The Difficult Heroine

Today’s post was written by Sarah.

The time is upon us for a random Pink musing. I admit I had some trouble coming up with what to write about. I considered doing some research on Common Sense societies, or maybe digging into Vauxhall a little and the intriguing time in-between the social seasons that Crimson Rose is set in. Nothing really captured me and inspired me to write. Then, ta-da, riding to the rescue is our dear Bubble Bath Reader herself. She suggested a post Lauren has on her website discussing the Difficult Heroine (you can read her original post here).

Mary is most definitely a difficult, or even anti, heroine. Most readers cannot stand her based on her behaviour in Black Tulip and Emerald Ring. She’s cutting, selfish, vain and conniving in ways that border on Machiavellian. Then, wonder of wonders, she’s the star of her own novel. Really, really, Lauren, what were you thinking? She was thinking that Mary is a fantastic character, that’s what she was thinking! By the end of Crimson Rose, you have either learned to love (or at least respect) Mary or you still can’t stand her. There are very few people who are indifferent to her, just like Vaughn… okay, no rabbit hole of the anti-hero, let’s stick with the women, go away Vaughn!

Another well-known anti-heroine Lauren mentions is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. What a story, what a character! Scarlett, in my opinion, is Mary but ramped up about 10 times. I love this early description of her, ”the green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, willful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanour.” She is every word I used to describe Mary and then some, and seriously can we talk for just a second about Vivian Leigh’s beautiful portrayal of her in the movie? No one does a resting b*tch-face like Vivian. Again, the more you dig into the book the more you can appreciate Scarlett’s motives. She will do, and just about does, anything to protect her beloved Tara. She also has some redeeming moments, thank goodness (or Margaret Mitchell). I will always respect her for looking after Melanie, despite the fact that Melanie “stole” Ashley. Not that I ever understood Scarlett’s fascination with Ashley, but that’s a different discussion. She’s a brilliant businesswoman who is not afraid of hard work and, much like Mary “she would make an excellent monarch… but no one had had the consideration to provide her with a kingdom.”

There are other anti-heroines mentioned on Lauren’s post: Amber from Forever Amber (haven’t read it, sorry), Milady de Winter from The Three Musketeers (love her), Madame Bovary (hated her), and our own Penelope from Blood Lily (who I won’t get into out of respect for our re-read, you’ll just have to wait for her). I’d like to add the Marquise de Montval to this list. I always wanted to know more about her. There is one other difficult heroine I’d like to talk about; Elphaba Thropp from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. If you haven’t read the Oz quartet from Maguire I would recommend them, but be prepared to have your preconceptions rocked. He takes a well-known tale and turns it on its head, then spins it around a ton of times just to confuse everyone. Actually, he does that with all his books, almost ALL of his characters are the antithesis of what we’ve come to expect. Elphaba is no exception. She is born into difficult circumstances and is an outsider from the get-go; she’s GREEN for heaven’s sake! She is in university during a time of great change and political upheaval and she, inadvertently, causes the death of someone she loves dearly. The upshot of all of that is her transformation into the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’. Although I did enjoy the musical, please don’t base everything you know about this character on it, to truly get to know Elphaba (and Galinda and NessaRose) you really need to read the book.

There is, in my opinion, one other anti-heroine in Crimson Rose, but I won’t spoil her for you; although, you may know who I mean.

Who else would you consider to be a difficult heroine, someone you came to like despite her being, shall we say, challenging?

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10 thoughts on “The Difficult Heroine

  1. Very interesting, Sarah! And I couldn’t agree more about Vivian Leigh.

    I thought of another character who DEFINITELY falls into the difficult heroine category – Delilah Drummond from Deanna Raybourn’s “A Spear of Summer Grass.” I absolutely loved that book, but I know that if Delilah and I were in a book together, we would not have been friends. Delilah is prickly and stubborn, but she is a wonderful character.

    • Agree Ashley. I had a difficult time liking Delilah for most of the book, but came to understand her in the end and loved the book!

      • I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve never read Deanna Raybourn … I’m going to have to hunt some of her stuff down, apparently 🙂
        Would you recommend one in particular?

      • Sarah,
        I love Deanna’s Julia Grey regency/historical/mystery series, but if you don’t have time now to get involved in a series, I would recommend “A Spear of Summer Grass” preceded by the novella prequel “Far and Away”.

  2. This isn’t an example so much of an anti-heroine but I was thinking about authors who create multiple, very different characters for multiple books and L.M. Montgomery particularly came to mind with the differences between Anne Shirley and Emily Starr in the Anne and Emily books. Similar to Mary and, say, Amy, who has been mentioned before in these discussions, most LMM readers either love Anne and like/tolerate Emily or love Emily and like/tolerate Anne.

    One of my older friends was also my roommate in grad school and while we both love Montgomery’s books, we finally had to agree to disagree on the topic of Anne and Emily. She has never reread the Emily books because she found Emily so alienating, I reread selective Anne books but never the whole series.

    What makes the Pink Carnation series unique in this sense is that while the characters are so different, they do inhabit the same world and interact periodically with each other, which really allows those contrasts in character to come out.

    • Very true about the character interaction, Abby. I think that’s one of many reasons why the Pink books have such a loyal following. Although I am very familiar with Anne of Green Gables, I really enjoyed her misadventures when I was younger, I am not familiar with the Emily books. I may have to try and locate those so as to make a comparison.

  3. While I never considered Mary close to Machiavellian, I really came to like her in this book. During the reread I am again seeing her in a favorable light, considering her position and the fact that with society the way it was, she felt she had to make a good match, she was running out of time (4 seasons already), and she never expected to find love – it just wasn’t in the cards. That’s what make her and Vaughn such a believable and yes, likeable couple. I just finished rereading the part where Vaughn has Mary waiting in the Chinese room (not knowing his guest was Mary), and then was so glad to find it was Mary. When he said, “Don’t go,” I felt his pain and loneliness, and I think the revelation of a true character, flaws and all, is what makes these difficult heroines/heroes work.

    I recently saw the re-release of GONE WITH THE WIND in the theaters. My daughter had emailed about the event with the statement, “Wouldn’t it be great to see it on the big screen?” (She’s a real GWTW fan). I emailed her back and said – I actually did that as a child in the 50’s. However, my husband and I went, loved it again, and never could understand Scarlett’s infatuation with Ashley as you mentioned Sarah. Although I understood Scarlett, and felt her to be a powerful woman, I could never get over her ‘use’ of men to suit her purposes, and especially her treatment of Rhett. Mary is a much more redeemable heroine.

    In March, I heard Sabrina Jeffries speak on this subject. I had just begun her series, “The Hellions of Halstead Hall”, and she mentioned that she had received violent reactions from people regarding the heroine in the third book of that series, “How to Woo a Relectant Lady”. Lady Minerva Sharp was a writer (not popular in the regency period) who was being forced by her grandmother to find a husband by the end of the year. Her solution was to become engaged a real rogue so her grandmother would back off. I loved her character and couldn’t understand why Sabrina had received such grief about her, but different opinions are what make the world go round. Thanks, for a thought provoking post, Sarah!

  4. Julianne Baxter, the heroine from Jennifer McQuiston’s Moonlight on my Mind. This was the third book of a trilogy. We had met this character in the first two books. She was “difficult.” ‘I trust it won’t be a spoiler to say that she ended up being absolutely wonderful. But, really, she testified wrongly against a very good man, implicating him in the murder of his own brother. And she ruthlessly made life unpleasant for the beloved heroine of one of the previous novels. But then the author had to go and let us in on the motivations and inner thoughts and intentions of the characters, and the obvious blurred and shifted. I ended up really liking and admiring the girl I had assumed to be a superficial and cruel flibbertigibbet.

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