Megan’s post about Ridiculous Teenagers got me thinking about a related aspect of Regency heroines. Along with a trend toward somewhat older heroines, there’s also a trend toward more sexually experienced ones. For instance, I’m noticing more widow and courtesan stories. But even among unmarried heroines, there are fewer of the old-style naïve virgin.
Personally, I find the extremes—either the clueless heroine raised under a rock and the unmarried lady who somehow knows everything and even what it’s called—need some setup to make them believable.
Just because Regency misses were not supposed to know anything about sex doesn’t make me think that was always true. There probably were some who were so closely chaperoned and secluded that they had no opportunity to figure things out. I could buy that in a story, based on the author’s setup, and I wouldn’t despise a heroine just for being ignorant (we all were once). But I also don’t like to equate “ignorant” with “innocent”.
I think there were ways a girl might have learned things, intentionally or accidentally. She might have overheard servants’ gossip. Living in the country and observing animals might spark curiosity–though I think it could lead to some funny mistakes, too! Gentlemen often owned some pretty explicit materials: books, pictures, naughty snuffboxes and the like. Though they probably tried to keep these items out of sight of ladies of the house, there could have been the Regency equivalent of stumbling onto an older brother’s Playboy stash. Moreover, if the lady had many sisters, or a large circle of friends, and especially if she went to a girls’ boarding school, I’d bet that at some point she might hear something from someone who heard it from someone else. Of course, the knowledge a heroine gets some of these ways might still be incomplete or incorrect—which could be interesting story fodder!
I could also imagine that if the heroine were raised in an eccentric, bohemian, liberal sort of family, she might know things that most didn’t. We also don’t know what mothers (or older sisters, or married friends) might have told a young bride-to-be. They might have told her to “think of England” but what if the friend or relative was herself the heroine of an earlier romance? What kind of advice might she give?
I don’t want all heroines to be alike, so for me, as long as the author has set up her background appropriately, I’m willing to believe just about any degree of knowledge.
What about you? What do you think they might have known? What sorts of unmarried Regency heroines do you find believable?