From Barbara Cartland‘s The Prince And the Pekingese:
You have come!” the Prince exclaimed.
“Yes,” said Angelina softly. “I have come.” The Prince paused for a moment looking at the beautiful young woman in a way that made her tremble. “You are so lovely and yet … ” There was a throb of pain in his voice that made Angelina long to comfort him. Whatever we feel for each other, “she whispered, “I realize your country must … come … first.” The Prince looked up sharply. “We feel for each other?” he repeated. “Tell me … what you feel for me.” Angelina shyly lowered her eyes, but his tone was rough and insistent. “Tell me,” the Prince said again. And suddenly, as if it came from the very depths of her being, Angelina’s clear young voice miraculously cried out: “I … love you. I love you. I love you!”
Oh. My. God.
I cannot believe I devoured this stuff when I was young. Granted, I was young, but still–
Along those lines, I was thinking lately about how I’m not comfortable writing heroines who are under 20 years old; when I was 18, in age similar to Cartland’s ellipsis-talking ladies, I did many foolish things. For example, when my first real boyfriend broke up with me, I wore gray eyeshadow so it’d look like I had been losing sleep and walked around with a copy of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Despair so he’d know how I was suffering.
And, of course, that’s not even mentioning the poor fashion choices I made, or how I cut class to go with my best friend Anthony to watch him play video games (he was good enough to spend a quarter for about an hour’s worth of play).
So now that I’m older, and theoretically wiser, I want to read heroines who I believe would make good choices. I don’t want to read about high school age girls who are way wise beyond their years, or who behave like real high schoolers do. Either one is unappealing. I like the current trend towards more mature heroines, although that means us authors have to devise new ways of still making them available (poor family, governess, widow) and somewhat inexperienced (spinster, widow whose husband had some potency issues). It makes it harder and sometimes anachronistic, to write and read heroines who fit the high, yet realistic, standards us romance readers demand.
Have you noticed the trend towards older heroines? What type of heroine did you cut your first romance teeth on? Do you still read those books? And what’s one of the foolishest thing you did in high school?
Ah yes, the stammering Barbara Cartland heroine! I remember those books well. I thought they were the height of romance when I was 9 or 10. But when I actually started to date at around 15, I was terribly disappointed there were no sardonic, dark-eyed dukes at my high school! 🙂
I doubt I could read one of those books now. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate an older, more sensible heroine. One who can speak in full sentences without using an inhaler. 🙂
I hated Barbara Cartland in high school. Those ellipses used to drive me nuts. Although I have read some great books about heroines who were 18, and not stupid, I do prefer my heroines to be a bit older, perhaps on her third or fourth season and in danger of being on the shelf for being too particular. If she’s a widow, however, I don’t see why her marriage couldn’t have been happy and the physical side not too shabby.
I’ve been re-reading Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and by the time she was 20, she’d married, had several miscarriages, gotten addicted to gambling, opiates, and written a novel!
Never thought about the grey eyeshadow thing. That’s brilliant. I did however, ostentatiously read Wuthering Heights after I broke up with my high school boyfriend, and call his mother up one night to chat.
Ha ha! The grey eyeshadow and Nabokov story is priceless.
Well, I read tons of Barbara Cartlands when I was younger and I loved them then. I haven’t looked at one recently, and I doubt that I ever will again.
As you grow older and learn more, your tastes change. I no longer want to read about teenagers in an adult book. I especially dislike the mismatch between the young, starry-eyed girl and a man old enough to be her father. I never did find such a pairing attractive. Too big a gap in everything.
I want an older heroine who is a match in most ways for the hero. I think knowing a little about life can make a heroine more attractive. And I consider a man who does NOT know it all more attractive that the infallible hero.
I think the older heroine thing became common by the 1980’s — and I do like it. (Though I have no trouble with a Regency miss who’s seventeen — particularly in a more comic romance.)
And older heroines certainly have no need to be virgins — one of my favorites from almost twenty years ago is Mary Balogh’s PROMISE OF SPRING — the heroine is thirty-five, ten years older than the man she marries…and she’s not a virgin, either. Great book.
I first read Barbara Cartland when I was about 10. Even then I think they were a guilty pleasure–sort of like Cheetohs.
As to age of heroines, I’ve written one who was 19–any younger and I’m remembering what I was like at that age. Not immature in the irresponsible way (I didn’t do stupid things–I saved that for later!) but just unformed in my opinions and my view of life.
I can still enjoy stories about teenaged heroines but it really depends on what the author does with them. I want to see the young heroine grow a lot, not just reform the hero with her purity! I’ll admit I didn’t care for some of the teenaged heroines in trads who seemed more like they were 10 or 12, so “sweet” they did not seem like real teenagers.
I like reading about older heroines, too. They don’t need to be virgins, nor do they need to have only had bad sex before (even though that’s what I happened to do with Lady Dearing). One of my idea file stories involves a widow whose first marriage was very happy and now has high standards for the next.
The Prince and The Pecanese. Need I say more. Try as I might I could never get into Barbara Cartland. Sorry.
I cut my romance teeth on Victoria Holt’s heroines. Young women who drove on despite everything. I just re-read ‘The Black Opal’. I can’t believe what I missed when I first read it in the 7th grade. My daughter is reading it now.
As to high school foolishness, there’s not enough blog space for that. I did have a crush on my older brother’s friend. He was a greaser, I was a nerd. I sent him love notes in five different languages – chock full of teen angst and unrequited love. The dulard never caught on. It pays to have multi-lingual, honors track friends, lol.
Somehow I never read a Barbara Cartland in my youth, and I don’t feel a particular need to remedy that situation now. I did read almost everything that Georgette Heyer wrote, however. Even as a teenager I preferred her books with older (mid-to-late 20s) heroines. They just seemed wiser and funnier to me than her teenage heroines, even when I was 17 myself.
Now that I’m much older than 17, I’m willing to read YA with teenagers but not Romances. Partly it’s because in YA chances are the hero and heroine are more evenly matched in age, and partly because watching that growth arc of increasing maturity is why I’ve chosen to read the book. When I read Romance, I want to read about two adults whose relationship is balanced and whose HEA is believable to me. I recently read a well-written book with a teenage heroine and I kept wanting to tell her she was cute, pat her on the head, and send her off to mature for a few years before she made irrevocable decisions about her life.
As for Georgiana, I think she’s the poster child for waiting until you’re out of your teens. She married at 17 and (per the A. Foreman biography) totally misjudged her husband’s character. If she’d waited a few years and had more worldly experience, she might have understood him and herself better and made a wiser choice.
I usually try to make my heroines at least 19 to avoid the “ick” factor, but I don’t mind a 17 yo heroine done right. It is all in the execution.
It’s hard to avoid a young heroine if you are going the Almack’s First Season route.
And I’m with you, Santa. I was a big Victoria Holt fan.
Santa, I remember The Black Opal!
I never read Cartland but loved Holt as much as I did Dick Francis in high school.
This isn’t a romance, but I recently changed the age of my female protagonist in one of my “literary” novels to 18 instead of 20 before I sent it out because it makes her bad choices more understandable. lol
PS I also once gave my number to a guy that I wrote on the title page to The Stranger and tore out.
My apologies Mr. Camus!
When it comes to ellipses – I can only say that people don’t speak in complete sentences – even now. It’s great to read Lizzie Bennet’s speeches but they aren’t terribly realistic. Just look around and see just how many people flounder into ellipses.
As for writing heroines just because it’s got an “ick” factor is they are under 17? Oh please. There are 100s of examples of women marrying under 20. Under 18. Under 16.
Fitting in with today’s social/moral aspects is a little ridiculous and if an author is going to tow that line just to make a publisher then it’s a little like selling out, imho.
It’s like – I write gay historical romance and there is NO time and no place where this is LEGAL so really, I shouldn’t be writing it?
In Sense and Sensibility, Brandon’s “ward” is completely underage when Willoughy makes off with her. Isn’t Lydia Bennett about 15/16 in P&P?
There are a few Heyer’s that I appreciate for having older heroines (The Black Sheep for example) but she wasn’t writing the older heroine to fit in with some fundamentalist ideal, she was simply tweaking the genre – being RISKY – which is what we should be applauding.
I’m sorry to be so punchy, but we should be writing what actually happened, not what would happen TODAY.
Erastes, I see where you are coming from. I totally agree that the true history included very young heroines, and those of us who are steeped in the history can accept a 17 year old with some Corinthian of 35, but not all readers are that steeped in the history. Those readers are the ones who are likely to say “ick.” I don’t want anyone to say “ick” about what I write.
So my choice is to tweak it a little. Make my heroine a little older; make my hero a little younger – no worries about the ick factor and I’m still true to the history.
It would be silly to write a society miss who has her first season at age 25, at least not without a lot of explaining. To me the trick is to be true to the history but to make the story accessible to today’s readers. There has to be something that resonates with today’s readers (which is why Mary Brunton is not as popular today as Jane Austen) I want lots of readers to love my books!
That said, if I had a book-of-my-heart with a 17 year old heroine and a 35 yo hero, I would write it and I would try to make the readers fall in love with the characters and believe in their romance. But so far I don’t have that story in me.
Erastes, I don’t think Megan’s argument was that no one in the Regency period ever married at seventeen — but that heroines who are at least twenty were what she herself currently wants to write and read.
Fitting in with today’s social/moral aspects is a little ridiculous
I’m not sure I agree, Erastes. I write romance — and I want a hero and heroine whom I personally admire. And while my titled heroes don’t go around saying “call me Bob, and by the way, I believe in women voting, I think all religions are created equal, and we should give up our colonies and pay them reparations,” I’m not going to write racist, misogynistic heroes who beat half their servants and sleep with the other half, even if it is true to the period.
There were some Regency folks who didn’t marry till 22…or even 32…and there were some who didn’t beat (or sleep with) their servants. So I choose to write about whatever subset of the Regency I choose.
And if I’m “selling out” because my heroes don’t agree with Dr Johnson that wives whose husbands beat them should stop complaining because obviously they did something to deserve it, then I’m glad of it.
As to your “fundamentalist ideal” remark, I really have *no* idea what you’re referring to….and I suspect you may have misread what some of us here said.
Yeah, like Cara said–not that it didn’t happen, it did, but I want my fiction to reflect my own, more mature, interests, not the silly things I did in high school.
If heroine are getting older, then I think it’s rather good timing for me because I’m 31.9 years old (or whatever the percentage part is for a December birthday LOL) and I do imagine at some point I might be a bit tired of the younger ones.
However, personal age aside. . . It just might end up being all a matter on how something is written. If it’s a young 20 something heroine, as long as she doesn’t talk like a 15 year old without a clue as to what life is about, or the sounding too stupid to live sort.
Besides, it probably parallels our time — the average age a person got married 20 years ago was a couple years younger than it is today, so people probably write reflecting society. But at the same time, in a historical book, where the average age was younger still, I don’t think you can get away from it entirely, an 18 or slightly younger heroine, it’s just a matter of how it’s done. 🙂
I think that in all times there are exceptions. If the heroes and heroines in the novels that are coming out now are closer in age and usually in their 20’s I don’t see that as abnormal for any time. That it is well done is the key – as Lois said. The hero of my first (and only complete novel so far ! LOL) is 30 and the heroine is 18. Not an unusual pairing during the Regency. However, HE has definite concerns about her youth and that is part of the conflict. Why? Because I think in any time period it might be a concern. Of course Addy is not your normal 18 year old and she is definitely even at this young age her own person.
I was not a big Cartland fan, however I did adore Victoria Holt and I still read Georgette Heyer and have been reading her since I was ten.
Don’t you think that the readership has aged and doesn’t want to read about ingenues and teenage heroines? After all, consider what teenagers read (Manga, YA, and stuff I don’t even know about).
People of experience (emotional as well as physical) are just so much more interesting.
In fact, I think one could make a case that both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer also started finding younger heroines less interesting as they got older–Heyer wrote increasingly about older women in her Regencies, and it may be no coincidence that Austen’s youngest heroine was in the first novel she wrote, while her oldest was in the last.
I’ve actually done some demographic research about average age at first marriage, and for almost every era it’s older than you’d think. The youngest age at first marriage was, in fact, the 1950s. People simply couldn’t afford to get married younger in the past, and in the 1850s men were around 23 and women around 21 — so they were both slightly older and with a much smaller age differential than what is shown in many romances.
OTOH, aristocrats did get married younger than average folks precisely because they could afford it, but even there it wasn’t all that unusual for brides to be in their early 20s. It’s true that Lydia Bennett was 16, but Lizzie was 20 and Jane a bit older (I don’t remember if we ever know exactly how old she is).
How interesting! I love this blog and will definitely stick around.
It seems to me that there are on this matter two issues at stake, and mixing them up is just ruining rational and constructive debate. 1) Historical accuracy, 2) character’s age (and therefore type) preference.
I do generally defend historical accuracy and have winced a little upon reading Diane’s 2nd comment. However I would never ever commend historical accuracy over personal fantasy when it comes to making up a plot. It goes against literature’s definition, and more strongly still against romance’s! Since when have books been supposed to picture stereotypes, averages, the common and the ordinary? Even so-called naturalists couldn’t help romanticizing everything. It isn’t actually the point here whether more Regency women married at 17 or at 22, but whether it’s more fun for us to write and read about 17-year-old or 22-year-old brides! If one’s going to talk figures, how come it hasn’t yet occurred to anyone that all the Lords and Ladies who populate our stories should, for historical accuracy’s sake, be replaced by peasants and workers, who composed so greater a part of that day’s society?
Boo. Back on topic, ie what age range we prefer the heroine to belong to. Let me be a slightly conflicting voice: I personally like them teenagers. No wonder, then again, when I have myself not for so long ceased to be one (a year and a half to be super exact, for I was born on a 23rd). An interesting phenomenon is that I’ve been writing about 17-year-old heroines ever since I was 12, but while my “old 17-year-olds” were always too womanly, self-confident, seductive and experienced for their age, my current ones are complete and assumed teenagers. I suppose it’s classical to believe at 13 that looking finally like a woman and being considered as one must be Heaven, whereas in reality it can be more like Hell and takes a while to get used to. Anyway. I guess it’s taken for granted that an author should dominate and outwit his or her characters. So I guess it’s only half a choice for me right now to be writing about young girls… I wouldn’t however call it a choice by default. I’m all with Elena Green about the possibilities offered by younger characters.
I’m glad you found this discussion interesting. So did I.
I’m just trying to figure out what I said that made you wince! 🙂
I’m glad I found this blog. (Courtesy of the RR button I picked up at Nationals!)
Asia and Greta, thanks for finding us! And Asia, I like your reasoning for why you write who you do–makes sense to me. I think my problem with teenaged heroines is that I was always a mature kid (only child, product of divorce, around adults all the time), so teenage stuff sounds odd to me, even when I was teenaged myself.
But I do like heroines who are less cautious (some would say skittish) than I, and that sometimes translates to being more teenaged.
Anyway, thanks for commenting, and please come back soon!