History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

21 September 2007

The Orignal History Hoydens

My first book, DARK RIDER, was released this month, so I've had the chance to guest blog and peruse other blogs more often than I ever have! It's been a lot of fun. In my surfing, I came across a couple of posts where people were complaining about historical heroines acting "out of character for the time."

Like most of us, I've read a LOT of romance, historicals of course, and if the book engaged me and told a good story, never once did I stop to think "she wouldn't have done that in the 13th century, or the Regency, or the Victorian era etc." If I buy a historical romance, I know what I'm in for. I expect it!
But I think it's my job as a writer to create a believable character who drives the plot, no matter what, no matter the historical period that serves as my setting. So many women in history did "drive the plot"---not just the famous women we know about---the queens and nobility and such, but everyday women who were wives and mothers, sisters and businesswomen who had the sense and savvy to survive oppressive rules and social restrictions. Plenty of them were "acting out of character for the times." Read medieval court records---women sued and often won. They were out there fighting and holding their own. If you want to read about such women, check out the Uppity Women book series (or the Outrageous Women series). Wow, these books catalog women who were in the driver's seat long before automobiles were invented. ;-)

Some of these "original history hoydens" described in these books were queens and ladies of the manor, but many were not. I think the books accurately depict women in history, how they lived and responded to events that, more often than not, were NOT in their control.

What do you think about romance heroines "acting out of character for the time?" Does it bother you? Do you have a pet peeve offense?



Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Kathrynn. My biggest pet peeve is not so much women acting out of character for the times, it's women characters who are too stupid to live. Wandering about without a chaperone, or not listening when she's being warned about danger. I have no problem with a Regency heroine being outspoken about slavery or the working class, as long as there are the author lets the reader know that this isn't the norm, and there are serious consequences for her acting out character for the times. Nothing is worse than everyone acting as if it's okay for her to behave that way. Oh, and I love the Uppity Women Series as well.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

You're all going to shoot me now, but it's one reason I rarely read historical romances. Inaccuracies of fact make me nuts, as EKM said; but I don't mind at all if the author places her heroine in a situation that was not the norm for the era, if some real-life women really behaved that way, or lived that sort of life -- I'm thinking of the Lady Hester Stanhopes of the world. For example, Emma Hamilton ended up being an "ambassador without portfolio," as it were, because she was in a unique situation at a certain point in time. Sure, "most" Regency/Georgian era heroines would not have had that experience ... but if a romance author wants to use (as an axample) a woman like Emma's life experiences as a springboard for her fiction, I say "brava!"

12:21 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I know what you mean, Kerri. But I have no problem with the virgin Regency heroine who goes to be with the hero before they are married. It happened! Well...maybe not as often as romances imply, but you know it did. ;-)

2:10 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Right on, Amanda. I agree. There are just too many good examples of historical women living life the real-life way, inspite of, and sometimes, in sync with their social times.

I for one, can not imagine wearing some of the ball gowns or court dresses that showed as much of the breasts as they did in some historical eras. ;-)

I'm too much of a prude in any time!

2:14 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

It can work if it's set up in a way that gives a woman some background to explain why she acts out of her time. And the writer must avoid to give her modern ideas - no Roman girl, even one who works as physician in a frontier garrison town at the Rhine, would question the existence of slavery, for example.

Yes, it's a real example. There are burial findings that point at a few rare cases of female physicians. Such a woman would make a fine romance heroine. :)

3:52 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I have no problem with the virgin heroine sleeping with the hero either! But then again, there were probably more women during the Regency than we realize who anticipated their marriage vows. As long as it's properly motivated, i.e. she knows that she could be ruined if anyone finds out, the hero is going off to fight Napoleon, he could die etc. than I'm fine with it.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh, you know I LOVE the uppity women!!! As long as the people around the heroine are reacting in an era-appropriate way, then I'm right there with the story!

In SCOTSMAN my heroine is all kinds of uppity, because she's not in a position to be seriously hurt by her behavior. And though she's clearly motivated by a desire for equality, she doesn't think in those terms. She just knows that she's dissatisfied and resents the freedom that the men around her have.

As I implied above, the only time it bothers me is when all the other characters think bold behavior is perfectly all right or even precious and cute. But as far as heroes go.... Think of all the men in MODERN times who end up leaving their faithful, hard-working wives for women who are more exciting. Can you imagine how fascinating an uppity woman would be for men in an age when women were far more submissive? (Am I making sense?) I think an uppity, exceptional woman makes a perfect heroine to sweep a hero off his feet! And also makes for lots of delicious conflict.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

I should point out that I did NOT mean that most men would want to MARRY an uppity woman, just that she might be fascinating... but perfect for being a mistress has nothing to do with perfect for being a wife. But a hero is no ordinary man. *g*

7:34 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I love a good historical about an uppity woman who was just the maid, or a poor relation, or a struggling mother who survives by bucking convention of the time, and plenty did. Throw in a hero who recognizes how extrodinary she is for doing that, and whoa, ya got me. ;-)

9:01 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

As a reader I can't stand it when history is used to justify why heroines do things in historical romance. For instance, the heroine in pants thing: women who did get away with it in the past are always mentioned, BUT are the heroines of historical romances taking part in wars? No...they're just dressing as men (which was illegal btw) to run around England and to create "sexy" and "funny" situations between she and the hero. The only book where I swallowed the "chick in pants" angle was Laura Black's Wild Cat because she was escaping an abusive husband.

And to add to what Amanda Elyot said, if a real-life figure is used as an example, I'd hope that the heroine in the novel had the same experience as that real-life personage--none of that scandalous behavior but she's still allowed in polite society and her family didn't disown her.

9:01 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I am a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy, BUT, I think we would be surprised to read the journals of some of those average Regency "housewives." I went to an all girls college and the dean of women once gave a late night scolding to a group of us for nearly getting caught on a "jockstrap" raid at the neighboring military academy. She said "Girls, a lady can do the same things as a whore as long as she doesn't do it in the street and scare the horses." Somewhat cryptic, but you get the point. History has been forever changed by women who stepped out of the box into which society had dumped her. In historicals the most important thing is - are her actions in keeping with her character? Then, just as important, are the reactions of others to her behavior in keeping with their character? And the too stupid to live characters? DRIVE ME NUTS!!!

6:31 AM  
Blogger Patricia Rice said...

People are people, no matter what century they lived in. Character and circumstances will drive their actions. A very proper maiden living in a rigidly controlled environment, in any age, wouldn't be caught dead in breeches unless the author gives her a fantastically credible reason. And that's it right there--it's up to the author to show that this particular character would behave in this way, despite society's restrictions. "Acting out of character of the times" is for the narrow-minded and unimaginative. Sorry. "G"

4:55 PM  

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