As I revise my two finished novels, I’m realizing that my heroines will not be universally loved. In fact, some people might be very irritated by them.
They might just be…Unlikable Heroines.
I’m quite fine with this. All of my favorite heroines in romance are prickly, difficult…flawed. One of my most favorite heroines, Scarlett O’Hara, would likely win the award for the Ur-Unlikable Heroine. I recognize that in many ways Scarlett is an awful human being, but I am endlessly fascinated by her. (And honestly, if you had a sister like Suellen, wouldn’t you want to smack her?)
So I spent the weekend pondering the Unlikable Heroine. I also re-read Flowers from the Storm, which I thought was unrelated, until I found that some people consider Maddy to be an unlikable heroine.
Maddy? Unlikable? But I love her!
Admittedly, some of things I love about her are her faults. She’s often holier-than-thou and she’s a pinchpenny. I myself may indulge in those same traits more than I should. (Although it will take a lot of convincing to make me believe that thrift is a fault rather than one of the highest virtues. Hmm, that sounded a bit holier-than-thou, didn’t it?)
I must also admit that I find Christian to be something of an Unlikable Hero. I find the character of Richard Gill to be more compelling, more romantic. When Mr. Gill sees Maddy in the garden and tells her she should come away with him and he wants to ask the Meeting if he might marry her, even now? So deeply romantic to me.
Christian is always saying to Maddy, “You come.” Mr. Gill says to Maddy, “You choose.” He treats her as an equal, which Christian, for all that he loves her, never really does.
In the end, Maddy chooses Christian. Which got me to thinking about choices in romance.
And then it hit me. Flowers from the Storm is Jane Eyre, if only all the choices Jane makes took a left turn rather than a right.
Jane and Maddy are both grave, given to being more than a little self righteous, and are “Quakerish”. Mr. Rochester offers Jane many of the same temptations that Christian does to Maddy, but Jane’s response is very different from Maddy’s.
Mr. Rochester buys Jane a fine carriage that she initially spurns and only reluctantly rides in. Christian buys Maddy two sets of carriage teams. Maddy makes the comment “as if she would ever use them”, but you can hear the hint of her capitulation there. Give Maddy time and she’ll succumb.
Mr. Rochester offers Jane jewels, which she refuses as unnatural and strange for her. Maddy takes a fine pearl necklace and a tiara, with some protest, yes, but not an outright refusal.
When the truth is revealed, Jane only has one chance to run and she takes it. Maddy is given chance after chance to run and she doesn’t.
Maddy is what Jane would have become had she taken Mr. Rochester offer to become his mistress and run away to the continent with him. Jane refuses him, holding to her sense of what is right and proper. Maddy leaves behind everything she’s known–her church, her community, to be with Christian. I hurt for Maddy, for the sacrifice she makes, but I cheer for Jane’s.
I see Christian as a Mr. Rochester unhumbled by fire and disfigurement, still holding to the notion that anything he does is justified, because he is in love. For Christian, even after the stroke, it’s still all about him. In the end, he goes to retrieve Maddy, not the other way round. But Jane is the one to seek out Mr. Rochester at the end. (You could argue that Mr. Rochester is no shape to seek her out, but let’s not interrupt the flow of my argument here.)
In the end, I love both books–they are both great forces of literature, deeply romantic, highly evocative, And now I see them as two sides of the same coin, with neither side being vastly superior to the other. (With apologies to Maddy, nothing can quite match Jane in my heart, though.)
(Full disclosure: There is no St. John that I can see in Flowers from the Storm, which I think is for the best. All of this is only my opinion and I’m probably not the first person to have it.)