Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Romances and Deaf Characters

I’m a volunteer for a literature project that aims to list every novel with a specific theme or trope in a reference database, and I’m involved with two databases: ‘Deaf Characters in English-Language Literature’ and ‘Non-Caucasian Characters in British Literature’.

When I joined the ‘Deaf Characters in Literature’ (DCIL) project years ago, there were only three listed in the Romantic Fiction section. American author Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird (the Tutti and Frutti sisters), Italian author Dacia Maraini’s 18th-century historical novel The Silent Duchess, and British author Catherine Cookson’s it’s-all-grim-up-north family saga novel, The Mallen Girl. That was roughly seven years ago. Today, the Romantic Fiction section of the DCIL database has over 200 titles published last eighty-odd years. Yay!  There are still more to log, though.

Anyroad, this database reveals some interesting patterns and tropes among romance novels featuring deaf characters. Here goes my casual observations:

The majority of deaf characters are found in Category Romance, particularly Harlequin Superromance, Silhouette Intimate Moments, and Loveswept.

These characters are more likely to be female, usually as heroine or female relative. When the heroine is deaf, the hero is more likely to be a doctor (Elizabeth August’s Silhouette Romance, Lucky Penny) or father of a deaf child (Sandra Canfield’s Harlequin Superromance, Star Song). However, if a deaf character is 10 or under, then the character is likely to be male; usually Hero’s son or orphaned nephew (Bobby Hutchinson’s Sheltering Bridges and Rachel Ryan’s Eloquent Silence). In those cases, the heroine is more likely to be a speech therapist, deaf school teacher or – for a historical romance – a governess or companion (Barbara Hazard’s Midnight Magic).

Hear No Evil Susan DrakeWhile Category Romance has its share of deaf stereotypes and tropes, there is enough variety that it could use to save its face. Such as Susan Drake’s SIM Hear No Evil with deaf heroine as a muralist and hero as a Greek hotel owner, and Suzanne Ellison’s Harlequin Superromance, Words Unspoken, with deaf hero Gunnar as a marine biologist and heroine Meredith as his ASL interpreter.

Candace Irvin makes it more interesting with her action-packed SIM The Impossible Alliance by making her heroine ARIES agent Alexis Warner deaf. Likewise with Mary Kay McComas’s popular Loveswept romance, To Give a Heart Wings, for making her deaf heroine a photographer and hero a racing driver. Also, Julie Miller’s Silhouette Intrigue Police Business features a deaf, rich heiress as a murder witness whom hero police detective thrives to protect.

There’s Kevin’s Story by Sally Goldenbaum and Adrienne Staff (Loveswept, 1986, no. 165). Not only our hero Kevin is deafened and a sign language user, he runs a successful biscuit company; surprisingly rare for a deaf character in fiction. I say surprising because there were quite a few deaf business owners and entrepreneurs in real life last few centuries, but it rarely happened in fiction. I find this odd. Deaf people in real life – especially during 20th century as a result of the International Milan Congress of 1880 – couldn’t get jobs, so they set up businesses of their own. Such as Irish born-deaf immigrant Michael O’Neal who founded a business that employed 100+ window cleaners across New York City between 1870s and 1890s. Kevin originally appeared in What’s a Nice Girl…? (Loveswept, 1985, no. 97) as a best friend of uptight hero Dr. Logan Reed who was falling for Susan, a perky Jewish woman. Apparently, Kevin was such a hit with readers that Goldenbaum and Staff decided to pen Kevin’s story, which they ultimately used as the title. FWIW, I thought Kevin’s Story was rather sweet and charming.

I don’t read Inspirational romances, but there is a listing of Arlene James’s The Heart’s Voice (Love Inspired, 2004) that features hero Daniel Holden who lost his hearing to an explosion during a military mission. I think there are more, but The Heart’s Voice is the one that was frequently recommended by Inspirational romance readers. According to some, deafness in Inspirational romance is generally used as part of God’s teaching as well as an emotional conflict between hero and heroine. Interestingly, the majority of deaf characters are male, usually as hero or a relative.

For Traditional Regency Romance genre, almost all deaf characters are female and widowed. Deaf heroes are as common as hen’s teeth. Also in this sub-genre, the two most popular causes of deafness are a childhood fever (typhoid fever, meningitis or scarlet fever) and domestic violence. I found the latter rather interesting because a beating usually leaves a person deaf in one ear, not in both ears. As one audiologist pointed out, if the beating was severe enough to render a person deaf in both ears, the person would be already dead. Heh!

Catherine Anderson Annie's SongFor Historical romance genre, it’s fifty-fifty, but deaf heroes are more likely to be found in Medieval-era historical romances while it’s the 19th century setting for deaf heroines. However, all deaf characters in American historical romance genre found so far are female (Catherine Anderson’s Annie’s Song). In fact, quite a few romance readers have recommended Mary Balogh’s Georgian-era historical romance, Silent Melody, and Catherine Anderson’s American historical romance, Annie’s Song.

For what it’s worth, I generally find Catherine Anderson’s books a tad too manipulative for my taste, which is the case with Annie’s Song. However when she stated in an interview that she did extensive historical research for this novel, I believed her because I didn’t come across any major clangers and common misconceptions, usually found in other romantic novels featuring deaf characters, in Annie’s Song. Kudos to Anderson. I’m sorry that I can’t say the same for Balogh’s Silent Melody, though, but it found a place in many Top 100 Romance Novels lists, so you might enjoy her portrayal of deaf heroine Lady Emily.

It’s interesting to note that romance authors tend to associate deafness with music or sound in their stories. Such as pairing a musician character with a deaf character, or use sounds to highlight a deaf character’s solitude. Seeing that it’s appeared in at least 80% of romantic fiction featuring deaf characters, it suggests that the majority of romance authors thought music and sound mattered more to their deaf characters.

A pity really, because the majority of real-life deaf people were historically more interested in art, literature, crafts, sports or other fields than sound-related fields, such as music. Notable people: our failed Scottish painter Walter Geikie who’s still regarded as a hero in the Scottish community for his biting social commentary and black-line illustrations of Scotland’s class system; 18th century French publisher and author Pierre Desloges who wrote and published several political books during the French Revolution;  Irish 19th century watercolourist Sampson Towgood Roch who set a trend with his 1820s portraits of ordinary lives;  15th century Spanish nun and feminist writer Teresa de Cartagena and French sculptor Hippolyte Montillie who created a bronze statue  L’Honneur dominant la Discords before moving to America in 1901. I must give a little shout-out to English carpenter Robert ‘Mouseman of Kilburn’ Thompson, who included his signature – a little mouse – on every furniture item he created. I find this adorable. Other favourites: American major league baseball player William “Dummy” Hoy and human anatomy illustrator Katherine Jane Gilmore in Victorian London. I nod towards MacCoinnich Bodhar (Deaf Mackenzie), AKA Francis Humberstone Mackenzie the 1st Baron Seaforth (1754-1815), who was a reformist in favour of anti-slavery, parliamentarian, and all-round pompous ass.  But I digress.

Across the sub-genres of Romance, almost all deaf characters could lip-read with ease and have no problem communicating with a wide range of people and often all day (lip-reading is as demanding as playing a fast-paced video game). It’s well known that lip-reading in a candle-lit or dim room is near impossible and yet, many authors had their characters lip-reading with ease in that condition. Authors occasionally forgot that their characters were deaf as many had those characters conversing in the dark, which amused me so much.

There is also a solid belief among authors (and readers) that deafness goes hand in hand with mutism, which I found frustrating because it’s the biggest misconception that Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people are still battling against today. Mutism is a separate disability, which has nothing to do with deafness. The old terms ‘deaf-mute’ and ‘deaf and dumb’ refer to deaf people who chose to communicate in finger-spelling or sign language, not speech. The frequency use of these terms in 19th-century news and Victorian fiction had unfortunately created and fostered an incorrect belief that it meant deaf people literally couldn’t speak.  It’s a shame that this belief is still very much alive in today’s fiction and, of course, the media.

There’s also a belief that there is no degree of deafness as almost all authors have made their deaf characters completely deaf*. Complete deafness in real life is as common as violet eyes, e.g. it’s a rarity. However, there are some authors who chose to go against that. As far as I can see, Catherine Anderson, author of Annie’s Song, is the only one who showed that her deaf heroine could hear some sounds, but couldn’t identify them anyway. This is very common among deaf people in real life, the past and the present.

*There are some authors who opted for the cochlear implant route, such as Neesa Hart’s contemporary romance, A Kiss to Dream On. All right, it’s getting a bit awkward now. Generally, a cochlear implant cannot restore hearing as it’s just a permanent form of a hearing aid, but many romance authors chose to believe it can restore full hearing and portrayed it as such, accordingly. However, it’s a sensitive – and often, controversial – topic for many, particularly Deaf people and parents of deaf children, so I won’t discuss those books here because I don’t want to be dragged into a debate about the ethics of cochlear implants. Anyroad, it doesn’t change the fact that complete deafness is a rarity.

Speaking of rarity, we still haven’t found a SF romance, futuristic romance or – apart from Vivian Arend’s Wolf Signs (Samhain, 2009) with deafened heroine as a werewolf – paranormal romance that features deaf characters. Does anyone know any?

St. Nacho’s - Z A MaxfieldThere are deaf characters in LGBT fiction, but the cataloguing is still rather chaotic because a few suggested titles with those they characterised as deaf when in fact they aren’t. Their disability is mutism which, as I said earlier, has absolutely nothing to do with deafness. In gay fiction, there are 12 titles listed and for the m/m genre, about eight. I read only two, though, which are St. Nacho’s – Z A Maxfield (Loose ID, 2009, contemporary m/m) and Learning to Dharn – Ann Somervile (2011, alternate historical reality m/m). I suspect there are more, so I welcome suggestions and recommendations.

Surprisingly, there is no romantic novel that features a deaf lesbian, deaf asexual person or any other LGBTIQ person. Believe me, we’ve trawled through the Pink Library on our knees with a fine comb. All we could find is a couple of casual references, found in an avid reader’s diary, to an unidentified short story. Rather strange, don’t you think? But if you know there is one out there, please do let us know.

I think I have rambled long enough. Here are some books that may interest you:

The Raging Quiet – Sherryl Jordan (Simon Pulse, 2004, YA historical fiction)

Set somewhere in medieval-like England, farmer’s daughter Marnie marries a lord’s son to ensure her mother could continue living at their farm after her father dies. Her husband, who’s older than Marnie by twenty years, takes her to a coastal village to live at his beloved cottage.  As she struggles to settle in her new life, she’s treated as an outcast by suspicious villagers. She makes a daily escape to the countryside where she one day meets Raven, a seemingly wild-natured handsome boy her age.

Marnie eventually discovers he’s deaf, not a devil-cursed lunatic that the village thinks he is. This prompts her to learn hand gestures to communicate with him, which helps to deepen their friendship and ease their loneliness. It’s Happy Days for them, until her husband’s killed in an accident. This prompts the village to believe that Marnie had used witchcraft to kill her husband, to make room for Raven in her life. Marnie pretty much goes “Are you really that stupid, villagers?” while Raven nods in support. That’s when everything goes to the dogs for all involved.

Although it’s a YA novel, it’s one of the most compelling I read. To be honest, I can’t even articulate because basically, it has to be read to believe. I felt Sherryl Jordan did a decent job with her portrayal of a deaf character. And frankly, by making dates and places as vague as possible, Jordan got away with certain details she wouldn’t otherwise have with a straightforward historical novel.

Mouth to Mouth Erin McCarthyMouth to Mouth – Erin McCarthy (Brava, 2005, contemporary romance).

See Jane’s review of the 2009 reissued edition here to find out why it won a B grade off her. http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/review-mouth-to-mouth-by-erin-mccarthy/.

Ashblane’s Lady – Sophia James (Harlequin Historical Romance).

In spite of my dislike for this (not only because it’s set in Scotland, I wasn’t keen on James’s portrayal of a deaf character), author Jane Beckenham gave Ashblane’s Lady a grade A, as seen in her DA review here.  http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/guest-review-ashblanes-lady-by-sophia-james/

The Tailor’s Daughter – Janice Graham (St. Martin’s Press, 2006, Victorian historical novel).

Gifted seamstress and trader’s daughter Veda Grenfell falls in love with Harry Breadalbane, a viscount and heir to Earldom, but she believes she could not marry him because of a huge class gap between them. And yet,

I know zero about Victorian fashion and all that sort, but this story – told through Veda’s eyes – had my attention from its opening line – “We all believed I had passed through the worst”, which goes on to describe how typhoid fever almost took her life but left her deafened instead – to the end. Not a typical historical romance either.  I agree with one GoodReads reviewer who describes this novel as “schizophrenic” for not being able to make its mind up whether it’s a historical romance, historical fiction or historical mystery. This leaves an impression that it’s a mildly messy hybrid of all three.  In spite of this and the occasionally modern voice, I enjoyed it all the same. Must be one of those rare days when I’m not so nitpicky.  I’d tear it into pieces if I dared to re-read, I bet. Silly, really.

Baby I'm Yours Susan AndersenBaby, I’m Yours – Susan Andersen (Avon, 1998, contemporary road romance)

Bail enforcer Sam McKade mistakes deaf school teacher Catherine MacPherson for her twin sister Kaylee, who’s wanted for grand auto theft, and takes her on road from Seattle to somewhere in Miami. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

Technically, it’s not a ‘deaf’ book but Catherine is a CODA (child of Deaf adult) and a deaf school teacher. There is a brief scene in which she communicates with a deaf stranger in sign language, which was a pleasant surprise.  At least Catherine is a lot nicer than Judith Lee, also a deaf school teacher, from Richard Marsh’s Edwardian-era detective novel, The Adventures of Judith Lee (1916). Well okay, Judith Lee is cooler for knowing Jujitsu, which she used on baddies without qualms.

Note from Jane: this is the book that has the hilarious typo and is only $2.99!: Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

I haven’t read those books listed below, but they were recommended by romance readers over last few years:

Sweet Talk – Susan Mallery (HQN, first book in the Keyes Sisters trilogy).

It won a grade B from Jane who reviewed it here. http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/review-sweet-talk-by-susan-mallery/

Heart Sounds – Michele Johns (Harper Monogram, 1993, American historical romance).

A friend swore on her family’s fiercely protected recipe book that this American historical romance features the best portrayal of a deaf character she’d come across.

Beyond Paradise – Elizabeth DoyleBeyond Paradise – Elizabeth Doyle (Zebra, 2004, pirate historical romance).

Somewhere in the Caribbean during the 1660s, the legendary but imprisoned pirate hero Jacques has somehow turned posh girl Sylvie Davant into his hostage during a bid for freedom from his dank prison.

The Gate to Eden – Cathy McDavid (Dorcester, 2006, American western historical romance)

Widowed Maddie Campbell solicits donations from the rich (translation: steals from the rich) on the behalf of a struggling coal-mining community and her young deaf daughter. It gets dicey when a mysterious lawman turns up in their town to investigate robberies.

A Hearing Heart – Bonnie Dee (Liquid Silver Books, 2009, American western historical romance)

It does enough to win a B grade from Jayne, as seen in this review here http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/review-a-hearing-heart-by-bonnie-dee/

On my current deaf/romance reading list, I have Tessa Dare’s Regency-era romance Three Nights With a Scoundrel (2010) that tells a tale of Julian Bellamy craps himself when he realises he has feelings for Lily, his dead best friend’s deaf sister.  I also have Antony John’s acclaimed YA novel, Five Flavours of Dumb (2010), featuring a deaf school student who somehow become the manager of a rock band called Dumb.

Do you have favourites you would like to share? Quite a few recommended Suzanne Brockmann’s military adventure romance, Into the Fire, and Tessa Dare’s Regency romance, Three Nights With a Scoundrel, actually. Did you enjoy those? How about Kristen Hannah’s rather unconventional handling of her heroine’s deafness in her time-travel romance, Once in Every Life? How do you feel about the general portrayal of deafness in fiction? Or other disabilities if you like.

Cheers for now.

57 Comments

  1. Laura Vivanco
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 04:46:46

    I suppose you’ve come across Jonathan Miller’s “The Rustle of a Star: An Annotated Bibliography of Deaf Characters in Fiction.” Library Trends 41(1): (1992). For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it can be downloaded from here.

  2. Ros
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 05:10:12

    Until I read this, I never realised that I haven’t read a single romance featuring a deaf character. Or at least, not a deaf hero/heroine. I’ve read lots of blind characters. I wonder if there is a reason why they are more common. Dialogue convenience, perhaps? Anyway, I shall rectify this gap in my reading straight away – thanks for the recs and the fascinating analysis.

  3. Ros
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 05:12:11

    Also, does your project have a website? I’d be fascinated to see what other lists they have.

  4. Jane Lovering
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:12:01

    My hero in Please Don’t Stop the Music is deaf. Which is a bit of a spoiler, I suppose, but it still applies.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:15:57

    You didn’t mention one of my favorites. That’s not surprising because it’s a small publisher, but I love this book.
    Gail Delaney’s “Precious Things” has a deaf hero. But not only is he deaf, he’s a rich man and an investment manager. He asks for no quarter, is a hard boss and doesn’t expect any special treatment above that demanded by his disability.
    http://www.gaildelaney.com/PreciousThings.html
    Really worth a read, not least because it’s the hero who is deaf, and he is definitely an alpha.
    http://stores.desertbreezepublishing.com/-strse-9/Gail-Delaney-Precious-Things/Detail.bok

  6. Jane Davitt
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:25:08

    I’m not sure it could be classed as a romance, since the novel ends with the hero alone, but I loved Joanne Greenberg’s ‘Of Such Small Differences’ about a man who’s born blind and rendered deaf in childhood after a beating from his abusive father,

    The novel is from John’s POV and the poignancy of his relationship with a woman from the Sighted/Hearing world remained with me long after I’d finished the book.

    It sounds bleak and in places it is, but the different perspective on the world is illuminating.

  7. Sarah
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:25:53

    This was just a really interesting article to read here at Dear Author. Not what I expected from the site when I woke up this morning. Nicely done.

  8. Brie
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:44:38

    Hi Jaili!
    A couple of favorite books of mine featuring deaf heroines are Sandra Brown’s Unspeakable and Suzanne Brockmann’s Into the Fire. I’ve got a feeling that you are going to get tons of good recs in the comments…
    Great post!

  9. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:47:24

    Besides Into the Fire (heroine had a systemic infection and become profoundly deaf as an adult) Suzanne Brockmann (herself the mother of a hard-of-hearing son) also wrote Otherwise Engaged (Loveswept, Feb 1997), in which the heroine’s son has degenerative hearing loss. The heroine is trying to fill his life with as much music as possible before he goes deaf, so she rents CDs from the library. The millionaire hero buys the library hundreds of CDs. Or something like that.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 07:58:30

    BTW, how many of you who have met me personally know that I’m hard of hearing? It’s worse when I’m tired, and then I go more into lip-reading. And I do shout sometimes, because I can’t hear myself properly!
    Deafness isn’t an “on or off” thing, and while fiction usually deals with the stone deaf, there are degrees, just as there are in blindness. I have an auditory processing disorder, which means I hear properly, but I can’t process it, particularly in a noisy environment.
    It’s not always a dramatic thing.

  11. Isabel C.
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:04:40

    Dorothy Garlock’s Sins of Summer has a deaf character as a secondary heroine–I don’t remember why she’s deaf. I enjoyed it, though it’s been several years.

  12. Elli
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:10:45

    Mystery instead of romance, but I’ve enjoyed how Victoria Thompson deals with deafness & how its viewed in Victorian New York throughout her Gaslight series.

  13. Sarah Morgan
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:15:11

    This is a fascinating article. I can’t add to the fiction list but can we talk about movies? I really enjoyed the sub plot with the deaf brother in 4 Weddings and a Funeral but I have no idea if that was accurately portrayed.

  14. Keishon
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:21:06

    I’ve only read the Catherine Anderson book that featured a deaf/mute character. The only other book that deals with a disability that was really, really good was the late Sandra Canfield’s Night into Day. The heroine had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

  15. Stephanie Brown
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:36:18

    I may have missed this in the above article, but I recall that Tessa Dare’s trilogy had a deaf heroine in the last book. She was the twin of the man who started a club with shares in a stud horse. The heroine I generally recall became deaf, rather than born with deafness, and the hero’s mother may have been deaf. He taught her sign language, and the deafness was definitely a component in the plot/story, rather than just a mentioned character trait. Ah, now I remember, Three Nights with a Scoundrel, Tessa Dare, released in 2010, a Regency historical romance. It was a very, very good read.

  16. Lillie
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:56:58

    I have a PNR somewhere in my tbr pile with a deaf heroine. Moon Craving by Lucy Monroe.

  17. Rebecca (AnotherOne)
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:58:40

    @ Lynne,

    My mom has similar problems with loud restaurants. She is deaf in one ear and if you’re not sitting across from her or to her right at the table she can’t distinguish what you are saying from the background noise. Like you said deafness comes in many forms.

  18. Alison Kent
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 08:58:51

    In case you weren’t aware, author Susan Drake is herself deaf.

  19. Renda
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 09:24:44

    Really interesting. As stated before by Sarah, not what I was expecting at all. But truly informative, well written and thought provoking.

  20. carmen webster buxton
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 09:38:54

    Re: deafness in science fiction

    I think writers assume (or maybe hope) that in the future, technology will conquer physical pretty much all disabilities, a la Geordi LaForge’s visor in Star Trek The Next generation, which allowed him to “see” after his eyes were damaged. I think writers who speculate about future interaction between beings with different sensory perceptions tend to think in terms of alien species rather than humans who are different. That might be a sad comment, or it might be a sign of optimism, depending on how you chose to view it.

  21. susan
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 09:47:06

    In Jill Shalvis’s Her Sexiest Mistake the hero’s brother is deaf.

  22. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 10:02:48

    I really enjoyed Sandra Brown’s Unspeakable. I’ve also read a category romance by her, Eloquent Silence? in which the hero’s daughter is deaf and the heroine is her teacher.

  23. Darlynne
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:03:50

    Jaili, I loved your essay, your detailed work with the databases and the explanation that deafness does not automatically equal mutism. Thank you for enlightening me and giving me something to think about.

  24. Na
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:27:52

    I love it when book covers are presented this, not too big as to lag but not too small. In a few seconds I can see which catches my eye and be interested enough to check it out.

  25. Na
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:29:07

    Sorry, I misex up the comments. My comment before this was meant for podcast post posted after this one…

    I have been meaning to read Annie’s Song for a while now so I do appreciate your thoughts on it.

  26. Tessa Dare
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:43:27

    This is such a great post. Thank you, Maili (Jaili?). I so wish I’d read it a few years ago.

    I am glad Three Nights is not reviewed in this, because I try not to comment on reviews of my own books. This is kind of a borderline situation, but I will comment anyway.

    When I decided to write a book with a deaf heroine, I will freely admit I made that decision from a place of near-total ignorance. I had no idea how much I did not know–about D/deaf culture, history, BSL, you name it.

    So if that aspect of the book worked at all, it is in large part because I was fortunate to connect with Maili on Twitter, and she answered some of my stupid questions and asked me some very smart ones, and pointed me toward some excellent reading that in turn spurred more research. And that is not to imply that the finished book has her seal of approval in any way – she hasn’t read it yet, apparently. The mistakes are all mine, but if I got anything right, there’s a solid chance it was because of her.

    So I mainly just came by to say thanks.

  27. Isobel Carr
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 12:05:01

    I’d guess the deaf character/music connection is because sooooo many people know that Beethoven went deaf (and he’s from the long Regency period).

  28. Carol
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 12:31:05

    Silent Dances Starbridge #2 by A C Crispin & Kathleen O’Malley is Science Fiction with some romance leanings- audience is more YA.

  29. Laura Vivanco
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 13:02:37

    @Isobel Carr: Could Evelyn Glennie have anything to do with it? She’s pretty well known, I think:

    Born in Aberdeen on 19 July, 1965, she studied music from the age of 12, by which time she was profoundly deaf.

    Undeterred, Glennie – who experiences music by absorbing vibrations – won a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she later became a fellow.

    A gifted composer and performer, she has won two Grammy awards and was made an OBE in 1993. (BBC)

    Here she is giving a talk which “illustrates how listening to music involves much more than simply letting sound waves hit your eardrums” (there’s a transcript to the right of the video).

  30. kate r
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 13:35:12

    Bonnie Dee has one–A Hearing Heart. Not sure who was the publisher, but I liked that book, a lot.

  31. Carolyn Jewel
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 13:57:40

    I’ve only read 1 or 2 of the novels you mention and I had issues with them both. My mother essentially (but not completely) lost her hearing as a young girl. She was a girl in a large, poor family and they only took the boys to the doctor. Her ear infections went untreated and she lost a lot of her hearing. She got through HS and part of college by lip reading. She did not get hearing aids until her 2nd year of college. (And she is the ONLY one of 10 children to graduate from college.) To this day, she relies on trying to lip read (her hearing aids are problematic) and I can tell you that she gets a lot wrong. We have to remember to speak only when we’re facing her. It’s tiring for her as well. I also have a cousin who is deaf. I believe she can hear only a few sounds. She has speech, but it’s what we all think of as how a deaf person speaks.

    Since I grew up with a mother who was hearing-impaired I’ve been pretty frustrated by the portrayal of the challenges faced by the hearing-impaired as well as the realities of being hearing-impaired.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

  32. Ridley
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 14:01:49

    It’s interesting to note that romance authors tend to associate deafness with music or sound in their stories. Such as pairing a musician character with a deaf character, or use sounds to highlight a deaf character’s solitude. Seeing that it’s appeared in at least 80% of romantic fiction featuring deaf characters, it suggests that the majority of romance authors thought music and sound mattered more to their deaf characters.

    This doesn’t surprise me, and is part of why I have hated (and I mean hated, not disliked) almost every romance I have read with a disabled character. Authors can’t seem to help themselves from viewing disability as the tragic loss of something precious and seem to always find a way to show the character in terms of what he or she has “lost.”

    Pairing a lonely deaf heroine with a musician hero is par for the course. Everyone knows you can’t be whole and happy if you’re at all disabled. May as well emphasize that by making a major plot point out of what she’s missing.

    And while I hear lots of great things about Annie’s Song, her book Phantom Waltz sent me into such an incandescent rage with her messed up take on disability that I’m not sure I can read another book by her ever again.

  33. Angie
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 14:55:43

    In Laura Kinsale’s Prince of Midnight, the Guy is deaf in one ear and has periodic vertigo. There’s a scene where a bunch of whacked cultists are threatening to pour something hot into his good ear, which would logically render him completely deaf. They’re insisting that God Will Protect Him, but of course he’s not having any and falls into a very realistic panic.

    One thing I always loved about Kinsale was that she wasn’t all caught up in turning her guys into iron-man macho-alpha supermen, which IMO have all the realism of cardboard cutouts. Her guys can have significant weaknesses and fears, and succumb to those fears at times, and she doesn’t care if some readers whine that it’s “Not heroooooic!”

    But anyway [cough] I thought she did a good job showing a character 1) being partially deaf, and 2) having related issues (the vertigo) because of it.

    Angie

  34. Jane
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 16:19:02

    @Na No worries!

  35. Karla
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 17:33:55

    I also liked ‘Of such small differences” because the hero is deaf/blind. I am trained as an ASL interpreter and have volunteered extensively for the American Association of the Deaf/Blind.

    Good points everyone is making about the degree of deafness and also about the erroneous assumption that lipreading is the solution for everyone in every situation. Honestly, it is a talent, like drawing, and not everyone has that talent.

  36. Statch
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 17:40:57

    @Lynne Connolly, thanks for the recommendation of Precious Things. It looked really interesting so I bought it.

    @Angie, I’d forgotten that Prince of Midnight scene, but now that you mention it, I remember how hard it was to read. I have problems in one eye, and read that book shortly after I started having the problems, so it particularly resonated then.

  37. Jaili
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 18:42:40

    @LauraVivanco Yes, we’re aware of Miller’s bibliography. I didn’t realise it was available as a downloadable PDF, though. Thank you for the link.

    @Ros The ‘Blind Characters in Literature’ database has three or four volunteers so yes, it’s huge. My theory on why blind characters are more popular than deaf characters: a) dialogue convenience, as you suggested b) they seem more vulnerable (there is about 70% more blind characters than deaf characters in Horror genre, for instance) c) more intense in terms of solitude d) it makes a better plot device, e.g. José Saramago’s ‘Blindness’. As with most disabilities, blindness in fiction has its share of misconceptions and stereotypes, though.

    Website: unfortunately not. There is no money to convert the database to an internet-friendly format, to purchase a server and blah blah. I believe Simon will apply for a grant in 2012/13 to make this happen. Fingers crossed. I’ll add an edit to this post as soon as it’s available. Thanks!

    @LynneConnolly You’re absolutely right. Deafness isn’t an “on and off” thing. I’d also like to point out that D/deaf people, particularly those from a young age, don’t fret over their deafness.

    Most authors, however, portrayed deaf characters as if deafness was such a source of torment and loneliness that it dominated their lives. It’s the other way round for most deaf people in real life. It’s accessibility that dominates their lives, not deafness.

    For example: If there are two medical clinics in their town and one has a LCD announcement board in reception, they choose that clinic. They are usually early adopters of technology, too. They were the first to take advantage of pagers, SMS in cell/mobile phones, video phones and more.

    Apart from all those, they go through same things as everyone else – money problems, the ups and downs of a relationship, chat about books or favourite TV shows, fret about their children’s grades and more.

    And yet, any of that rarely shows up in fiction featuring deaf characters. Heh.

    @SarahMorgan Yes, the deaf brother in Four Weddings and a Funeral is London-based Welsh actor David Bower, who was born deaf.

    If I remember rightly, David made some suggestions to writer-director Richard Curtis to authenticise his character’s deafness including how other characters interact with him. Apparently, Curtis made changes to the script as a result. Nice one, Curtis!

    @AlisonKent I wasn’t aware Susan Drake was deaf. That makes her, I think, fifth romance author who self-identifies as deaf. Thank you for the heads up.

    @Carmen Webster Buxton

    A good theory, but there are more deaf characters in Science Fiction & Fantasy than Romantic Fiction.

    Deaf characters in SF&F usually appear in a “utopia goes wrong” scenario, though. They also appear in variants of ‘In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King’ scenario.

    Why SF/Futuristic romance authors generally don’t include people with disabilities is still a mystery. In a way, SF/Futuristic Romance is the least diverse sub-genre, comparing with other genres. Disabilities and (not lately though) ethnicities. Worth musing, I’m thinking.

  38. Ros
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 18:58:38

    @Jaili: Thanks, Jaili! Please do let us know if and when the database comes online.

    Reading your comments there makes me wonder whether one reason authors get so much wrong is that the most common form of deafness that we come across is age-related. For people who have been used to hearing all their lives who lose that ability I can imagine that it is much more worrying and debilitating than for people who have been deaf from an earlier age.

  39. KK
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 19:00:49

    Wow, this article is so thorough and well-researched! I loved reading it. I can’t wait to explore all these books — I thought Bonnie Dee did a great job portraying a deaf hero in “A Hearing Heart” and I will definitely add many, many more books from here to my TBR pile! Thank you for sharing!

  40. Jaili
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 19:23:53

    @TessaDare
    Thank you, but you gave me too much credit. Your questions about deafness suggested that you have put a lot of thought into it, so the credit’s all yours.

    @IsobelCarr and @LauraVivanco

    LOL! I actually had a paragraph about Beethoven, Evelyn Glennie, Helen Keller, Laura Bridgman and The Who guitarist Pete Townsend (and a short explanation why they “don’t count” in terms of my post), but I took it out when I realised the word count was creeping toward 4000. *sob*

    @CarolynJewel
    Thank you so much for sharing all that. You’ve articulated it far better than I could possibly try. Figures, since you’re an author.

    Yes, I have issues with the general portrayal of deafness in fiction as well. Some painfully bad and some not too bad, but nothing that made me go “You got it, Author!”

    It’s the portrayal of lip-reading that drives me nuts. Such as being able to lip-read words like “insubordination” and to differ “cheap” from “sheep”. Gah. It’s also rare for *anyone* to lip-read that well.
    Incredibly hard and, my god, so tiring.

    @Ridley
    Beautifully said. I agree with everything you said there.

    While I still feel Anderson did her homework, I have an issue with her use of deafness to highlight hero Alex’s heroic traits and deepen heroine Annie’s vulnerability. Apologies to fans of Annie’s Song, I
    felt at times Annie was a child and always will be, and Alex was no more than her guardian. (Admittedly, it’s been a while since I read it so my recollection may be wrong.)

    But that’s Anderson’s trademark, though. As you noted, she tends to portray her disabled characters as those who need someone to look after them for life. Like you, I don’t support this school of thought.


    Again, thanks to all for responding. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your responses (and compliments! That I like!) and book suggestions. Much appreciated. Anyone else who has more suggestions, I still welcome them. Thank you.

  41. Karen
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 20:17:04

    I picked up a contemporary from my TBR pile not long ago and was surprised that it featured a deaf heroine, since it wasn’t emphasized in the back cover blurb. The book was A Kiss To Dream On by Nessa Hart, a contemporary from 1999. I enjoyed it very much, although it was a little slow to get started – but if you like gentle romances about nice people, I would highly recommend it!

  42. MarieC
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 20:40:01

    @Lillie: I read this book and loved it!

    Jaili, great post!

  43. SAO
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 02:55:25

    I find the conception of “dumb/mute” with deafness interesting. In Russian, the traditional word for German was Nemetz/Nemetzsky) from the word Nem or mute. Germans were frequent visitors/traders in Russia in centuries past.

    It’s pretty obvious that the Germans who traded with Russia weren’t all mute, but the word choice hints that the Germans, not knowing Russian, didn’t respond adequately to Russian speech.

    So, maybe there was a meaning to dumb and mute that meant unresponsive. Certainly the colloquial meaning of dumb as stupid suggests someone who does not make an adequately intelligent response, which would be true of someone who didn’t understand regardless of whether it was because of not hearing the speaker, not speaking the speaker’s language, or having a serious intellectual disability.

    As someone who’s lived in countries where I don’t fluently speak the language, I’ve often encountered people who don’t think they can communicate with me, therefore don’t bother to try. It’s infuriating, but common in countries with languages that few people bother to learn, like Haitian Creole and Bulgarian.

  44. Susan Laura
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 06:58:59

    Interesting project! I can second the recommendations for “Baby, I’m Yours” and “Mouth to Mouth”.

  45. Annabel
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 10:44:46

    This is a timely post for me. I have a book with a deaf heroine coming out in November. I think I did pretty good justice to her as a deaf person. My daughter has hearing loss, and I worked at a school for the deaf for a while. I learned a lot about the “myths” of deafness there.

    It is touchy to write a book where one of the main characters must be reading lips or communicating through ASL the whole time. In my book, the heroine even writes back and forth with some of the characters in a notebook. I was wary of writing a deaf heroine because I’d read some reviews of Kitty Thomas’s Comfort Food where readers didn’t like that the hero was deaf. It’s nice to know there’s a respected body of work out there featuring deaf characters.

    And yes, accurate lip reading is extremely hard. (!)

  46. Ridley
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 13:01:27

    @Annabel: The “hero” of Comfort Food was mute, not deaf.

    Interesting that his being a cold sociopath is fine, but can’t speak normally? WORST CHARACTER EVAR.

  47. Robin/Janet
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 13:23:01

    I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday, trying to remember what books beyond Napier’s The Lonely Season and Kinsale’s Prince of Midnight I’ve read that feature a deaf character, let alone a deaf protag. So I’m definitely writing down these recommendations.

    Still, the patterns Maili has uncovered in how these characters are featured in Romance are wow, so provocative. I wish I’d read enough of the books featuring this trope to delve into that, but I can’t. Tho I do hope that conversation is happening somewhere (and if so, I’d love to observe it!).

  48. etv13
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 04:15:23

    @Rebecca(Another One): I have the same problem with loud restaurants your mother has, although I need to keep people on my left, rather than my right. Cocktail parties and receptions are, if anything, worse. Stereo headphones are no use to me either — a situation for which my husband pities me very much. (He has some headphones he REALLY likes.) But while I have been completely deaf in my right ear for as long as I can remember (my mother caught on to the issue when I was two or three, when I picked up the phone and then switched it from my right ear to my left), I have never thought of myself as deaf. I did really sympathize with the hero of that Laura Kinsale book, though. I had a serious ear infection while on a business trip, and in addition to the excruciating pain of the landing, I was extremely worried about losing the hearing in my good ear.

  49. Maili
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 10:42:21

    @SAO: That’s so interesting. The whole ‘deaf and dumb’ and ‘deaf mute’ thing puzzles some for years, so your comment may shed some light on the mystery. Thank you so much for sharing your observation. You won’t mind if I share your comment with some others?

    Thank you all for the comments and suggestions. Much appreciated!

  50. Tiffany M
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 13:43:00

    Sylvia Day’s “Seven Years to Sin” has a heroine who is deaf in one ear.

  51. nasanta
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 10:56:10

    There’s an incomplete YA mystery series that features a deaf heroine: Hear No Evil by Kate Chester. I really enjoyed it when I was younger, and had been disappointed to find out that it hadn’t been continued. She lost her hearing through meningitis, and her preferred method of communicating is ASL, having just switched from an ASL-instruction school for the Deaf to mainstream high school.

  52. Reading List for Jane, Ending October 4, 2011 - Dear Author
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 10:01:07

    [...] to Mouth by Erin McCarthy. This was a reread after the post by Maili regarding deaf characters. I really like the story and I thought that McCarthy did a good job of showing some of the [...]

  53. Frank Anthony Polito
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 15:12:31

    I must tell you about WAR BOY by Kief Hillsbery which was released in 2000. The story focuses on Rad a 14-year-old gay, deaf “sk8er” growing up in the San Franciso Bay area. While no means a “romance,” there’s an element of a love-story in this beautifully written debut novel. For more info: http://www.amazon.com/War-Boy-Kief-Hillsbery/dp/0688171419

  54. Mellow Osborne
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 06:14:23

    There is a Gay Romance story by a Deaf Author Names Zach Sweets. I thought is was SWEET AND HOT… The story is titled Luscious Love and is free through Amazon etc. WARNING THIS BOOK IS 18+

    About the book:
    Wendell Choate is a struggling Deaf man who wants nothing more than a comfortable life. When Caleb Adams hires him to work in his chocolate shop, the big bear of a man appeals to his sweet tooth. Does Caleb’s interest end at closing time, or is there a chance he wants more?

    There is no ‘Poor Deaf Man’ treatment from Caleb which I found quiet refreshing for a change… a racy book but a well written one.

    Thanks for this database and all the books everyone I find it really hard to find books with Deaf Hero’s and Heroines… as a HOH person I find a lot of the ones I have read anger me no end which is why I have not named them :D

  55. Chie Alem
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 07:58:16

    You want a supernatural romance featuring a deaf character? Try the Brethren series by Sara Reinke. The main character, Brandon Noble, is both deaf and mute (and a vampire), and there is another deaf character as well, Jackson Jones. The first book in the series is Dark Thirst.

  56. Book Review: Three Nights with a Scoundrel « Calling Amy
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 20:40:51

    [...] http://dearauthor.com/features/essays/romances-and-deaf-characters/#comment-313532 Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  57. Holly Young
    Mar 03, 2013 @ 21:36:43

    Thanks so much for the fantastic and highly entertaining blog post! My 12 year old grand son is deaf and you brought up SO many issues I have had with the Deaf in books! Lip reading is highly difficult under the best of circumstances, and even the best lip readers miss quite a bit of the conversation,,,,,,,,,,,the deaf being able to communicate in the dark L:OL,,,,,,,and my personal favorite,,,,,,the assumption that the Deaf are all COMPLETELY deaf! (My grandson has a 125 db loss in one ear and an 85-90 db loss in the other)

    Great job!!!

%d bloggers like this: