At the Back Fence #102, fka Laurie’s News & ViewsDabney Grinnan2017-06-23T08:29:57-04:00
At the Back Fence Issue#102
(September 15, 2000)
Part I on Strong Heroines
Not long ago I read Stephen Oatess Woman of Valor, his wonderful biography of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. One of the things that occurred to me as I read Woman of Valor was that Clara Barton could not have been a romance heroine. It’s not because she didnt have a hero, any writer could supply one – it’s because if a writer made Clara Barton up, nobody would believe that her story was true.
Picture this: it’s 1860 and a middle-class, middle-aged woman is living alone in Washington, D.C. The Civil War breaks out. Is she living with her family as all the romance novels tell us she must be? Nope. Her family is in Pennsylvania. Shes a career woman with her own home! In fact shes one of the highest-ranking people in the U.S. Government Patent Office. Okay, so the war starts and the capitol is threatened and Lincoln amasses the Grand Army of the Potomac to protect the city. Theres only one little detail that nobody seems particularly worried about. As the army marches toward the battlefield there is no, and I repeat no organized medical group to take care of the wounded. Congress has allocated nothing for doctors or medical supplies. This is not an oversight. Some Congressmen feel strongly that supplying medical help would result in mollycoddling the troops. So Clara Barton decides that somebody has to do something. She gets churches to send her food and bandages, buys a wagon and sets out for the battlefield by herself. (Ms Barton obviously cared nothing for the gossips!) For protection Clara gets a clergyman to come with her on her supply wagon. And then, for days, alone Clara Barton a woman with no rights and not even the vote, runs between soldiers on the battlefield (sometimes dodging bullets) nursing men and giving them water.
Now thats my idea of a strong woman.
Let’s think about that. This amazing woman epitomizes some of the things that do make up the very best strong heroines. She is also, and this is important, a quintessentially American heroine. Why do I say that? Her fame comes from personal accomplishment born of creativity and a strong drive to do the right thing regardless of the opinions of others.
Those who see Clara Barton as a ministering angel, a woman whose humanity was apolitical in a time of national crisis are dead wrong. Like the men of the Union, Lincoln, Grant and Fredrick Douglas to name a few, Clara felt strongly about the Union cause, a mission that could only have been part of that great national tragedy. She was not a nice lady who wanted to help a few boys. She saw herself as a catalyst to right a terrible wrong and as a fighter for President Lincoln.
Clara saw the world, and decided to make a difference and didnt ask anyone if it was okay. She didnt whine. She didnt particularly care about what anyone else thought of her. She got along with many famous and important people and, just as important, did not get along with others. Dorothea Dix, the great leader of Civil War nurses, did not get along with Clara Barton. This to me is also critical; a really strong heroine is far more likely to have recognizable faults than a more tempered one just as a very strong alpha hero is likely to have serious flaws.
Even though I have yet to read a historical romance heroine who begins to touch the accomplishments of Clara Barton, I have read literary heroines who are impressive. I’m also increasingly impressed by the caliber of heroine we are seeing in the best of contemporary romance. What do I mean by strong? I mean heroines who go beyond feisty. They help to form the events that shape the books. Ive noticed that many romance writers are now careful to make sure that their heroines are part of the solution of the central problem of the books.
Who are some of the great, strong romance heroines who also come from times that we do not associate with female freedom? Who does not? Naturally I have some opinions. And Ill be curious to read all of yours. Here are my nominations for great and strong romantic heroines from classic literary fiction:
Scarlett OHara of Gone With the Wind: “Scarlett OHara was not beautiful,” reads the famous opening line from the book, but, “she made men think she was.” Just those words make me smile. Talk about making your own luck! For me rereading GWTW was an interesting and revealing experience. The book is far more a feminist statement than the movie, which starred the gorgeous Vivian Leigh. (Scarlett of the movie was one of the most beautiful women ever born.)
It would be easy to say that Scarlett OHara could not have lived, but GWTW was written Margaret Mitchell, a woman of the South, one who had grown up with people who lived at that time. The book includes many more details of the hemmed in life of a southern gentlewoman and a much more balanced portrait of Scarlett and her rise as a businesswoman. Margaret Mitchell portrayed a woman with terrible faults and terrible strengths. Scarlett is selfish, ruthless and manipulative but she is also loyal, passionate and deeply in love with two men.
Gone With the Wind is also regrettably a racist book, no question about it, far more racist than the movie which glossed over Margaret Mitchells adulation of the KKK. Clara Barton would have been revolted by its point of view. But there is no getting around Scarletts strength. Not only does she deliver her sister-in-laws baby and cart her for miles back home, she also shoots a Union soldier, takes over a devastated plantation, marries her sisters fiancé, runs his business, and starts a new one using prison convicts. In spite of the fact that Scarlett lives in a society that is every bit as obsessed with gentle womanhood as Regency England, she chooses survival over the opinions of others.
Jane Eyre of Jane Eyre: From the moment she is introduced as the victim of a bullying stepbrother, there is every reason to believe that this young woman will live a difficult and harrowing life. She is poor, too small and terribly shy. She lives first with people her detest her, then in a cruel school and then in the house of her employer, Mr. Rochester. (Perhaps he is the granddaddy of all tortured heroes.) But Janes shyness rather than being an excuse for failure is simply a hurdle that she faces bravely.
To her credit though, Charlotte Bronte rejected the temptation to make Jane a typical Victorian melodrama heroine, whose life is filled with pain and who needs a rescuer. Not only is Jane independent, taking work on her own and supporting herself, she sticks with her values. How many romance heroines have we seen who are threatened with the choice of becoming their employers mistresses or being cast out with no prospects? When Jane discovers on her wedding day that her groom, Mr. Rochester is married, she leaves the house without food or money, terrified that she will give in to temptation of becoming his mistress. And later, when she is no longer poor, Jane forgives the evil woman who brought her up and sent her to away to poverty.
Janes strength is not only part of the overall story. It is part of the romance, for Edward Rochester is so wounded that he needs someone strong. From the start of the relationship between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Jane is the stronger of the two. In fact their first meeting, which involves Jane helping Edward after he has been injured riding, is the stuff of which much female fantasy is made. In the end of the book Jane returns to Mr. Rochester. Though he is blind and ill Jane marries him immediately. Sigh.
My favorite passage in Jane Eyre is not a romantic one. In the following exchange the child Jane is interviewed by a hypocritical and cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst.
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?” “They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is Hell? Can you tell me that?”
“A pit full of fire.”
“And should you like to fall into that pit and be burning there forever?”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
I deliberated a moment; my answer when it did come, was objectionable. “I must keep in good health and not die.”
As an adult these words make me smile. But I read the book as a child and was astonished by her bravery. As a little girl who was being educated for a few hours every week by Catholic nuns, (and hearing descriptions and threats just as scary as the ones above) I found her words astoundingly forthright. Jane was not only brave in Victorian England. Her “sassy” talk would have landed her in the corner (or worse) in my religious instructions class in 1959!
Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet is the second daughter in a family of daughters in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is pretty, articulate intelligent and accomplished, but unfortunately for her she lives in a family with no male heir. This, as every modern regency reader knows, means that Elizabeth needs to be married before her father dies because when he does die she will be thrown on the mercy of Mr. Collins, the silly man who is destined to take over the house.
Faced with Elizabeths choices, few of us could quibble with a decision to marry for money. Yet Elizabeth rejects that course twice, first because her suitor, the asinine clergyman Mr. Collins, is a fool, and second, because Mr. Darcy, the compelling wealthy suitor who loves her passionately, is prejudiced against her family.
The pressure from Elizabeths mother is terrific, but things are not helped by the fact that her father does little or nothing to support her. It is quite obvious at the outcome however, that Mr. Bennet trusts his Lizzy to do the right thing on her own. The following passage, which is one of my favorites, gives the reader some insight into the push and pull of the household, and Mr. Bennets admiration for his daughter:
“Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her.” Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication. “I have not the pleasure of understanding you,” said he, when she had finished her speech. “Of what are you talking?”
“Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy.”
“And what am I to do on the occasion? — It seems an hopeless business.”
“Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him.”
“Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.”
Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library. “Come here, child,” cried her father as she appeared. “I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?” Elizabeth replied that it was.
“Very well — and this offer of marriage you have refused?”
“I have, Sir.”
“Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is not it so, Mrs. Bennet?”
“Yes, or I will never see her again.”
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. — Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Maggie Tulliver of George Elliots The Mill on the Floss: Maggie is one of the great, overlooked heroines of Victorian literature. George Elliot was a brilliant and accomplished writer who was clearly frustrated with the status of women in her society. I was stunned when I first read The Mill on the Floss in the 1970s.It is as radical a criticism of the repression of women as you will read anywhere. Written by a Victorian woman, the book accurately portrays a brilliant woman whose gifts are unappreciated by those around her. Maggie has the unfortunate luck to be a brilliant person who loves learning in a household where only the meager accomplishments of her stupid and ignorant brother Tom are appreciated. She is punished for reading and denied schooling. This is heartrending when we see Tom hating books and avoiding learning. But Maggie, in spite of all her trials, remains true to herself. Towards the end of the book Maggie is taken off on an afternoon boat ride with her friends fiancé. The fiancé does this preparing to marry Maggie. He is sure that she would rather be forced into a marriage than be disgraced.
But Maggie, who knows she has done nothing wrong, steadfastly refuses the marriage. Everyone around her abandons her except for her mother and her mean and difficult old aunt Miss Glegg whom she always thought detested her. I was fascinated by this for Elliot is clearly making the statement that sometimes it is the most difficult women who have the courage to do the right thing, as Miss. Glegg does when she defends a woman whom everyone else has abandoned.
Maggie dies at the end of The Mill on the Floss and that may have been inevitable. Author Elliot led an unusual life which included living “in sin” with a married man. She could not afford to flaunt convention too much. But it is revealing that Maggie does not die by her own hand, as for example, Anna Karenina does. She dies in an accident, retaining until the end, her marvelous integrity.
Strong Heroines in Modern Romance:
Ive been thinking very specifically about the traits exhibited by the strongest heroines in the genre. I asked author Elizabeth Grayson, who wrote a Write Byte back in 1997 about strong heroines, to review her original piece and speak about the subject again for us. Here is what she Grayson has to say on the subject today:
“Strong heroines nurture us and are our role models. In romance books strong heroines win, and even when our own victories are elusive, these women keep us believing in ourselves. They keep us believing that we can triumph, too.”
The sentiments I expressed in the last few sentences of my original article (above) are ones I still believe today. This is why they are so vital to the novels about women by women.
I think since I wrote that article some really wonderful strong heroines have come down the pike. Certainly Jenny Jones in Maggie Osborne’s RITA-winning The Promise of Jenny Jones is a prime example, a woman to whom honor was all, and whose world expanded as she lived up to the word she’d given to a dead woman. I think Ellie, in Ruth Wind’s marvelous In the Midnight Rain, who was strong enough not just to make the man she wanted stand up to be counted, but to face her past, is another example. I believe that Shea Waterston in my own Painted by the Sun is another example of a strong woman who, by dedicating herself to righting past wrongs, builds a future for herself and her family.
The thing that seems to me to be necessary in writing a strong heroine – historical or contemporary – is that from the inception her character, she must have “something for herself.” My heroines in various books have had music or nursing skills or ability with painting or photography as their unique gift, their unique passion, and each of those gifts have been woven into the fabric or the novel. Or, as part of the journey the heroine takes in the course of the book, she must discover what it is that makes her proud of who she is. This “something” gives these strong women internal resources when all the world is black and they are questioning their judgment, their actions, and the validity of their own emotions. It gives them something to depend on outside the relationship with the hero – themselves.
There are lots of writers who can be counted on to write strong women, And those are the writers I – personally – go back to again and again. Besides Maggie and Ruth (Barb Samuel) there are writers like Kathleen Korbel and Jean Brashear and Jennifer Greene who consistently deliver strong women written with tremendous sensitivity. Betina Krahn’s heroines are always smart and forward thinking with a nice touch of compassion. Susan Wiggs draws her heroines with a somewhat lighter touch, but they are all women I would be pleased to call my friends. Certainly Kathleen Eagle’s women are all heroines we can look on with pride and feel elevated By the time we spend with them. And the women in Patricia Gaffney’sSaving Graces are each unique, yet hold their strength in common.
I could go on and on because strong women are a romance writer’s stock and trade. They are part of who we are as writers, readers and women – and part of what we aspire to be.
Susan Isaacs’ 1999 book Brave Dame and Wimpettes: What Women are Really Doing on Page and Screen has as its thesis that there are far many more examples of wimpettes than brave dames in modern culture. A brave dame, according to Isaacs, is “passionate about something besides passion;” examples in literature and film include Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet, Katherine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell. These women, wrote Isaacs, prove “women are as competent and brave as the next guy.” Her favorite dame in literature is Jane Eyre, who “had high moral standards, stood up to injustice, and was willing to leave civilization and face the wild, even death, rather than do wrong.”
Isaacs describes wimpettes as believing in masochism, subterfuge, betrayal of women, and deriving identity from their man. For these women, “the world stops at the white picket of their fences” and larger causes “are left to the guys.” For her, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Frances McDormand in Fargo are dames; Ally McBeal and Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction are wimpettes. She says that Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza is a dame – Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, on the other hand, is a wimpette.
Romance, with its focus on the love relationship between hero and heroine, could easily fall prey to the domain of the wimpette, and yet many romance heroines are well and truly brave dames, concerned about more than the love of a good man.
In romance writing I come across very few heroines who are believing in “masochism, subterfuge, betrayal of women, and deriving identity from their man.” Thankfully, romance writing has come a long way from the days when such things were a common occurrence. There are, however, wimpettes in modern romance, but I would give a different definition than Isaacs does, and I’ll share that with you tomorrow.
I’ll be continuing Isaacs’ grand dame/wimpette paradigm by comparing and contrasting J.D. Robbs’ (aka Nora Roberts)Eve Dallas – surely one of the strongest heroines ever to grace a romance novel, with the heroine of Mary Jo Putney’s otherwise excellent Thunder and Roses. I’m throughly enjoying this discussion on heroines and I hope you are as well. Stay tuned. . .until tomorrow!
Part II on Strong Heroines
Nevertheless I do have my own feelings about wimpettes. To me the wimpette heroine is the one you see in contemporaries as “having” to marry Daddy’s business partner, or marrying to escape marrying Daddy’s business partner. She ‘s the one who has been so spoiled by Daddy that she needs to be rescued from his money and power. In historicals and Regencies, she’s the one who will do virtually anything to avoid gossip, including, occasionally, marrying a person she detests.
I see wimpette behavior when romance heroines bend to conform to every rule of social behavior regardless of reason or their own moral code. This kind of thing is most likely to happen in what I would describe as the “I’ll seduce you, my dear” romance. In these kinds of romances, the hero, desperate to get the heroine into bed, forces her do something that she considers immoral. These can be very sexy romances because they require the hero and heroine to be together often and because the tension generated can be delicious. The best “I will seduce you, my dear” romance that I can think of, complete with a wimpy but feisty heroine, is Mary Jo Putney’s Thunder and Roses.
Thunder and Roses is a very enjoyable book, so I don’t want anybody to avoid it. Nevertheless, ever since I read it, I have been bothered by the heroine’s submission to the hero’s unreasonable demand that she put herself in the way of temptation. In the book, Nicholas Davies, the “Demon Earl” promises the heroine, Clare Morgan, that he will help the local village if Clare will live with him for three months, thereby ruining her reputation. Naturally, this being a Mary Jo Putney novel, Nicholas is out to seduce, not rape, the heroine. Of course he’s sufficiently tortured to make all of this romantic and delicious. Naturally Clare, being as virtuous as Nicholas is mean, is appalled by this, but accepts his challenge, determined to remain a virgin. The rest of the book progresses as a cat and mouse game testing whether the hero’s lust or the heroine’s morals will triumph in the end. The hero is eventually caught in his own trap as Nicholas falls madly in love with Clare.
This is a terrific opportunity for romance and tension and Putney exploits every bit of it. But let’s look at this in terms of the dames/wimpette paradigm suggested by Isaacs. Let’s ask ourselves what Clara Barton would have done with Clare’s problem? Organized the village? What would Scarlet O’Hara have done? Slept with him, spent all his money and let the tenants starve? What about Elizabeth Bennet? Said no, humiliated him with a witty setdown, and suggested that he should rethink his values? What of Jane Eyre? Would she have told him off and run away to starve? Would Maggie have figured him out in a jiffy and explained just what was wrong with his plan?
In my mind, there’s no getting around it – a strong heroine who believes that something is wrong would not put herself in the position where there is a possibility that she will betray herself. It’s not just a question of resisting temptation. It’s a question of understanding that you cannot possibly right a wrong by committing one.
Back in the 1960’s I was a big fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond. One typical story line, which turned into a hilarious cliché, the beautiful woman seduces the spy and is then revealed herself as a spy. Inevitably this poor woman would be called to task. The hero (who slept with virtually every woman he could get his hands on) would taunt her with her past betrayal. (As though, I suppose, he was not already getting ready to dump her before the next episode.) Okay spy fans, let’s think of what that poor sobbing heroine would say. Was it “The Soviet Union should live forever!” Nope. “Die capitalist pig!” Nope ” I love you?” Nope, it was (drum roll here) – “They have my father!”
Yup. Poor Dad was always holed up in some laboratory being tortured while his sweet daughter did the arch villain’s dirty work. Even as a kid I used to sit there listening to this confession and think, why didn’t she turn into a double agent? Why did she think that that this arch villain was really going to release Dad like he said he would?
This is not the woman with whom I would personally want to share the cockpit.
Okay, so if I don’t want to share a jet fighter with Clare Morgan, who do I want to share it with? There are actually quite a few heroines in the group. To Elizabeth Grayson’s list I would add the heroines of Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall, Dark, & Dangerous series, who are every bit as tough as the heroes. Caroline, of Adele Ashworth’s My Darling Caroline does get forced into marriage but never gives up her dream of being a botanist, and Lady Celsiana Blake of Danelle Harmon’s delightful The Defiant One (more on her later).
But who is the heroine with whom I would most want to share a cockpit? Who is the one I could count on to take the tough road, take on the bully or (like Gary Cooper), put on the badge at High Noon?
For me there’s no contest. It’s J.D.Robb’s marvelous Eve Dallas the heroine of the In Death series. Who is Eve Dallas? She’s a New York City police officer who fights crime in mid twenty-first century. And of all of the romances I’ve read, Eve is the only one I could see on that battlefield with Clara Barton.
The series begins with Naked in Death and uses the common ploy of pitting a tough cop against a beautiful and sexy suspect. Except, in this case – surprise – the cop’s a girl.
It took me a while to warm up to Eve in Naked in Death. She seemed cold. Attractive male suspects in the case are treated with all the deference of that Humphrey Bogart would have shown. And men flirt with Eve. They’re attracted. In virtually every other romance novel that I’ve ever read, if a male other than the hero flirts with or eyes the heroine’s figure, he immediately gets a rise out of her and is generally told to back off. By contrast, Eve Dallas barely notices when men are attracted – they bore her. At one point, before Eve finally connects with Roarke, I started thinking that Eve was oddly asexual. I wasn’t sure I liked her. At another point I wondered about her sexual preference, not because she was attracted to women but because the only other person she seemed to like was her friend Mavis. Then it came to me. Good grief. The woman was at work. She’s just like the rest of us working women, most of whom neither size up every co-worker nor react to every approach. Think of Christine Cagney listening to the pathetic flirtation attempts of a guy in the drunk tank and you’ve got Eve Dallas.
When I met Nora Roberts at the RWA Conference in Washington, I told her that Eve was my favorite romance heroine in spite of the fact that I seldom read futuristics or romantic suspense. I also mentioned that one reason for this was her obviousness to men at work. “Eve’s work defines her, doesn’t it?” said Nora, smiling widely. As I watched the dynamic author sign hundreds and hundreds of books and still manage a smile for the last person I line, I knew that it was no accident.
As the In Death series progress, you cannot but notice something. Though hero Roarke is very alpha, much of the series has just a touch of role reversal. In the first book it’s Roarke who keeps a momento, Eve’s suit button in his pocket. On their first night together he makes love to her again and again and remains frustrated because he never seems to get to her the way that he gets to him. And in the second book, the reversed roles are even more pronounced. Eve doesn’t want to admit that more than sex binds them. Like many heroes, she denies loving, until Roarke refuses to see her, forcing her to humble herself. Then, as the series progresses, Eve is the one who has trouble expressing her love and often misunderstands what Roarke wants and needs from the relationship.
The latest J. D. Robb, Judgment In Death, has one of the best descriptions of strong woman combined with romance heroine that I have ever read:
“There was no doubt who was in command here, Roarke thought as he watched her. Who was in control? She left no angle unexplored, no corner unswept. She prowled the room, thinking on her feet and her voice was clipped. In some past life she’d have been wearing a general’s braiding. Or armor.
And this woman, this warrior has trembled in his arms. that was the power between them. The miracle of it.”
Now that is a strong heroine.
The Heroine as Pursuer:
There are good romances and bad romances, interesting ones and dull ones. Some make me laugh. Some bring tears. But none, not one tells the story of my love life.
Back in college in 1975 (when as a friend of mine said “dinosaurs roamed the earth), I took a course in Mexican History at George Washington University. There were twenty-one women in the class and one man, with dark hair and beautiful eyes; he was one of the most handsome men I had ever met. I decided that this man should ask me out.
Like Scarlett O’Hara, I was not beautiful. Not only that, I was fairly sure that out of the group of unmarried women in the class I was not the only one who was looking for a date. It was a class with a lot of discussion and so it was fairly easy to make friends. The man was shy. Why was he shy when he looked like that? I still haven’t a clue. I flirted. I joked. He was articulate, intelligent and seemed to like me. Nothing happened.
Okay, so after a major strategy session with my girlfriend, Suzi, I asked him to come for dinner after class with my roommate. He turned me down, but dropped by the dorm later in the week and finally asked me out. Three years later, as Jane Eyre would say, “Reader I married him.” That was twenty-three years ago and, when asked about our meeting, my husband sometimes says smiling, “she trapped me into marrying her.”
I do not consider this to be a kinky story.
Which brings me to the point. Why is it that out of the thousands of romance novels published, only a scant few contain heroines who make their own decisions about who to marry? Or who to fall in love with? Yes, in historicals we know that women had a submissive role but we all know that in the battle of the sexes more goes on than politics. In the newspaper report of my great grandmother’s wedding (in the 1870s) the reporter noted that although the groom said his vows softly, the bride “answered with a voice that indicated that she had long ago made up her mind.”
When I asked Laurie about this she mentioned the succubus, which is defined as a female demon supposed to descend upon and have sexual intercourse with a man while he sleeps, often sapping his energy and strength. Though I had never heard the term nor its description, I couldn’t help but connect it in my mind with the stereotypes attached to any woman who pursues a man. Even though my real story is not the typical one found in romances, I am as attracted to the idea of being pursued as anyone else.
I have noticed however that a few confident heroines have begun making some inroads. The heroine of Jo Beverley’sDevilish, Diana Westmount, Countess of Arradale, presses the hero Rothgar when she realizes he will not marry her. Not only is there a distinct role reversal in who is being pursued, but Beverley even has the heroine get the hero into a clinch. She kisses him silly, while he is frozen and unable to move. Lady Celsiana Blake in Danelle Harmon’s The Defiant One is accidentally given an aphrodisiac. She attacks the hero, who is conveniently standing naked in a blanket and, um, has her way with him. Oh my. It’s hilarious, but just the same, it’s quite sexy too.
As Laurie and I talked about this, we agreed that one of the few places where a woman could pursue a man was a humorous historical, often a Regency Romance. My favorite of these is The Mad Miss Mathley, an hilarious Regency Romance where the plain heroine asks the gorgeous hero to dance and proposes a fake betrothal as well. After the two become engaged it is the handsome hero who worries that he is not worthy of her. She is, after all, rich, funny and fascinating. He is wonderful to look at but cannot see how he is worthy of her beyond that.
I’d love to hear what other readers think of this dearth of heroine-led romance. Am I the only one out there who wishes that an occasional regency historical hero be told “I will seduce you, my dear?” and then be made to face his feelings? Are there more books where the heroine is calling the shots than I realize? Please let us know.
Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:
The Heroic Heroine – Do you find that although heroes often perform incredibly acts of heroism in romances, the heroic acts of heroines in romance, particularly historical romance, somehow seem smaller in scale and importance? Have I missed the historical versions of Clara Barton in my reading?
Right from Wrong – In the titles of classic historical fiction I talked about, the heroines who are presented with morally ambigious choices never made the wrong choice for the right reason, even in times when women had few rights and protections. Let’s talk about some of the morally ambiguous positions historical romance novel heroines find themselves in, and how they resolved them.
Dames and Wimpettes – What do you make of author Susan Isaacs’ dame/wimpette paradigm? Do you agree with her definitions and examples of both? Of either? Do you find there are more brave dames or wimpettes in the year 2000 than in the past? Which heroines have you read that would be wimpettes according to Isaacs, Robin, or you? Have you loved any of them or the books they’re in despite their being wimpettes?
“I Will Seduce You, My Dear” – Robin compared and contrasted Eve Dallas to Clare Morgan, and though she loved both the In Death series and Thunder and Roses, she found Clare’s behavior troublesome. Are there scenes in books you would have re-written if you had the chance in order to make the heroine less a victim and more heroic?
The Heroine as Pursuer – Robin isn’t advocating that heroines become dominatrixes, but she does wonder why she hasn’t read a romance that matches her own romantic story. We probably all agree that the hero as pursuer fulfills many a female fantasy, but is there room for the heroine as pursuer? Have you read any romances – good or bad – where the heroine pursues the hero, perhaps sexually? We’re not talking about the heroine who pushes the hero to make a long-lasting commitment because that’s the norm. We want to know about any “I will seduce you, my dear” romances where the person speaking that line is the heroine.
— Robin Nixon Uncapher
in conjunction with Elizabeth Grayson