Friday, January 28, 2011

The Historical Romance Writer’s Virgin Hussy - Lisa Hendrix

How’s that for a title? Think Harlequin will buy it?

The Virgin Heroine and the Worldly Hero is one of the great tropes of romance, especially historical romance: a sexually experienced, slightly older man seduces a virtuous young woman and introduces her to the (to her) surprising pleasures of lovemaking.

But what if our virgin doesn’t need educating? What if she already knows a bit—quite a bit, actually, thank you very much—even though she’s still a virgin. Changes the dynamic a bit, doesn’t it?

There’s an assumption that prior to about 1960, girls were kept utterly in the dark about reproduction and sex. It’s a belief that comes out of the Victorian era, when women of the middle and upper classes were reportedly too embarrassed to name the body parts of chickens and covered piano legs with pantalets.

But in other times and places—most times and places, I’d dare say—children grew up knowing everything.

During the Middle Ages, all the unmarried women of a household slept in the chamber with their mistress. The intention was to keep them from being molested by the hordes of men who slept in the hall, but the reality of the situation meant they were all in the room when my lady’s husband came to her bed. The curtains may or may not have been drawn on the great bed, but everyone in the room surely knew what was going on. Besides, they’d all seen animals mating in field and barn, and they’d probably seen Will the Groom lift Margaret the Kitchen Maid’s skirts out behind the smithy. (Where else were they going to do it?)

Communal living continued to be the standard for all but the richest until well into the 18th century, but the exposure to the odd mating animal or swiving servant surely continued well after that. Even for the young, carefully guarded Regency miss who managed to avoid seeing anything untoward, however, there would have been plenty of opportunities to learn about sex. First, her mother or nurse would likely have explained things when she started menstruating—the same sort of birds and bees talk that most children got until recently, although filtered through bad science and euphemism. But a curious girl would have turned to a better and likely far more accurate source of information: the chambermaids, who, if they hadn’t done anything themselves, had surely seen the aforementioned Will and Margaret. A mildly resourceful young lady might also find the opportunity to experiment with kissing a family friend or even a handsome French tutor or groom. Perhaps a bit more than kissing. Perhaps, in some cases, a great deal more.

After all, even today, a great many young women manage to kiss and pet and still remain virgins. Some are pretty darn well educated before doing the final deed. Technical virgins, we call them. What makes us think our ancestors were any different or pushed the boundaries any less? (In fact, marriage and sex in Colonial America—you know, good old Puritanical Colonial America—were in such a similar state to today that:

“ the mid to late 1700s, more than one girl in three was pregnant when she walked down the aisle. In parts of Britain, 50 percent of brides were great with child.” [Source]

Oh. My. Great-great-great-great-great grandma wasn’t even a virgin hussy.

So yes, I believe in virgin hussies. I write them—Eleanor in Immortal Champion very much knows what she’s doing. But not as much as Marian in Immortal Outlaw did! I’ve also written a few naïve virgins, and I’m working right now on a non-virgin widow whose husband was actually a good lover (gasp), and my monkish Torvald is enjoying her company very much. I’m also thinking one of the guys deserves a non-virgin, non-widow heroine to challenge all his preconceptions of what he wants in a bride. And she’s going to be good in bed, too.

Tropes be damned. I write about real women.

Just out of curiosity—what romance tropes do you love and which ones would you like to see broken occasionally?

To celebrate Immortal Champion’s Top Pick from RT (and Eleanor’s status as virgin hussy), I’m giving one Tote Bags reader an official Immortal Brotherhood mug and the book of the winner’s choice from my backlist. Just comment below with your answer to my question.


He faces a future of cold uncertainty, until her warm embrace…

Part of a Viking crew of warriors cursed by an evil sorceress, Gunnar the Red must toil through eternity as half-man, half-beast, living out his days as a great bull, while his nights are spent in human form. And though he keeps mostly to the wilds, his heart yearns for the simple comforts of man—and the chance to redeem a tragic past…

Seeking refuge from a bitter winter in the welcoming hall of Richmond Castle, Gunnar rescues two maidens when a blaze erupts—and his destiny is forever altered. For one of the young women is Lady Eleanor de Neville, who is immediately entranced by her rescuer. Her kiss of gratitude—the brief touch of her lips against his cheek—awakens a longing in her soul. And even when she is betrothed to another, Eleanor never forgets her courageous knight.

When Gunnar rides back into Eleanor’s life, she is consumed by undeniable passion. And though his body surrenders to her every touch, Gunnar’s heart remains imprisoned by the curse—and only the magic of the truest love can save him…

For more about the Immortal Brotherhood, including excerpts, interactive maps of the locations, and freebies you can send for, please visit my website, Lisa


Tura Lura said...

I, too, love and hate the naive virgin heroine trope.

In some historical settings, it makes sense. Very few settings, though, mostly Regency through Victorian - and then only if the heroine is well-off. I don't mind it, and even like it, when such is the setting.

But I've seen it in multiple contemporary and older historical settings - where as Miss Lisa mentions communal living was the norm. In those cases, it pisses me off. If the rest of the story grabs me, I'll put up with it.

My $0.02,

P.S. I really must stop staying up until 3:30 am (EST). o.O

SiNn said...

honestly im pretty easy to please tho i do hate the trope where the woman istotally weak and defencless letsbe real even in olden times women were strong and reveered

another thing i dislike is the trope where tehy r confused im all for soem confusion but really its all nutts i adore vampire and mm amd all sorts of taboo but i just have an issue with weak women and unrealistic ones gimem some BBW tropes where they r just as beautifule as skinny women

ok i ramble shouyldnt post this early lol congrats on the new book

aromagik said...

Great post, and great question! I really like the idea of realistic heroines. I think my favorite trope (assuming I'm correct about the definition of a trope) is when best friends fall in love and their relationship goes from platonic to romantic. I rarely tire of that one.

What I'd like to see less of: The "perfect" hero. Perfectly handsome, has bedded hundreds of women, large genitals... I really like stories with damaged and imperfect heroes. Just as it would be refreshing to read about real heroines, I think I'd like to read about real heroes sometimes, too. Not that I don't enjoy my hot hunks with huge members (reading is, after all, a nice way to escape into fantasy), I just think it would be nice to have a little change of pace from time to time. :)

Rebekah E. said...

I can stand the weak whiney heroine. I like heriones that have inner strengh. It doesn't bother me with virgin or not virgin.

Anonymous said...

As you know, I'm not a fan of the totally and completely "innocent" virgin. That, said I've written a fair number of virgins (women and men), though the only one who knew nothing was a zombie...because she really didn't know anything about anything.

One thing that rubs we the wrong way is the assumption in literature (especially historical) that a man and woman sleeping in the same bed or room is "normal" and sleeping apart=no sex.

As you point out, throughout most of history, all but the richest people lived in one room homes (2 rooms max.) From what I understand, women of means had a separate room which she would have shared with maids and her baby if she had one. (Or maybe babies slept w nurses- I dunno.)

The reason I find it weird is that when my babies were really small I took to sleeping with them in a separate room so I could just roll over and nurse them. A lot of moms I knew (even those that did the same) thought that this type of thing meant "the end of the marriage" or "sex life." I felt like I needed to spell out for people, "you know the term 'sleep together' is a euphemism, right? People can have sex even if they don't sleep in the same place."

The king sized bed is a modern invention. People seem to totally forget that!

On totally random note- my little girls always sleep together. If we're on the road and only have twin beds, the older one climbs in with the younger- without fail. Anyway...I'm just saying that where people sleep is not a sexual issue. The connection is a modern construct.

Good topic. And you handle historical accuracy fantastically! Am reading Gunnar's book now. LOVING!

Lil said...

It was the rake changing for the woman he loved or the bad boy being tamed by the woman he loves that I love. But I found that when said rake/bad boy was portrayed too mildly and yet held these titles, that I would be irritated. Likewise, if the man changed too much and lost all of his edges it was off to me, too.

Love the idea of a woman in the role of bad and turning better with her relationship with her hero, if that makes sense.

Estella said...

My favorite trope is friends to lovers.

traveler said...

A favorite of mine is a woman whose life has changed through her own strength. She has compassion and is interested in a man whose integrity is valued.

Kelly M said...

I like to see strong, independent characters. But not overly to the point that they can't fall in love. I like the struggle that some have to thur to find that love they never thought that they would ever find..

Thank you for a chance to win.
Kelly M

Pat Cochran said...

My favorites are the "marriage of
convenience" and the "reformed rake"
& the "plain jane" heroine. They
were among the first themes that
I read when I discovered romance
in literature waaaayyyy back in the day!

Pat Cochran

Jamie D. said...

The "alpha men" who are just jerks annoy me...mostly because true alphas wouldn't act like that. I have no idea why they're popular, but drives me nuts to stumble over one. I don't mind hard, tough guys with issues, but the overbearing all the time bit irritates me.

My favorite? Just one? Uh...

*scratches head*

I think I'll go with "the girl next door, all grown up" heroine, who manages to get the boy she always wanted after all. I'm a sucker for a story with some history. :-)

Lisa Hendrix said...

Ooh, lots of good tropes being mentioned, and several of the ones that irritate me (Jamie D's overbearing alpha, aka the "alph-hole, being the prime one).

And for SiNn: I wrote a busty size 16/18 heroine a few years back, in a contemporary called Runaway Bay (currently available on Kindle).

I'm having fun, so let's keep the discussion going. Tell your friends to come over and join us with their own ideas on the good and bad of romance tropes.

kaisquared said...

My absolute favorite is the "taming of the shrew", which, if done well is more like "two people who learn a lot about what love is really about". I cannot stand a partner who will not change in anyway for the other person.

Leni said...

For me it really depends on what story is being told and how well it is developed. There are some topics that at first glance of reading the description, I think are far out there, but they end up being some of my favorite stories. So I just pretty much am open to reading anything.

Nas Dean said...

I also have a love/hate relationship with the virgin heroine. But I like to read all types.

Linda Henderson said...

I enjoy the innocent girl older man trope but I don't want to read it all the time. I like the Alpha man taking care of the women in distress too. There really isn't one that I don't enjoy that I can think of.

Cindy L said...

I like variety in my books. As long as I'm not reading the same hero/heroine profile, then I'm happy. That's why I have your series on my wish list!!


pageturner said...

I don't mind the Virgin Heroine in context - it seems to work better in the Regency than earlier times. I get a bit fed up with the hero who has had a regulsr supply of mistresses since fifteen but is brought to his knees by one women - I'm probably too cynical but I always end up thinking 'naaah'.

Cody Young said...

When I wrote Scandal at the Farmhouse, I wanted a twist on the virgin heroine, experienced older man theme. So yes, Clara is a virgin, and yes, Ned is sexually experienced, but he is out of his depth in a different way, and he needs HER help and experience too. In another book (American Smile) I did what they say you must NEVER do - I made the hero a virgin. Not a geeky, nerdy, never been kissed type - just a young soldier reassessing his parents' strict moral codes and deciding when is the right time to make love to his girl.
Cody Young

daydrmzzz said...

I'm so with kaisquared "taming of the shrew" one of my favs. I love it when the development of the character comes together. By the way I loved meeting you at RT 2011!!! it was so nice sitting and chatting with you. Your books are amazing and I love the whole concept of it.