The Problem of the Obnoxious Romantic Hero(ine)

"F" is coming up on my A-Z List 2. One of the "F" authors is a romance writer; pondering my review for this author led me to contemplate the problem of the obnoxious romantic heroine.

A little background:

Excellent illustrations of Devil in Winter from
a blog of romance manga
For most of the 20th century, romance novels used demure, innocent heroines alongside domineering, brusque heroes. Towards the end of the 20th century, this combo pack fell out of fashion. It has thankfully come back--that is, it is currently more than okay to have a feisty, worldly heroine but it is also okay to have a demure, innocent heroine (the best example of the latter type in my opinion is the heroine of Kleypas's Devil in Winter who is demure and innocent while fundamentally tough).

However, for about a decade or so (basically, the 80's), it was considered very bad, dare I say "politically incorrect", to use demure, innocent heroines. Romance writers began presenting readers with pushy, opinionated heroines.

Now, there is nothing wrong with pushy, opinionated heroines (says this opinionated, occasionally pushy blog writer). However, these 80's heroines came fraught with problems.

The two main problems:
1. The heroines were (still) paired with domineering, brusque heroes (who liked having their opinions challenged).
2. Nobody had a sense of humor.
#1 is a problem, not because domineering, brusque heroes never like having their opinions challenged. As Agatha Christie points out in her books, sometimes they do; sometimes they don't--it depends on the guy. #1 is a problem because 80's romance writers would inevitably make the heroines constantly, continually, unendingly challenging.

The hero likes Captain Crunch--she doesn't understand why he doesn't eat something healthier. He reads the Times; oh, he is too, too bourgeoisie. He voted for somebody the heroine doesn't approve of--shock, shock, shock!

A laid-back hero would just shrug and go on eating his Captain Crunch. But the domineering, brusque hero who loves a challenge goes to bat for his opinion, and well, exhausted yet? I mean, can this sort of thing really go on day-in-day-out without making all parties want to crawl into a hole and die? Does it seem even vaguely . . . homelike?

Maybe. But whenever I read these types of romances, I finish the book, thinking, "That marriage has maybe a 20% chance of survival."

And I can't count the number of 80's romances I've read where half-way through, I've started yelling at the hero, "Run! Run for your life!"

Just to be clear (and fair), the reason I yell this at the hero, not the heroine, is NOT because men can't be Mr. I've-Got-To-Challenge-Everybody-All-the-Time too. It is because in these particular novels the heroine is the one who always starts the arguments--presumably, to show how tough she is. The end result . . . Run, Run for your life!

So, can this type of relationship work? Sure!

The relationship between Dr. Cox and his wife/girlfriend/ex-wife/wife Jordan is a great example of a no-nonsense, challenging, alpha female married to a fairly high-maintenance alpha male.

The difference is (1) Jordan's no-nonsense attitude means she is more likely to tell Dr. Cox to cut his crap than to challenge him to death and (2) they both have a sense of humor.

Which brings me to Problem #2.

Romance novels throughout the 20th century are surprisingly lacking in humor (I except Heyer). I think part of this was the writers, but I think part of it was the industry. Romance readers nowadays pretty much expect humor in their romances from Family Ties cuteness to hilarious Powell and Loy dialog.

And it is far, far easier to take pushiness when everyone throws up their hands and laughs at the end of the day.

I will post later about problems with the more-alpha-than-alpha-male solution that still dogs far too many romance series. (These are series in which there are 4-7 male heroes, sometimes brothers, sometimes friends. There's a book for each male; the last book is always about the toughest, strongest, most domineering male of the group, and it is almost always--with few exceptions--a flop).

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