GUEST POST: An Essay on Working Heroines
Like many romance fans, I recently read the newest book by Loretta Chase, Silk Is For Seduction. Like many fans, I too loved it. It is a great example of the qualities I look for in a romance: interesting characters, engaging storyline and witty, sometimes startlingly funny, dialogue. It also seemed refreshingly different. Now, I’ve been reading romances since the mid-nineties. So I’ve read through the many tropes of the historical heroine – the TSTL innocent, the hoyden, the martyr, the virgin widow – well, you get the idea. I have favorite books for all of these types but I think my favorite heroine is the heroine who has a passion for something other than the hero.
I want to read about a heroine who cares about something outside of herself. This can be a job, a hobby, a cause, or a talent but I want to read about that drive to accomplish or create something. I want to read about a heroine, like Marcelline Noirot, who makes things happen. She is a planner and a schemer and you know whatever life throws at her she will control her destiny. Her passion for dressmaking and designing defines her and the author uses Marcelline’s drive for success to develop her character and relationships.
In contemporary romances you would think this is easy to do. Just give the heroine a career or job that she cares about and the author instantly adds depth to the character. However, the trick is to use the heroine’s occupation in a meaningful way. Author Sarah Mayberry excels at creating fully developed heroines who work and whose careers, or the loss of them, define them. In her series romance, Amorous Liaisons, the heroine is an injured ballet dancer who has lost her career due to an injury. The heroine in All Over You is a scriptwriter and is passionate about vintage clothing. In Her Secret Fling the main character is a washed-up swimmer, who is adjusting to her new career as a reporter. I loved Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James because the heroine is a successful attorney who doesn’t have to give up her career to find love.
In historical romances, of course, this is harder to pull off because of the constraints on women at various times in history. Still, I have read historicals featuring heroines passionate about Egyptian antiquities, such as in Connie Brockway’s As You Desire, or the shipping business, such as in Liz Carlyle’s Never Lie to a Lady. Daphne in Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible is eager to break the code of hieroglyphics and Juliana Merton in Miranda Neville’s The Wild Marquis, owns a bookshop. When done well, the heroine’s hobby or occupation can be used to propel the story, create tension or flesh out the characters.
Lately I’ve been looking for historical romances that stand out from the crowd, that are out of the ordinary, whether through an exotic setting, a different type of character or an interesting subplot. What a delight to read a historical with a working heroine. Silk Is For Seduction satisfied my desire for something different this week. But I’d love to read more historical romances with heroines who are passionate, even before they meet their hero.