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Heroine too dumb to live?
#1
I think several of us have commented on how some of the heroines in gothic novels are "too dumb to live". As I listened to several "gothics" from the 1800s, a prototype of the gothic heroine started to emerge. They were all depicted as young, innocent/naive, overprotected, fragile, expected to be lady-like and obedient. They couldn't or wouldn't be allowed to have opinions. These heroines worked so well, it is no wonder that more modern day writers stuck with that prototype. But, of course, the heroines in those older gothics fit the times and the story. As women became more emancipated, a stronger heroine emerged, yet in some stories, these "strong" women still behaved uncharacteristically stupid. It is in those situations that I have a problem with the heroine who is too dumb to live. Having said that, I suppose we should review our own lives and see if we haven't ever made a stupid decision.
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#2
Thank you for your post, Paigenumber. I wish this board were more active!

I agree that I get turned off by heroines who are "too dumb to live." However, the assessment of "too dumb" might be related to the intelligence of the reader. ;-} Also, I realize that women in period novels have to have some restrictions on their thinking that would not be logical today. Those restrictions make them true to the period. I like to feel truly "in the period" when I read historical romances, so it sometimes frustrates me when present-day authors characterize women as having modern-day beliefs. For example, when upper class women willfully go off unchaperoned or without a maid. Or when they make bosom-buddy friends of their servants and elevate those servants to upper-class positions. Or when women dress up as men for some purpose. These things do not ring true to what would have actually happened in the period (esp. the Victorian and Regency periods that I prefer).

Yes, there has been a recent trend to insert into historical romances women who have modern-day beliefs. This is an attempt to get modern-day readers to relate to them more easily, so the heroines do not appear "too dumb." However, sometimes this attempt goes beyond the bounds of the period's propriety. That propriety, especially in the Regency and Victorian periods, was strictly adhered to. Departures from it usually were not even considered by women of those periods. I actually enjoy witnessing such women's efforts to get their needs met within the dictates of their society. Their efforts seem more real to me than those of, for example, a Victorian heroine who dons her brother's breeches to secretly ride a horse astride.

I look forward to hearing others' thoughts on this interesting subject!
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#3
Yes, I love the heroines who were intelligent enough to figure out how to solve their problems "within the dictates of their society". Unfortunately, some of the "heroines" were characterized as frail and were always being rescued - "the damsel in distress". Or they would faint at every little thing. Just as an example, I read "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins. The chosen heroine, Laura Fairlie, is fragile and naive, though at times she shows some intelligence. This may be because of her stronger sister, Marian Holcomb, who in my mind, should have been the heroine.
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