It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a chick lit novel must be in want of a life.
That is absolute nonsense, of course, but it does raise an interesting point about why people (not just women) read romantic novels. It would be easy to dismiss romantic stories as wish fulfilment for lonely readers, and to a certain extent it is. HOWEVER (and as you can see from the capitals, this is a massive ‘however’), the wish being fulfilled is NOT necessarily what people think it is, i.e., “Oh, I wish I had a Mr. Darcy!”. More often it’s “I wish I could be as witty as Lizzie Bennett.”
Good romantic novels (as opposed to whiny claptrap) are the ones that show heroes and heroines behaving the way we would like to behave, not just how we want our prospective partners to behave. People who get swept up in the story of Pride and Prejudice are just as invested in Lizzie Bennett’s decisions as they are in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s smouldering glances. (I know. Fitzwilliam. Try to make your peace with it; it happened.)
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look at some literary ladies:
1) Hermione Granger
I have a huge soft spot for this particular heroine, because like me she has uncontrollable hair and she sometimes loses her temper when men are being a bit thick. J K Rowling has recently said that she regrets pairing Ron and Hermione as a romantic couple in the last Harry Potter book, which to be honest I think is neither here nor there. (Also, Rowling, move on. Seriously. You’ve made your millions and the story is over. Stop trying to edit it when it’s been published for years.) Women like Hermione who are clever, sensitive, loyal and a bit prone to climbing on high horses DO fall in love with funny, grumpy, bloke-ish guys like Ron Weasley. The best thing about reading the Harry Potter books with Hermione in mind is that you realise that it’s not up to you who you fall in love with. If the cleverest witch in a generation (who for some reason has been able to conjure up portable fire since the age of eleven) can fall for a fairly clueless chap who takes SEVEN YEARS to do something about his feelings, then it doesn’t make you an idiot if it happens to you.
2) Bella Swan
A lot of people hate the Twilight series, or at least hate that they love them so much. Why? Because you cannot get onside with the heroine. She is SO ANNOYING. Yeah ok, her two love interests are a freakishly strong teen werewolf and a bloodthirsty statue with a Byron complex, but nothing she says or does in the novels makes you feel like you can relate to her or feel sympathy for her. The Twilight series is a bad set of books, not because the romance is so drippy, but because the girl at the centre of this incredibly disturbing love triangle is so fundamentally unlovable.
3) Margaret Hale
Putting aside my absolute fury that North and South is basically a crap version of Pride and Prejudice, the heroine is the most irritating creature ever to walk the earth (or page, I suppose). It’s not entirely her fault, though: Gaskell is one of those writers who doesn’t trust her readers to understand anything about her characters purely by describing what they say and do, so she CONSTANTLY reminds the readers in her descriptions how beautiful and wonderful Miss Hale is. Every other paragraph, Gaskell essentially says “In case you hadn’t noticed, my heroine is really pretty and popular, so you HAVE TO LOVE HER.” No, Gaskell, I bloody do not. If your writing were better, you would be able to SHOW your readers what Margaret Hale is like, rather than ramming it down our throats. Being told a million times how wonderful somebody is without ever seeing any proof just makes you like them less.
4) Rose Highly-Robinson
The name doesn’t sound too promising, but this girl is one of my favourite literary heroines. The protagonist of Michelle Magorian’s beautiful A Little Love Song, Rose is a seventeen year-old evacuee who wants to write, but is being pushed into a scientific education by her over-protective mother and her dead father’s wishes. Michelle Magorian is the woman who wrote Goodnight Mister Tom, and this story is just as heart-warming (and breaking). If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it to you. Rose is the kind of girl that makes mistakes, but they are exactly the mistakes that you would have made in her position, and you love her for them. She gets a happy ending, but she gets it by being a real person who puts up a bit of a fight, not by being swept up by a knight in shining armour (although there is a man involved somewhere. I’ll stop with the spoilers now).
5) Katniss Everdeen
Jury’s out on this one: I like the concept of Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, but her heroine is a bit off, in my opinion. I understand how she could appeal to people: a physically strong, independent young woman who provides for her family and protects her little sister at all costs. These are all good things. But for me personally, the way she behaves with the two men who love her (WHAT is with the spate of love triangles in young adult fiction, by the way?) is pretty off-putting. I like the books a lot, but I need to pick and choose which bits of Katniss’ character I aspire to. I would love to be able to shoot a bow and arrow the way she can, but I’d rather not lead a guy on (on TELEVISION, no less) when I know he has feelings for me. Also, her name is Katniss. I just…why? That’s not a name!
There are a lot of other literary heroines who deserved a mention in this blog, but I picked these five because I think they get my point across most clearly. I could have written the whole thing based on Austen novels, but I think that there is a much wider tendency in all sorts of novels for readers to want to be the hero/heroine rather than ensnare the love interest. And I think that that’s a good thing. I might quite like a Dan Stevens-esque Edward Ferrers to rock up at my door, but I’ve just not got the patience of Elinor Dashwood.
Have a cracking Saturday everyone.