At the Back Fence #144Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:56-04:00
At the Back FenceIssue #144
Summer’s not summer without the AAR Bookbag!
August 15, 2002
Robin’s been feeling a rant coming on for some time when it comes to how Americans are portrayed in romances set in England. And Anne’s been thinking a lot about those Viking romances we used to see more often than we now do. There’s a particular set of character types in both segments according to Robin and Anne, so read on…and then let us know what you think!
Americans Abroad (Robin Uncapher)
Do you have a book you are waiting for somebody to write? I do. Im losing hope that someone is going to write the one Im waiting for. Sometimes I think that if I am ever going to read this book I had better get busy myself. Im waiting for somebody to write a great Regency-set romance (either an historical or a traditional Regency) with an American hero. Yes, yes, I know you are saying youve read Regency-set romances with American heroes. I have read them too. This American hero in England is going to be different.
He is going to be terrific: brave, handsome, witty, and with that passion for justice the best heroes have. (Picture a 35-year-old Robert Redford in plain New England garb.) Hell be a hard worker, perhaps a mill owner or a merchant, and hell tell everyone about Samuel Slater who stole the patents for English looms right from under their noses. His linen shirts made from flax will advertise proudly that he need not buy English cloth and that American wives are finally free of spinning wheels. My American hero will be well educated, a Harvard man perhaps. Hell have a horse called Macaroni (like Caroline Kennedys pony) and no patience for the British impressment of American seamen or for British titles. Hell admire the English but be angered that the English blockade of France is killing fledgling American trade. My American hero will quote Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, bemoan the evils of slavery and miss the quiet villages of New England. He wont be perfect, but a reader will know where he is from. As for the heroine, she will be amazed that all those things shed heard about coarse, vulgar Americans arent true.
Of course he will fall in love, but maybe my hero will strike a few blows for America while he is in England. (This may annoy the English heroine.) Perhaps he will free an American seaman kidnapped by the British Navy or return lost goods to an American loyalist forced to flee his country after the Revolution. After he falls in love and wins his English bride my American hero will take her home to the place he thinks is the best in the world – the U.S..
Now that you have heard about my American hero you can imagine how happy I was this year to read Mary Jo PutneysThe Bartered Bride with its American merchant hero Gavin Elliott. The Bartered Bride is the story of Alexandra Warren, the widowed daughter of Catherine Melbourne, the heroine of MJPs magnificent Shattered Rainbows.
I liked many things about The Bartered Bride, but one thing I really liked was that fact that Gavin is a first generation American who believes in working for money and doesnt apologize for it. He has no desire to become an aristocrat, and late in the book when he inherits a title, he wants to get rid of it, because it offends his American sensibilities. Gavin doesnt believe that a society that rewards people for birth is doing the right thing. Unfortunately for Gavin, he was born in England and if he chooses to remain there, he must accept the title he has inherited.
Gavin believes that once he and Alexandra have sex they need to get married. He isnt a prude but he shows many of the signs of having lived in a country where people are guided by strict rules when it comes to sex. He comes from a more puritanical, less prosperous, and more bourgeois country than England and he would probably be a lot more comfortable with the cits in town than with the ton. I recognized Gavin as an American, not because he was burly and uncouth but because he seemed to be the kind of man of whom 19th century America would have been proud .
Gavins the best American to show up in an English set romance novel in some time. As you have probably guessed Im finicky about this subject and the last Regency set book I liked with an important American character (who is not the hero) was Carla Kellys 1999 release, Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind. The hero of Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind is a completely unaristocratic English mill owner named Scipio Africanus Butterworth. who falls in love with a spinster, Miss Milton. A character in the book, Lord Denby, is a veteran of the English army that surrendered at Yorktown. Lord Denby has never stopped thinking about his experience in America and he gives a wonderful tragic description of how the surrender that Americans celebrate must have looked and sounded to the English who were defeated. But my favorite part of the book, by far, describes a reunion of Lord Denby’s old friends from the failed American war. That reunion is attended by a young American, Dale. This passage with humor and gentleness demonstrates the different perspective that American and British citizens would have had toward the same events.
They came all morning, elderly men some of them carrying parts of faded uniforms, most still erect with military bearing that Jane admired. Dale helped his father down to the sitting room, made sure that Lord Denby was comfortable and left him to the tender mercies of his comrades. I think they are all growing younger by the minute, he whispered to Jane later as he peered through the door.Younger men came too, the sons of officers unable by death or distance to attend. They introduced themselves, and then joined the others in the sitting room, content for the most part to listen, and whisper among themselves about the old warriors swapping reminiscences before them. Jane circulated among her guests until she noticed, to her amusement, Dale, sitting by the door, staring at his hand.
You look as though you have been bitten, she declared, sitting next to him, happy for the moment to be off her feet.
I dont know what you would call it, he said. Jane this will mean nothing to you, but this hand just shook the hand of Patrick Arnold. Great God Almighty, Lord of the Battle!
I do not understand, she replied, mystified. Whoever he is he cannot be contagious. Do you mean that rather handsome gentleman with the red hair?
His fathers name was Benedict, my dear, Dale replied his voice still faint. Not a favorite colonial son let me hasten to add.
She recognized one of Lord Cornwalliss sons, a thin popeyed man who had not yet acquired his fathers full flesh and pointed him out to Dale. The handymans eyes grew wider. Jane, these are the boogymen who frighten American children into good behavior!
I loved this passage for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it reminds us that some of the people who fought in the American Revolution were still alive in Jane Austens day. And some of those people were Americans, not patriots (as we would characterize them) but loyalists who had been born in America (and whose fathers had) only to be forced out of their homes when they backed the wrong side in the War. (It is worth remembering I suppose that had the British won, the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have, as Ben Franklin warned, all hanged together.)
Unfortunately very few of my favorite romance authors have tackled the challenge of putting realistic American characters into stories about Regency England. Carla Kelly has two other books with American characters. They include Reforming Lord Ragsdale, which features an irresponsible young American man who gambles the heroines indenture papers away and Miss Whittier Makes a List, a story about an American woman who falls in love with a British sea captain after her American vessel is stopped while running the British Blockade. Both of these books sit on my keeper shelf. Mary Jo Putneys Angel Rogue features a heroine who is half American Indian. The hero of the book, Robin, makes it memorable, but the American heroine, Maxie, seems to barely remember her home and is not distinctive as a Native American (at least not to me).
Danelle HarmonsThe Beloved One features a British soldier who falls in love with a half Indian American girl and brings her back to England. That book remains one of my favorites for the scenes in America, which provide a unique glimpse at what life must have been like for British soldiers sent to Massachusetts. Some of Danelle Harmons books have history of the wallpaper variety. Ive enjoyed them anyway but The Beloved One is my favorite of Danelle Harmons books, and it made the real history come alive for me.
Ive read a number of other romances set in the Regency with Americans but most of them have not quite clicked. The Americans seem more like American types than unique individuals. They come from general locations such as Boston. No neighborhood or suburb is specified. Laurie and I talked discussed this at length and I think she hit on the reason why I am so often disappointed. When I read a story with an American hero Im looking for nuances and detail that tell me that this person is a nineteenth century American, the product of a new and growing experiment in democracy. I want to hear things in his thought process, references to American leaders or writers, touch points in American history and culture that are different from those I read in romances set in England. I want him to compare the streets and shops to those at home to notice, for example, that the general hunting for game that goes on without thought in America, is forbidden in England as poaching. But I seldom see these kinds of comparisons though I know that foreign visitors make such comparisons constantly. As Laurie pointed out, many of the books written today are written with wider brush strokes that concentrate solely on egalitarianism without considering the rest of American reality at the time. They are high concept and you can almost hear the pitch to the editor, describing the books story in a sentence or two.
When a romance set in the Regency features American characters who dont have the details right, I find it frustrating. How is it, I ask myself, that a genre dominated by American writers can fall short so often when telling the American side of a story? Some seemingly minor errors are almost too glaring to believe. In Julie GarwoodsRebellious Desire, for example, the Bostonian heroine repeatedly refers to America as the Colonies. If the heroine had been English this would have been understandable. Had she been talking to an English person it would have been annoying but explainable. But this American heroine refers to the Colonies when she is talking to another American, in private. The setting is just before the War of 1812 when thousands of American seamen had been impressed by the British. No place in America was more up in arms about this than New England, and yet this Bostonian heroine blithely floats though London as though England were a distant part of America. One sincerely doubts if she is familiar with the names of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, who was President at the time.
But often my problem with these books is not that the details are wrong, it is that the details simply dont exist. The Americans in them seem to have been developed with characteristics that can be boiled down to a few phrases. The men are burly, plain spoken. If the book is early Victorian they may be cowboys. The heroines are feisty and frustrated with following societys rules. All of them seem to come from a country that is more liberal and less concerned with conventional morality than England. The puritanical prejudices of America, the genuine lack of worldliness and sophistication that one would expect, is not there.
One example is the entertaining Julia Quinn book Splendid. Though I am generally a great admirer of Quinns books, and enjoyed Splendid, for other reasons, Emma Dunster, the American heroine in that book didnt ring true for me. As Laurie says in her review, Emma is a feisty, red-haired beauty whose American sensibilities are like a breath of fresh air in Regency London. To me Emma seemed at least fifty years ahead of her time. American heiresses were common in Victorian times when Americans were amassing large fortunes and ocean travel became easier. An American heiress from pre-industrial America made less sense. At the time of the Regency, American trade was struggling to overcome the British blockade of France and America, as a whole, was not prosperous. Many British people were under the impression that people, and even plants and animals in the former colonies were inferior to those in Europe. (Combating this prejudice is one reason that Thomas Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia.) Also, feisty, iconoclastic Emma is from Boston, Massachusetts. Am I the only one who finds it odd that straight-laced Boston is where free spirited Emma got her start?
Without question, the worst example of an American in a Regency-set historical that I have ever read was Rexanne BecnelsThe Troublemaker. This book is not good on its own and would not have been good with an English hero. For one thing, the heroine of The Troublemaker seemed so willing to flaunt the rules of society that I found it irritating to read about her. And Palmer, the American hero, speaks in an overblown and melodramatic style. He encapsulates much of what I detest about Americans who show up in books set in England, and then some. I dont think Ive ever read an American hero with all these qualities in the same book. This hero:
Doesnt have one homesick thought about America and never considers returning;
Secretly schemes to take back an English inheritance to which he is technically entitled and impoverish all the English friends he has just made (in the case of the Troublemaker I am not at all sure that Palmer would have been entitled as he was a second generation American);
Seldom compares American values with English ones;
Seems to come from a far more sexually liberal country than England; and
Takes advantage of the heroine and comes close to raping her.
I asked my fellow reviewers what they thought about the way Americans came off in Regency and Georgian set historicals. Naturally their thoughts were varied. Blythe Barnhill for example found British characters often inadvertently revealed that they were being written by American, and not British authors. She wrote, My historical accuracy problem with these (and books with English characters in America) is more on the British side. American authors have a tendency to have the British characters refer to the American rebels as ‘patriots!’ Usually with some epithet like, ‘those damn patriots.’ Of course we are taught in school that they are patriots, and I even think they were. But a British person in 1778 would not have thought so.
AAR Reviewer Rachel Potter had two books to recommend both of which seem to have the kinds of American characters Ive been looking for. She wrote:
In The American Duchess, heroine Tracy Bodmin is the daughter of a self-made man, a shipping magnate who emigrated from England and came from humble beginnings. He wants his grandchildren to have titles. Tracy herself has always seen herself marrying her father’s young friend and protege, Adam Lancaster, but marries Adrian Deincort, Duke of Hastings, to please her father. After the marriage, Tracy has to deal with all the new marriage stuff but also the fact that she and her husband think nothing alike on most political issues and also in regards to humanity in general. Adam comes to visit, and it’s interesting to see the contrast between him and Adrian. Adrian is the hero, so he comes off a little better, but Adam is still pretty yummy. Unpolished, but bold and self-confident. A real ‘no B.S.’ type.Wolf also compares and contrasts American and English ideas at the time of the Revolution in The Rebel and the Rose, an historical set in the U.S. In this one, the English girl marries the American and moves to Virginia. I had some issues with this book, since, like a lot of Wolf’s stuff, the plot involves adultery, but the American/English contrast was pretty interesting.
The second one I’d recommend, Elizabeth Mansfield’sRegency Sting, is a little gem of humor and dialogue. I just love it. The hero is an American who inherits a title (I realize this may be inaccurate). He is the nephew of the deceased viscount (born in America, I think, but probably while they were still colonies). The heroine waits for his arrival, knowing that her family is in dire straits if he doesn’t like them and won’t offer financial support. She assumes he will be a freakish, socially inept boor, and treats him as such from day one. He plays along, but really makes a splash in society, due to his charm and his overdone “Aw, shucks” boldness. Gosh, I really liked him. He decides he wants the heroine, Anne, immediately, and waits patiently for her to (finally!) discover the man he really is.”
AAR Reviewer and Editor Ellen Micheletti thought of two books, one of which sounds a bit like The Troublemaker, the other of which sounds like the kind of book Ive been searching for. She wrote:
In The Duchess’s Lover by Julie Beard, there is an American character who is straight out of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He’s a terrible caricature. Consuelo Vanderbilt, locked in her room for four days by her mother until she agreed to marry the ninth Duke of Marlborough, writes in The Glitter and the Gold about how angry she was at her relatives by marriage for their condescending attitude towards Americans. They thought Americans were semi-savage and always in danger of being scalped by the Indians. They also made rude comments about how they had homes that were older than the American nation. Consuelo was not amused.
In the end I suppose there will be some who read this column and wonder what the fuss is all about. Why worry about details like this when romance is the main point of the book? I suppose the answer is that we all have things we are finicky about and that this is one of mine. I like to read about individuals – not types. Cowboys and feisty heroines are okay in their way. They provide a kind of shorthand that an author can use. We all know what a cowboy is like and the madcap heiress is standard fare as well. But to me, the real differences in perspective between the British and Americans are endlessly fascinating. We had so much in common and, at the same time, were so different. The British during the Regency period were arguably the most powerful country in the world. In fighting the French they were doing what had to be done. As Americans we should be able to identify with that, just as the British today seem to have more empathy for us than any other people. But at the same time it is fun to remember who we were as Americans at the time. When Americans visited England they brought with them a brand new idea – an experiment in government which was exciting and dangerous to people they met. So I cant help hoping I will meet my American hero one of these days – or perhaps get the urge to write him myself.
Vikings & Knights & Indians, Oh My! (Anne Marble)
When you ask a romance fan about Viking romances, the usual reaction is “Ewww.” These books simply aren’t as popular as they once were. Do you remember the day when Fabio “wrote” the book Viking? If he “wrote” a book today, it would probably be called Regency Rake. These days, Viking romances are rarely published and don’t sell well. Two of the rare exceptions are Sandra Hill and Josie Litton – both of whom write what someone once described as “Viking Disneyland.”
Sandra Hill’s comic Viking romances have found a lot of readers among people who usually avoid Viking romances like the bubonic plague. For example, on AARList, author Michelle Hauf said: “I don’t care for stories about Vikings and have always stayed away from them. I’m just not interested in that early of a time period. Until. I discovered Sandra Hill’s Blue Viking. And The Reluctant Viking…I love the humor. Wouldn’t know if there were inaccuracies, and don’t care. Hill’s Viking stories are just good fun.”
Similarly, list member Diana avoided Viking romances altogether until she came across Sandra Hill’s books. Diana put it this way: “Gorgeous hunks, hot sex and belly laughs. What more can you ask for?”
But other than the occasional romp such as Sandra Hill’s books, Viking romances make most readers think of alpha heels who attack villages, grab helpless Irish women by the hair, and row off to Sweden with them. With good reason – most Viking romances are about women who become captives or slaves.
Yet Norse society was about more than raids. For example, few people realize that Iceland is home to the world’s oldest parliament and that Vikings traveled as far as Byzantium, perhaps farther. Also, Norse society contributed wonderful poems and crafts to the world. And most of all, it’s strange that most Viking romances have ignored the fact that women played an important part in Norse society. Viking men left their wives in charge of the household when they were away on raids or trading missions. Because of this, Norse women often oversaw farms or commerce – in Norse society, women were often associated with commerce. Norse women could even divorce their husbands. The Viking men were truly alpha men, but the society endured only because they were partnered with alpha women.
So why are so few Viking romances about strong Viking women married to raiders or traders? There are several possible reasons. Maybe readers prefer stories about Viking raiders who capture women, only to find that their hearts have been captured. It could be that writers prefer to tell these stories than to delve into the more complex stories of Vikings settling a new land. Finally, maybe the Vikings in romances are icons rather than historical beings. The Viking setting is wallpaper upon which this icon is pasted. Want to write about a domineering warrior, a true alpha man, who conquers his woman? Then why not write a Viking romance?
Or if that doesn’t work, why not write a pirate romance? Or a Medieval tale about a powerful warrior who storms a castle and storms his way into the heroine’s heart? On top of that, while authors such as Cassie Edwards and Madeline Baker still sell Indian romances (it doesn’t sound write to call them Native American romances), these books tend to sell to older readers. Perhaps readers who miss alpha heroes.
Yet while this type of book still has its fans, these settings – and that type of hero – are no longer as popular with readers as they once were. Even the half naked muscular men on the covers of Leisure Viking and Indian romances don’t always help sell the books. Though I must admit that sometimes, it’s fun to ogle them in the store as I pass them up for a Regency historical.
Other periods don’t fare much better. Unlike Madeline Hunter and Robert Gellis, most romance writers don’t pen Medievals about the merchant classes and troubadours and artisans. Instead, Medieval romances are almost always about knights and warriors. Sometimes they come to conquer the heroine, sometimes they come because they have been forced to marry her. Even in frothy Medieval romps, the heroes tend to be alpha warriors.
Heroes don’t have to live on earth to lose potential readers. Many readers have admitted that they looked forward to reading futuristic romances, only to learn that many of them were about primitive societies where, again, men captured and enslaved women. Some people think futuristic romances faired poorly with readers because romance readers were made uncomfortable by the science fiction elements. Others believe they had trouble finding a bigger audience because the science fictional elements were sketchy at best. Do you believe either of these reasons? Or do you think the preponderance of alpha heroes did them in?
I read my share of futuristic romances, and what I remember from the worst of them wasn’t the alpha heroes. It was the horrid science and even worse dialogue. (If you don’t know the difference between a galaxy and a solar system, you shouldn’t be writing futuristics. You should be writing for TV instead. )
However, that’s not to say I avoided alpha heroes altogether. When I started reading romances, they were hard to avoid. Besides, in the right hands, those heroes can be fun. They’re strong, they’re handsome, they’re born leaders, and when they right woman comes into their life, they turn into a bowl of jelly. I even liked big misunderstanding stories – probably because I liked to see the big, strong alpha grovel at the end.
Over time, I got sick of the “bodice ripper” style of romances. I had been burned too many times with alpha heroes who needed therapy, not a wife. I found myself rolling my eyes at too many contrived big misunderstandings. Loving heroes turned to monsters at a moment’s notice. They jumped to conclusions so quickly that they could have qualified for an Olympic event. And worst of all, the heroines put up with it.
Mylan, the hero in Phoebe Conn’s Captive Heart started off well enough. Not only was he a strong warrior, he was a scarred strong warrior who is afraid he will scare the heroine. I love scarred heroes – I’m a big Phantom of the Opera fan. This guy seemed perfect for me. Then he learned she wasn’t really who she said she was, and before long, he started accusing her of sleeping around, too. Ahem. When did she find the time? They were having sex every fifth page or so. Boing. Boing. Boing. My willing of suspension of disbelief snapped and bounced on the floor several times.
And don’t get me started on the heroes of Rosemary Rogers’ Wicked Loving Lies, who made Steve Morgan seem understanding and well-balanced. After accusing the heroine of betraying him, he later kidnaps her and brands her on the inner thigh. Oh what a lovely romantic image.
It took me some time to realize that what made most of these books suck wasn’t the heroes. It was the heroines. In the Conn books and in the Rogers book, I can’t remember the heroines standing up for themselves. Not once. Imagine a real Norse woman’s reaction to one of these abusive heroes. Not all Viking men got their scars in battle. It would be easy to blame the alpha heroes for all the ills of bodice rippers, but really, many of those faults can he heaped upon doormat heroines.
I may actually have continued to read about alpha heels and doormat heroines longer than other readers, mostly likely because I wasn’t really accepting them. Like someone experimenting with lucid dreaming, when a heroine failed to defend herself, I put myself in her place and imagined what I would say instead. When the heroine did something stupid, I imagined a better course of action. When the hero did something horrid, I imagined what a better hero would do. I think this helped me become both a stronger woman and a better writer. It might take me a little longer to read the books because I was internalizing a much different book as I went along. Also, in some cases, the big misunderstanding was so contrived that no amount of this internalizing could rescue it.
I’ve often wondered how many other readers approach these books the same way; it seems Laura Kinsale took a similar approach. In her article in the book Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, she talks about placeholding and reader identification, which are not one and the same. When a reader puts herself in the heroine’s postion she is placeholding – she has the same experiences of the heroine, but does not accept the heroines’ reactions, words, or emotions as her own. Reader identification, on the other hand, occurs when the reader becomes the character, feels what the character feels, and is somehow under the control of that character. Because in a romance, Kinsale argues, the hero carries the book, readers identify with the hero even as they are also the “placeholder heroine.”
Many older romances featured strong heroes and either the obnoxiously feisty or incredibly meek heroine (or the bizarre hybrid of both!). Given the social climate of the time, this is not surprising; neither is it surprising that as women became more independent, that the meek heroine went on the wane. But as Linda Barlow points out in her companion piece to Kinsale’s, that meek heroine, on some level, is someone with whom we’re all familiar. Some critics have suggested, for instance, that the heroine in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca starts out as meek because women who read it could not merely identify with the heroine, but feel stronger than her. Kinsale would likely have a different way of saying this; I assume she’d say that women would put themselves in the place of Rebecca and imagine different responses. This fits along nicely with Barlow’s theory – a heroine who may be meek at the beginning of a romance is not often meek at the end; she has become more powerful through her encounter with the hero and situations throughout the book.
In Jungian psychology, every character in a person’s dream are aspects of that person. Consider a romance novel a dream and the hero and heroine both aspects of the reader. As women and men have come together on a social scale, the characters once created with broad brush-strokes have become painted with a finer, more narrow brush. There’s perhaps less need for a hero to be an alpha heel; plain alpha will suffice. A heroine need not be so feisty she’s TSTL or so meek she’s squeaks when she talks; a more realistic character can take her place, one who can better hold her own with the hero.
Do you like alpha heroes? If so, do those heroes only work for you when the heroines are alpha heroines as well? Which heroines of older romances would you classify as alpha heroines, and how do they differ from today’s alpha heroines? Are some types of romances unpopular today because they’re often about alpha heroes and captive brides? We’d love to know what you think?
The most popular period right now is still seems to be Regency England. Is this because people are comfortable with the setting? Or because they like reading romances where the stories are usually about marriage marts rather than raids and captive brides?
On What They Said (LLB)
Both Robin and Anne talked about character types, icons, and stereotypes in their segments, and Anne referenced Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. Another of the articles talks about romance novel “short-hand,” a term Robin used in her segment, a term that I think definitely applies to romance novels.
Romance novel short-hand refers to those aspects in romance novels that serve as cues to readers. While those who don’t read romance often mistake these cues (or “codes,” as JAK refers to them in her introduction to the book) as simplistic, I disagree. In Suzanne Simmons’ contribution to the book, she also talks about these codes, and in doing so, speaks on the issue of character types.
To me, a stereotype is simply a character type gone wrong; an icon is the best representation of a character type in a romance novel. My sense is that stereotypes grow out of bad writing, bad research, or incomplete focus. In other words, a heroine visiting England from Boston during the Regency period who doesn’t care a bit about titles makes sense. But if that same heroine doesn’t also reflect some of Boston’s puritanism, she’s incomplete.
While all of us have our romance novel pet peeves, they are not the same for all of us. My reading experience of Splendid was different from Robin’s, and I believe that’s because I accept those short-hand cues more readily than she does; given Robin’s knowledge of history and my lack thereof, this makes sense. I think I can more easily look at a character who may be incomplete and still accept her as because I know what type character she’s meant to be. But how I read Rebellious Desire and didn’t pick up on “the Colonies,” I don’t know. Now that it’s been pointed out to me, I can say Garwood should have known better…and so should I.
Now I wonder whether two other books I’ve enjoyed featuring American characters actually did a good job of depicting Americans, or if they are as incomplete as Robin found Quinn’s Emma to be. In my review of Joan Johnston’sCaptive, I write that “Charlie’s American attitudes constantly abraid Lion’s stiff British upper lip,” and in my review of Passion’s Kiss by Jane Kidder, I write that “Miles’ straightforward American-ness makes him a superb speciman of a hero…though his parents are British to the bone, they have accepted the American frontier as their home, and have become more open in their views than the typical Brit.”
Something I mentioned to Robin that’s off the wall is this: if American writers setting books in England are creating these buffoonish American characters, are they doing so purposely in order to have an authentically English feel to the books? Just as some authors spell words as the English would spell them, do they create that crude cowboy because he would have been seen that way in England? Robin’s response to me was this: “If there is an American hero and the English heroine thinks that he is a idiot, that is fine. If however he actually is an idiot that is not fine because part of the book is from his point of view, not from an English point of view.” Here’s a question: I think it may just be possible that American writers striving for English authenticity sometimes create American characters that can be looked down upon from English noses. Robin doesn’t buy this for a moment; what about you?
As for alpha heels and doormat heroines, I too don’t look for books where heroes need therapy instead of wives, but wonder what has actually replaced them. Moving a setting from Medieval Viking-land to Regency England doesn’t necessarily end he-man behavior, although it certainly cloaks it in more acceptable clothing. Something about those codes still speaks to us – a recent post on our canwetalk discussion list from a reader entitled “I miss bodice-rippers!” engendered a great deal of agreement and reminded me of a Sandy C’s October 2000 segment entitled Where Have All the Wulfgar’s Gone?.
The codes that Krentz and Simmons talk about in DMAW were really being written, the dictionary being created, in the 70’s and early 80’s. I think that’s why books from this era feature far a short-hand written with a far heavier hand than romances we’re reading today. Now that the dictionary is in place, the cues can be given with more subtlety, which satisfies readers who came to the genre later, but doesn’t do a whole lot for readers who liked that older, heavier style. It also goes a long way toward explaining why newer readers are horrified when they read some of those older classics like those written by Rogers. When I joined the Prodigy online service in 1993, I can remember authors and readers alike posting about how fantastic Steve Morgan was as a character, and ruminating on whether Rosemary Rogers had created him out of reverence for Stever McQueen.
Let’s face it – literary genres such as romance work off of archetypes, which by their very nature are drawn with broad brush strokes. When written well, a character type can be iconic. When not, that same character type can be a stereotype. The difference is the perspective of the reader, and what she’s looking for. Some miss bodice-rippers while others gladly say good riddance. And while some find historically accurate characters necessary, others can be satisfied by character types that may be anachronistic but allow them to ease into a story like donning a pair of well-worn slippers. I guess the question is why can’t these characters both recognizable and historically accurate?
Time to Post to the Message Board
Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:
Americans Abroad – Robin’s noticed that most Regency-set romances featuring Americans don’t really capture the American characters all that well, which is odd considering most of these books are written by Americans. Now that you think about it, do you agree or disagree? If you agree, why do you suppose that is? If not, name some of the books that get it right. If you do agree, what are some of the books that failed in this area, and did/does it bother you?
Self-Made Characters – Do you ever yearn to create your own perfect hero or heroine? Please describe him and/or her, down to what country they’re from. And if you can come up with an actor and/or actress to portray them, so much the better.
Viking Disneyland – In Anne’s segment, she talks about how many of the most popular authors today writing romances about the Vikings are of the wallpaper variety where history is concerned and wonders why that is. What’s your take on the situation? Is it a general lack of knowledge about Norse history or is it simply that we seem to prefer certain character types when it comes to Viking romance? If it’s true that Viking romances are not in vogue right now, why do you think that is?
Icons, anyone? – Anne writes that most authors tackle the Viking, pirate, and Medieval romance in a certain way, basing their stories on iconic character types. She does mention, for instance, a couple of authors who write Medievals featuring the merchant class, but notes that the vast majority of Medieval romances feature knights and warriors. Why do you suppose that is?
Heroes Needing Therapy, Co-dependent Women Need Not Apply – As a long-time reader of romance, Anne certainly read her share of “bodice-ripper,” and thinks she finally could read no more not because of the heroes’ heavy-handed behavior, but because the heroines were such doormats. Was this your experience as well?
Character Types – Do you like alpha heroes? If so, do those heroes only work for you when the heroines are alpha heroines as well? Which heroines of older romances would you classify as alpha heroines, and how do they differ from today’s alpha heroines? Are some types of romances unpopular today because they’re often about alpha heroes and captive brides?
The Setting – Is the most popular setting today still Regency England? If so, do you think it’s because people are simply comfortable with it? Or because they like reading romances where the stories are usually about marriage marts rather than raids and captive brides? And, if this is the case as far as you’re concerned, are some Regency heroes really alpha warriors in civilized clothes?
More about Character Types – LLB writes that a stereotype is simply a character type gone wrong while an icon is the best representation of a character type in a romance novel. What do you make of this premise?
Romance Novel Codes – Do you believe that romance novels are filled with codes that readers connect with, and that they are a type of short-hand that allow readers to ease into a story? Or do you find this ridiculous? If you agree that such codes exist, do you think some readers “accept” them more readily than others, and if so, why?
An American in England – If American writers setting books in England are creating stereotypical American characters, are they doing so purposely in order to have an authentically English feel to the books? LLB sets up this off-the-wall question: “I think it may just be possible that American writers striving for English authenticity sometimes create American characters that can be looked down upon from English noses. Robin doesn’t buy this for a moment; what about you?”
The Good Old Days – Do romances from the 70’s and early 80’s evoke romance novel codes with a heavier hand than today’s romances? If so, is this a good thing for you as a reader, or do you miss the good old days when Wulfgar and Steve Morgan ruled the bookshelves? Are you a reader comfortable with the heroes and heroines of yesterday and today, or do you prefer one over the other, and why?
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