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Guest Opinion from Reader DM: The Defeated Heroine

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Back in April, I had an exchange with poster Liza Lester in response to Janine’s review of Petals and Thorns.

Liza wrote:

But it occurred to me that if the forced seduction were presented as (rather mild, actually) BDSM erotica, if it were explicitly a game, or limited to a scene, I would have no problem it. The broader context bothers me.

And I responded:

…it’s the broader context we’re not discussing. Do we want to talk about the surfeit of paranormal books that feature heroines who go from independent professionals, as in Lara Adrian’s books, to entirely dependent wards of their “mates,” living in gated compounds where they are valued for their ability to “breed?” Do we want to talk about Madeline Hunter’s Regency heroines who often attempt and succeed at daring careers, but when the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions is within their grasp, they choose marriage and childbearing instead?

This is the broader context that bothers me. When the hero and heroine achieve a partnership of equals, a little bondage or forced seduction plays as part of the courtship conflict, the struggle, literally, to see who will come out on top. But when forced seduction takes place within the context of a relationship that ends in the diminishment of the heroine–and I think The Sins of Lord Easterbrook is a great example of a book in which the heroine ends with a smaller world than she started with–it takes a disturbing turn.

I can’t claim to be breaking any new ground here. Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance came out almost twenty years ago. She contended that in romance, the happily ever after:

reaffirms its founding culture’s belief that women are valuable not for their unique personal qualities but for their biological sameness and their ability to perform that essential role of maintaining and reconstituting others.

I used to dismiss Radway and her work as elitist and blinkered, but after a recent glom of Madeline Hunter’s Regencies, and Lara Adrian’s Breed books (Adrian’s series title kinda says it all…) I started to feel uncomfortable. There seemed to be a message in these books, conscious or unconscious on the part of the authors, that supported Radway’s conclusions.

In Madeline Hunter’s The Saint, talented Bianca wants to study and sing opera. The hero spends the entire book trying to prevent her, because good girls don’t (sing opera). When he relents, and offers both marriage and the freedom to pursue her dreams, she gives up her ambitions:

No regret tinged the joy that the decision gave her. In the years ahead she might experience some nostalgia for what she relinquished, but she would never grieve…She knew with a woman’s certainty that this marriage would indeed deny her part of the dream, but she did not care about that.

Bianca swears she will be content singing in private for her husband—an about face for a heroine who, only a few pages before, was desperate to sing in front of an audience. I confess I did not share Bianca’s “woman’s certainty,” or her joy. Instead, it felt to me as though the world of possibilities her talent and hard work opened to her, had closed.

Pamela Regis made a mighty effort in her Natural History of the Romance Novel to rebut Radway, re-characterizing the betrothal-centric endings of romances as victories for the heroine over the courtship’s obstacles and over the hero, but I closed the covers of The Saint wondering who had the real victory, Bianca, or Vergil? Her want was to sing. His was to force her to abandon her goals and marry him, and he won. He ended with everything he wanted, and Bianca ended with…just him.

I had similar difficulties with The Sins of Lord Easterbrook. The mixed race heroine had established herself as one of the few successful western traders in China. The hero managed his inherited wealth. Given her birth and circumstances, her achievements were extraordinary. His were not. Yet there was never any question of who would give up what. The heroine gives up her family, the country of her birth, and her international career, to marry the hero.

The argument can be made that these are historicals, and that most women of the time married and raised families, confining themselves to the domestic sphere. But Hunter goes to great lengths to craft compelling heroines who are extraordinary outside the domestic sphere. And she takes great pains to include their decision to abandon their careers in the ending of the novel, making it an integral part of the happily ever after.

Hunter crafts similar resolutions for most of her heroines, including the more recent Rarest Blooms protagonists. It is always the women who must give up their pursuits in order to be with the hero. Her consummation scenes also share a common trait (emphasis in each case mine):

In Lessons of Desire:

He shed his lower garments and stepped closer. A savage excitement shuddered through her, like a quake of wicked anticipation. He covered her without touching her. He dominated her without even trying.

In The Saint:

Kissing her with fierce capitulation, he dragged her back through the threshold of the tower, into the mottled light and cool stones…His arms surrounded and dominated, holding her firmly to his body and the ravishments of his mouth.

In The Sins of Lord Easterbrook:

His sure hand caressed down her body, raising delicious expectations of that stroke on her flesh. He dominated her with his body, his embrace and his power, and she surrendered.

The language of dominance and submission is always used to characterize the hero and heroine’s first sexual encounter. And at the end of the book, the heroine always submits to the hero’s demand to reduce her participation in the world outside the home.

The first of Hunter’s Regencies, The Seducer, appeared in 2003, the same year that the New York Times ran it’s now famous piece, The Opt-Out Revolution, about educated career women who opted out of the workforce to focus on home and family. But the women profiled in the Times were going against the grain for college-educated women, and they were making choices for themselves. Hunter’s heroine’s are always pressured by the hero to conform to societal expectations for women.

I will admit that I still read Hunter’s books. They’re well-plotted and briskly paced, but I don’t find the endings particularly happy. Perhaps it’s because they’re missing that sense of victory for the heroine, or perhaps it’s because I don’t believe that Bianca will have no regrets. But I still prefer couples whose lives are made more extraordinary—not less—by having met and loved one another.

Guest Reviewer

92 Comments

  1. Angie
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 05:27:49

    I have to agree, unfortunately, and I used to be one who defended romance novels against feminist critiques.

    I think what really jolted me on this issue was reading Christine Feehan’s Carpathian books. I enjoyed the earlier ones — although she has some issues with trying to go more-and-bigger with each one, and when you start with the Prince, that’s hard to do without getting silly — but after reading ten or twelve of them, I finally couldn’t ignore the really aweful trend of how they ended and how the woman changed in each book.

    Pretty much every book (and it’s been a while so I don’t remember titles or character names, sorry) starts with a woman who’s strong and independent, in attitude even if she’s in trouble and can’t quite manage for herself at the moment. The Carpathian men have this inborn (it seems) need to completely dominate their women in the name of taking care of them, and the women are presented to the reader as immature, childish and selfish in their desire to pursue their own goals and dreams, and make their own decisions.

    The argument is, here’s this wonderful man, strong and handsome and wonderful in bed, who loves you beyond imagining and wants nothing but to love you and take care of you and surround you with luxury and security. He’s willing to give you everything, protect you with his life, make all the hard decisions and let you live your life in tranquil comfort and love forever, and all he asks is that you love and obey him. You, the woman, have your petty little dream of being a stage magician (or whatever) and for that you’re defying him? How selfish! Clearly you’re an ignorant little girl who doesn’t know what’s best for yourself.

    The woman’s character development, in pretty much every book, consists of her “realizing” how foolish she was being to run away from and fight with this awesome man who only wants to take care of her. How childish her attitude was! She’s grown up into a mature woman who realizes that true happiness lies in submitting to this man who loves her so much, and she’s clearly better off for it. The End.

    The man’s character development consists of letting the woman have her way against his better judgement one time, having it all go pear-shaped with her ending up injured or captured by the bad guys or whatever, and deciding that For Her Own Good he’s going to force her to do what he knows is best forever and ever, because her foolish little whims are going to get her killed some day otherwise. And because his whole life is centered on her — on constantly watching out for her and making decisions about what she should and shouldn’t do or have or be, on providing what he thinks she should have, or whatever she wants if he agrees it’s safe and suitable — he decides that he’s completely at her mercy and under her control, hahaha! [eyeroll]

    They actually have an equal relationship, you see, because he’s focused on her and she submits to him, yay.

    I can see some women being into that, honestly. But after a dozen or so books with the same independent women “learning” that their independent natures and their personal goals are just symptoms of their selfishness and immaturity, something they need to grow out of before they can be truly mature adults, even the cool worldbuilding (other than the gender relations) and enjoyable writing just weren’t enough to keep me reading anymore. I read a few of her next series, but it was the same thing at the core.

    Clearly there are millions of readers who like this stuff. Or who like the good parts and don’t really think about what’s being communicated by the way pretty much all of Ms. Feehan’s men and women relate to one another and the relationships they build together by the ends of her books. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, though; it was a smack in the face with a dead salmon every time I tried to read one, so I gave up. And it’s too bad, because other than this, she’s really an excellent writer.

    Angie

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  2. Cady
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 05:38:34

    Truthfully, this is one of the reasons, I don’t read paranormal. All too often, the heroine is forced to leave everything she is and was to be with him. That is not something I can accept, so I simply skip the genre. This is sometimes a problem in regency books, but the timing of the books makes it a bit easier for me to accept.

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  3. SHZ
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 06:02:32

    I think Lara Adrian is being unfairly picked on there! The BDB is no different, same goes for Christine Feehan, Gena Showalter – well, anyone – that’s paranormal romance for you! I hardly read the stuff, but do enjoy Lara Adrian’s books more than the others – I think her heroes appeal to me more than other writers’. I am no tied-down housewife (and seriously dislike children and have no intention of ever breeding), but I never go too deeply in the messages of the books on the very few occasions I read the paranormal subgenre.

    But more to the point, I don’t think this is an issue with romance as much as an issue with society in general. I know plenty of people who barely ever even read a magazine who are merrily giving up their careers to stay home, breed and bake cupcakes all day. It’s easy enough to pin the blame on a genre of books, but I find it’s the non-readers who lean towards the 50s housewife culture more than educated women who read romance for the escape.

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  4. joanne
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 06:22:08

    I will admit that I still read Hunter’s books.

    I can not imagine why.

    Plot and pacing aside, if the books do not bring you joy or at least enjoyment, why support the author? With each purchase your message to the writer & her publisher is ‘more, please’.

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  5. Isabel C.
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 06:48:57

    Yes. This.

    I don’t think I’ve read Hunter, or not in a while, but I can’t see the sacrifice of one partner’s hopes and dreams as happy, or romantic, or anything but horrible. I think a good romantic partner is someone who helps you be who you want to be, not someone who makes you who *he* wants you to be.

    @SHZ: Oh, the novels are definitely a reflection of society–a symptom rather than a cause. But I think talking about symptoms is maybe the only way to deal with the underlying cause, in this case.

    @Joanne: Cannot speak for the OP, but there are plenty of books I read and enjoy even if they have major elements I dislike.

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  6. DS
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 07:08:28

    I don’t think Adrian is being picked on and I don’t think that women choose a homemaker’s role because of reading or not reading romances. Whether or not women are in the workplace is usually a function of economic and social changes.

    However, I don’t enjoy the defeated heroine and avoid the authors mentioned. Thanks for giving me a term for this type of heroine (or female protagonist).

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  7. Chelsea
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 07:45:42

    I have issues when the heroine does an abrupt 180 from career woman and loving it, to housewife and bother, with no catalyst in between other than the presence of the alphahole hero. It’s a lot more forgivable if the author establishes early on that the heroine really wants to be a wife and mother, and were she to have children would love to take some time off and raise them. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife, if it suits you. It’s not ok when the heroine is forced into it, and just decides she’s cool with it because at least she has her man.

    And no matter what the domestic situation ends up being, I have to be able to believe that the man and woman in question are equals on some level. Ok, maybe she’s got babies, but she can still kick some ass and protect herself and her family if she needs to. Maybe she’s staying home instead of having an active career, but she still has a life–friends, hobbies, interests–outside of her man.She still gets to be on top some times.

    Not long ago I dedicated a blog post to Christine Feehan’s Carpathians, in an effort to explain why they both delight and annoy the hell out of me. All I can say on the matter is, the thought of being that protected and cared for is alluring. But the truth is, I wouldn’t want it in real life, because I would never want to lose who I am to my relationship. But that’s what fiction is good for, playing out fantasies that you know would not be good for you in reality.

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  8. Linda Hilton
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 07:47:09

    Ditto. Ditto. And Ditto.

    (And now I really need to expand that damn thesis. . . . . )

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  9. Christine
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:01:15

    SHZ said “I think Lara Adrian is being unfairly picked on there! The BDB is no different, same goes for Christine Feehan, Gena Showalter ”

    I can’t speak about Lara Adrian as I have not read her but I don’t feel that The BDB by J.R. Ward falls under the category described above at all. In many cases the women are more liberated (Marissa, Layla etc.) than before they “mated.” It’s also very rare for the women to become pregnant, and among them one cannot and the man knew it before he married her and another one says clearly she never wanted children and her spouse does not either. There are two women “warriors” who fight with the men, a doctor and a nurse amongst other careers. A big theme is taking the women out of the cloistered existence they had previously. In the last one, the man was a healer (doctor) and the woman fought the battles. I really enjoyed that change up in the routene.The man was just as manly and wholly interested in his own profession- he didn’t decide he wanted or had to be a warrior to keep up with the woman he fell in love with.

    One of my biggest disappointments in literature relates to this subject. Jo March in Little Women. I know a lot of people find Dr. Baer a romantic match for her but I personally despise it. All I can think of is him lecturing her for writing about “unsuitable” and “unladylike” things and my blood starts to boil. How he shames her about the money she earned writing exciting stories and tells her what she should think. In the end she settles down to become the suitable helpmeet to him, wife and mother. Mild teacher instead of independant author. If I had to pick one book that was the biggest disappointment in my life I would have to say this one.

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  10. Annabel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:02:10

    I wonder if this is a kind of modern-day version of the bodice-ripping rape scenes of the 70′s and 80′s romance. Back then, women felt guilty about wishing for lustful, sexual abandon. So they met those guilty, hidden needs by reading these books where women were “forced” to receive sexual pleasure by the male heroes. Since the women were forced, it took the onus of guilt off of them.

    Fast forward to today, where women feel guilt about wishing they could stay home and…well…keep house and breed. Women aren’t supposed to want that, but deep down inside I suppose some do. Research shows that many working women also still bear the brunt of the work at home. There have got to be some women who want to escape. Enter romance novels where the woman is “rescued” from her career by a hero who knows better and compels her to stay home and bear his kids.

    Just a thought, since I too have been noticing a lot of this type of ending lately.

    I know I started a new Madeline Hunter last week and just put it down. She just isn’t working for me anymore, but it’s more just a lack of real powerful emotion or something. I don’t know. I am getting jaded with romance books lately. Seems like they all have some agenda to get across, but not enough of those moments that make me feel excited and alive. Meh.

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  11. Carin
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:03:48

    SHZ says: “But more to the point, I don’t think this is an issue with romance as much as an issue with society in general. I know plenty of people who barely ever even read a magazine who are merrily giving up their careers to stay home, breed and bake cupcakes all day. It’s easy enough to pin the blame on a genre of books, but I find it’s the non-readers who lean towards the 50s housewife culture more than educated women who read romance for the escape.”

    As a woman who gave up her career to stay home, breed and bake cupcakes all day (in your words) I’m offended at your generalization. From the outside it may look like I “gave up” my career, but I see it as trading one career for another. I understand that society (and certainly you) don’t value being a stay at home mom as a career, but it’s more work than I ever did at my “real job”.

    I’m not saying I think every mother should be at home full time. I think that’s a personal choice and you have to do what’s right for you and your family. But I’m tired of being knocked as anti-feminist and stupid because I choose this as my career.

    All that said, I am also annoyed at this diminished heroine trend (and thank you for giving it a name!). It is very frustrating to come to know and like a character and then watch while the author takes away so much of what made her unique.

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  12. Klio
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:05:54

    Perhaps these novels are reinforcement and reassurance for those women who believe or are expected to learn to accept that a proper, “strong” woman submits to her husband/mate. The “strong” and smart woman’s big job is to find the correct male to dominate her, and the couple are then “equal” according to various convoluted justifications including the one described in the post. It’s a societal trend in some groups (not in any way a trend for me, just so you know).

    Those readers might find an independent heroine foolishly immature, and the story unsatisfying, and a hero who adjusts his life for the heroine’s to be a weak choice of husband. I’m sure it’s an acceptable scenario IRL for a man to decide that the woman may pursue her career, but of course in the story the point is that female character development is achieved by acceptance of male dominance, and it’s the woman reader who needs to learn this. Quell those urges! Male character growth is to accept his own superiority and the responsibility of getting to be alpha–but it doesn’t sound like that’s heavily addressed in some of the novels described above.

    It’s a shame if books targeting these readers only focus on the chick having to give up her dreams, and never on negotiation and Mr Alpha Male figuring out that making her happy can also mean participating in the woman’s dreams and goals. But the point much too often seems to be that the woman gets only one goal (traditional housewife and/or whatever the guy already wanted anyway) rather than something else or a combination. And that irks.

    Myself, I’d be through with an author pretty darned quickly if a woman’s abandonment of lifelong dreams were her prevailing view of what’s expected in each and every male/female relationship.

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  13. cead
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:10:46

    Thank you for this. I feel the same way; I was grumbling to myself just the other day that even in contemporaries, heroines with awesome careers all too often don’t get to keep them. (Is it me, or is it the case that often the author sneaks a defeated heroine in by forcing her out of her career because she’s been injured, or something? This irks me; on the one hand, at least it’s not the hero, but on the other, it feels like the author felt that the only way to resolve the conflict was to remove the heroine’s choices.)

    I do read and enjoy Hunter’s books, but it occurs to me on reading this that I don’t really read them as romance per se. To me they read more like historical novels with the plot concentrating on a romance. A lot of extraordinary women would have been put in the positions of Hunter’s heroines; not all of them would have been lucky enough to find men who were unconventional in the right way. I guess I read them as though they were social commentary – probably not the way they’re intended to be read, but there you go.

    My romance habit is an escape; but the more romance I read, the less well it works as an escape, because the implications and underlying messages typically sent by books in the genre are getting harder and harder for me to ignore. There are two big reasons (and various other smaller ones) that these messages bother me:

    1) I hate being reminded that many people do still feel this way;
    2) If people look at romance novels to say ‘what do women want?’, guess what they’re going to conclude.

    For many women, that’s fine; being a housewife is what they want, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I wish the genre were comfortable reflecting a wider range of feelings on the subject. We don’t all want that, just as we don’t all want children and we’re not all virginal Madonnas.

    @SHZ: I think it’s not that the blame goes on the genre as the other way around: the genre reflects societal attitudes.

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  14. Isabel C.
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:14:13

    @Christine: Oh my God yes.

    I read a lot of Victorian YA girls’ lit, and while I like Louisa May Alcott in general, she has two related tropes that really bug me: the thing where men are moral guides to foolish young women, and the thing where “moral guides” means telling them not to ZOMG show some cleavage at a ball or write sensational fiction. I mean, yes, 1860s weird Transcendentalist morals, but…ugh, shut up, Laurie and Prof. Bhaer! Let the girls have some damn fun!

    Forever Young Adult just finished deconstructing Little Women, actually. Good times.

    @Chelsea: Yes, this.

    Domesticity is fine and cool. If you present me with a heroine like Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill or McKinley’s Beauty (in Rose Daughter) or whatever, I’m totally cool with her deciding to stay home and keep house/raise kids/etc. (As long as she has outside interests: I don’t find Betty Draper particularly compelling as anything but a *scary* psychological study.) Just…don’t have her give up what she wants.

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  15. cead
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:17:38

    @Christine: Re: Little Women: yes yes me too. I’ve hated that ever since I first read it as a kid and I hate it more and more the older I get. Similarly, Anne from the latter Anne of Green Gables books. She goes to college at a time when women are first doing that… and then she waves away all her dreams and says they weren’t important anyway. What??

    @Annabel: I really like that way of looking at it – thank you.

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  16. Ros
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:53:02

    @Christine: I strongly disagree about Jo March! If you read the later books, it’s absolutely clear that she doesn’t become a ‘mild teacher’ and that her literary career goes from strength to strength. I don’t think that Dr Bhaer restricts her, but that he actually helps her to find herself and her voice.

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  17. Christine
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 08:58:20

    @Isabel C. and Cead- For me the worst part is the disappointment. Jo is such a wonderful character for the first half of the book- fiery, original and independant. When I read it as a child I adored her. Until the second half.I never had a problem with Laurie as much as Prof. Bhaer. Laurie always seemed to approve of Jo and encourage her. Dr. Bhaer spends all his time telling her how wrong she is. By the end the Jo that could not be beaten by poverty, disapproval from her relatives or society is broken down by Prof. Bhaer. Her dreams of travel and excitement are over. The woman who never expressed an interest in teaching wants to use her inheritance to open a school (to give him a job.) His ambitions have become hers, and for me Jo is completely sublimated into this boring boring patriarchical guy.

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  18. Jaclyn
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:07:35

    Someone wrote a historical where the heroine was a titled lady–a duchess maybe? (she inherited the title)–and when she met her hero, after much angst, he conformed to her wish to build a railroad in England. IIRC she was considered eccentric and odd by society. Wish I could remember the book it engages with some of these problems. Anyone else recall this one?

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  19. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:12:53

    A couple points I’d like to make. I have only ever read Lessons of Desire by Hunter so I can’t speak to her other books. But, in that book, there is no real career for the heroine. She publishes her father’s memoirs and from what I could tell, owned the publishing house her father had had. Neither of those 2 things are altered by her marriage. She is already shunned by most of society for being weird and illegitimate. So far, not looking too great, imo. They “marry” in a ceremony neither truly considers binding until he wants it and she does’t. She ends up choosing the marriage for her child and because she loves the man. He doesn’t pressure her into deleting the part about his family in her father’s memoirs and they both know he won’t touch her publishing career. Imo, she is in the driver’s seat the whole time. That’s a far cry from a defeated heroine. As for domination, each one of the passages was from a sexual encounter. They weren’t in the “he walked into a room and dominated her by his mere presence into giving up publishing her father’s memoirs” vein.

    As for Lara Adrian’s books, seems to me that in her first one, the female protagonist’s ability to simply know where the bad guys are (and photograph) them is pretty darn important and integrated into their strategy to catch them. Each one of those women has a unique and important ability beyond the ability to have babies and each one of those becomes important to the way they move forward and get closer to finding and destroying the bad guys.

    And Christine Feehan, I can think of at least 5 women off the top of my head who are not diminished by their lifemates/mating at all: Shea, Destiny, Natalya, Ivory, Jaxon. Of those, 4 fight.

    However, all that said, I happen to believe that if a woman chooses to be a stay at home mother, fantastic! If she chooses to have a career and no kids, fantastic! If she chooses to have it all, fantastic! Who are we to judge the choices of another woman just because we would not make the same choice?

    Maybe, in the end, each of them had a dream and realized that it wasn’t enough just to realize that dream, that it wouldn’t sustain them and they preferred to choose to abandon that dream and work on another.

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  20. Liana Brooks
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:26:06

    A compelling reason to switch to SFR where women have careers, guns, and lovers. Even our married women (a la Bujold and McCaffery) get better lives. They get the guy, the action, and the respect.

    True Love makes you grow as a person, it doesn’t reduce you to slavery in the name of marriage.

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  21. library addict
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:29:01

    I have no problem with the heroine giving up her career (permanently or temporarily) to stay home and take care of the children so long as it’s clear it was her choice and the consequences of said choice are discussed or at least alluded to in some way.

    I do not read Feehan’s Carpathian series, but the heroines in her Ghostwalker series do not fall into the marry and be coddled scenario (except for maybe Briony, but she really wants to be a stay-at-home mother so it didn’t bother me). One of the reason Ryland and Lily from the first book in the series are one of my favorite couples is that he knows she’s smarter than he is and that’s one of the things that he finds most attractive about her.

    I agree there are books in the romance genre that feature the defeated heroine (good name for it). But I don’t feel marriage and motherhood are always—or even usually—a bad thing. But there has to be an equality of give-and-take in the relationship. Not the heroine doing all the giving and the hero all the taking. I don’t buy that a true HEA.

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  22. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:32:46

    Actually Liana, maybe it does. In the dom/sub subculture and in some forms of BDSM, that’s exactly what it does (in many people’s minds) and yes, the term slave is actually used. For people who choose that way of life, it is not seen as slavery in the name of marriage the way you put it; for people in it, it is considered quite liberating. For the submissive specifically, it is considered liberating to be able to be who they are, i.e., submissive to another.

    Personally, I don’t see how the ability to have guns and lovers makes you grow as a person, but to each their own.

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  23. Liana Brooks
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 09:53:15

    Mo – BDSM erotica is a completely different genre than what’s being discussed here. There are people who enjoy the sub/dom relationship in a consenting, loving way and more power to them.

    What’s being discussed here is the romance of giving up everything you are because of love. I can’t find that romantic. It’s not a trend in SFR, where women (and men and other since we’re very open minded on that side of the bookshelf) can continue to have their own identities after they fall in love. SFR doesn’t require a person to erase their personalities just to raise children. What a terrifying world it would be if that were true.

    And, if that’s puts the jelly in your donut, we can point you in the direction of some very steamy BDSM written for the SFR crowd. I understand it’s a very educational read. *wink*

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  24. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:01:09

    lol Liana, I was referring to your comment that “True Love makes you grow as a person, it doesn’t reduce you to slavery in the name of marriage.” That in some dom/sub and BDSM irl relationships that is the point. I was not referring to book relationships.

    and lol on the educational :) I have some er education on that front :)

    My basic point is that in the end, if a woman chooses to give up one dream for another, that is still her choice, whether we would choose it for ourselves or not. It is not for us to decide that she could or couldn’t be happy with that choice just because we don’t like the choice. Nor should we denigrate the choice to abandon a career for motherhood. Or denigrate not having children because she wants a career. We all compromise in life, in our relationships. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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  25. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:05:48

    I believe the point that DM is making isn’t the one choice made in isolation. No one is saying, least of all DM, that choice isn’t legitimate. What DM is pointing out is that in the body of work by Adrian and Hunter, there are repetitions of themes which have the women making the same choice repeatedly.

    Moreover, this isn’t a choice v. non choice discussion only (despite some of the comments). DM is looking at specific word choice. In the Hunter books she excerpts, Hunter uses the same verbiage in the sex scenes wherein the men physically dominate the women. These aren’t BDSM books (where I understand that the power actually resides in the submissive). As DM points out, Hunter takes pains to craft an unusual and independent woman in her stories thus the more conventional choice that they ALL make along with the verbiage Hunter uses during their physical encounters lead to a portrayal of the diminished heroine in the BODY of works.

    Again, DM is not looking at these books in isolation but over the course of several books with the themes and language repeating themselves.

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  26. Liana Brooks
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:07:15

    Agreed. :o) As long as both parties are truly happy, the marriage is fine. It’s when one person gives up happiness, independent thought, and their own well-being that I begin to worry. None of those sounded like happy situations.

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  27. dick
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:10:45

    I don’t want to quote the long passages in Hunter’s “The Saint” that contradict the OP, but I would direct everyone to pages 404-405 of the paperback.

    In my thinking, the crux of romantic fiction is the relationship. Is it possible for a relationship to continue if one or both of those involved doesn’t “give up” something? In fact, isn’t the entire point of one, that by thus “giving up something”–independence, freedom, an ambition, a desire–something better arises? In fact, it seems to me that romance fictions end with marriage because it most clearly reflects that willingness to see the relationship itself as of paramount importance.

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  28. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:18:54

    As I said in my first post, in Lessons of Desire, I felt that the heroine held all the cards the whole time. At no point did I get the sense that she was intimidated by the hero or give up anything she was not 100% ok with.

    The original post brought up domination, but only in a sexual sense. In no passage did it relate dominating the woman in other parts of their lives together. And, at least in Lessons, it is fully understood at the end that in no way was he stopping her from doing what she wanted, short of having affairs, and I never got the sense she was all into that anyway.

    @Jane: I can appreciate that the consistent use of the term “dominate” in her books during sexual encounters can raise eyebrows. As I say above, I don’t get the sense that the heroine is diminished by her marriage in Lessons and cannot make that determination for Hunter’s other books as I have not read them.

    I strongly take exception; however, to the idea that marriage and having children diminishes a woman and perhaps ultimately, that is where my issues lie. Hence my pressing the “choice” button.

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  29. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:28:53

    @Mo: Where am I arguing that marriage and children diminish a woman? The thrust of the opinion piece is the systemic decision portrayed by the female characters to give up, for example, their family, their country, their successful international career. It’s not about the choice of being married and having children. That’s a red herring.

    In the Sins of Lord Easterbrook or in the one where Bianca chooses to give up an illustrious singing career, both heroines could have married and had children AND kept their “careers” such as they were in the 19th C. To present a woman’s choice as binary: “marriage and children” v. “career” is diminishing in and of itself. Why couldn’t the two heroines have both marriage, children, and their outside interests? Why did Hunter portray her female characters repeatedly giving up their outside interests to pursue only hearth and home?

    Again, I don’t think that the original poster is arguing that women should not choose marriage and family.

    It’s the repetitive, systemic pattern of providing the heroine with that limited binary choice, as if that if you can only have one or the other.

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  30. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:25:19

    @Jane: Hopefully I can clarify/explain what I am trying to say a bit better. I think I have been unsuccessful so far in saying what I am really trying to say.

    The guest reviwer said that “Perhaps it’s because they’re missing that sense of victory for the heroine, or perhaps it’s because I don’t believe that Bianca will have no regrets. But I still prefer couples whose lives are made more extraordinary—not less—by having met and loved one another.” and “But when forced seduction takes place within the context of a relationship that ends in the diminishment of the heroine–and I think The Sins of Lord Easterbrook is a great example of a book in which the heroine ends with a smaller world than she started with–it takes a disturbing turn.”

    So, I understand this to mean that a heroine must achieve victory over her hero and that she must have something outside the home to not qualify for “diminished heroine” status. Perhaps I am misreading, but that is what this says to me. So, now I have a definition of what diminished heroine means.

    Then, you said that “As DM points out, Hunter takes pains to craft an unusual and independent woman in her stories thus the more conventional choice that they ALL make along with the verbiage Hunter uses during their physical encounters lead to a portrayal of the diminished heroine in the BODY of works.”

    I accept that all Hunter’s heroines choose marriage. And I accept that you, the guest reviewer and others here say that they should choose both career and marriage. I also accept the premise that in all her books, Hunter has the hero pressuring the heroine to accept “normal” societal roles.

    I am saying that in Lessons, the heroine chooses both marriage and career. According to the guest reviewer, in The Saint, the heroine is offered both marriage and a career. She has “achieved victory” over her hero. He will no longer stand in her way of a career. But, she chooses in the end to abandon her career.

    Continuing discussion of The Saint, the guest reviewer says “Bianca swears she will be content singing in private for her husband—an about face for a heroine who, only a few pages before, was desperate to sing in front of an audience. I confess I did not share Bianca’s “woman’s certainty,” or her joy. Instead, it felt to me as though the world of possibilities her talent and hard work opened to her, had closed.”

    And I would argue in response that another world has opened up to her, the world of raising children.

    Now, to your specific comments. You specifically do not say that marriage and children diminish a woman. This is why I established a baseline definition of a “diminished heroine” up front in this post because I wanted to start with something I could go back to. What you do say is that a woman should choose to have it all. And part of that is that any other choice, based on the definition makes the heroine a diminished heroine. Therefore, opting for marriage and children diminishes the heroine.

    As to why Hunter repeatedly chose to do that. I can hazard guesses, but I do not know her motivation. Perhaps, since she was writing historicals, she felt that was the way it should go. Perhaps, she felt that was just the way she wanted it to go. Perhaps, she got into a bit of a writing rut and it just happened that way. Yes, it is repetitive. In fact, I very much doubt I will read the others in this series.

    No, I think the guest reviewer is arguing that the heroines should choose it all and that any other choice diminishes them. And that is the crux of my problem. The guest reviewer has an issue with how the heroines as written by Hunter (and other authors she does not include examples of) choose marriage and children when she thinks they should choose more. In her eyes, the fact that they are not more makes them diminished.

    I am bothered by that.

    I think there are many choices and I am ok with all of them, as I have posted here repeatedly. Other people however see one of those choices as diminishing a heroine.

    I could probably argue this point for a long time. But, I am going to call it quits. I have tried to outline as best I could the base premise and my issues with it.

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  31. Jeanette Grey
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:35:16

    Well said. While I enjoy reading paranormal romances, I find I have to take a break between them, often for this very reason. I hate that so many of the heroines suddenly decide after finding love that they no longer need anything else – careers, family, friends outside whatever tribe of feral men she’s subjugated herself to.

    One series I thought handled this fairly well was the Demonica series by Larissa Ione. While all of the heroines have some lifestyle changes in store, thanks to the supernatural natures of their mates, they still have ambitions. Hell, in the first book, the heroine even gets a promotion!

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  32. Annabel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:39:32

    @Jane @Mo

    I think the issue is in saying that unless a woman chooses to do both (career AND family) then she is diminished.

    I feel one of the great burdens of womanhood is that we have to juggle these two sides–home and career. Men aren’t faced with the choices we are. Very few men start a relationship and start families and then stop to think, hmm…keep working or stay home? It usually falls to women to make that choice, but I don’t think choosing either/or makes them “diminished” or “defeated”. Let’s turn it around. Are women who choose career only, rather than children/homemaking, also diminished or defeated women?

    Like Mo, that “defeated” label makes me uncomfortable. If the heroine ends the book by staring out a window, popping prozac, and pining for her lost career prospects, I can see it. If she ends the book in shackles under the hero’s control, begging to be allowed to go back to work but not listened to, I can see it. But in most cases, the heroine willingly chooses her path. We may not agree with it, but c’est la vie.

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  33. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:43:53

    This thread is interesting to me. At one point during the editing of my second book, my editor (who is not versed in romance) said, “Why do your men give up their lives for your women?” And I said, “Because that’s never done in romance.”

    My one and only forced seduction (also May/December) coupling results in the female protag’s career taking off. The male semi-retires to do what he loves which also allows him to be a semi-stay-at-home dad.

    Ditto another couple (this one neither forced seduction nor May/December). The female’s career advances and the male lets go of what he’s tired of doing to do something new–raise kids, which is his stated goal throughout the book. He’s got a bad case of ADHD and he’s bored with what he’s been doing all these years.

    It wasn’t exactly something I did deliberately; it was just the way the characterizations worked out. It simply wouldn’t have made sense for either of those women to suddenly want to give up what they’d worked for and built to make a 180 toward SAHMism.

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  34. Annabel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:46:21

    And I think too that the heroine giving it all up for love is a sort of author’s shortcut for saying “For REALS this is true love because look at all she’s giving up to be with him!!”

    Which kind of does an injustice to the complexity of the give and take in real relationships, and the real choices women struggle with.

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  35. Marsha
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:47:37

    @Isabel C.:

    How interesting it would be to have a heroine who aimed at a domestic-centered life, even as she went through her education and early adulthood working for pay. Would we accept a romance that saw her, as part of the HEA, taking a job? Is that still diminishing, that she didn’t get exactly what she wanted/thought she had wanted?

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  36. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:50:21

    @Marsha I think that describes 99% of the HPs. The fact is that romance’s normality is choosing marriage and children. Stop. When there is an author, like Hunter, who is trying to craft outside the box heroines, unusual for their time period, and then have those heroines choose the dominant romance theme, it’s a disappointment. Not to mention that Hunter’s language, as quoted by DM, is at odds with the characters she is trying to craft.

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  37. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:54:52

    @Mo

    What you do say is that a woman should choose to have it all. And part of that is that any other choice, based on the definition makes the heroine a diminished heroine. Therefore, opting for marriage and children diminishes the heroine.

    No, that is not what I am saying. I’ve said that the problematic thing that DM portrays in her post is the systemic and repeated patterning of behavior and language. There are hundreds of thousands of romances that portray marriage and children as the right, appropriate, and only choice for the HEA. When an author takes the time and effort to craft a character that is outside the norm of the romance boundaries and then ultimately has the characters, systemically, choose the end result that is normal and conventional path, what message is she sending?

    It makes perfect sense for a character like Daphne from The Duke and I by Quinn to seek out marriage and children. That is her desire and thus her choices that lead to that end result are in keeping with the character portrait drawn by Quinn. It would be just as jarring to have Daphne decide at the end of the book that she no longer desires marriage or children and would rather take up a career as a authoress.

    There is no shortage of books that normalize and affirm the decision to stay home, get married, have children. There are far, far, far fewer books that depict the opposite decision.

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  38. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:57:37

    @Jane: Yes! Hunter sets up a story where she leads you to expect a certain outcome and then you don’t get that outcome. That is criticism I can totally get behind. I’ve certainly read authors who have done that and in general, I no longer read them.

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  39. LG
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:58:18

    Deja vu. The comments on this post are becoming very much like the ones for “On the State of the Epilogue”: http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/on-the-state-of-the-epilogue/

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  40. Mo
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:01:05

    @Jane: Sorry, my comment #38 was in response to your comment #36.

    Now for my comment re: your #37. Thank you for clarifying. I understand what you are saying now.

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  41. Yvette Davis
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:24:15

    I agree, that I find the J.R. Ward and others books creepy with regard to the fact the woman has to give up her entire life for her supposed “safety.” That’s giving up an awful lot.

    The flipside of this is — besides the obvious concern of WTH are we telling women? — is that it’s not our “strength” that’s showing in tales like these, it’s our fears.

    Think about it from an evolutionary standpoint. It used to be — back in the 1950′s, June Cleaver and stay at home moms — that a family could survive on (1) paycheck just fine. The little woman could do the housework because the man could earn the dough.

    But these days, what do women think they need? It ain’t Ward Cleaver in these books. No, it’s more like Tarzan with a lotta dough and supernatural powers and a tolerance for killing. Does anybody see we are sliding backwards here? Without even noticing it, we are harking back to something far worse than the June Cleaver days. This is the cave man and cave woman days, people.

    Get your fire starting skills in order. Our fears say we might just need them.

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  42. Isabel C.
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:33:02

    @Marsha: Depends on how it’s presented, honestly.

    I have a lot of trouble identifying with a heroine whose goals are marriage and babies per se–nothing wrong with that, but it’s not something I want at all, so it’s a very alien mindset–but I could absolutely see a book featuring, oh, a heroine who jumps at the chance to leave her corporate job because she’s always hated cube life.

    As far as the job goes, it depends on what the heroine wanted and what she ends up having. Does she want a house and kids and a life focused on them? Because that’s fine, but doesn’t preclude a part-time job she likes as part of the HEA. Does she want never to have to work outside the home again? I don’t know that I could identify with that sort of heroine, and certainly not in a contemporary: most of the SAHMs I know still have interests and hobbies outside their family.

    So…depends.

    @Jane: Yes, exactly. On all counts.

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  43. Liz
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:40:39

    I keep coming back to the pre-proposal scene at the end of Dorothy’s Sayers’s Gaudy Night. The heroine has spent the entire book weighing the appropriate balance to strike between her intellectual passions and her need for human connection. She wonders if intellectual/moral integrity requires that she cut herself off from the world’s typical demands for women (1930s Britian) by pursuing a monk-in-a-cell-style academic career, insulated from the broader environment’s gender norms.

    Her love interest, Peter, has come to the realization that he has been asking her to change herself in order to please his own desires, and repents. In starting over, he tells her, “I have nothing much in the way of religion, or even morality, but I do recognize a code of behaviour of sorts. I do know that the worst sin- perhaps the only sin- passion can commit, is to be joyless. It must lie down with laughter or make its bed in hell- there is no middle way…. Don’t misunderstand me. I have bought it, often- but never by forced sale or at ‘stupendous sacrifice.’… Don’t, for God’s sake, ever think you owe me anything. If I can’t have the real thing, I can make do with the imitation. But I will not have surrenders or crucifixions…. If you have come to feel any kindness for me at all, tell me that you would never make me that offer again.”

    *sigh*

    This is why I think some of the best romance out there is not strictly in the romance-canon. Give me Dorothy Sayers, or Lois McMaster Bujold, or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller any day.

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  44. etv13
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:46:24

    There are plenty of quite popular romances out there where the heroine doesn’t give up her career. Most Jennifer Crusies, for example. Liz Carlyle has demonstrated over and over that it’s possible to do historical heroines who hang on to their careers after marriage. I never got the sense that Leila Beaumont was going to give up painting when she married Ismal, either, and Rupert Carsington supports Daphne in her career.

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  45. JL
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 12:47:14

    I think I actually have more of a problem with heroines that give up early in the book. There’s a wee bit of discussion at Smart Bitches right now about JD Robb’s In Death series, and it reminded me of how much I hate when a strong woman is twisted into abandoning her morals and/or career to have smokin smex a super-hot, uber-dominant guy. I have trouble reading a lot of romantic suspense for the same reason. My apologies if I’m threadjacking with this comment…

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  46. Cara Ellison
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 13:05:04

    I actually had a problem with the exact opposite scenario recently. In Deidre Martin’s Icebreaker, the hero ends up the stay-at-home dad who lives in the mountains with the spawn, while the heroine maintains her career in a nearby city. She came “home” to the mountains on Thursday and stayed through Monday morning, then went back to the city where she stayed for the rest of the week.

    As I said when I reviewed the book, I recognize that this is not my idea of a HEA but maybe it is the character’s, so I won’t judge. But in this scenario, I felt like it was a lot of pressure on her – she was earning the money, doing the traveling, etc. It just was too far away from my idea of a HEA to feel good about.

    Sure, she didn’t give up anything for her HEA. But I still felt she was somewhat diminished since she only had half a career and half a family.

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  47. rachel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 13:07:50

    In later books in Hunter’s series, Bianca is shown as having both a family and a career. After raising a family and training her voice privately she makes her debut in Italy with husband and children in tow, this happens, I believe in THE SINNER which is Vergil’s brother’s book.

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  48. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 13:12:37

    So what we’re really talking about here is inconsistent characterization.

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  49. Jaclyn
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 13:29:47

    Diminished and defeated heroines are one of the things that trouble me the most in the romance genre.

    I usually enjoy Hunter’s books because they are good stories, despite defeated heroine. Though I DNF’d Easterbrook, I simply couldn’t read that story.

    What I find particularly troubling is when the heroine isn’t equal to the hero in power (whether finaicial or social) thus being with him elevates her status and leaves her dependent upon being with him to maintain that status, and she chooses marriage in lieu of her personal pursuits. This amounts to a loss of self or individual identity for her–she is now subsumed or becomes a part of his identity. In these instances it’s not just a choice of leaving behind an interest, hobby, or a career, she’s leaving behind herself, the being of who she is as she enters this new identity. That saddens me.

    On a larger cultural level, stories with these heroines reinforce the notion that women must choose between family and personal fulfillment (whether that’s a career or something else).

    This does not have to be a dichotomy.

    I’m not suggesting that women can have it all, as humans our lives are the sum of choices, but as others have said, this choice: family or other, is a distinctly female one.

    I adore SF and fantasy and read a lot of paranormal stories. Series like Singh’s, Andrew’s, and Brook’s are so appealing precisely because they are not giving us a defeated heroine. In these books the heroines are not diminished or defeated by entering a relationship, often it’s through their relationships that they gain freedom (emotional and otherwise) from whatever is oppressing them.

    I much prefer reading about love setting someone free than love taking away someone’s dreams.

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  50. Maili
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 14:18:37

    What makes it difficult for me to enter this discussion is that — since most heroes are dukes, viscounts and whatnot in historical romances — heroines in theory (that’s as in if we were to have it reflecting the reality) don’t have direct control over bringing up children (governesses, tutors, boarding schools) and managing the domestic aspect of their estates including the ancestral seat. Wives’ lives would revolve around heroes’ lives including providing children, ensuring the family name, attending local & national social events, and providing support for their husbands’ interests whatever they may be.

    So, what has exactly someone like The Saint’s Bianca given up her dreams for? It cannot be to bring up children and clean their homes since many readers like a bit of historical reality where a typical titled lady’s primary duties were usually to provide children and ensure the continuation (and protection) of her husband’s family name.

    Usually, with so much time on their mitts, ladies in real life ended up having hobbies including the arts (usually as a patroness), gardening, travelling and other ‘lady-like’ activities (but in reality, they can do whatever they want including practising sword fighting with fellow female friends, running a betting pool among her peers, etc). There were a lot of husbands, regardless of their titles and/or backgrounds, who were supportive of their wives’ interests. Even the ‘outrageous’ ones. That includes supporting novelist wives, artist wives, scientist wives and more. Of course, there were many who were completely against it, which turned their wives into pretty much caged doves.

    Anyroad, in theory, Bianca CAN continue with her dream of singing for an audience, but only those from her husband’s circle. She CAN have a tutor to help her continuing practising her singing. What she could do or not do lies with her husband’s decision. It’s author’s choice, via the hero, to put an end to all those possibilities after marriage. So I think DM has something going here, particularly with historical romances for me at least.

    Like I say, it’s tough to enter this discussion when historical romances don’t reflect the reality. Probably, for me, because most don’t tell us what fictional couples’ lives are like after the HEA. I tend to like to assume that heroines do get to realise their dreams after marriage/HEA, e.g. having both – marriage/children and career (in sense of a hobby). Often, in spite of what heroes want or expect.

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  51. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 14:33:11

    I’m going to have to quote extensively from the 2002 Harlequin Presents book, Whirlwind Marriage by Helen Brooks (one of the more conservative HP authors whom I enjoy).

    “That Zeke Buchanan, millionaire property developer and entrepreneur extraordinaire, should have fallen in love with her was something fairy tales were made of. And it had all happened so quickly…..A whirlwind romance. Everyone, everyone was talking about it—the whole village had been agog that a girl from their little backwater should have caught a big fish from the capital. But she had. He loved her and she loved him, more than life itself”

    “‘He’s expected all the compromise to be on my side. I’ve had to fit completely into his world, and he hasn’t made the slightest attempt to fit into mine. He doesn’t want me to work, says I don’t need to, and even when I tried to set up some voluntary work at the local hospital he made it so difficult I ended up letting it go. The apartment… I feel it’s a prison, I hate it, and he promised before we got married that we’d leave there as soon as we found somewhere more suitable for bringing up a family.’”

    Ultimately she leaves Zach and goes off on her own. Zach pursues her. Zach finally recognizes the importance of Marianne getting a job and then she gets pregnant:

    “But she was pregnant and it was Zeke’s baby growing inside her. Her hand moved protectively to her stomach and she shut her eyes tightly, her mind racing.

    How could you be thrilled and scared to death at the same time? she asked herself weakly. A baby was wonderful, the fulfilment of all the dreams and longings she had felt for so long, but it was the wrong time.

    She opened her eyes, staring vacantly round the beautiful kitchen as she brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes with a shaking hand.

    “It was too soon—far, far too soon for Zeke. He had just begun to accept the idea of her going to university and working for a career, of her being with other people and following her own star to a limited extent. This pregnancy would be the end of all that, certainly for a few years at least, and she had never liked the idea of having just one child anyway. Two, or even three, had always been her heart’s desire, and close in ages so they could enjoy each other, as she would have loved to have been able to enjoy the company of a sister or a brother.”

    But to Marianne’s surprise, Zach’s response is this:

    “‘You mean now, in the immediate future after the baby’s born?’ she asked in surprise. ‘Are you suggesting we have a nanny?’

    ‘We could get a nanny.’ He eyed her stolidly, enjoying the utter bemusement she couldn’t hide. ‘But I don’t fancy a stranger living with us, somehow, and however dedicated she would be she wouldn’t love it as we will. So on the days you’re at university I’ll be at home, okay?’

    ‘What?”

    ‘We’ll share caring for our child between us,’ he said coolly, his handsome face cairn. ‘You told me once I could delegate and you’re right, I can. I’ve got over six months to set it all up, and we can turn the breakfast room into a joint study for both of us. It looks out on to the garden, and with the big French windows it’s perfect.’”

    “The tears were blocking her throat, but she still managed to murmur, ‘You don’t have to do this, Zeke. I know how important your work is to you. I can stay at home for a few years and then go to college when the children are all at school.’

    ‘You’re important to me,’ he corrected softly, reaching for her hand and lifting it to his mouth, kissing it tenderly. ‘We’ll share our careers and our children and our grandchildren. We’ll make our house ring with laughter and joy, and the kids will never know what it feels like to be unwanted or unloved. They’ll grow and blossom and become anything they want to be, like their mother.’”

    Gosh, it’s one of the most non traditional romances I have read all year!

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  52. Ros
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 14:59:53

    @Jane: Wow, that sounds awesome! I think that’s exactly the point. It’s not choosing career or children, it’s as the OP said – expanding the heroine’s horizons or diminishing them. Does the hero want her to be more herself, or restricting her opportunities? Depending on who the heroine is, that could look very different.

    And I totally agree with whoever said Rupert Carsington. He doesn’t want to restrict Daphne at all. Instead he opens up a whole new sphere of life to her, while still supporting and encouraging her work. He’s so proud of who Daphne is and he doesn’t want to change or diminish that in any way.

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  53. Janet W
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 15:11:36

    I kept waiting for someone to mention Simply Unforgettable by Mary Balogh … so I’m sharing it myself. Frances Allard is a phenomenally gifted singer who is hiding her light beneath a private school teaching post. The hero, Lucius Marshall, Viscount Sinclair, is the implacable force behind their courtship — not to diminish her by asking her to leave her teaching career but to show her that the world of music is her oyster, should she choose to pursue a public career. She marries, becomes a countess and still performs. Contrast that to More than a Mistress. Talented singer Jane decides not to pursue a public career. I like authors who mix it up. Casting my mind over one of my fave authors, Jo Beverley, I see none of her heroines as becoming diminished through marriage altho it can be a continuing struggle in their relationship (realistic, eh?).

    I’m crazy for Joan Wolf’s His Lordship’s Mistress but I do find it somewhat distressing at the end when the earl tells Jessica’s brother than his sister is going out of the horse-training business. A pang because she was so good at it. But Wolf has other heroines who keep working at what they’re great at or even develop careers after marriage.

    I really like Hunter and the women in her last series, some of them, were involved in the nursery business not maybe because they were mad for it but to escape various things. So some stayed more involved, others didn’t. That’s life. Nora Roberts two sisters (Born in Fire, Born in Ice) showed two sides of this discussion but I think we’d all agree that both sisters were marvelously fulfilled both in their marriages and chosen careers.

    Great guest blog: thank you for it!

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  54. Jane
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 15:18:58

    @Janet W In the Wolf book, I felt that Jessica didn’t have a passion for the horses or the acting but that she did all those things out of necessity. She wanted to stay at home, be a gentlewoman and circumstances made it difficult for her to do so.

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  55. Annabel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 15:24:54

    I do like that excerpt. But I keep reading this part:

    “‘We’ll share caring for our child between us,’ he said coolly, his handsome face cairn.”

    And I just say to myself, “Don’t believe him, sister! Demand the nanny! He’s lyinggggg”

    This working woman’s husband claims that he does halfsies with the kids and housework but the reality is he can’t even rinse out a milk carton and put it in the recycle bin without me holding his hand. And I don’t dare leave the kids alone with him. They’ll wander off and get sold into the slave trade while he’s in the middle of a fantasy football draft. LOL.

    What I need is a millionaire romance hero for a husband. Or a nanny. Housekeeper…

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  56. Isabel C.
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 15:36:43

    Yeah–dude, this may be me coming from a not-wanting-kids perspective, but I have friends with young children, and…if you have enough money to have a nanny? Even one that doesn’t live at home? Doooo it.

    It’s not even a gender thing. It’s…every parent I know would give their right eye for a couple evenings a week when they could go out on their own, get some projects done, whatever.

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  57. Annabel
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 15:39:55

    @Isabel AMEN! But this is romancelandia. There is something endearing about a bajilliaire rolling up his sleeves to pitch in and make the heroine happy. Yes.

    Now, I’m off to make copies of that excerpt and place them in my husband’s recliner…

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  58. Courtney
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 16:13:32

    I have a whole lot of different problems with Adrian’s Breed series, but that’s a story for another matter. The same thing happened in Pamela Clare’s recent I-series release where in the epilogue we learned that the heroine, an investigative journalist, had decided to give up her career and tend house for her US marshal husband. I would have been fine with the ending if there was any hint that this was what the heroine was looking for throughout the book, but it just landed in the epilogue, very surprisingly.

    Conversely, in Lisa Kleypas’s historical “Dreaming of You,” Sarah, the heroine is an author, and we learn that after her marriage to the hero, she’s become a mother, AND continued to write and give lectures.

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  59. Janet W
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 17:10:00

    Sorry to be late responding to your comment Jane — I thought it had posted. So,

    Acting yes, altho she was gifted, she wasn’t passionate about it. It was a means to an end.

    However, Jessica was as knowledgeable as Philip when it came to horse breeding (do you remember their walk through the stables pre-sale — probably Tatts — with his cousin?) so I don’t know that I agree that she felt no passion for it: that it was simply the exigencies of her financial circumstances. The comment seemed sweepingly arrogant on his part — part of his charm? Altho Jessica was probably glad not to be mucking out the stables any more, my guess is that the future countess kept more than a hand on the reins.

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  60. Janine
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 19:22:06

    @Ros:

    It’s not choosing career or children, it’s as the OP said – expanding the heroine’s horizons or diminishing them.

    This. It bothers me in any kind of romance, but I find paranormals disturb me more than other subgenres in this regard because so often the heroines have to be protected by the heroes — which translates to being kept under lock and key.

    This was probably my biggest problem with Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison — an otherwise wonderful book, but the nature of what the heroine was made it so that she would be in need of secrecy and likely bodyguard protection for the rest of her life, which is not my idea of a HEA.

    I think I’m especially uneasy with it in paranormals because the author has gone out of her way to construct a world in which women aren’t safe without men’s constant protection and often have to be confined to a building. I still enjoy some of the books that use this trope, but at the same time I find them disturbing.

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  61. Lynn S.
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 19:34:58

    @dick: It has been awhile since I read The Saint and the main thing that stuck with me was Vergil being wound way tight and the sweet if somewhat loopy “sweet mystery of life” nature of the characters love for each other. I have the ebook version, so my pages don’t match with yours. Was the scene you refer to the one that includes this paragraph?

    “Then we will have an army of nurses and tutors go with them when you travel to your engagements. You will have your dream, Bianca. If you will stay with me, I will not allow our marriage to deny you any of it.”

    Now that I’ve refreshed my memory of The Saint, Bianca’s sudden decision seems in character with the way she was developed throughout the story. I have read all of Hunter’s Seducer series and I don’t recall ever having the feeling that the heroines were diminished. The Charmer, one of my favorites of the group, has an interesting reversal of roles in that the heroine has greater power and privilege, maintains it and the hero in marrying her is taking a role akin to “prince consort”.

    I’m not saying that heroines aren’t sometimes diminished by authors but I’m not sure Hunter (an author who plays fair with history to a greater degree than most) is the best choice to prove the theory. To take things to an illogical conclusion you could argue that the chase for the HEA in romance diminishes both parties thereby leaving the reader to conclude that people are more interesting before they marry and/or reproduce, which isn’t true or at all what I believe authors intend.

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  62. DM
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 21:21:59

    @Liz

    Yes, I find Sayers dazzlingly romantic. Harriet and Peter achieve a partnership that expands both their worlds.

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  63. willaful
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 00:18:55

    I don’t agree at all with this reading of Bianca’s thoughts. She thinks “this marriage would indeed deny her part of the dream” (emphasis mine). She is not giving up all her ambitions — she is realistically accepting that she won’t be able to have it *all*. The conversation they share before and after this passage make it clear that Bianca is not giving up all her ambitions, and as someone else pointed out, she is shown continuing her career later in the series.

    And the comment about her being content to sing for her husband — where did that come from? What she says is she can get pleasure from singing anywhere. She also says “it will be nice, sometime, to have the opportunity to sing until hundreds of people weep.”

    You also reverse the order in which events occur. He doesn’t relent and offer her both marriage and her dreams. He has accepted that she can’t marry him — she is the one who decides she truly wants to, at which point he offers her everything he can think of to make it possible for her to have both. Your disregarding his acceptance and willingness to sacrifice is unfair to his character.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s fair to use Hunter’s depictions of sex as a way to criticize the character’s relationships. She does pretty much always do male dominant sex, that’s true, but that’s sex. That’s not the relationship. Her romances almost always feel like a meeting of equals, to me.

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  64. Robert Sloan
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 05:41:21

    Thank you for letting me know that “conservative slant” is not necessary to write a romance novel. That has always been the main thing that scared me out of writing romance as a genre. The women I have romantic fantasies about are high achievers, brilliant at something cool and serious about it – alpha females pairing with alpha males. I think it’d be romantic if they paired in ways that enhanced both their goals.

    I don’t like the “wild man tamed” one where an adventurous guy suddenly gets turned into lawn mowing suburban daddy working nine to five either.

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  65. DM
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 10:43:40

    @willaful

    Finally, I don’t think it’s fair to use Hunter’s depictions of sex as a way to criticize the character’s relationships. She does pretty much always do male dominant sex, that’s true, but that’s sex. That’s not the relationship.

    Good golly, if the sex in romance isn’t *fair* game for discussion, what the heck are we all going to talk about on long winter nights???

    Seriously, though, the bedroom door opened in romance, and the genre exploded, because we all wanted to know what went on in there. And not just because it was hot. Because it was revealing. Character is action. How characters behave in bed is part of the relationship. It is part of how we come to know them. If we divorce it from the context of the relationship, it becomes meaningless titillation, and Hunter’s scenes are far from that. They’re painstakingly observed, intensely emotional, and incredibly revealing.

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  66. Linda Hilton
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 10:52:56

    @Robert Sloan: This radical feminist is screaming WRITE IT, ROBERT, WRITE IT!!!

    ;-)

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  67. chris booklover
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 11:17:41

    Lynn S, Willaful:

    Excellent comments appearing at the end of a long thread. I think that it is very difficult to sustain a thesis that Madeline Hunter regularly portrays “defeated heroines” when one confronts her actual work.

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  68. willaful
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 11:21:19

    @DM: Valid points (though I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was suggesting we shouldn’t discuss sex in romance.) Nonetheless, I don’t think you can generalize that a somewhat dominant-submissive sexual relationship translates into a dominant-submissive relationship outside of sex. In Hunter’s case, close reading of her books does not fit that generalization.

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  69. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 12:36:47

    “Nonetheless, I don’t think you can generalize that a somewhat dominant-submissive sexual relationship translates into a dominant-submissive relationship outside of sex.” @willaful:

    Agree with this.

    I’ve enjoyed several of Hunter’s and Adrian’s books but haven’t thought of the heroines as defeated. Interesting opinion piece and comments though.

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  70. willaful
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 13:53:46

    “Her want was to sing. His was to force her to abandon her goals and marry him, and he won. He ended with everything he wanted, and Bianca ended with…just him.”

    I have to disagree with this as well. The entire point of the story is that both have to compromise. He was at first willing not to have marriage at all — which would have been him not getting anything he wanted. When Bianca agreed to marriage, his compromise then was to not get the kind of marriage he had originally wanted. And he was as willing to accept that for love as she was willing to accept less of a career than she had wanted for love.

    I can’t think of any other way the story could end and still be a) a romance and b) within the bounds of historical plausibility. And I also find it very satisfying and balanced. Believe me, I want balance and equality in romance; I don’t enjoy a defeated heroine (or hero, though I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered one.) I just don’t see this as an example of one.

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  71. Joopdeloop
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 13:57:36

    Even though I haven’t read much Hunter (2-3 books, can’t remember much) and no Adrian, I completely get behind the defeated heroine premise. It’s that chalky residue that interferes with full satisfaction in the HEA, no matter how skillfully built up the individual couple. It’s not a knock against SAHMs or individual choices, but the lack of a full palette represented in the genre. It does get tedious. Thanks for calling it out.

    And I’d just like to speak up for paranormals (although maybe I’m blurring subcategories- I roll urban fantasy, sci fi w romance, and paranormals into the same general area in my brain): I find that Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs have written pretty wonderful heroines undiminished by either their adventures or romance). and Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor – love a book that has me saying ‘yay!’ over and over to myself.

    Point is: I think the diminished heroine syndrome can hit pretty hard in any subdivision of romancelandia. Appreciate DM’s thoughtful analysis and systemic critique. Hope it stimulates a reading list of Undefeated Heroines: women who earned their cake and get to eat it too!

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  72. Mo
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 14:02:07

    I’d actually like a full on definition of the “defeated heroine” and a few more examples. Don’t need text passages, just titles/authors of books. I’d like to read some so I can get a feel for it. I’ve honestly never read a romance where I felt the heroine ended up defeated and downtrodden when it was all over.

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  73. Joopdeloop
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 14:03:56

    Even though I haven’t read much Hunter and no Adrian, I completely get the defeated heroine premise.  It’s that chalky residue that interferes with full satisfaction in the HEA, no matter how skillfully built up the individual couple.  It’s not a knock against SAHMs or individual choices, but the lack of a full palette represented in the genre. It does get tedious. Thank you for calling it out.

    And I’d just like to speak up for paranormals (although maybe I’m blurring subcategories- urban fantasy, sci fi w romance, and paranormals occupy the same general area in my brain): I find that Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs have written pretty wonderful heroines undiminished by either their adventures or romance). and Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor – love a book that has me cheering for an intelligent strong heroine (and what a mother!) over and over to myself.

    Point is: I think the diminished heroine syndrome can hit pretty hard in any subdivision of romancelandia.  Appreciate DM’s thoughtful analysis and systemic critique.  Hope it stimulates a reading list of Undefeated Heroines: women who earn their cake and get to eat it too!

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  74. Joopdeloop
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 14:10:03

    I completely get the defeated heroine premise.  It’s that chalky residue that interferes with full satisfaction in the HEA, no matter how skillfully built up the individual couple.  It’s not a knock against SAHMs or individual choices, but the lack of a full palette represented in the genre. It does get tedious. Thank you for calling it out.

    And on behalf of paranormals (tho for me, urban fantasy, sci fi w romance, and paranormals occupy the same general area in my brain): I find that Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs have written pretty wonderful heroines undiminished by either their adventures or romance). and Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor – love a book that has me cheering for an intelligent strong heroine (and what a mother!) 

    Point is: I think the diminished heroine syndrome can hit pretty hard in any subdivision of romancelandia.  Appreciate DM’s thoughtful analysis and systemic critique.  Hope it stimulates a reading list of Undefeated Heroines: women who earn their cake and get to eat it too!

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  75. DM
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 15:17:38

    @Mo:

    I’ve honestly never read a romance where I felt the heroine ended up defeated and downtrodden when it was all over.

    Pamela Regis would probably agree with you. She sees the betrothal as the victory. In that sense, romance heroines are always victorious. So these endings should always feel satisfying. For me, they don’t, and this has led me to question the criteria. Is the betrothal always enough? I think in some cases it is not, and in the books I’ve cited above, it’s the story choices the author makes that undermine the happiness of the ending. At the end of Easterbrook I found myself rooting for him to throw off the shackles of his existence and follow her to China. It isn’t marriage and children that jeopardize this couple’s future happiness, it is the narrowing of worlds, of scope for their talents, that makes me question just how happy their ever after will be.

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  76. Linda Hilton
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 15:25:02

    @DM: It looks as if you and I agree to disagree with Regis.

    Personally, I find her logic(?) quite disturbing. Is she really saying that the betrothal in and of itself, regardless the terms, regardless the cost, is a victory for the heroine(sic) and therefore defeat for the hero(sic)??? That’s not the feeling I want to experience at the end of a romance.

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  77. Mo
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 15:30:19

    @DM: Well, I would have to disagree with Regis. A betrothal or even marriage alone does not make it a victory for the heroine, nor does it mean a HEA.

    On the other hand, I have to ask the question. Why do we talk about this as a victory, as though this is a zero-sum game? To me, romance is about striking the right balance for both, not about one having a victory over the other.

    My question about other books and authors was quite genuine, however. I am curious to see books and authors, other than those discussed here, that show a “defeated heroine”. I want to actually read a book where in the end, I feel like the heroine is totally botching her life. I’ve never had that experience.

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  78. Jane
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 15:41:25

    I was thinking back on the Hunter books and remembered a scene from Lessons of Desire in which Phaedra could not even mount a donkey by herself. Hunter was continually placing Phaedra in situations where Phaedra needed to be taught lessons. I wrote about it my in 2007 review:

    The biggest problem in the portrayal of Phaedra is that she is constantly getting into situations which require her to be saved by Lord Elliott. Elliot’s arrival was necessary for her release from prison. She could not even mount a donkey by herself. Further, Phaedra is depicted as headstrong and Elliott rational. Phaedra is irrational where Elliott is wise. Elliott is portrayed as the noble man. Elliot is the one to teach Phaedra that true freedome is illusory. I felt that there were few lessons that Elliot was taught in this man/woman struggle.

    I know it sounds like I didn’t like the book. I did. What I did appreciate was that in coming to love Elliot, Phaedra realized that she need not sacrifice herself and her beliefs of being independent. I did like the juxtaposition that Elliot, as a man connected to his family, had more constraints on his actions than did Phaedra, a woman. I thought it was a great attempt at addressing the issues of feminism during the time period and making it relevant even for the modern woman. I wish I had seen Phaedra, however, in more positions of power and not so in need of saving.

    To answer Mo’s question, whether the reader feels the heroine is totally botching her life is probably dependent on the reader. There are plenty of books wherein I feel dissatisfied that the man that the heroine ends up with is a dickwad. Of course, that isn’t how the author intends for me to feel, it’s just the result of my interaction with the text.

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  79. DM
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 16:25:53

    @Mo:

    Why do we talk about this as a victory, as though this is a zero-sum game?

    Regis defends the HEA against Radway’s attack by re-characterizing betrothal as a victory over the obstacles (usually societal) and the hero.

    @Linda Hilton

    There’s a lot to engage with in Regis. Great stuff. And I used to find this argument convincing, until I read Hunter and Adrian, and began to have my doubts. Hence this post.

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  80. DM
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 17:33:30

    @dick

    In my thinking, the crux of romantic fiction is the relationship. Is it possible for a relationship to continue if one or both of those involved doesn’t “give up” something? In fact, isn’t the entire point of one, that by thus “giving up something”–independence, freedom, an ambition, a desire–something better arises?

    By this definition, Pride and Prejudice isn’t a romance. Neither Darcy nor Elizabeth gives up anything. They grow as people, in their empathy and their understanding, and overcome the obstacles of the title.

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  81. Janet W
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 17:48:03

    If, like me, you’ve read many of an author’s books, like I have Madeline Hunter, certain passages become touchstones for future reading. I do like her medievals more than her Regencies … maybe because that’s where I started. In any case, By Arrangement is really quite special. The hero, a merchant, the marriage, arranged. Intrigue abounds. Christiana is young and sheltered: she lives at court.

    Hunter’s heroes are universally determined gentlemen: they set their eye on the prize and they’re not easily deterred. They revel in a woman worth wooing, a woman for a lifetime. This passage sums up the dance between David, a man of great secrets and sorrow, and his noble bride, Lady Christiana Fitzwaryn, after they are rejoined after months of separation p. 338. She wants to talk things out, mull over and understand why, even though they loved each other, they hurt each other and bought into incorrect assumptions.

    Christiana: …”If I had thought clearly then, as I have since, I would have known that you never thought of me as property. In fact, you behaved just the opposite. If you had bought yourself a noble whore, you certainly did not make much use of her, did you? Why?”

    David (thinking) She surprised him. She was growing up fast, and her sharp intelligence, freed of its isolating shelter, had already learned to see to the heart of things.

    He loved the girl. He suspected he would worship the woman.

    There’s probably no point going through and choosing passages but for those who haven’t read much Hunter, a thread through her books, to my way of thinking, is men who appreciate women who are intelligent and who grow (evolve, blossom … can’t come up with the exact word!). Perhaps given the times — and I haven’t read the Easterbrook book — most of her heroines enjoy greater freedom to grow intellectually (and in other ways) after marriage. A gross generalization and certainly not true for all her stories but I do see it as a characteristic.

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  82. Linda Hilton
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 18:07:35

    @DM:

    Now, here I would have to (slightly) disagree with you, DM, because I don’t think the h/h have to “give up” something in quite that same sense. I think part of the whole growing/learning business is to “give up” the old notions and become someone new. A character can “give up” the belief that a wife is property, to be dealt with as the husband sees fit. A character can “give up” notions that people of a different economic class are unworthy of justice. A character can “give up” a certainty that another character is guilty of some heinous crime that precludes lovability. While these may not seem like the kind of “giving up” that equates to a compromise in a relationship, if those are the issues preventing the relationship from becoming solid and healthy enough for HEA, I think that can be a valid and worthwhile “giving up.”

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  83. DM
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 18:34:33

    @Linda Hamilton

    I see those two things as very different. What Dick is talking about–giving up freedom, ambition, and independence, I would characterize as a sacrifice. Giving up your prejudices, overcoming your flaws I would characterize as growth. That’s not to say that sacrifice isn’t romantic–it is–but I don’t think it’s requisite.

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  84. Wrayth
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 18:47:18

    @Carin:

    Have you ever read the “In Death” series by J.D. Robb? It was a passing mention as part of her world-building (set in New York maybe 50-100years from nowish) and in it ‘stay at home’ moms get paid (from the Government) for doing it. It was called a Professional Mother’s Pay I think? One of the best ideas I have ever heard. ;) Me personally I never want kids…but for those women who decide to focus on their kids? They should be paid for the valuable service they are contributing to in society :)

    *phew* got that off my chest XD

    @everyone else:

    It does generally annoy me when it’s only one of them (usually the woman) who has to give up [insert whatever made her independent/or her goals etc] and yet is now happy just because she got the guy… >_< but since its just a book and not real I can just gloss over it and still say I enjoyed the book… Thats one of the big reasons I can't read non-fiction like that. Makes me rage :P

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  85. Joopdeloop
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 18:53:21

    (sorry for the multi post – got an error message and thought nothing went thru )

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  86. Maili
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 19:40:37

    Every time we talked about the kind of heroines we liked or disliked, my list almost always had this:

    “- heroine who storms into hero’s life, making demands, and then forget her mission to save the world the moment he shags/marries her”
    and
    “- aspiring scientist or career heroines who forget it all the moment heroes get into their knickers”.

    I have been mentioning those types for years. All from when I read certain futuristic romances, historical romances, contemporary romances, romance suspense and paranormal romances. I think it’s so part of the Romance genre that why some – certainly in my case – struggle to think of examples.

    I mean, how many of us read romance suspense where heroine abandoning their jobs to go on run with military heroes from the baddies, then at the end, they ended up marrying with him continuing working as a hardcore military wunderkid that terrorists fear while she happily settled in their small-town home life with absolutely no mention of her top-end career. World-class art historian, world-class scientist, professor (at 24!), etc.? As if her life before hero’s arrival is erased. (There’s one with heroine who had two cats that she apparently adored, and those poor cats were never mentioned again after she went on the run to get away from the baddies who broke into her apartment. I was *haunted* by this. “Poor cats! They could be still be in her abandoned apartment, starving to death!”)

    I think the ones that bothered me the most were those with heroines, at the start, talked about how hard they worked to get to where they were (often against their parents’ wishes or overcoming sexism or/and charges of nepotism), how much they wanted these careers, and disputed with heroes along the way (“I must stop and research this! I’m a SCIENTIST, damn it!”). Then they abandoned their hard-won careers without any further thoughts?

    Poor characterisation (or in some cases, poor continuity), for sure, but uncomfortable all the same.

    Actually, I think even Megan Chance’s The Portrait (one of my top favourites) is somewhat guilty of this charge, but it works for me. Our heroine Imogene, a product of New York City’s Gilded Age, wants to be an artist so desperately that she goes after legendary reclusive artist Jonas to take her on as his student. His self-hatred over his unnamed illness (bipolar) has him rejecting, then messing with her, etc. Our heroine’s ambition evolves to becoming all about getting Jonas to make her part of his life.
    In the end, she gets her way, but her ambition to be a world-class artist – against her father’s wishes – is partly diminished in favour of becoming Jonas’s lifetime caretaker. They know he’ll never stop having this mental illness so she’s happy to give up her ambition to provide stability to Jonas’s very unstable life. I think I accepted this because both Imogene and Jonas don’t stop thinking or talking about what it means for her to give up her lifelong ambition for him. Her willing to make this sacrifice certainly did scare Jonas’s socks off. :D

    Romances with that conscious effort, or at least an awareness, work for me. Romances with heroines throw their ambitions or supposedly hard-earned careers without second thoughts don’t.

    But I think in most cases, it’s more to do with poor characterisation than a conscious effort on authors’ part. It still speaks volumes on how we view heroines or the value of their input, though.

    (Excuse me for typos, etc. I just got back from a dodgy trip so I’m feeling a bit dopey.)

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  87. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 20:13:53

    @Maili:

    In the end, she gets her way, but her ambition to be a world-class artist – against her father’s wishes – is partly diminished in favour of becoming Jonas’s lifetime caretaker.

    Oh, I read that totally differently. I thought she was trying to become a world-class artist to please her father even though she–and Jonas–knew she didn’t have the talent. She was trying to measure up to her older sister, who had died, who truly was a world-class artist and whom her father doted on. They laughed and took their hometown society by storm and pretty much kicked dust on Imogene for having no talent and being pretty much useless. Imogene thought the hero could MAKE her be a world-class artist.

    It was the guardian who didn’t like the idea of her taking art lessons from Jonas, but made it happen for her because a) he knew how much the father loved the fact that her older dead sister was a world-class artist and b) he knew how much Imogene wanted to please her father, even though she wasn’t all that talented, and c) he was Jonas’s patron.

    But I could be wrong.

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  88. Maili
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 20:18:14

    @Moriah Jovan: Likely not wrong. What you said sounds right. Damn. I knew I shouldn’t try to think of an example when I’m this tired. Thanks for the correction.

    Looking on the bright side, this makes a good excuse for me to reread The Portrait ASAP. :D

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  89. Kate Moore
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 23:04:14

    I can’t comment on the paranormal works mentioned, but I’ve been arguing for years from my reading of Chase, Crusie and others that Radway gets it wrong. Chase and Crusie anticipate Regis. No one has mentioned Hunter’s “The Charmer.” It’s worth a look for a woman who becomes more empowered through her relationship with the hero. I would also ask everyone to consider whether the marriage at the end of each novel mentioned represents a widening of the society in some way, an expansion of who may freely marry whom. And I would ask everyone to be careful of the word “housewife.” Unless a woman married a farmer or an innkeeper in 1820, she’s not likely to be a “housewife” in any contemporary sense of a “housewife.”

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  90. willaful
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 14:45:14

    Just finished Brook’s Heart of Steel and think it a wonderful antidote to anyone bugged by the defeated heroine. I can’t think of a character less defeated. :-)

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  91. Jane
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 16:21:40

    @willaful This is so true. One of my fave scenes is when Archimedes comes along and is frustrated because he would like to save her just once. Ha ha ha. Love.

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  92. willaful
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 17:56:39

    Me too, I absolutely had to work that line into my review.

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