Reading,  Regency,  Writing

Regency Heroines

Several weeks ago when I had the good fortune to join Risky Regencies, I prosed on forever about Regency heroes, fictional and those appearing on cover art (not to mention GB). It is time I spoke about Regency heroines.

When I conceive a story in my head it almost always starts with the hero. Heroes are so much easier for me. Apart from the obvious reason that I love to fantasize about dishy Regency guys, I think it is because the men in those times were able to lead such interesting lives, while the women had very few options, unless they were willing to risk social ostracism or give up on respectability altogether and live in the demimonde.

In some ways I love to explore women who were willing to risk being shamed (Morgana running a courtesan school in A Reputable Rake, for example; Emily gambling in The Wagering Widow; or even Maggie, a total imposter, in The Improper Wife ). I like even more to imagine what life would be like for those women outside of respectable society (Maddie, the ruined girl, in The Mysterious Miss M). My next Mills & Boon features a singer as the heroine, and in my next Warner–now called Hachette–the heroine is a con artist.

All of these heroines require a mindset quite different from today’s woman, and it is sometimes hard to find that point where the modern reader can identify with the Regency woman’s predicament. Why be afraid you are going to wind up a prostitute? the modern woman might say. Why not just get a job?

The reality was, the Regency woman could not just get a job. She had to have references, even for such lowly positions as house maid or shop girl. And once ruined, any respectable employment was denied her.

There are plenty of weak, victim-like Regency heroine stereotypes – governesses, servants of any sort, impoverished vicar’s daughters, ladies companions, abused wives – but I think today’s reader wants the heroine to be strong, not a victim. I truly believe there have been strong women in every era of history, certainly in the Regency as well. I like to explore how women of the time period rose above their constaints and refused to be victims.

You know what else? It is hard finding reasons for Regency heroines to engage in “intimacies” with those hunky Regency men. I think the Regency woman’s mindset about sex had to be quite different from our own. She’d worry about pregnancy each and every time, no doubt. No respectable man would want a society girl if she went and had sex with another guy first.

I’m rambling because I need to write proposals for my next two books and I don’t know who the heroines will be! My next Mills & Boon has a marquess for the hero and the next Hachette will be Wolfe’s story. I want to devise strong heroines for these two men, both of whom I know down to the birthmarks on their—

So! What kind of Regency heroines do you all like the best? Which ones are you tired of? Do you want that sexy read or doesn’t it matter?


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Cara King
16 years ago

I like all sorts of heroines, Diane. In fact, I’m probably more interested in heroines than heroes. You remark that Regency heroes could live very interesting lives, and it’s true. But I think it’s the inner life that’s more interesting to me, and I think the person with the less exciting outer life is likely to have the more interesting inner life. 🙂

I found it interesting that you wrote: “There are plenty of weak, victim-like Regency heroine stereotypes – governesses, servants of any sort, impoverished vicar’s daughters, ladies companions, abused wives – but I think today’s reader wants the heroine to be strong, not a victim.” To me, again, I’m often not interested in external power, which seems to me to be what these women usually lack. A heroine who is rich, influential, and powerful might have too easy a life for me to find that her emotional story really calls to me. (There are always exceptions, of course.)

I think of Jane Eyre — it was her very steadfastness, forthrightness, and moral courage in the face of her external lack of power that makes her so amazing, so engaging. Rochester has all the external power, and she none. As well as being her employer, he is male, wealthy, connected, experienced, physically dangerous — and she is none of these things. And yet she has the courage to disagree with him, and ultimately defy him. This to me is more interesting than pretty much any courage Emma Woodhouse could come up with. And yet, I think Jane Eyre would fit your definition of a “victim-like Regency heroine stereotype.”

Of course, any archetype can be overdone, and done badly, so that it becomes nothing more than a cliche in the wrong hands.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

I enjoy a variety of heroines, too, and I agree that even a heroine in a “victim” sort of a role can show her strength by how she reacts to her situation.

Re the sex, we discussed this earlier (click here to read the post). I don’t care for it if a Regency heroine behaves more like a transplanted 21st century chick. I think resistance increases the tension and makes the sex hotter when it does happen. The right setup, from marriage of convenience or just an intense emotional moment, can make it work. I just don’t like it when a heroine with everything to lose has casual sex. TSTL!

Re what sort of heroines I don’t care for, I have to admit the oldest daughter who is taking care of the estate and/or her younger siblings because papa is either dotty and/or a gambler has become overused. By itself, without further character elements, it feels like a cheap ploy to create sympathy for the heroine.

But if you’re planning such a heroine, Diane, don’t let that stop you, as I’m sure you’d do something fresh with her. IMHO when starting with the hero one must think of what sort of heroine would challenge him the most–help him learn some hard lesson he’s been resisting?

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

I guess what I meant, Cara, was the victim heroine who must be rescued by the hero.
Jane Eyre is in a class by itself, but the spunky governess standing up to the rich employer needs a fresh twist in order to work for me. I admire authors who can give me that fresh twist!

Elena, I too have a problem with the 21st century casual sex in the Regency too.

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Funny re the heroine who needs to be rescued all the time…in judging contests lately I’ve seen an overbalancing into the opposite a few times: the kickass heroine constantly rescuing the hapless but hunky hero… That doesn’t strike me as right either.

Re the sex 21st century style, maybe these books are alternate reality, just not saying so? 🙂

16 years ago

For me it’s the seemingly oppressed victim (governess, victor’s daughter, whole family of girls existing in genteel poverty, spinster or bluestocking) who always appeals to me. I love that they are more on top of things than the conventional miss and that’s what appeals to me and the hero!

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

You know, forget everything I said about victim heroines. Santa, you and Cara and Elena have convinced me that I was just babbling. Even now I can think of exceptions!
It is the inner life that is important, as Cara said. And that is what I write about with my heroines.
I don’t like a hapless hero who constantly needs rescuing, hunky or not. I like my fantasy men STRONG, not hapless. But I do love a romance between heroes and heroines of equal emotional strength.

16 years ago

I too like all kinds of heroines, but most important for me is one with whom I can identify. And one who doesn’t prove herself to be TSTL – like going off on her own in the middle of the night in the middle of London (though Jo Beverley can pull that one off).

I also don’t like those heroines who start off really independent, then just wilt when the hero comes along.

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I think maybe the new emphasis on “kick-ass heroines” sort of misses the point of what true strength means. Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t go out and go all ALIAS on people, but no one would ever call her weak or wimpy, I think. I love to see heroines who overcome all the obstacles that come from just being a woman in this time period, who has confidence in herself and works to solve her problems and move forward in the world. And she will only take on a hero who is her equal (or becomes her equal!)

You put it very well, Cara, regarding Jane Eyre!

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

Heroines. I find innocent Regency misses for the most part rather tiresome–like they can’t be a fully formed human being without the existence of the hero (why not?) I also find heroines on the other end of the spectrum with unlikely careers and a penchant for riding astride stallions a bit much too.

I like heroines who are not necessarily experienced but are aware of desire and passion (like the heroine of Pam Rosenthal’s A Bookseller’s Daughter). As is Jane Eyre–I know I’m always going on about her, but to my mind she is driven by anger and desire, not just sexual desire but the desire for everything that is out of her reach.

My Miss Wellesley-Clegg, the heroine of my Regency chicklit (which still has no title), is an innocent ninny out to get a husband, but she fines herself sixpence every time she catches herself admiring the, er, cut of the hero’s pants.


Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

LOL, Janet!

Just thought of one heroine type I hate–the Barbara Cartland heroine. You know, the 17 year old who obviously has lived under a rock her entire life, and also has asthma which prevents her from speaking a sentence in less than 5 minutes. 🙂

Mallory M Pickerloy
16 years ago

I like all sorts of heroines actually, and heroes, I like them rich, and I like them poor, whatever status that may be..Im open to new ideas also, if there are any. 🙂 But my favourite things with all themed areas that go back quite ancient, is love triangles, I do seriously love reading about things like that, and I definitly love alot of tension of sensuality ;)But I dont care for chick-lit casual sex. I perfer even if the heroine has a love triangle of more than one man, she stills gives into sexaulity out of love to either hero..or both heroes ;)For I don’t mind if she was intamate with both, doesn’t bother me, as long as she cared about them. Well I hope I made sense … 😉

16 years ago

Janet, I can’t wait to hear more about your heroine! Actually, I am so excited to that another book is on the horizon!!

I’m going to jump right in here and request, if at all possible, a posting with all your pending projects. Would it be too forward to ask if anyone knows what Susannah Carleton is up to? or Nancy Butler?


16 years ago

Amanda wrote:

I think maybe the new emphasis on “kick-ass heroines” sort of misses the point of what true strength means. Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t go out and go all ALIAS on people, but no one would ever call her weak or wimpy, I think.

Does this mean that I have to abandon my plan of a “Pride and Prejudice” sequel in which Elizabeth joins MI.6 and infiltrates Napoleon’s government?!!


16 years ago

Seriously, I (of course) agree with Cara: an interesting heroine should have a rich inner life, and be able to challenge the hero on an emotional and intellectual level.

And cleavage. Cleavage is nice, too.


Cara King
16 years ago

By the way, Santa, we haven’t ignored your request! We’re discussing how to satisfy it!


14 years ago

oh i do agree, i get so excited reading all these terrific comments!

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