The desert-governess romance: Regency England meets exotic Arabia

Publication year
Lund Journal of English Studies

Here's the abstract:

In this article we discuss how two types of popular romances – the desert romance and the governess romance – have blended into what we refer to as the desert-governess romance. In the world of romance, the governess and the sheikh may be an odd couple but they do make good bedfellows. Etymologically speaking, the governess (“A woman who holds or exercises authority” (OED)) is the perfect love match for the tribal governor who rules with steely resolve. In this paper we direct our attention to genre blending in order to explore the binary of captivity and escape. We look at a number of texts identified as archetypical desert-governess romances. What emerges from this analysis is that the initially disparate genres of the governess romance and the desert romance share surprising commonalities, not least with regard to the dual forms of escape offered by the fusion of the historical backdrop (typically Regency) and the geographical space of the desert.


The motivation for examining the intersections between the two sub-genres that we have selected is based on an observation that although the desert romance and the governess romance have emerged as two quite separate forms with their own sets of rules and conventions, there have been, historically speaking, some interesting confluences between the two which have seen governesses venture into the desert, and sheikhs seeking educating. Though there are a vast number of both sheikh romances and governess romances, those novels that contain elements of both genres are far less common, providing us with a manageable number of representative novels.

In what follows, we first present a brief background to the two subgenres, and their points of confluence. We then outline the concept of genre hybridity, or genre blending, which constitutes the theoretical underpinnings of this paper. The analysis that follows focuses on four of what we identify as archetypical desert-governess romances: Marguerite Kaye’s The Governess and the Sheikh (2011), Laura Martin’s Governess to the Sheikh (2016), Lynne Graham’s His Queen by Desert Decree (2017), and Kate Hewitt’s Desert Prince’s Stolen Bride (2018). The analysis is organised around thematic concerns and explores paratextual elements, setting, characterisation, and plot conventions. What emerges from this analysis is that the seemingly disparate genres of the governess novel and the desert romance share a surprising commonality, and that the governess and the sheikh are not actually worlds apart. In the desert-governess novel we find that opposites do not necessarily attract, but that hero and heroine meet their match. (2-3)