07 September 2007

Kicking the Heroin(e) Habit

Since we're taking time off this month to revamp the website, here's a classic post from the fantabulous Zoe Archer.

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?

Zoe Archer


Jennifer Linforth said...

I think some form of employment for a heroine helps the modern reader identify with the character, so I do like to see the heroine in her own environment. It helps to give a sense of time and place of her ordinary life.

I admit to writing anti-heroines in my past books. In my current historical, Adelrune is lower class. She is employed as a chamber maid and I set her age a 18... my hero is 30.

I guess I am old school when it comes to that.


Erastes said...


Well, I like accuracy, but then I'd love to read a story about a 30 year old woman in Iron Age Britain where that was considered almost old age, and not just in flashback either. Heroines get older, lets see stories written about them.

I get very tired of young heroines, historical readers aren't always young, and even if they are, they get older and want to read people of their own age group still, there comes a time when the exploits of teens or twenty-somethings aren't so fascinating. And lets be honest, there are so many women of older years in history who shaped it.

as for vocation, argh! Keep it real, work wasn't feasible for a large proportion of society, unless it was farm work, or working in a great house - later of course we did have governesses and companions but if there's one thing that will make me throw a book across the room is the peasant who can't read and write who pulls herself up by her bootstraps and ends up running De Beers or equivalent. It's been done to death.

There's a lot of paranoia about "under age sex" particularly in America who have decided that that means 18, irrespective of the AOC in the rest of the world - but if a heroine is likely to be 14 and married - early Europe etc - then let's see it. The earlier writers of this genre got this factor right but we are all so mired in political correctness and pedophila-fear that this is brushed over, and so many stories are not being written. It's still possible to write about a 14 year old being married without making it titillating.

Carrie Lofty said...

I find it interesting that Cobblestone Press's submission guidelines say "All sexually active characters in the manuscript must be at least 18 no matter the time period."

Anne Whitfield - author said...

I don't have a problem with reading about younger or older heroines, as I'm used to reading UK authors, especially family saga authors who often have their heroines as older women running a large family, which is a job in itself! LOL.
Their younger heroines are generally working class or middle class with jobs.
The current manuscript I'm working on has my heroine at age 27, a mother and housekeeper at the 'big' house. :o)

Read some UK saga authors' books. You'll find heroines of all ages because families, especially working class families all revolve around the mother, grandmother etc.
I have a list of UK authors on my website.