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09 July 2008

Courtesan Heroines

Last week, I blogged about courtesans as literary heroines on my own website. It generated some interesting discussion, and I thought it would be fun to repeat the post here where it has a wider audience.

There’s been a lot of discussion on e-lists I’m on and blogs and message boards lately about Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase. I love Loretta Chase’s writing. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Going back to a couple of recent posts on my own website posts about Deal-Breakers (things that keep one from even trying a book or make one put it down unfinished) and Deal-Makers (things that make one seek a book out), it combines two of my deal-makers–spies and and an experienced heroine. Francesca, the heroine of Your Scandalous Ways, is a divorced woman who’s become a courtesan (the book is set in Venice in the 1820s).

And that’s been the source of much of the discussion about the book. Some readers find the idea of a courtesan as a heroine wonderfully refreshing. Others are disturbed by the idea of a heroine who had sex for money. Some have suggested the a courtesan heroine glamorizes prostitution. Others have pointed out that there’s a world of difference between a prostitute walking the streets or working in a brothel and a courtesan. Both may have sex for their livelihood, but a courtesan had far more control over her life and her person. She might have sex for money, but she could choose who she slept with. In fact it could be argued that she had more control over who she went to bed with than a married woman did in the early nineteenth century. In my own book, Beneath a Silent Moon, the heroine, Mélanie, says to her husband, Charles:

“Legally you can take whatever you want from me.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“That’s marriage.”

“Not our marriage.”

No, it isn’t their marriage, but that’s thanks to the man Charles is. Legally Mélanie had more control over whom she slept with when she was a spy using her favors for information than she does as a married woman.

The courtesan heroine has a long literary tradition. La Dame aux Camelias/Camille/La Traviata. The courtesan heroine is almost an operatic staple, from Traviata to La Bohème (Mimi and Musetta both have wealthy protectors at various points in the story) to La Rondine.

Violetta celebrates the freedom of her life as a courtesan in Sempre Libere. Magda’s Chi il bel sogno di Doretta in La Rondine plays on another paradox of the courtesan heroine. A courtesan is a sophisticated woman of the world who has had a number of lovers, yet though she has had the freedom to choose her lovers, there’s an economic element to all of them. She may never have actually been in love. In a sense, she’s the literary female counterpart to the rakish hero whose heart has remained untouched. Of course, as I also blogged about in a post on Fallen Heroines, rakish heroes get happy endings far more often than courtesan heroines. I was going to say that none of the love affairs end happily in La Traviata, La Rondine, and La Bohème, but in fact, Musetta and Marcello are back together at the end of La Bohème. One can argue, given their history, over how long it will last, but the romantic in me likes to think they’ve learned something and it will.

Back to my own books, Mélanie was never a courtesan precisely. She was a prostitute, an experience she revisits when she and Charles go to a brothel seeking information in Secrets of a Lady. It’s clear, I think, that her time in the brothel was fairly horrific. As she thinks in Secrets, In the past ten years she had known anger and fear and self-hatred. But since Raoul O’Roarke had taken her out of the door of the brothel in Léon, she had rarely felt powerless. It was one of the reasons she would be forever grateful to him. Later, though she didn’t sleep with men for money, she did so for information. I think it’s fair to say her feelings about this part of her life and about sex in general are more complicated. As she says to Charles in The Mask of Night:

“It can’t always be sublime communion, Charles. Not for me. It’s been too many other things. A tool. A weapon. A defense. An escape.” She pulled her dressing gown tight about her. “I told you once that my acting abilities deserted me in the bedchamber. That was true when I was in the brothel. I was too young to put on more than a crude show. But later– Sometimes it was sordid. Sometimes it was mechanical. But sometimes—slipping into a fictional skin, making love to someone for the night, knowing it’s just that night. There’s no freedom quite like it.”

Mélanie, however, is not an experienced woman who’s romantically untouched until she meets Charles. She was in love with Raoul O'Roarke up to when she met Charles and overlapping with her falling in love (against her better judgment) with her husband. That was a plot element I had in place very early in my planning of the book, before I had all the elements of the Charles/Melanie/Raoul triangle worked out. I hadn’t thought of it until I wrote this post, but I wonder now if I was subconsciously reacted against the archetype of the experienced heroine whose heart remains untouched until she meets the hero.

What do you think of courtesan heroines? Deal-maker, deal-breaker or neither? Any interesting examples to recommend? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve had sexual experiences but not for financial reasons? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve been prostitutes or who’ve slept with men for information? Does it make a difference to you if the heroine has or hasn’t been in love before she meets the hero?

Now I’m off to buy Your Scandalous Ways.

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36 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Since there are real-life mistress-courtesans who are the heroines of two of my novels, I vote "aye" on the subject!

As you point out, literature and opera are full of these heroines (who invariably come to tragic ends); yet I wonder if their unhappy denouements are as much a product of the "wages of sin must be paid" tenet of Victorian times, as are our contemporary takes on the subject where the courtesan heroine ultimately thrives and survives.

With regard to the earlier literature I suspect that their tragic ends allowed audiences/readers to sympathize with them without feeling guilty about doing so.

So are readers uncomfortable today with the fact that these courtesan-heroines are not punished, but triumph (and presumably, find True Love) instead; or that they sold their bodies for money?

4:04 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love reading and writing about courtesans. I've blogged about several over at Scandalous Women including Lola Montez (who Tom Huff immortalized in Dare to Love), and Elizabeth Armistead who had her happy ending with Charles James Fox. I do think that some readers are disturbed by a heroine who has sold her body for money. It's that old double standard, while it is fine in fiction and in real life for a man to be a bit of a male slut, it is not fine for a woman to use her body out of necessity or to enjoy too much sex. You could even say that Samantha on Sex and the City was punished for her lifestyle by being diagnosed with breast cancer.

I think for historical romance to grow and thrive, we need to have more heroines than just virtuous virgins and widows. Otherwise you are negating a whole range of human experience. It is one of the things that I enjoy about historical fiction, that the parameters are stretched a bit more. Of course Loretta Chase has a solid readership behind her so that she can take risks that other authors might not be able to.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

EKM, you make a very good point about Samantha on "Sex & the City." It would seem at least a subliminal, if not an outright conscious "homage" to romantic literature/plotlines of an earlier era (not to mention the fate of the "bad girl" heroines of the 1940s films noir).

So maybe not so much has changed after all.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Linda Banche said...

I don’t mind a courtesan heroine. What I don’t like are doormats. A courtesan can be a doormat, but the so-called “respectable” women are more likely to be one. I especially hate the heroine who feels guilty and doesn’t fight back when the hero (some hero!) verbally abuses her. I have one author who just wrote a book like that. She is now off my buy list.

As for an economic aspect to the courtesan heroine, marriage is all about economics, too. In so many historical novels, a man could marry for money, and while some might call him a fortune hunter, nobody minded very much. You could say such a man sold himself for money, the same as a courtesan does. Of course, the laws gave all the money in the marriage to the man, and the poor guy has to marry well to save his estate. Oh, sure. I agree with you, Elizabeth, sounds like the double standard to me.

**SPOILER** I’ve read Loretta’s book, and the story starts with the hero having sex with the female villain because it’s part of his job. Although he doesn’t really want to, he does it because he’s paid, and paid well . Later on, he describes himself as a prostitute, just like the heroine.
**END SPOILER**

I like both my heroes and heroines to be strong. And I especially want my hero to respect the heroine. My turnoff is a “hero” who treats the heroine badly, and the author calls it romance.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, I think you're so rigth about the tragic ending for courtesans reflecting a "the wages of sin must be paid" attitude. The interesting question is how much attitudes have changed. Some, I think, perhaps more than some, but as Elizabeth points out there's still a double standard.

Elizabeth, I think the worry that they were sending that message with Samantha was behind the episode where she learns the other woman in her oncologist's waiting room is nun. Good point about Elizabeth Armistead--I almost mentioned her in my post. There are real life examples of courtesans with happy endings.

Linda, thanks for the spoiler about the book--very interesting! I love that the hero and heroine are equals in this. You're so rigth that marriage historically was very much about economics as well.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Courtesan = Deal-maker for me, ASSUMING she's an actual courtesan, not a pretend one, who'll turn out to be a virginal lady in the big "reveal" (hello, I feel the same way about spies, which are mostly deal-breakers for me, cause so few of them are believable). I loved Chase’s new book, esp the fact that both characters really ARE what they’re purported to be (he’s a spy, a nasty, brutish, murdering, shagging spy; she’s an actual courtesan, sexual, avaricious, and unapologetic about it). And I’ve said all over the place that I’m in love with Tracy’s books (in LOVE!!!). Her characters are just so real, so believe, and so amazingly complex and competent.

But then I like second chance stories and I like experienced heroines and I like writing and reading about women who’ve known love and are brave enough to reach for it a second time (regardless of why it didn’t work out/ended the first time round). My first two heroines fit into this, and so does the one I’m working on now (who happens to be a courtesan, LOL!).

Georgianna (from Lord Sin) is an experienced widow who had a very happy first marriage and was very much in love with her first husband (note: I loathe the whole virgin widow thing and why must all the ones who aren’t vigins have had horrible marriages?).

Imogen (from my new release, Lord Scandal) is a divorcee who thought she had a happy marriage, but managed to cause a scandal that made her husband drop her like a hot potato.

Viola (the heroine of my WIP) is a retired courtesan. I tried lots of heroines for my hero (you have no IDEA how many false starts I have with this book) and he got bored with all of them right about page 40 . . . I finally gave up on him and started with the idea of Viola, thinking she’d have a totally different hero, but my original hero barged in and planted his flag (so to speak). So even though I wasn’t looking to jump on what is becoming the courtesan-bandwagon, I’ve bought my ticket and claimed my seat.

Yes, I’m insane. I do not control my characters.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

my inner nerd insists that I add that our word "economics" comes from the Greek for "household."

Of course, what we're seeing in terms of the current romance novel spate of courtesan stories is a version of the current pop culture infatuation with the callgirl fantasy -- or so I would gather from Nancy Franklin's recent entertaining New Yorker piece about the new TV series "Diary of a Call Girl."

The ongoing conversation about women's options takes place through these representations. We discuss what we want and what we think we can get through contemplating these images (sometimes the amazing lives of extraordinary women, and sometimes recreated in terms of the rules of popular narrative).

Which always reminds me of these words of wisdom from Armistad Maupin's wonderful Tales of the City series:

You can have a hot job, a hot lover, a hot apartment. But not all at the same time.

Maupin was writing mostly about gay men in San Francisco and the people who love them, but I believe he's the largely unrecognized creative daemon behind Sex and the City and almost a generation of chicklit to follow.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

The hoydens excel in creating believable spies! Tracy's and Lauren's novels immediately come to mind.

I've not yet read Loretta Chase, but your description, Kalen, of her spy and courtesan characters being enthusiastically and unabashedly what and who they are (brava!!) reminds me a bit of of Valmont and Merteuil in Choderos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangeureuses, which is one of my favorite novels (and eras).

9:39 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Yes, except Les Liaisons Dangeureuses ends badly for everyone concerned (love it, but it’s a downer). If Valmont had the (to quote the marvelous Beverley Jenkins) testicular fortitude to actually risk accepting love it would have been a very different story (one in which the bad boy is reformed and wins, which would make it a romance novel, LOL!).

10:26 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I just saw the current Broadway revival of Les Liaisons Dangeureuses (I also saw the original production and both movies) and it is amazing how modern the story is in many ways.

Pam brings up an interesting point with Diary of a Call Girl. Many of the reviews pointed out that the character of Bella doesn't really suffer a great deal in the series. That she's unabashed about the fact that she loves sex and money. It seems a few reviewers had a problem with that, and felt that it glorified prostitution.

I'm looking forward to reading Scandalous Ways. I read Loretta Chase in the past and really enjoyed her books.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kalen and Amanda, thank you for the lovely words!

Kalen, I loved Georgianni in your first book (I have Lord Scandal tbr along with Your Scandalous Ways). Viola in your wip sounds like a fabulous heroine. It's inteeresting how chemistry between characters works on the page as well as on stage and screen.

Pam, the article sounds very interesting. And that's a great point about Maupin and Sex & the City and chick lit. I hadn't thought of it in those terms, but it makes total sense.

I love Dangerous Liaisons (it was actually one of the inspirations behind Beneath a Silent Moon). It at least acknowledged the double standard (that Valmont can flaunt his conquests and Merteuil has to pretend to have a spotless reputation). I've always thought that the downfall for both of them was that they tried to live without out emotion and ultimately couldn't. Elizabeth, I'd love to see the current revival!

2:36 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

I feel the heroine, period, of a historical romance is difficult to write. To be honest, she is boxed in the way the hero is not because women in general have ingested the double standards against women. A future post I've written for Unusual Historicals details infamous women of the Edwardian era, and today I realized they all had one thing in common: they had to do what they had to do carve a life for themselves in climate cold to females.

Women like Mrs. Patrick Campbell, or Lady Randolph Churchill, etc fascinate me, but they would never be the heroine's a romance novel because they don't fit the mold. They were outspoken, independent, and bold, yet knew how to play a man's strings when audacity wouldn't achieve their desires. It's really something to read about and reflect upon.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

they would never be the heroine's a romance novel because they don't fit the mold. They were outspoken, independent, and bold, yet knew how to play a man's strings when audacity wouldn't achieve their desires.

In what way does that make them unsuitable for heroines of a romance novel? Perhaps I'm not getting the gist of the comment, but it seems to me that there are quite a number of writers out there right now who are writing quite unconventional heroines into their romances (many of them here on this blog as well as over on Risky Regencies).

6:40 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

la belle americaine, I agree that historical heroines are much more boxed in by the conventions of the day than heroes. But I think that tension makes for fascinating stories about women who break those rules. Like Kalen, I'm not quite sure why you think those women wouldn't work as heroines, at least of romance novels. Do please explain! I'd love to hear more!

10:55 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

For every "experienced" heroine there are a score more virgins, and even more acute, a larger number of heroes equating the heroine's morals and "goodness" with her sexuality. These are books written by women supposedly for women. Which is why I don't believe a heroine patterned after Lillie Langtry or Alice Keppel or Mrs. Patrick Campbell would work in a romance. Certain elements? Yes. But not their actual life.

Heroes of romance novels are expected to be experienced and more often than not, their lovers have been married women. I don't think I've ever read a historical romance where the heroine was an adulterer or had a long-time lover, etc. I know for a fact that I'm taking chances with my WIP and its connected series of books because female sexuality is treated in a superficial manner or it isn't attended to at all.

The very structure of a romance novel is essentially one of courtship. A heroine like Lillie Langtry would currently be vilified or seen as "unmarketable" because she isn't the soft, malleable, untouched heart (which Tracy referenced) accepted for women, period (look at Pretty Woman--why couldn't Laura San Giacomo's character been the heroine? Why was the bawdy, loud-mouthed and callous prostitute simply the bff?).

My motto is "never say never," but I'm being realistic about the situation. The sexuality of women has been twisted so much throughout the ages, the acceptance of double-standards has become a part of our conscious. Why else would promiscuous heroes, "alpha" heroes, cold-hearted bastard heroes, etc be so popular in romance? The focus is less on a story about two people coming together and more on how sexy and desirable the hero can be--and the fantasy of "taming the bad boy" phenomena comes into play as well, IMO.

Even though the basic tenets of the romance genre influence of my writing, at times I can grow bewildered by the feeling that the genre is only being used to reaffirm outmoded concepts of masculinity and femininity, and in the process, refuses to question, shape and challenge them. Certainly entertainment is entertainment, but at the subconscious level, there is a reason why individuals are drawn to certain forms of entertainment.

But I digress. The very structure of a romance novel is that of courtship. For the experienced/courtesan/prostitute heroine to star in her own romance, the plot must not focus on her sexual past--which, more often than not, books fail to do, which further enhances the common habit of romances to fall back on the Madonna/Whore complex.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

la belle,

I always enjoy your posts (and should go to your website more often -- it's wonderful, ladies). And it's great to have such an opinionated post from you.

I do want to mention Judith Ivory's late 1990s Sleeping Beauty, here, with its Edwardian courtesan heroine and its near-virginal young hero.

But also I think for a long time the romance novel HEA had to include a large measure of safety and security (along with ultimate riches and pleasure). It always has for me, I confess (no matter how much more correct my political beliefs actually are), and in these troubled economic times we may see a resurgence of this need to feel safe and protected as well as sexually well served. One assumes that at the end of Pride and Prejudice, when D and E retreat behind the well-guarded gates of Pemberley, D has brought not only his riches, but a richness of worldly erotic experience -- so Lizzy gets to spend her life clipping coupons, if I may call it that. Of course her job is to interject a certain esprit into the relationship, but most of us rather feel that, in Heinrich Heine's phrase, we have "soul enough to spare," and so it's a win-win situation -- the ideal hero is the guy who values that soul, wit, esprit us.)

I think I brought William Blake in for his walk-on role in Almost a Gentleman (and feel his spirit in stuff I've written later) because I'm looking for a more slippery, even ironic, continuum between innocence and experience (though I'm not sure I've found it yet).

7:18 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

blogger just ate my comment so I'll try again.

I second your comment Pam, about La Belle's blog. I just passed on the Excellent Blog award to Edwardian Promenade.

"Women like Mrs. Patrick Campbell, or Lady Randolph Churchill, etc fascinate me, but they would never be the heroine's a romance novel because they don't fit the mold. They were outspoken, independent, and bold, yet knew how to play a man's strings when audacity wouldn't achieve their desires. It's really something to read about and reflect upon."

I think its entirely possible to have a heroine with exactly those qualities. All she needs is a hero who appreciates those qualities or grows to appreciate those qualities in her. As well as informing the reader just why and how she's outside the norm for a Victorian or Edwardian woman.

There are a whole slew of writers such as Janet Mullany, Pam, Kalen, Eloisa, Tracy, Loretta Chase, Colette Gleason who are writing these kinds of heroines. Yes, there will always be those virginal widow books and innocent heroines, but I think more and more readers are seeking out books with heroines who are different.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

The very structure of a romance novel is that of courtship. For the experienced/courtesan/prostitute heroine to star in her own romance, the plot must not focus on her sexual past--which, more often than not, books fail to do, which further enhances the common habit of romances to fall back on the Madonna/Whore complex.

This is exactly the issue that many of the "new generation" (for lack of a better term) of writers are writing against. I sure as hell am, and so are quite a few of my friends and peers. I’ve written two experienced heroines (very different women, with very different pasts and issues) and I’m working on a third in this same vein. Pam’s books have stared some very out-there women. So have Julia Ross’s, Candice Hern’s, Anna Campbell’s, Janet Mullany’s. Loretta Chase’s new book is waaaaay out there heroine-wise.

Maybe I’m seeing an insult where none is intended, but given what many of us write I think this is the wrong crowd for this particular argument.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

La Belle should speak for herself, of course, if she chooses, but (coming as I do from an ethnicity for whom time spent silent is time wasted) I'll jump in and say that in my imagination and in my work, I see a kind of crazy salad of images of guts and neediness among my characters. Perhaps it's because I've spent some time on the political left that I'm no longer willing to cede all the "false consciousness" to the other side.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I think La Belle Americaine's point that heroines like Lillie Langtry or Mrs. Pat would not make good heroines for romance novels may be apt.

However -- they would make fabulous heroines of historical fiction where reader expectations are often utterly different. I've blogged a few times already about the difference between historical romance and historical fiction, particularly vis-a-vis reader expectations. Romance, wherever set, is genre fiction, and all genre fiction has rules even though the best and most creative authors figure out how to push the envelope. In romance, the romance is key, and a heroine who is not searching for her One True Love, or has sex with many men (for whatever reason), or who is so busy doing fascinating things that she hardly has page time for sex at all, may violate reader expectations for the genre.

Whereas in historical fiction, we're free to write about real-life women like Emma Hamilton and Mary Robinson (and I've proposed Lillie Langtry, actually, as well as the most famous actress-courtesan of that age; but my agent has been informed by editors that [a] Lillie's not enough of a famous marquee name to most book buyers and [b] the late 19th-early 20th c. doesn't sell well).

I have heard enough of "Emma who?" and "Mary who?" to last a lifetime. I've learned the hard way that editors want to play it safer these days -- which is why there may be so many MORE books about Anne Boleyn. She's a household name who has no problem selling books.

It's all about the bottom line. On this blog, our hoydens and commentators are widely read history geeks as our literary tastes may be more sophisticated than the majority of the market. As long as editors are tuned this way to the market they will be gunshy about giving out contracts for books (no matter how well written) that they feel would be a tough sell.

It's disheartening, I know.

In histo

10:56 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I guess we're just coming at this from very different angles, and perhaps that's BECAUSE we're writing different types of fiction. One of the reasons that I write genre romance rather than straight historical fiction is that I really love the idea of taking the basic story of someone like Emma Hamilton or Harriette Wilson of Julia Johnstone and then giving my character the happy ending that might have been denied to my inspirational real-life person. The constraint of writing historical fiction is that you can’t change the facts. You can end the book “early” at some happy point, but you and I and anyone interested in looking “behind the curtain” will know that in real life the ending wasn’t happy. And I’m not saying that I dislike honest historical fiction with all its untidy, sad endings. Not at all. I’m just saying that I dislike having the romance genre dissed based on the fact that the books have an HEA constraint, as if that somehow makes them less than a book with an unhappy ending (I’m so freaken sick of this argument, which is one that lit fic lays out against genre fiction in general and romance specifically I could spit).

And while it’s true that in today’s market a book with a heroine who cats around during the book would be a very hard sell (outside of the erotic romance section, anyway), the fact that it’s a ROMANCE means that the intent of the novel is simply quite different than that of a biographically-based historical fiction novel. It’s not lesser, just different. The intent of the book from the very beginning is to the creation of a bonded, loving relationship. And this can clearly be done with a wide range of characters, including bad girls, fallen women, and the infamous *OMG SLUT NOT A VIRGIN*. Will you catch flack for your slutty heroine? Sure will. See the reviews for Chase’s latest book for proof there of, but flack aside, it’s still a very successful romance for those who are open to the heroine.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm sorry if my comment came across that I was "dissing" historical romance or implied that I considered Historical Fiction to be literary, or more literary, where the word is a euphemism for "good" and that Romance isn't considered literary. To me, the definition of "literary" in any book, is in an author's voice and wordsmithing. I've read some very literary-sounding romances and there are very commercial sounding novels that are on the historical fiction shelf.

I never intended to imply that one form, historical romance or historical fiction, is "better" than another. Because I definitely don't believe that to be true.

My agent likes to joke that the definition of "literary fiction" is "something that doesn't sell" and she always encourages me to make sure my manuscript is as commercial as possible, whether she's referring to topic, structure, content, or tone. It's one reason I haven't ended my novels about real-life women with their inevitable deaths. Of course, everyone who was alive in 1800 is dead now -- but I do end my novels in a place of hope for those women, even though it's near the end of their lives.

Kalen,I LOVE that because you're writing romance you have the freedom to incorporate elements of actual people's personalities or characters, or even similar situations -- and be able to give them the HEA they were denied in real life. As a writer you and other romance authors get to right the wrongs perpetrated on the real-life avatars and allow the fictional H/H to triumph, something we historical fiction writers have to find a logical way to "write around" if we want to tackle that aspect of their lives.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

This discussion is so interesting and deals with so many issues we all confront as writers, particularly writing about the past. Thank you for explaining your comments, la belle americaine. I haven't written in the romance genre for quite a few years (there are love stories in my books, but the focus of the plot isn't on courtship, it's on suspense and poltiical intrigue). There were definitely limits on what one could do within the framework of an historical romance when I was writing them (limits I inevitably kept bumping up against :-). I wasn't sure Melanie would work as an historical romance heroine, though the reason I didn't try to write "Daughter of the Game"/"Secrets of Lady" as a romance was more because the focus of the story wasn't on a courtship. I do think the genre has changed since then, and Kalen, Pam, and other writers mentioned are pushing the envelope. Those who are actively writing historial romances can speak better than I can to the constraints in the genre today. The constraints of the market place which Amanda points to are real in all genres and can be frustrating. But I suspect the romance genre will continue to change and evolve. I don't see any reason why, as Elizabeth and Kalen suggest, you *couldn't* have a courtship story with a heroine like Mrs. Patrick Campbell or Lillie Langtry or the Laura San Giacomo character in "Pretty Woman." There are some out there, and, since I like to read about them, I hope there will be more :-). Btw, I'm still not sure Melanie would work as a romance heroine today--what do you those you who've read the books think?

1:01 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The reconciliation of the seemingly irreconcilable into a complex whole is something that art can be about, using time, space, language...

As to whether erotic desire is, on some basic formal level, always about the irreconcilable is something I'm playing with now, by mixing and matching romance plot elements in The New Strange Project (your agent wouldn't be amused, Amanda; mine probably won't either but I'm having a whale of a time wondering what it'll add up to).

Love these discussions, ladies, and thanks for the fertile ground of a topic, Tracy.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Melanie works as a romance heroine for me, but then we've already established that I like *out there* heroines (and I have a distinct dislike for the virginal ingénues that take center stage in so many romances, historical and otherwise).

In fact, it’s the romantic tension between Melanie and Charles that hooks me into your books. The fact that they each have soooooo much baggage, so many secrets, and even though they love each other, some small part of them still doesn’t trust the other one fully (oh, they trust their lives to them, but you can see that they don’t entirely trust that their hearts are safe).

I do think you’re right that you couldn’t have used Melanie as a romance heroine back with DotG first came out. Hell, I was getting told George was too "original" back in 2004! But I think the genre has really opened up a LOT in the last 2-3 years.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I've been following this hugely interesting discussion, and I'm totally open to a gilded courtesan or even the classic "low class whore with a heart-of-gold" sterotype as a romance heroine.

Make her sympathetic and give her some character growth catapulted by the courtship with a strong, sexy, believable hero (that's the real challenge--a strong, believable hero who falls in deeply in love with a prostitute or a woman who depends on the sex trade as her livelhood) and ya got me.

If any romance writer can pull this off, the devine Ms. Chase can. ;-)

4:07 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Pam, the more you talk about your new project, the more it fascinates me!

Kalen, I don't thnk Melane would have worked as romance heroine (even in a more courtship-centered book) back in 2000 (when I was starting to write the book that became "Daughter/Secrets") either. And though I do think things have changed, I'm not sure she would now. Not because she has a past lovers, was a prostitute, and slept with men as a spy so much as because of some of the other choices she made as a spy, particularly regarding Charles. Thanks for your nice words about Charles & Mel! I think that's a great a great description that they'd trust each other with their loves but don't entirely with their hearts. It's one of the reasons I find them so fun to explore as characters. And one of the reasons (which sort of goes to some of Pam's points) that I don't think a couple being in love and facing the future together (even being very well off economically) is the end of the story.

Kathrynn, I think that's a great point. The kind of hero who falls in love with a woman with a past in an historical setting is likely to be a very interesting man.

4:46 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

I approach the nontraditional heroine with gusto. My stance has nothing to do with the impossibility of her, nor a lack of place for her in the romance canon because I've read many powerful romances and I hope my own fiction can live up to those standards. I do agree the genre is evolving as we speak, and am glad for it, however I have a strong opinion about the presence of double-standards regarding sexuality and the role of women in fiction.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I totally agree with you on the double standard, la belle americaine. Imo, it's definitely still there in a lot of books, tv, movies, etc... But I do think things are changing. That's why I get excited when I find a book that pushes the envelope.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I forgot to mention that for anyone who wants to snack on some nonfiction on Lillie Langtry and Alice Keppel, I have entries on each of their affairs with Edward VII in ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, I forgot to say that (speaking of the frustrating constraints of what's considered marketable), I'm so wish you could write your book on Lillie Langtry. I can't believe she isn't better known. There was a whole (quite wonderful, I thought) Masterpiece Theatre series about her. And her picture is on wine bottles (Guenoc, the winery she used to own).

6:24 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Interesting discussion, ladies! I always have to laugh when I remember that agents and editors told me that readers would never accept my heroine in The Mysterious Miss M, who starts the book as the "prize in a gaming hell" because I was getting no where making her a prostitute in a brothel.
I always knew readers would love her and they did!.

We sell readers short when we limit them. Readers will love a heroine they can understand, root for, and empathize with.
As all your wonderful examples prove!
Diane-who-finally-finished-her-wip; my heroine is sexually experienced, too!

6:57 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Hi, Diane! Thanks for visiting! It totally agree--I often think there's too much putting readers into boxes, saying "this type of reader doesn't like that type of character or plot element." I have friends who'll declare emphastically they don't like a particular type of story or character, but then they'll read a book with that plot element or that type of character or that setting and love it, because it's such a compelling story.

Looking forward to your next book!

7:11 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I remember that agents and editors told me that readers would never accept my heroine in The Mysterious Miss M, who starts the book as the "prize in a gaming hell"

Horsefeathers! Both Heyer and Cartland have done similar setups (as have other, more modern authors). Readers seem to love this set up as far as I can tell.

I do agree the genre is evolving as we speak, and am glad for it, however I have a strong opinion about the presence of double-standards regarding sexuality and the role of women in fiction.

THIS I agree with (and resent both as a writer and as a woman), but if we don't write romances for women who are "beyond the pale", it will never change.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I agree with Kalen. It is only when writers continue to push the envelope and (hopefully) they sell, that the genre will expand and grow to encompass the full range of the female experience.
We've already seen it with the expansion of erotic historicals.

I'm just glad that we've moved beyond the days when a heroine in a historical novel could only sleep with another man if she had amnesia and ended up in another country.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kalen and Elizabeth, I so agree that it's writers who push the envelope that expand the genre. And also editors and publishing houses who'll take a chance on envelope-pushing books, and readers willing to read the books and talking them up to their friends :-).

10:20 AM  

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