Creating heroines for historical romances is not an easy thing. I always compare it to a bit of a tightrope walk. On the one hand readers want heroines they can admire and identify with. They want a strong, assertive, independent woman who can stand alone and does not need to cling to her man for either support or protection. On the other hand, they want heroines who are historically believable. Women of Regency England were very different in almost every imaginable way from women of the 21st century. Legally they weren’t even persons. Almost invariably they belonged to some man as his possession. How on earth can they ever be seen as heroines to admire by readers today?
Fortunately we have Jane Austen (Regency) and Charlotte Bronte (Victorian era) to show us the way. Austen and Bronte were writing contemporaries, not historicals. Yet they gave us Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre, both of them heroines who drew power to themselves by daring to stand alone when they might have chosen to be safe and dependent. Elizabeth refused marriage offers she considered unacceptable from both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy even though the alternative was a probable life of dreary spinsterhood and near-poverty. Jane refused to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress when it was discovered that he already had a wife and could not marry her–even though she knew he loved her deeply. She walked away and risked destitution instead.
I think a mistake many writers of historical romance make is in trying to suggest strength in their heroines by making them feisty (I hate that word!) in a contemporary sense. And so we have all sorts of Regency misses who defy all the rules of genteel society and stride off alone to take on the world, often to the accompaniment of foul language. They come across as unrealistic at best, shudderingly unattractive at worst. Swagger and a sewer mouth do not equal strength of character, especially in Regency England. When I read a Regency, I want to be swept off into that world, not back into my own. I want a hero who is a believable Regency gentleman and a heroine who is a believable Regency lady.
My heroines run the gamut of human types. They can be quiet and dignified (Lauren Edgeworth in A Summer to Remember), talkative and klutzy (Cora Downes in The Famous Heroine), fierce and bold (Freyja Bedwyn in Slightly Scandalous) strait-laced and bookish (Mary Gregg in The Notorious Rake), widows determined to find love on their own terms (Hannah Reid in A Secret Affair), prostitutes trying to find her way back to respectability (Viola Thornhill in More Than a Mistress) women deeply wounded by rape and a resulting single parenthood (Anne Jewell in Simply Love) and so on. But I try to do the same two things with all of them. First, I try to make them in the course of the book into strong women who can deal with their own lives and who can, if necessary, stand alone at the end of their book even though they are not called upon to do so, of course–these are love stories. But the love in which they share at the end is never a dependent thing. It is an equal love–the partners come to it from a position of equal strength. Secondly, I try very hard to make my heroines believable Regency types. I like to feel that they could find themselves in the pages of a Jane Austen novel without sticking out like sore thumbs. Whether I succeed or not is up to you to decide. Tightropes are not the easiest things to walk without toppling off at least once in a while.
The picture is the inside, stepback cover of THE PROPOSAL.
To one person who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, July 30, I will send an autographed copy of THE PROPOSAL or one of the books named above if you prefer and if I have a spare copy! Last week’s winner was Livia Quinn. Congratulations to her, and my thanks to everyone else who left a comment. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all.