On Beards and “Front Marriages” – Jean Roberta
by Jean Roberta
Many a romance novel goes like this:
- Feisty, independent heroine living in Times of Yore seriously resents being pressured to find a husband, or to marry a man who has already been chosen for her. She wants a life of her own!
- Arrogant but devilishly handsome man offers to marry her. “Ha!” she cries. “I would rather die!”
- Circumstances force her to reconsider the hero’s proposal. As it turns out, marriage is slightly more appealing than death.
- Heroine marries hero, but she swears she will never love him.
- Hero saves heroine from bankruptcy, danger and Scandal.
- Heroine falls in love with her husband. She can’t imagine living without him. They live in a castle, have numerous children, and live happily ever after.
This is a plot I can’t write – at least, not with a straight face (so to speak).
However, there are as many reasons to get married as there are brides and grooms. And in Times of Yore, when “unnatural” sex acts could be punished with execution, and a scandalous reputation hung over the head of every young woman who did anything more adventurous than embroidering samplers, many an unlikely suitor could find an equally unlikely bride for self-protection.
The “front marriages” of the past, in which a woman and a man agreed to marry and appear in public as a couple for reasons other than True Love, seem to have been largely forgotten. I think it’s time to rediscover this clever survival strategy which saved many a potential outcast from a much worse fate.
In my novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, the hero needs a woman to be his “beard,” the wife who can save more than his reputation. Actually, Captain Roger already has a First Mate in every sense: his beloved Martin, his fellow-refugee from the British Navy. It is the 1860s, Britannia rules the waves, and the Americans are at war. And every man-loving sailor lives in fear of being hanged from the mast if discovered.
Emily, who languishes in her parents’ house as a “fallen woman,” needs a way to avoid dying of boredom. Enter Captain Roger, a deceptively threadbare nobleman, who first tries to steal her purse, then invites her on the adventure of a lifetime. Emily consents to set sail with the Green Men’s Society, the gayest and jolliest crew that ever planned to cross the ocean to rob a merchant ship.
Since the beginning of the American Civil War, cotton and tobacco from the South have been in short supply, and the Green Men are not Spartans. They decide to rob a blockade-runner of its precious cargo. Emily learns to swing a sword with the best of them, and overcomes her own qualms about becoming a pirate.
Little does Emily know that the woman who will become the love of her life is a prisoner on the Southern ship, or that Emily’s “front marriage” will be ample protection for her and for Mary Ann, the dispossessed heiress who has lost her family’s plantation.
Some marriages, it seems, really do work out for the best. And four can live together as happily as two.
Jean Roberta is the thin-disguise pen name of an English instructor in a Canadian prairie university, where she is currently co-editing a book of articles based on presentations in a queer faculty speakers series, including her own approach to the notorious 1928 lesbian (or transgendered) novel, The Well of Loneliness. An article of hers is due to appear in From the Coffin to the Classroom, Teaching the Vampire, in 2014.
She writes more fiction than non-fiction, and over ninety of her erotic stories, including every orientation she can think of, have appeared in print anthologies and two single-author collections.
Her reviews appear in a variety of venues, and she blogs here: www.ohgetagrip.blogspot.com and here: www.erotica-readers.blogspot.com
The twenty-five opinion pieces she wrote for a monthly column, “Sex Is All Metaphors” (on the site of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, 2008-2010) are available as an e-book, Sex Is All Metaphors, here: www.eroticanthology.com/metaphors.htm
All profits go to support the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.
The Flight of the Black Swan is available from: