Monday, October 02, 2006

Heroes . . .

I haven't blogged much about the BBC 4 series on romantic fiction Reader I Married Him because I've had ambiguous feelings about it. It has been, as the saying goes, like the curate's egg - good in parts. And other parts have been just silly.

Tonight the last of the three parts is about Heroines. Last week was supposedly about heroes - I say supposedly because it was in fact about only four heroes. And they were the usual suspects - Mr Darcy - or, rather ColinFirthAsMrDarcy and not really Jane Austen's Mr Darcy, Mr Rochester (currently being played Toby Stephens on BBC 1) Heathcliff (no 'e' at the end - please, never ever an E - the name is deliberate - Heath and Cliff - sums him up perfectly) , and Rhett Butler.

As none of these particular gentlemen appears in a book that was written after 1936, the programme was rather like a book called Passion's Fortune which was published in 1999 and claimed to be a history of Mills & Boon but which in fact stopped at the 1960s - giving the impression that the books and the company and most particularly the authors of HMB romances have made no progress, not changed at all in the intervening years but have remained set in stone, fossilised and still producing the same sort of romances as Mills & Boon published then. Whereas the truth, as anyone who really reads romance fiction knows, is as Charlotte Lamb says (quoted in Passion's Fortune):

Every few years Mills & Boon changes. A change is always author-led and
mirrors what is happening in the world outside. We are not behind the times at
all, despite critical opinion; we are well aware of current trends and keep
abreast of them.

Charlotte Lamb 1995

In just the same way, concentrating the focus of 'Heroes' on just four men, a couple of which might not actually merit the title of 'hero' whether in a moral sense of in their role in the books they appear in, seems ot me to reduce romantic fiction to a limited. restricted form of fiction that has not only not progressed but actually stagnated since the middle of the 20th century. Although not actually stated there is also in this the impliction that all other heroes are derived from and are merely pale copies of the four big guns who were actually discussed.

Since that programme, there's been plenty of discussin of romantic heroes readers and authors love and in some cases this has led to the challenge to try to name your personal 'Top 4' - the ultimate romatic hero.

I've never been a lover ot 'Top Tens' or 'Your Five Favourite' anythings. What I personally love about romantic fiction is the fact that it is. as Jenny Haddon, Chairman of the RNA always says, a very broad church indeed. There is room in it for any form of fiction about emotional relationships that appeals to you and plenty of scope to pick and choose according to mood, time and inclination. Historical novels, sagas, Gothic romances, Chick lit, Suspense, Medicals, Fantasy . . . you name it, you can find it in the spread of romantic fiction.

And the same with heroes. For everyone who loves Mr Darcy there is someone who finds him a stuck up, zipped up (emotionally) snob. Some adore Heathcliff, others find him an unredeemable psychopathic brute.

So no I'm not going to list my four Favourite Heroes (and only one of the Big Four would appear on any list of mine) but it has made me think about heroes and how we form our ideas of what is a hero - and which ones we love and which we hate and which we love to hate.

So I've been looking back at my own development a. as a reader and then b. as a writer and finding interesting seeds in a that have fed into b and made me the writer that I am.

And if I get time I hope to look at those more closely in the next few days.

But in the meantime - seeing as I am supposed to be writing, creating yet another hero of my own - I'm also discussing this topic of heroes in two other places this week.
One is a Q&A I'm running on the eHarlequin boards on the problems and pleasures in writing the alpha male

And then on Thursday over on the Pink Heart Society blog, I have a guest blog on the topic of the lasting appeal of the Sheikh in romances.

But for now I'm going to go and watch part 3 of Reader I Married Him - this time on heroines. My fin gers are crossed that they discuss more than Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Catherine Earnshaw and Scarlett O'Hara or people really will think that there are only 4 books in all of romantic fiction worth mentioning.


2paw said...

People really are too invested in the past heroes, aren't they?? I like the Austen and Bronte heroes as much as the next woman, but by not acknowledging more modern heroes we deny the affect of the sexual revolution, women's lib etc. Women don't necessarily wait to be 'rescued' or take care of financially. The new hero is a hero for Today and much as we love reading about Darcy or Heathcliff I defy any 21st Century woman to make a meaningful life with them!!!

Anne McAllister said...

Good post, Kate. I hope the 'heroines' part redeemed the series. From what you say, the 'hero' part left a lot to be desired. Did they mention Hugh Jackman in a towel? Ha. So what do they know?

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

One of the things that has stopped me from watching the rest of Reader I Married Him series is Daisy Goodwin. I have nothing against her personally, but it would've been more believable if the series had been presented by somebody who actually reads (and loves) romance and is proud to do so.

From the first programme I felt like Goodwin herself needed convincing about the genre. And I couldn't get away from feeling that she looked down her nose and didn't want to be convinced that romances are great reads.

Thanks for the post - it doesn't sound like I've missed much.

Sue :-)


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