible book—the villainess is a classic Stank-Ass Ho, the squick factor is quite high, there’s adultery being committed, lots of Big Secrets and the resolution to the whole mess was pretty silly, but oh my, I love that book. Guilty pleasure, ahoy!

    Older woman/younger man historicals: The one that immediately comes to mind is Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas. Can’t remember others, though I know I’ve read them. Didn’t Mary Balogh write at least one? The current story Playing in My Head (I always have several stories I’m working out in my brain to amuse me when I’m bored) is a younger man/older woman romance, which basically is telling me I’m a-longing to read more of these.

    Older woman/younger man contemporary that I LOVE is Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie. I can’t express how much I love this book. Don’t MAKE me pull that throbbing heart animated GIF again on y’alls.

    And as for age disparity working out to an unequal balance of power—I think that’s another aspect of the old-style historicals that bugs me. I never get the sense that the heroines can match the hero in ANY way, that they’re constantly being one-upped in terms of wisdom, experience, etc. and it drives me NUTS. I have to feel that the heroine is the equal of the hero in SOME way, whether it’s intellectually, or in terms of emotional maturity, etc.

  2. 2
    Crystal* says:

    I would really love to see an older woman (even into her fifties) training a younger man (early to late twenties).
    And I mean TRAINING him.  God, that opens up so many possiblities. 
    *taking my mind out of the proverbial gutter*
    I don’t mind the age factor either way.  As long as the girl is not a simpering virgin I’m well with it. 
    Those books are wall-bangers.  If we’re talking about characters into their sixties, I’m sorry.  I’m simply not willing to venture there, nor will I read a book which does. 
    Hey!  I know older people have sex.  But I do NOT want to read it.

  3. 3
    white raven says:

    Was Once an Angel the story of the nobleman sold as an indentured servant to a pre-Revolutionary family?  The oldest sister was plain but in the end got the guy?  If that’s the one, I really liked it, and I’d forgotten she was older than he was.

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    Once an Angel is a Guardian/Ward romance, not an older woman/younger man story, and it’s about this guy who’s out Adventuring in New Zealand (forgot exactly what it was he was doing) when his partner dies, and with his last gasping breath, asks the hero to look after his beloved daughter, and hands over this locket with a picture of this adorable little mite with curly hair and dimples. And the guy’s all “DAMN YOU SALAZAAAAR” and weeps and promises to look after the girl because he feels responsible for the guy’s death too (don’t remember why, either).

    And heads back to Merry Englande, outfits a nursery fit for a princess, only to find that adorable little mite is actual growed up, HOT and a hellion stuck in a boarding school for girls and treated badly.

    As for the rest of the book: Sexual tension, quite a bit of comedy, quite a bit of nookie, some misunderstandings, HEA. I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

    If you recall the title of the book you’re talking about, White Raven, please let me know because it sounds intriguing. ‘Cause another one of my mini-fetishes is Ladies of the Upper Class Associating With Servants. Doesn’t work the other way, because I think “Awww, poor scullery maid is being exploited by scummy son of a nobleman” but when it’s a lonely lady looking for comfort from footman/stableboy/gardener/valet/butler/WHATEVER, I’m like “Ooooh, rrowr, naughty!”

    Again: my double-standards are odd and what they would say about me if analyzed extensively scares me.

  5. 5
    Rosario says:

    The one about the hero sold into servitude is a Karen Robards,  I think. Let me check…. yes, sounds like Nobody’s Angel.

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    There’s also a Lindsey where the heroine is sold into slavery in Persia, I think: Silver Angel. But it has been so long since I read it, I don’t even rememeber why the English hero was also some kind of a pasha with a harem.

    And oh, how the Lindsey’s are guilty pleasures.

  7. 7
    Kerry says:

    Silver Angel is the only Lindsey I’ve read and that was many years ago as a teenager.

    As I remember, the hero was the half brother of the real pasha and helping him out for some reason I don’t recall.

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

    Right – now I remember. There’s a half brother or a twin or something. So how does one half of an English blueblood pair of brothers end up a pasha? Only Lindsey knows for sure. And now I want to reread this book.

  9. 9
    Candy says:

    Admit it: you only want to re-read Silver Angel so you glory in the masses upon masses upon MASSES OF HAIR the woman has on the cover.

  10. 10
    Darlene says:

    A classic May/December romance is THESE OLD SHADES by Georgette Heyer, possibly the greatest age spread I’ve ever seen in a historical.  But of course it works because it’s the Divine Georgette, and because the characters are so memorable.  There’s also a certain Guardian/Ward element to this story. 

    Another May/December that comes to mind is a LaVyrle Spencer novel whose name escapes me, but the young schoolmarm falls for the stoic and hunky Nordic farmer, while his son falls for her.

  11. 11
    Eva says:

    I adored These Old Shades and that is probably why I still like the May/December romance.  Every now and then I re-read These Old Shades.  Umm, hate to admit it, but I read a LOT of Barbara Cartland novels when I was younger and the hero was often quite older than the heroine.  It did get kind of icky sometimes.

  12. 12
    Eva says:

    I just remembered that Barbara Cartland had a novel in which the heroine called her guardian/lover “Guardie.”  I sure wish I hadn’t remembered that :-)

  13. 13
    white raven says:

    Candy:  Rosario is right.  I was thinking of Karen Robard’s novel, Nobody’s Angel.  Of course, now I’ll have to read Once an Angel.  That one sounds good.

  14. 14
    Alyssa says:

    I stumbled across Morning Song again a month or so ago. I can’t remember when I first read it, but my reaction is similar to yours. There are so many reasons I shouldn’t like that book, but I love it anyway.

    Darlene, is the book you’re thinking of called Years?


  15. 15
    Darlene says:

    _Years_ could be the Spencer novel.  If I wasn’t such a lazy lard-ass I’d look it up.  It wasn’t a keeper—I’ve got her _Morning Glory_ and _Hummingbird_ on my shelf—but I remember the book wasn’t too shabby.

    I’ve got a historical of my own (Captain Sinister’s Lady) coming out next year with a May/December couple.  He’s nearly 20 years older than her, but I think it works.

  16. 16
    Sarah says:

    Oh yeah, you know it’s that hair, Candy. That long, grey hair. I swear, if I go grey, I am going to grow my hair out long and lush and wear a harem costume ALL the TIME.

    I do have to say, though, on the May-December thing, that I forgot entirely that one of the major reasons “Honey Moon” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips became the standard by which all my F-grade books are judged was because of a truly squicky older man-younger woman thing that made me literally nauseated.

  17. 17
    meara says:

    I generally try not to think about the ages, in historicals—I figure their lives were sufficiently different from mine that I can’t compare how I would feel about an 18 year old marrying a 34 year old now to how it would be then. Also, fiction. But I try to just gloss over it with my mind. Occasionally it doesn’t work—it seems like these days, though, there are more books that are “Oh, I’ve had 5 Seasons and I dont’ want to marry” rather than “I’m sixteen and I want to marry before the Season starts!” which I remember reading some of when I was younger, and which would probably squick me now.

    As for “older” people, a favorite of mine (that sadly, I lost somewhere along the way and don’t remember the title or author) involved a couple who’d been married 20 years, and suddenly their lives were shaken up becuase they’d actually married because the girl (now woman) was pregnant by someone else, and he’s coming back for their high school reunion, and should they tell the daughter she’s not the dad’s, etc etc. It was really unusual.

  18. 18

    I have read a few guardian/ward romances that I enjoyed.  One of the only ones I can think of right now is Four in Hand by Stephanie Laurens (it was one of her early books, before the Cynsters).

    I don’t really like reading about older couples, mostly because I don’t really relate to most of them as characters.  They usually have family and children or midlife crisis issues (huge generalization, I know) that I’m not that interested in reading about.  But Sandra Brown wrote a book (I think in her Texas series) that had the hero’s? mother in a secondary romance.  I enjoyed it more than the primary romance.

  19. 19
    Darlene says:

    OK, so I’ve been thinking about this some more, maybe because I’m no longer in my 20’s, but when you’re in your golden years you can get just as hot and bothered over some handsome young stud as when you’re 20. The difference is, he doesn’t want to mess with someone who looks like grandma so you’re stuck with the old fart you’re with, and if the image of all those wrinkles coming together and making squshy noises makes you go “euwww!”, so it goes.

    Anyway, I was also thinking about other good May/December Guardian/Ward matches and one of the more obvious modern ones is Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell stories.  Holmes is 40 years older than Russell, but by the time they finally work out that they’re hot for each other, Russell understands that it’s Holmes she loves, as he is _now_.  If they were closer in age, they wouldn’t be the people they are and the attraction would be different.

    And that, to me, is true romance.  Knowing you love the person, not the package the person is in.

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