08 March 2007

Kicking the Heroin(e) Habit

Last month, I posed the question regarding heroes in unusual historicals, and now, in the interest of equality, I'd like to turn the discussion to the other critical element in a romance: the heroine.

Specifically, I'd like to open up the discussion regarding heroines in unusual romances. Most European historicals feature heroines from the upper classes, or, at the least, women who operate somewhere within the realm of higher society. They could be penniless relatives or country misses, but, by and large, we're talking about young women born somewhere above the class of tradesmen and laborers. Not to mention the convenience of secret family histories. Even mudlarks somehow wind up being related to dukes.

Some of these women have employment, many do not, though there is a greater trend now to have the heroines with some form of vocation or work. It's usually charitable, helping women, children, the poor or animals. Sometimes, they work in order to support their families. Almost never do we encounter a heroine who actually works for profit, as some heroes do. The governess, thanks to Jane Eyre, is still a popular vocation for heroines, since it gives her a particular, liminal social status that not only allows her access to brooding, handsome aristocratic heroes, but spooky, dark ancestral manors, as well.

What about age?

Heroes generally run to their late 20s to mid 30s, with a few variations, but heroines are generally in their early 20s. This is a marked change from historicals written ten or twenty years ago, where heroines in their teens were more prevalent (and possibly more historically accurate). The age disparity between heroes and heroines is growing smaller and smaller, and some heroines (who aren't even widows) have already had some kind of experience with -- gasp! -- sex.

But this is all as it relates to your more common historical romance. And, dear reader, you are on this blog because you read/write/enjoy unusual historical romances.

With all this in mind, here are some questions for discussion as they relate to unusual historicals:

-- Do you prefer the heroine to have some form of employment? If so, what? What would be historically accurate (bearing in mind that women in the workforce is something that varies greatly depending on time period and location)?

-- What kind of factor does age have for the heroine? Would you find it uncomfortable to read about an Iron Age heroine who is fifteen, and not twenty one? Is there room in unusual historicals for "older" heroines? In what circumstances might this be acceptable, or not? What about the gap in age between the hero and heroine?

-- Are there other factors to consider for heroines in unusual historicals? Race? Class? Sexual experience? Something else?

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.


jennifer said...

I know historically accurate and all but many publishers unless you just do the chaste kiss sort of romance will not take anything with minors. PC to the rescue. Not o say i don't ahve lots of characters that had things happen to them at an early age and i'm visiting them older.

As for vocation and age, most are younger just because i'm younger i can relate more, i have done some 40 - 60 something heroines but it was contemporary.

And vocations, shopgirls, speakeasy owners, club singers, one woman kept the family sheep farm going after becomign a widow, housewifes, nurses i like nurses especially after world wars, running african estates, 40 plus stories i'll stop now before you get tired of hearing about it.

Michelle Styles said...

Hmm yes, the age of the heroine.
there are historical problems as some women were married v early. Lifespans could be v short -- say in the VIking era.
If there is a problem, I tend to fudge -- and always call the heroine a woman and never a girl. And simply not give an exact age.

I have found it useful to look at gravestones to see the general age when women died. It is a well known fact that a high percentage of women died giving birth to their first child, and the first child generally appears approx nine months to a year after a female becomes sexually active. If you look at the gravestones in the Roman era, a rather different picture appears than simply looking at the Augustan laws. Most women are dying at around 18/19, rather than at 12/13. The Augustan law about marriage/betrothal at 12 begins to make sense if you understand he also made a law about men being betrothed or married and that some men were becoming betrothed to infants to avoid having to marry...

To make life even easier I tend to have my heroines be either divorced, widowed or have some other plausible reason for being unmarried -- sibyl's assistant. And I happen to like to write about educated women and how they cope, so thus far mine have come from the upper tiers of society.

Vicki Gaia said...

The age of my heroine tends to be from early twenties for my pre-contemporary historicals, older for my contemporaries. I usually have a subplot with an older heroine as well. I agree that many times I'm not age-specific and tend not to focus on it.

For vocations, since I write about the women who live on the edge of what was considered normal society, they tend to be artists, poets, freethinkers, hatmakers...

Jen said...

I don't have any feeling, one way or the other, for the heroine being employed or not, but I get tired of the same old jobs of governess, teacher, etc. I still enjoy the story, if it's my kind of story, but I'd like to see the heroine have a unique career, if any. I have enjoyed heroines as reporters, often leading to comical misunderstandings. It wasn't exactly a career, but the heroine in Lynsay Sands' Always has an affinity for caring for animals, and I really enjoyed that about her. It, too, led to some humorous situations.

I admit, I'm a little uncomfortable with heroines under 18. I realize it was different way back when, but this is how I've been conditioned, I guess. It won't keep me from reading and enjoying a novel, though. I keep in mind that's the way it was. But historical romances don't usually keep every detail historically accurate (particularly those involving hygiene and relieving oneself). When I was younger, I had no problem with a young heroine, but now that I'm older, I...wish I were younger, again, LOL! But I relate more to a heroine in her 30's than in her 20's, as you might guess.

I don't generally care if a heroine is rich or poor, or what class she comes from. I like both stories of innocence, where the heroine is sexually naive, and stories where the heroine has some experience, even a lot of it, with sex. I just don't want her stupid.

As for race, I admit, I don't read stories where at least one of the main characters isn't white, and usually, if a character is another race, they tend to be Arab, Indian, Middle Eastern, Italian or Latino, maybe some others. Although I do remember at least one where both were Spanish, and the story took place in Spain, and another where the heroine was Italian, and I think the hero was, too. In fact, the latter was the very first adult romance (as opposed to teen romances) I ever read. I've never read one where either were black, but I do have one book I browsed through where the heroine is black, and my browsing got me to buy that book...it seemed very sexy. It's called The Devil's Concubine by Jaide Fox. I tend not to "relate" to certain cultures, so I'm less likely to read them, but this one is a fantasy story.

Tess said...

-- Do you prefer the heroine to have some form of employment?--

I wouldn't say I PREFER it - if it fits the character, that's great. But I do like to see them with SOME kind of outside interest other than clothes and boys *g*. Reading, writing, needlework etc, something that fascinates them. But it has to be within the context of the period.

-- What kind of factor does age have for the heroine? Would you find it uncomfortable to read about an Iron Age heroine who is fifteen, and not twenty one? Is there room in unusual historicals for "older" heroines?--

Age is a funny thing. Certainly in an Iron Age set book, 15 years wouldn't bother me in the least. That was normal for the period. On the opposite end, most definitely there's room for older heroines. The older I get, the more I realize age really is a state of mind. Re: age gaps, it depends on the characters and the time period. That said, my h/h are usually fairly close in age.

-- Are there other factors to consider for heroines in unusual historicals? Race? Class? Sexual experience? Something else?

I'm not sure they should be different than heroines in say, the Regency-set romance. As long as they're engaging and sympathetic, I can accept pretty much any kind of heroine. Miranda Jarrett wrote about an orange-seller falling in love with a nobleman in The Very Comely Countess and it totally worked for me.