doctor-yang Sandy’s recent blog entry about Bad Boys made me think of the Bad Boy’s counterpart, the Bad Girl. To qualify as a Bad Girl, it’s not enough for a heroine to simply be strong, independent and kick-ass. No, like her male equivalent, she needs to be selfish, pleasure-seeking, careless of others, wasteful and possibly promiscuous. She may be tortured because of a terrible childhood or a disastrous marriage, but she may not act the way she does because she secretly supports her seven minor half-siblings or the whole village – no martyrs here, please!

Thinking about Bad Girls, the first that came to my mind were from TV shows or the big screen, not books. Consider Melanie from Sweet Home Alabama, who is ashamed of her roots and would do about anything for her social rise, or Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, whose only goal in life is to be the best surgeon ever (and no, this is not for the sake of the patients). Half the cast of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives would qualify at various points, too.

In contrast, Bad Girls are a rare species in romance novel. The main reason is probably that they don’t make female readers salivate the way the Bad Boys do. Another reason may be that as a reader, one doesn’t want to identify with the “bad” character, instead one wants to identify with the character who reforms him – and female readers tend to put themselves in the shoes of the heroine. And there may be a double standard at work here, in that selfish behavior on behalf of a woman is still considered less forgivable than selfish behavior on behalf of a man – in fiction even more than in real life.

Here are some Bad Girls in romances that I came up with:

Lady Barbara Childe, in Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army. She is rich, beautiful, widowed and the granddaughter of a duke (incidentally, of Vidal, Sandy’s original Bad Boy, who makes a cameo appearance with his wife). In Brussels just before Waterloo, Lady Barbara flirts outrageously with all men in her vicinity and cares nothing about driving a wedge between young Peregrine Taverner and his wife. I don’t recall if she actually has sex with any of her admirers (Georgette Heyer being very oblique about matters of the bedroom), but she is definitely both heartless and selfish, until she is redeemed by true love.

Emmaline Denford, in Something About Emmaline by Elizabeth Boyle. She is the daughter of a highwayman and a con artist, and when Lord Sedgwick makes up an imaginary wife to be rid of marriage-minded misses, she steps into that role, invades his London townhouse and lives the life of an aristocratic lady, sending all the bills to her “husband”. There is more to Emmaline’s purpose than just a desire to play the highborn lady and acquire some beautiful clothes, but her motives are self-serving.

Madeleine Greenway, in Julie Anne Long’s The Perils of Pleasure. She is a mercenary by profession, an agent who organizes things in the London underworld. She chose this career because she is an impoverished widow, and she plans to abandon it once she has saved enough to start a new life in Virginia, but for right now she is professional, efficient and unconcerned about the rights or wrongs of the jobs she is assigned.

For a promiscuous heroine, Wilhelmina, Lady Taunton, in Melinda McRae’s short story “Cupid’s Dart” from From the Heart. Willi is a widow in her late thirties who regards men as amusing playthings, but who shies away from any sort of commitment. She is kind to her friends, but she lives her life very much according to her whims and pleasures, and when she discovers she has strong feelings for an old lover, her instinct is to retreat – actually to the continent with another man.

So, what other Bad Girls in romances can you think of – in subgenres besides historicals, too, of course? Do you like them, or do you dislike them? And am I correct in my sweeping assumptions why there are so few of them in romance?

-Rike Horstmann

Website | + posts

I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.