Recently, I’ve been revising my first novella and I’ve been very…irritated with it. At times, I’ve considered just renaming it Nice People Being Boring: A Novella and letting it rot for eternity on my hard drive. But thanks to some kind words from my critique partner and a complete rewrite of the ending, I’m beginning to love it again. And it’s still titled The Farmer Takes a Wife, although I haven’t yet decided if I love it or hate it.
But in the process of trying to figure out exactly what I needed to change about this novella, I began to think about the trope that lies at the heart of it–Too Poor to Marry. In this trope, the hero loves and wishes to marry the heroine, but can’t afford to do so. It’s a trope that you hardly ever see in a contemporary, and even then, it seems to be rarer in historicals, as well. Of course, it makes sense–if you’re reading a romance for escapism, what better way to escape than with a billionaire hero? After all, who doesn’t wish to not have to worry about money?
Thinking on stories that I have read featuring Too Poor to Marry heroes, I realized that some of my favorite stories, ones that stick with me long after I’ve read them, feature this exact trope. Courtney Milan’s first novella, This Wicked Gift, has it, and it remains my favorite of hers, even with all the other amazing works she written since then. Stef Ann Holm wrote a wonderful Christmas story (set in California!) called Jolly Holly that I still love to read at the holidays. And there’s the touching and tragic American Pie by Margaret St. George (aka Maggie Osborne) featuring newly arrived immigrants in NYC in the 1890s. (Dear Author review here)
So why is this trope like catnip to me? I came up with this analogy to try to explain it. A billionaire hero can buy you a boulder. He can buy you the biggest boulder in the world. But a poor man can only bring you a pebble. But if his love is true, he’ll bring you a pebble everyday. And he’ll do this day after day, for weeks, months, even years. And after a time, he’ll have brought you a pile of pebbles just as big as the boulder the billionaire would have bought for you.
There’s something so deeply romantic about that, a man working day after day, year after year to win his lady love. And of course, there’s the forerunner of them all–the Biblical story of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob works seven years before he is allowed to marry her, but ends up married to the wrong sister instead. So he works another seven years for her. It’s not really a romance in the modern sense, it is still a romantic tale.
In my little novella, the hero gets the girl, without having to work seven years and does not end up accidentally married to her sister. (You’d think that Jacob might have noticed that mistake before the wedding night.) And out of all the heroes I written about or thought up, this guy is one who deserves his happy ending the most.