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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

10 May 2008

Why Blue or Green Eyes?

It has been said that eyes are the window into the soul---for a writer that means eye color is part of your heroine’s (or heroe's) character. Human eye color is determined by a number of factors, including the amount of melanin in the iris, as well as the thickness of iris, which causes light to be absorbed differently. But most of us have noticed the predominance of blue-eyed and green-eyed heroines in historical romance? Green eyes are particularly popular in medieval heroines, and blue eyes are common in the fair-skinned, light haired historical heroine of European descent. Since most historicals are set in Europe, there's a reason. A few interesting facts about green eyes and blue eyes:

Green Eyes
Extremely beautiful and very rare, truly green eyes are a recessive trait that exist in only 1-2% of the world population. Part of their rarity is because blue eyes are dominant over green eyes. Hazel eyes, a more common color, are a combination of medium blue eyes and a dark brown. Hazel eyes appear to change color depending on the light. So yes, this is possible (a feature I’ve seen in many heroines and heroes). In short, we see a lot of green eyes (more correctly, hazel eyes) in European heroines because blue eyes are common in people of European decent.

Blue Eyes
Though blue eyes are a recessive trait, they are a highly desirable characteristic in female historical heroines. One study shows that blue eyed men seek out blue-eyed women from an evolutionary standpoint in order to verify paternity.

Almost 90% of Icelanders have blue or green eyes. Outside of Iceland, blue eyes are most common in Northern European countries, and especially in Ireland and the UK. Not surprisingly, a 2002 study found the prevalence of blue eye color among Whites in the United States to be 33.8% for those born between 1936 and 1951 compared to 57.4% for those born between 1899 and 1905 (reflecting our European roots---pun intended!).

Today, only 17% of Americans have blue eyes, reflecting our ever-changing multicultural heritage. Interestingly, all presidents since Richard Nixon have had blue eyes. Kensut speculates voters subconsciously register a preference for someone with “deeper roots” in America. In any case, the number of blue-eyed people in the US continues to decline.

I’ve seen all colors of eyes in historical romance. I took some heat for giving my hero steel-gray eyes (a real eye color) in DARK RIDER, and I even looked up amber eyes---surprised to learn that’s a real color, too. I remember a paranormal romance with a heroine whose eyes changed color with the weather---which I thought was very cool.

What striking eye-color of a character made an impression on you? I can't remember the color of Mr. Darcy's eyes--can anyone recall? Was it even mentioned?

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22 Comments:

Blogger Claudia Dain said...

I'm married to a man with truly green eyes. They are green in any light and from any distance. Truly gorgeous and remarkable eyes. The green of his eyes is the color of pine needles.

Sigh.

His mother had light blue eyes and his father dark brown; he remembers an uncle who had green eyes, so that gene was in there somewhere!

9:32 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Interesting! I'm one of the 17% blue-eyed ... in fact most of my family has/had blue eyes. Mine are very dark blue--almost navy; I'd trade for the color of pine needles any day.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Claudia Dain said...

Lynna, the green eyes bypassed my kids. I'm left hoping my future grandkids will get green eyes. It's just so unusual, a real jaw-dropper.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I couldn't resist...I gave my heroine in my next book SHADOW RIDER...green eyes.

I know, I know...it's such a medieval cliche. ;-)

But I love it.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

My dad had gorgeous dark blue eyes, while my mom's are a light brown with a touch of green. Somehow I ended up with really dark brown eyes--maybe I got the dark from him and the brown from her, though my older relatives keep telling me I'm a dead ringer for my father's mother's mother, right down to my coloring (I also have darker hair and more olive skin than either of my parents), so who knows?

I thought my daughter was going to have steel gray eyes for awhile, but they turned brown a little after her first birthday.

My WIP is an alternative history with several historical figures as characters. So far I have four real people who are important enough to the story to merit a description, all English or French. Three of them had dark hair and light eyes, either blue or gray, while the fourth is a blue-eyed blonde. So I've given my most important invented characters brown or green eyes just for variety!

5:01 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

Most of my family has brown eyes, with the exception of my youngest brother, whose eyes are blue. I think my apathy towards blue-eyed heroes stems from the fact that it would remind me of my brother, lol. I actually prefer my characters to be brown-, hazel- or gray-eyed. If someone has blue eyes (and blonde hair, since I tend to favor brunettes and redheads), it has something to do with their character.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hi Susan,

I've often wondered if native American indians had brown eyes (or hazel eyes) for that matter, before they married into European cultures---why so many of my English family has brown eyes and hazel eyes...not a blue-eyed person amongst us! We have Chicksaw roots!

7:59 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Claudia, I think a photo of your hubby's eyes is in order. Sounds dreamy!

My father - half English and half Welsh had gorgeous blue eyes, almost a sky blue. Both of my brothers got those. And they got the blond curly hair from the English side of the family, although Dad had that black Welsh hair.

My Mom is FBI (full blooded Indian - half Cherokee and and half Creek.) She has hazel eyes that tend to go amber when she is mad. (saw that a lot as a child!)

I have gray eyes. I mean really gray. Apparently it is a Creek Indian trait. I went to the annual Pow Wow ten years ago and every time I passed a booth with chili and fry bread I noticed a woman kept staring at me. When we decided we had to try the chili she blatantly stared at my eyes and said "What Nation are you?" I said "I beg your pardon?" She said "You're Creek, aren't you? You have Creek eyes." So I am very proud of my gray eyes. And I got the black hair as well. People meet my brothers and do a double take.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wow, Doglady, how very cool---amber eyes and Creek heritage.

Today I going to the a national Pow Wow on Stanford's campus. Its one of the biggest in Nothern California and I love the costumes.

At 6 ft tall, I don't exactly blend, despite my hazel eyes ... but when they call for open dancing, my kids and I go into the circle and dance to the drums and everyone else in full costume. ;-)

Happy Mother's Day!

12:55 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

La belle,

There are many studies which document character traits with eye color---brown-eyed people are faster studiers, though blue-eyed people have high emotional IQs, etc...

Makes for very interesting net surfing!

12:57 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Oh Kathryn I am so envious! I would love to go to one of the Plains or Desert Nations' Pow Wows. And the open dancing is my favorite part of the Pow Wow! I am so glad your children are able to see the wonder of a real tribal gathering. What a great way to spend Mother's Day.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Susan Wilbanks said...

I'd love to go to a Pow Wow, period, if I could do so without coming across as a complete poseur. According to family hearsay I'm part Creek (from the side of the family where I picked up the dark hair and eyes and olive-ish skin), but we don't have any kind of documentation to prove it. My husband is on the Oklahoma Cherokee tribal rolls, but he's also English, Welsh, German, French, and Choctaw.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I guess my eyes are actually hazel; they range from green to brown, but in most light they are dark green with a brown ring around the inside. They are very much like my dad's, except he doesn't have the brown ring. But my mom has dark brown eyes. And my brother has blue eyes! Poor Mom thought she'd have dark haired, brown-eyed kids. And I have red hair, although my brother's is dark.

My husband's eyes are blue with gold around the irises, but one of his sisters insists they are green!

For characters, I find that Lauren's (Willig) characters, heroes and heroines anyway, have memorable eye colors. Richard Selwick's green eyes, and the fact he got them from Lady Uppington, his mother, will never be forgotten! I also remember that Amy Selwick's eyes are blue, Henrietta's are hazel, Miles' are brown, Geoff's are grey, Letty's are blue, Vaughn's are silver, and Mary's are sapphire blue.

In other literature...hmmm. Can't help you with Mr. Darcy, sorry.

Does it annoy anyone else when a specific, important, physical characteristic of a character is overlooked in the film version? Like Sophie's red hair in the Da Vinci Code, Sidda's red hair in The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood...Scarlett's green eyes in Scarlett (the terrible, terrible TV movie).

Kathrynn, thanks for this very interesting post!

6:20 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Jessica, yes it does bug me when a TV or movie character physical trait, like eye color, or even worse, hair color is all wrong.

And speaking of Mr. Darcy...I once saw a very-off-broadway production of Pride and Prejudice and Darcy had very blonde hair. Just couldn't get past it. ;-)

9:57 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Doglady, if you live in Nothern Ca, try to make it to the Stanford Pow Wow.

They are so welcoming at the circle dance. People of all colors and nations dance together. I am seriously considering investing in a costume. ;-)

10:01 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Greetings from Bangladesh! I'm here and finally able to get to the internet (my first hotel was a mess and the internet wasn't working!).

I have "true" green eyes myself, so I guess I don't see them as all that rare (several of my friends have them as well). My family seems to cover all the bases: Dad = amber with brown outer ring; Mom = blue/green (truly changeable!); Sister = BLUE!; Brother = dark brown. One of my great aunts had blue eyes that were so pale they almost looked white. Creepy!!!

4:20 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I have dark brown eyes like my father, but my mother's eyes were pea soup green with a rim of hazel which I always thought were beautiful and I envied her. I also knew an actress who had one blue eye and one green eye which is incredibly rare.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Catching up late, as I've been out of town. Fascinating post! During my research for TOO GREAT A LADY, I remember being intrigued by the color of Emma Hamilton's eyes, which her contemporaries, and well as subsequent biographers, always remarked upon. Her eyes were such a deep shade of blue that some people thought the color was closer to violet or indigo, but she had a brownish spot in one pupil which the painter George Romney (in particular) found utterly unusual and compelling.

My grandmother had pale blue eyes rimmed in brown and in one of my contemporary novels I gave that attribute to the loving maternal character.

My own eyes are chocolate brown and I woud trade for eyes the color of pine needles OR Lynna's deep navy color any day!!

1:16 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post! Sorry to be chiming in late. I don't think Darcy's eye color is ever mentioned. I don't think Elizabeth's is either, though we hear a lot about her "fine eyes." But Georgette Heyer has a great many heroes (and several heroines) with gray eyes. My dad had hazel eyes, that looked green, gray, or blue in various lights and depending on what color shirt he was wearing. I have brown eyes like my mom. I've written a fair number of brown-eyed characters, but I gave Melanie blue-green eyes because I wanted her to have eyes that were unsual. And I confess I gave Charles gray eyes :-).

2:26 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I don't think a romance really needs to pay attention to its hero and heroine's eye color -- if its author is Jane Austen.

But the rest of us can usually use the help, and I confess to paying a lot of attention to it, perhaps because of the following formative experience:

When I was 8 years old, I saw the technicolor epic Beau Brummell, in which Brummell (played by Stewart Granger) asks his butler what color he thinks the made-up heroine's eyes are (she's played by Elizabeth Taylor).

"Gray, Sir?" The butler asks politefully.

"No," Brummell answers, gazing lovesick out into space. "They're a very particular shade of blue." He then suddenly becomes brisk, purposeful. "Have this entire suite of rooms painted that shade of blue," he says, tho he doesn't provide any paint chips.

But at 8 I wasn't thinking of paint chips. And I think it was at that moment, at 8, that I became an aspiring romance writer.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

My mother knew Elizabeth Taylor when they were growing up in Beverly Hills, and my green-eyed mother (who herself had a green-eyed mother -- and I remain green with jealousy) verified for me that Liz Taylor really did have violet eyes -- for which she was famous, as they are incredibly unusual. It wasn't a trick of film lighting or glorious Technicolor.

I had a boyfriend whose blue-grey eyes would turn deep indigo when he was aroused. Sorry, ladies, I already put that in one of my books, giving that quirk to my hero. :)

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

Just want to clarify that green eyes are actually dominant over blue eyes.

6:43 AM  

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