Gender Bending

This weekend, I watched the Trevor Nunn version of Twelfth Night. I loved it. It’s fun and accessible Shakespeare, with great acting and an atmospheric Cornish setting. It also made me think about something Shakespeare did that romance writers often dabble in as well: the heroine masquerading as a man plot (let’s call it HMAM).

Georgette Heyer wrote some fun HMAM stories: MASQUERADERS and THE CORINTHIAN come to mind. Julia Ross wrote another excellent one in THE WICKED LOVER. I enjoyed all the things the heroine of that story learns about herself as she embraces some of the increased freedoms of maleness.

Usually in HMAM stories the heroine assumes the disguise for an external plot reason–to protect herself and/or perform some mission. Pam Rosenthal’s ALMOST A GENTLEMAN deals with this concept in a different way. I’ll avoid spoilers and just say that this is an intriguing story because the heroine has deeper reasons for going into disguise than most.

As you can probably tell by now, I enjoy HMAM stories and even have one in my idea file. I’ve also heard some people don’t care for them. Some people have credibility problems. I also once heard someone say she dislikes HMAM stories if the hero starts wondering why he’s attracted to another man. That part doesn’t bother me depending on how it’s handled. If I’m remembering correctly (wish I could find my copy in these stacks of books!) the hero of ALMOST A GENTLEMAN briefly wonders if he’s leaning in a new direction. He’s puzzled but not horrified. He figures out the heroine’s disguise pretty soon after that, so it’s an edgy riff but not the sole conflict of the story.

The one time a HMAM story didn’t work for me was when the hero, horrified by his seemingly homosexual desires, actually roughs up the innocent heroine. He also never penetrates her disguise; she reveals herself to him long after I thought he should have figured it out.

Which is another important matter to me. Exactly when the hero figures out what’s going on can vary, depending on how practiced the heroine is in the role and other circumstances. But if he gets fooled for too long, well, I begin to wonder if he should ever procreate…

So what do you think of HMAM stories? What makes them work or not? Do you have any favorites to share?


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About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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