Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Let’s hear it for the heroines

Lately I’ve been thinking—and talking and blogging—about romance novel heroines. Usually it’s heroes who take over the limelight in any discussion of characters. Dark hair or blond? Cop or sheikh? Cowboy or bad boy? We all have our preferences, and we’re not afraid to state ’em.

But when I read a romance, it’s just as important (well, almost) that I like the heroine. Love her, even. After all, she needs to be worthy of that fantastic hero, and I want to be sure she’ll make him as happy as he makes her. Which isn’t going to happen if she’s, say, whiny. Or selfish. Or dull.

There’s a theory that when you read a romance novel, you “become” the heroine. Subconsciously, you put yourself in her place, experience her trials and her delights. Which makes it all the more important for the heroine to be someone you like.

I like my heroines strong, but with a sweetness of character that reminds the hero just how churlish he’s being. A great heroine knows what she wants and is willing to work for it. Intelligent – very! Honest and principled, too (though she may at some stage have to fake an engagement, pretend her marriage of convenience is for real, or pose as the hero’s girlfriend...all in a day’s work for even the most honest heroine).

What I don’t want is a perfect heroine: never having a mean thought, always sacrificing ungrudgingly for others (if you’re going to sacrifice, it’s more realistic to begrudge it!), endlessly patient. As for the heroine who refuses to accept the gorgeous designer dress purchased for her by the super-rich hero...what’s that about? No, my kind of heroine is also a pragmatist...one who likes nice clothes even if she’s not always sure how to choose them.

So who are these non-paragons I love to read about?

Susan Elizabeth Phillips has written a few of my favorite heroines: Annabelle in MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, Daisy in KISS AN ANGEL and Jane in NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. I loved Maggie in Kristan Higgins’ CATCH OF THE DAY. Karina Bliss wrote a wonderful librarian in WHAT THE LIBRARIAN DID.

Becky Brandon nee Bloomwood (aka SHOPAHOLIC) is a heroine I loved more in the subsequent books than in the first one, but I’ve adored her through five books.

Georgette Heyer’s heroines deserve a special mention. She wrote so many delightful women (or girls). Warm and funny Arabella and Venetia in the eponymous novels, Mary in DEVIL’S CUB (feistier than the hero could ever have dreamed), wry and creative Hester in SPRIG MUSLIN, courageous Phoebe in SYLVESTER.

If you can recommend a great heroine whose story I can add to my To Be Read pile, I’d love to know!