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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 January 2011

What Was She Drinking?: Heroines Who Over Imbibed


Ringing in 2011, I tasted some of the best champagne ever and celebrated with some of the best friends ever! It occurred to me though, that in spite of the festive mood and good company, the amount of alcohol actually consumed was modest, at best. I looked around at the group and recognized for the first time we have all reached an age where over imbibing has become a thing of the past. We have kids, jobs, things to do the next day and frankly, most of us prefer to skip the headache (literally). Old folks and stogies we are, maybe, but enjoying the fine spirits (the mood and the bubbly) got me thinking...when was the last time I read a historical romance where the heroine had too much to drink (on purpose, not because someone slipped her something) and woke up the next day unable to remember what she said or did, but likely able to recall much of what the hero...er, did....?

Historical heroes can drink. They can be bad boys who in the beginning of the novel turn to "their cups" to soak in their lonely broodiness---only to be rescued later on by the heroine, of course. Sometimes, the romance hero gets drunk after he's met the heroine, usually because she's driven him to madness and it's just before he finally caves and decides she is "the one."

At the beginning of the romance story, he may be a rake and drink and cavort with unsavory friends, but you rarely read about a sloppy-drunk hero, even then. Heroes have to stay in control, I believe, and persistent drunkenness is not sexy. I know a few good books where the hero wakes up afterward and can't recall quite how he got into the heroine's bed, or some other scandalous situation. But I can't recall a romance where the heroine wakes with self-inflicted alcohol-induced amnesia and finds herself in a compromising situation with a hero.

I surfed the net and looked for some examples of heroine self-inebriation as a part of the plot line. I had a hard time finding any. I also looked for images of Victorian ladies partying to use with this post (as far as it was acceptable for them to do so). I found no elegant images of beautiful ostrich-befeathered ladies holding any kind of drink accept tea (or Coca Cola). It they were drinking, they looked like women of ill repute or can-can girls. I know Victorian women of quality did not drink a lot (wine with dinner was okay, a cordial now and then), never smoked (in public), or crossed their legs or showed their petticoats...but what about a nice glass of champagne or two with a gentleman at an elegant dinner? Apparently that didn't happen very often either---not enough to make the society newspaper drawings.

I did find a few images of women in pubs. Their kids were with them and since the pub was a family hangout of the day (it was after all, warm and well lit and had decent drink) that's not surprising. Watered down beer and ale were thirst quenchers for much of history (pure water was not always that clean) and medicinal properties were often given to beer and other alcoholic beverages. They given as pain relief during childbirth. But in the end, images of women drinking were not common (I keep thinking of the the old prints that opened the TV show "Cheers" and recall Victorian women-of-the-trade or lower-middle class drinking with suspect looking "gentlemen", but I couldn't find that image in its entirety).

So I have to ask, can anyone recall a recent historical romance where the basically honorable and good heroine gets drunk (she's the introspective, broody, but cavorting one), wakes up afterward and finds herself in "a situation" with the hero? They have to be out there, for sure....

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13 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Kathrynn! I can't think of an example from an historical romance, but heroines getting drunk is a fairly common features of 1930s romantic comedies. The first example that comes to mind is Tracy Lord in "The Philadelphia Story", where it does lead to a "situation" though not with the man she ultimately ends up with (though it helps her along the way to the eventual romantic resolution). In one of the "Thin Man" movies (I think it's the first or second), Nora Charles meets Nick in a bar and tries to catch up to the number of drinks he's had. 1940s not 30s and not a romantic comedy, but in Hitchcock's "Notorious" the heroine is recovering from a hangover at the beginning when the hero recruits her for a spy mission.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Fabulous post, Kathrynn! I can remember a historical romance from about 10 years ago (but not alas the name of it). Late 19th century and the hero/heroine were traveling somewhere in the British Raj during very hot weather - well equipped with a picnic basket of food and lots of iced wine. After about 6 or 7 bottles of iced wine, the heroine passed out. He was a perfect gentleman and just sympathized with her about not knowing how to cope with the heat. (!)

My other favorite story is from the book White Mischief, set during the 20's & 30's. The author was stunned to learn that keeping up with society meant drinking at least 6 pink gins a day, if not 8 or more. Eight gave you a reputation for sobriety in that crowd. Thud.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Tracy and Diane have spotted a trend...looks like tipsy heroines start to appear around the 1930's.

I've read a few scenes in Regencies and some Westerns where the heroine gets tipsy...but never in a Medieval...I'm wondering why that is? Surely a lady or a queen or two along the way had one too many!

9:49 PM  
Blogger Lana said...

While it doesn't quite qualify as waking up the morning after with self-induced amnesia, this scene from Lisa Kleypas' It Happened One Autumn (the one with the pear in the brandy bottle) is one of my all-time favorites!

2:12 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Fun question. Re. Diane's comment about the drinking in White Mischief, that was an English culture and British culture is a drinking one. To this day almost everyone drinks and, by American standards, to excess. "Let's have a drink" is the universal call to sociability. Whenever I go home for a visit I return with pickled guts, having lost the habit of downing a bottle of wine a person at dinner.

I had my heroine get drunk in The Wild Marquis and come on to the hero who, much to his annoyance, has a self-imposed rule against seducing inebriated women. Next time he makes sure she's sober.

5:02 AM  
Blogger LorelieLong said...

Lisa Kleypas' It Happened One Autumn. My fave of the series. Lillian gets good & smashed off peach infused brandy, then sleeps with the hero.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Charity Girl said...

This is really interesting! I have definitely read one or two where the heroine gets drunk either accidentally, or because she is trying to appear sophisticated (I have an idea that Arabella does this in Georgette Heyer's novel of the same name), or as an act of rebellion. But it's never habitual, or even a problem where hard-drinking heroes abound. Curious!

12:39 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Makes me want to write one . . .

6:24 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Okay! Thanks for the Lisa Kleypas rec! I will HAVE to read It Happened One Autumn.

And yep, Isobel. I was thinking the same thing. Time to write another historical heroine who is having good time and ties one over---but doesn't make it too much of a habit, like Lillian who I think just messed up once and over-enjoyed peach brandy. That just sounds yummy, doesn't it? Her indulgance is totally understandable!

7:23 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Perhaps a Regency heroine who has her first taste of the Widow Clicquot's 1811 Vintage of champagne!

9:36 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

My next heroine is a total bad girl. Wouldn't want her to be an outright drunk, but a lush . . . that could work.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Isobel...too funny...a heorine who is a lush! That's fresh. Fun to write, but are romance readers ready for her?

12:39 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I was just reading this post and thought of a reference in the diary of Lady Lucy Cavendish about the possibility of the "delicacy" of ladies in childbirth being related to more wine-drinking going on at the time of writing (1876) than formerly.

http://ladylucycavendish.blogspot.com/2011/01/23jan1876-wonders-about-wine-and.html

8:36 PM  

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