My recent posts about Beau Brummell and Harriette Wilson (Part I and Part II) have made me think about the similarities between the two. Both were leaders within their particular social circles. (Yes, I know courtesans were not accepted in the haut ton but they lived the high life and had their own milieu, which included some of the wealthiest and most influential men of their times.)
From what I’ve read, I don’t get the impression that either was intentionally cruel by nature, yet they could be snarky, as in Brummell’s famous “Who’s your fat friend?” in reference to Prinny. Harriette says she didn’t think about hurting Lord Ponsonby’s young wife when she took up with him, and she enjoyed taking pokes at Wellington:
“My old beau, Wellington, is going on famously, thanks to the fineness of his nerves, and his want of feeling, and his excellent luck. I do not mean to say he has not a good notion of commanding an army; for, though I do not understand things, I am willing to take it for granted that this is the case.”
For a time, any gentleman aspiring to appear fashionable had to gain Brummell’s approval and enjoy Harriette’s favors. Both were the “cool kids” of their period. In the end, their fame didn’t save them from the consequences of their lifestyle. I think I’m not guilty of schadenfreude (a cool word I discovered recently that basically means enjoying the suffering of others) because ultimately, reading these books made me feel sad for them. But it did make me think about how being an “It” person was no guarantee of a happy ending.
Romance novels frequently acknowledge that. Heroes and heroines are often loners or wallflowers. Sometimes they have a more established spot in their local social circles, but even then, they’re generally not the mean sort who establish who’s in and who’s out. That is usually left to a minor class of villains.
One story I read stands in contrast: AIN’T SHE SWEET? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The heroine, Sugar Beth, was a bona fide mean girl before life roughed her up and changed her. Phillips did an amazing job getting under Sugar Beth’s skin. So much that I caught myself rooting for her, even though I’m exactly the sort of person she would have picked on in school.
What do you think about cliques and snarky characters in stories? Any that you’ve read that were done particularly well?
I’ve always considered Alice Longworth Roosevelt as my best friend. She is famous for saying “If you can’t say something nice come and sit next to me.” I am famous for saying “But then again, darling, I never claimed to be nice.” My friend even wrote a poem about it. I’m going to paste here even though it’s long, but I thought the Riskies might enjoy. I am actually a nice person, but I am known to make snarky comments from time to time. What can I say? I never claimed to be nice.
An Ode to Hell’s Belles
By Kristin Bombard
Only at Trinity College
Located in little Carmarthen town
Where the two Hell’s Belles
Together can be found
When they are together
The college students know to run
Making short, sharp comments
Gives them both pleasure and fun
With tongues made of acid
Eyes as sharp as tacks
And brains as quick as swords
They make their cuts and hacks
In a single moment
They rip our personalities apart
We wonder amongst ourselves
If either has a heart
Then we hear one comment to the other
Just as cool as ice
“But, then again darling,
I never claimed to be nice.”
In Emily Giffin’s book Something Blue the heroine is often snarky and sometimes I felt for her and others times I thought “what a bitch.”
I can’t think of any examples, Elena, but it would be hard to write a snarky heroine and make her sympathetic.
Actually the sequel to the book I am revising right now features a heroine you meet and instantly dislike. She is cold, blunt and hurtful. It will be interesting to see if I can redeem her!
Artie Mesia, I think I know what you mean. Snark can be refreshing in situations that have become too saccharine. OTOH the snarker (if that’s a word!) has to have some substance to him/her, i.e. not just an idler taking pot-shots from the sidelines. The snarky hero/heroine has to be able to be generous and brave when it counts, and big enough to admit mistakes.
Louisa, that heroine sounds like a good challenge. I bet you can do it.
Elena, what a great description of the difference of the snarks who bother me (the ones snarking from the sidelines) and the ones who can win your heart!!!
Both can have an important role in the development of both the story and the characters. You do have to walk a fine line if the character is going to be your hero or heroine. If they are too mean or obnoxious, it will be too hard to redeem them and make readers care if they get a HEA. You have to make the comments, abrasive but not cutting or too mean. It can be shown that their behavior is a form of self protection due to a past hurt. That gives an easier path to redeeming them.
I can’t think of any book in particular where the main character fit into this category.