Tuesday Thoughts– Unlikable Heroes

tuesday thoughts

Recently, I’ve read a few books that have left me dissatisfied. I even stopped reading in the middle of them. Gasp! They were not JAFFs or even Regency Romance. They were Contemporary Romances which are always a hit or miss for me anyway.

The contemptible sin?

The hero was unlikable.

Oh, they didn’t begin so unlikable. In both situations that I am thinking of, the hero and heroine had a past together and were separated by the hero’s wanderlust. Then, a chance thing throws them together and all seems well for weeks or even months. The heroine works through layers of distrust and just when she seems to have come all the way through it, he leaves again.

Logically, I understand this is the “dark moment” of conflict which all stories require. However, if he leaves the woman before the story even starts, we then go through the entire book and it seems like he has had actual character improvement, and then he reverts back and does the same thing–nope, not reading that. Especially when there is less than 30% left of the book. He’s going to get a second aha moment and somehow just when the heroine’s distrust is totally proven and justified they’re going to get through it again? What were all the other pages for then?

It’s worth adding that although this is a second chance theme, at least one of the books was not labeled as such. There was nothing in the blurb which suggested they had known each other first.

This scenario doesn’t have to apply only to heroes with wanderlust. This character regression scenario can happen in any sort of plot and with a heroine as well. When I write a story, I try to be very aware of the journey my characters are on. If Mr. Darcy is suddenly arrogant again at the climax of the story when he seemed to have learned his lesson and behaved well for the last 15 chapters–that’s a major structural issue. If Elizabeth swears she has learned from her past mistakes and then we see her doubting Darcy in the last third of the book–how can I trust her character arc?

Consider how Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is revealed to have not been as awful as Elizabeth supposed. After his letter, she realizes that there were signs with Wickham she ought to have always seen. However, it’s not a sudden reversal of her opinion. She continues to think Darcy is unlikable until they meet at Pemberley. Then his behavior is so different and general reports of him so good that she comes to realize that she had never fully understood him before. She trusts him enough to tell him about Lydia’s elopement. Once Lydia is married, she doesn’t worry that he will be vindictive and spread the news around. She doesn’t even worry too much that Lydia’s elopement would keep him from Longbourn except at the idea of being brother-in-law to Wickham. That concern is due to a belief that Darcy is so justified he should not be subjected to such a degradation. When she hears that Darcy helped arrange Lydia’s marriage, Elizabeth does not doubt it or assign mean motives. And when Lady Catherine storms to Longbourn and insists that Darcy will marry her daughter, Elizabeth can only think that his aunt’s arguments might, justly, fall on his weakest side. She is entirely humbled from her earlier opinion about Mr. Darcy. When they next meet, she opens the conversation with gratitude, not remonstrances or sly comments as she had done a year before.

Elizabeth Bennet is not always likable. She makes fun of people. She makes mistakes and they hurt innocent people. However, as she continues on her arc, she truly changes. When everything seems darkest for Darcy and Elizabeth, the story does not rely on Elizabeth reverting to her old behavior and way of thinking. That, to me, would be an unlikable character.

What do you think? Is that sort of character arc important to you when you read?

Tuesday Thoughts–Authenticity

tuesday thoughts

Not too long ago, I saw a post on Facebook which claimed a specific period drama production was inferior to another because it wasn’t authentic to the era. The original poster based her opinion on matters of costuming and smiling. I’m not joking. She’s certainly entitled to her opinion. However, what upset me was that she claimed, without citing sources, that certain behaviors in the production were inappropriate for the era and productions should be more than dress up.

Well, I would agree with that. What I struggle with is the notion that because one or even five contemporary books mention a behavior as inappropriate for the era that it is conclusive proof.

As a trained historian, I would suggest people start with primary documents. Hopefully, any general information guide to whatever historical era one reads contains well-documented sources and possibly a further reading list. Such books should include many documents which discuss the matter first hand. An example of a primary versus secondary document would be a conduct book from the Regency era stating ladies riding in carriages unchaperoned was scandalous. A secondary document would quote another book (which might very well quote the primary material). The concern is that the middleman might be squeezing something to fit their argument.

The debate doesn’t end once one looks at primary documents, though. For example, the conduct book which says a lady shouldn’t ride alone with a man in a carriage is only one clue to the standards of the era. Consider in nearly ever Jane Austen novel, a lady (even the heroine) does so, and her reputation is not destroyed, and no one presumes an engagement or compromise has happened. Jane Austen was not bandied about as a scandalous author of the era. It can be assumed that society, in general, was not as rigid as the conduct book would appear to make it seem. The work doesn’t stop there either. Add other works of fiction and non-fiction to your research list. Add personal accounts and newspapers. Look at art from the era. Understand the artist and the context. Just because it was painted does not mean it was portrayed in a good light. Consider and consider again and again.

Once you have done so, remember that you have only researched to your own best abilities. Someone else might have spent twenty years in the Cambridge library and uncover documents which point in a different direction. Remember that there is an entire field of study called historiography, which is about the changing ways historians study and discuss history. Even historians can’t agree on things let alone for all eternity.

History is a living thing. It is shaped by those in the past, present, and future. If you want authenticity in history, you had better build a time machine and even then, it might vary wildly based on your own experience. For example, I have always lived in an area where there were few vegetarians and organic produce is hard to come by. However, other regions have an entirely different experience. If someone would write a book in the future about a heroine who enjoyed meat and never had organic produce, someone might scoff, but it’s quite accurate.

Now, consider what the book is attempting to tell the readers by making the heroine a carnivore with tainted produce. Does she not care about her health? Or is it part of a health regimen? Does she not believe in all the research? Is it a financial concern? Is availability a factor?

By the same token, consider that no one could have gone around and studied every single person of the gentry class and record if they smiled with their teeth. On the other hand, stays (not called corsets) and fashion prints from the era have survived, and while I am entirely sure some women likely modified them to enhance their ahem, attributes, that was not the original intent for them. One might consider why a lady would change them and what it would mean about her personality and character. What would it say about a gentleman who is attracted to a lady who does such? For that matter, if smiling with your teeth “bared” is indeed so bad, under what conditions would a person do so? What would it signal about their feelings? How might others react?

It’s important when you are considering a piece of media, whether it be film or book, and its representation of history to understand its attempt at authenticity. The first step is to educate yourself. After you have investigated history, you must evaluate your source of media. Only then can you begin to unveil the authenticity of the work in question.