Friday, February 1, 2019

Romances with Humor: Loretta Chase

Humor in romances has followed a weird path. Go back to the nineteenth century and one gets wit and biting social commentary.

During the twentieth century, with the notable exception of Georgette Heyer, romances were often tiresomely serious. Irony was dead. "Funny" took the form of teasing and cute: cute puppies, cute romance cards, cute children, cute proposals. Think of the dead seriousness of high school prom invitations. In my day, a high premium was placed on being over-the-top sweet, meaning inviters were expected to issue the invitation in a really, really adorable and unusual way: through a cassette, through a balloon bouquet, etc.

This is the level of humor suffusing a great deal of romance literature in mid-twentieth century romance novels. "And then they both ended up on the same cruise! It was so funny!!"

Where's Daria when you need her?

Nowadays, it is almost de rigueur--thankfully--for romances to use humor of the more rigorous kind: sarcasm (which can backfire), wit (which doesn't).

Loretta Chase is one of the best at humorous romances. She writes traditional romances (M/F), and they never fail to appreciate (this is difficult since romance writers, like any writers who have to continually produce, can run out of steam).

Some of my favorite Loretta Chases:
Mr. Impossible
Mr. Perfect
Lord of Scoundrels
Scandal Wears Satin (my favorite of the Dressmakers' Series)
Don't Tempt Me
Manga version of Mr. Impossible
Chase has the skill to create feisty female characters who are not simply defined by their feistiness. And she creates heroes who are ironic in a blithe sort of way. In Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, the hero Rupert Carsington--who was sent off to Egypt by his father to keep him out of trouble--wonders "if [the heroine] was counting to ten. People often did that when conversing with him." Chase's heroes and heroines have brains and hearts, interests and goodness and wit.

In conversations, the exchanges can ramp up to The Thin Man territory as in the antique discussions in Lord of Scoundrels. This exchange from The Thin Man echoes the cadence of Loretta Chase's novels:
Nick: Now, how did you ever remember me?
Dorothy: Oh, you used to fascinate me. A real live detective. You used to tell me the most wonderful stories. Were they true?
Nick: Probably not.
Chase's novels are also clever--with plot lines that converge like those in an Oscar Wilde play. Scandal in Satin is a particularly good example here, employing wit, disguise, break-ins, and other entanglements. Plus a very witty heroine. And an amazingly insouciant hero. 

A full list of Loretta Chase's books can be found here.