Smut Reporting, The Duke Project

The Duke Project: What’s Angst got to do with it?

Holly’s most recent review for the Duke Project was Christy Carlyle’s A Duke Changes Everything, which features the quintessential Angsty Duke. The hero hates his inheritance, hates his home, hates the memory of his family (except for his sainted and sadly departed mother – the fraught relationship between Dukes and Their Mothers is a whole separate thing, which I definitely want to talk about in the future).

But let’s drill down on the angst bit. According to Merriam-Webster, angst comes from the German for “fear” and refers to “a feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity.” “Angst” was first used this way in English in 1942, so it’s not like these angsty Georgian and Regency and Victorian Dukes would have used the word to describe themselves.

In the case of Carlyle’s Duke, being back at his childhood home after a lengthy absence brings back all of the feelings of anxiety and insecurity he felt as a child, which he hides under a thick layer of anger and bravado. Now, this Duke had a case of Very Bad Dad, so he’s an extreme example, but there are lots of angsty Duke stories out there.

Which leads me to the big question: What does a Duke have to be angsty about? He is wealthy and politically secure, so whence the insecurity?

A narrow answer is his relationship to the dukedom and / or his father. Of course the title and the man who previously held the title are intimately entwined. Dukes in Romancelandia tend to be young(ish) for optimum hero-worthy-swoon-factor (is there a word for that? Maybe in German?), so they tend to be new to the title. A man has to learn to become a Duke, who is somehow more than just a man, and this is a fraught process. The process is especially fraught for romantic heroes, because they need to learn to become good Dukes – they need to learn to shoulder responsibility or manage property or lean in to politics or maintain the family honor – rather than just existing, or worse, using their position only to better themselves and not just society. The new Duke frequently sets himself in contrast with his father, who was, if not bad, probably cold and distant and only called his son an “heir.” It does make one wonder what will happen to all these romantic hero Dukes in ten years – how many of them will become their fathers? And how many of their fathers were once romantic heroes, and just got bogged down by the burdens of the Dukedom? With questions like these, no wonder these men are angsty as heck!

A broader answer to the question of what a Duke has to be angsty about is: well, it’s convenient in terms of romance tropes. (We could probably write a whole series on romance tropes. Maybe we will!) The insecurity is emotional. A Duke is powerful in so many different facets of his life, so having him suffer from angst gives the heroine one arena where she can help him. Basically, it’s a classic situation for a woman to fix her man emotionally. And we can keep things nice and regressively gendered, because she doesn’t need to help him become noble or wealthy or otherwise stable; she just needs to teach him to feel in a healthy way.


Next Time: The Dark and Dangerous Duke. So much alliteration in our future!

12 thoughts on “The Duke Project: What’s Angst got to do with it?”

  1. My favourite dukes are the ones who’ve grown into the position in cool, emotionless responsibility, like Balogh’s Wulfric, or are totally dissipated by it, in defiance, like Hoyt’s Valentine. But I totally see your point about the neophyte duke.

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    1. I should add the cool, emotionless, and responsible duke to my list of duke traits to discuss because that’s definitely a thing. (Sidenote: Erin ALSO loves Balogh’s Wulfric, and I, embarrassingly… haven’t even read that one.) But the cold, emotionless, responsible duke always makes me think of These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, which I loathed, so I think I need to do some more research before I tackle that particular duke trope.
      And the dissipated duke! My personal fav is Villiers from Eloisa James’ Desperate Duchess series. Maybe because he has the best clothes.

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      1. I’ve never read James!! So, you’re not alone in that I never read that rom club. There’s just so much of it to enjoy … or not, as the case may be. Hmmm, loathed These Old Shades … I think the duke I mentioned, Hoyt’s Valentine, Duke of Sin, is built on Shades and Devil’s Cub. And the Parker I just reviewed, Playbook, has an aristo theatre critic with “shades” of coldness. Great contemporary parallel there! See, this is why I love romance: there are so many fabulous variations on a theme/trope.

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      2. It blows my mind that you’ve never read James! I think her stuff is fabulous (though I haven’t read any of her most recent series), but I know it’s not for everyone. She writes the best clothes, but if you’re not into really delving into the sensory stuff then I could see how her writing could be a turn-off.

        And you’re so right about the variations on a theme! I think reading romance carefully is so rewarding precisely because of all of the intertextuality and conversations that are happening within the genre.

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      3. Um, did you say clothes … I’m kind of obsessed. And I live in a semi-French town, there’s a lot of winter garb, but we do like to look chic!!! I do have several James in the Giant Paper TBR, a little dusty but beckoning!

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      4. I recommend the Desperate Duchesses series. (Works better if you can read them in order, though #1 is the weak link IMO, but they do stand alone ok.) Georgians, so the clothes are EXTRA DECADENT. So many wigs! So much embroidery! I also appreciate that 3 of the 6 books are about married couples finally getting their mojo together, rather than instalove.

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      5. I think I have Duchess In Love and Much Ado About You? Maybe Desperate Duchesses? Wigs! Embroidery! I love’em both.

        Okay, here’s a toughy: whose Georgian world-building do you think superior, Hoyt’s, or James’s???

        And, BTW, marriage-in-trouble, like MOC, are two of my favourite tropes.

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      6. I haven’t read Duchess in Love, but Much Ado About You is solid. Lots of horse racing in that one. It’s a Regency, so there are sadly no wigs in sight. Desperate Duchesses is not the strongest book in that series as there’s lots of set up happening, but it does introduce Villiers (ie, the best Duke and the man who started this whole conversation). I think my favorite of hers is When the Duke Returns, which is a MoC.

        And… I don’t think I’ve read any Hoyt. (Erin read the one we recently reviewed here.) Recs?

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      7. I think I have those because I can’t bear reading out of order, so the “plan”, like all mousey and men-like ones, was to read the series from bk 1.

        I adore early Hoyt: The Leopard Prince is a fave. And, frankly, one of my all-time favourite romances is her Duke Of Sin. In retrospect, though, I was lukewarm at the time, I think Dearest Rogue is pretty darn wonderful.

        Did you review the first Greycourt? She’s definitely done soooooo much better. That’s a set-up book. I have high hopes for what’s coming.

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      8. James is one of those authors whose series are definitely better if you read them in order. You know how some authors, in the later books, bring back previous characters to check in on the latest protagonist? James does the opposite, where the hero and heroine from the later books have already had detailed story arcs throughout the course of the series – and she does this in the most intricate / detailed way I’ve seen from any romance novelist.

        I’ll have to check out some early Hoyt! Thanks for the recs. You know, because my TBR is not already out of control.

        And do, I didn’t review the first Greycourt. One of my partners in crime did, and wasn’t impressed. Doesn’t mean we won’t give the current series another chance, but… there’s so much to read!

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      9. Whose TBR ISN’T out of control? This is why the God Lord made TBRs!! 😉

        I was not keen on that first Greycourt, but am always willing to read more Hoyt. Her good ones always outnumber the iffies.

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