If you time traveled back to the 1980’s, you’d find me somewhere in the cluttered rush of a high school hallway. I wasn’t the cool girl or the super fashionable one. I was bookish and bespectacled, though I did have an elaborately decorated locker.
There weren’t any fancy balls in my life, no Empire gowns or chairs at the back of a room full of elegant dancers. I was just quirky. I didn’t fit in any of the cliques that existed at my high school. Maybe I was a bit of a loner. I certainly never got an invite to the prom.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never defined wallflowers as the shy unassuming girl, but the unique one. Sure, she might prefer books to most people, or be awkward when she means to be eloquent, but there’s more to every wallflower, and she’ll surprise you every time.
I think of wallflowers on a continuum that includes Molly Ringwald’s Andie in Pretty in Pink every bit as much as Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Take the time to notice an unappreciated young woman, and you might just find someone who’s fierce and clever and as interesting as any heroine ever written.
History—where the marriage plot rules and women who didn’t conform to society’s expectations were likely to be scorned or overlooked— isn’t the same as historical romance. Romance is the ideal place to celebrate the wallflower who no one expects to be fabulous. In historical romance being unusual isn’t a curse. It’s an opportunity to shine.
So, who are a couple of my favorite recent quirky, unconventional wallflowers in historical romance?
Lisa Kleypas gave us a perfect example in one of my favorite books this year, Devil in Spring. The story opens with Lady Pandora Ravenel sitting in a chair at a ball, bored out of her mind. Oh, so relatable. And we soon find that Pandora isn’t shy or meek. She’s loyal, stubborn, and bold. And once the hero actually takes the time to notice her—let’s just say, in an odd situation—he can’t stop noticing how unique and appealing she is. Pandora is the quintessential unconventional wallflower.
Lily Maxton’s recent The Rogue’s Conquest gave me a wallflower to love too. Eleanor Thompson is more interested in entomology than etiquette, and she’s bold enough to go and present her paper at a men’s scientific society—in disguise, of course. And, of course, former prize fighter James MacGregor notices her, including her faulty disguise, and does what a rogue should never do. He becomes bewitched by a wallflower.
In my latest book, How to Woo a Wallflower, I loved allowing my quirky heroine to revel in all of her uniqueness. Clary Ruthven was the girl in the back of the ballroom who nobody asked to dance, partly because she has no intention of conforming to society’s expectations. Despite being the daughter of an etiquette book writer, she’s a natural born rebel and never follows the rules, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. She’s not your typical Victorian lady, but she’s one of my favorite wallflowers.
Who are your favorite literary wallflowers?