Lately I have been so busy that I haven't had a lot of time for concentrated reading. Alas, then, not a lot of updates here. However, I have a couple of things in the works and there should be a new review up in the next day or so.
What I have been doing mostly the past few weeks is skim-reading a few things and re-reading favourite passages just before I go to bed because my head can't process any new information. One thing I have been enjoying skimming again for the umpteenth time is Beyond Heaving Bosoms. One of the passages, in particular, has been bouncing around in my head for the past few days and has given me much ponderating potential.
From "Chapter Corset: An In-Depth Investigation of the Romance Heroine, Emphasis, Obviously on 'Depth'":
"[Lisa] Kleypas's experience leads her to believe that readers engage in a symbiotic role-play with the heroine to the point where decisions made by the heroine that the reader disagrees with take on a very personal tone; the rigid code of conduct enforced on heroines points at the level to which readers put themselves in the heroine's place, whether or not they actually identify with the particular heroine herself. When the heroine behaves in ways that the reader approves of, she is able to immerse herself as the heroine, and the world of the story is smooth. When the heroine behaves in a way the reader finds unacceptable, however, that particular heroine suddenly stops being strictly a placeholder, and instead becomes a rival for the hero's affections." [emphasis mine]
I think this ties in quite nicely with a realization I had earlier this year, about the make-or-break for a romance novel for me is whether the heroine is more or less intelligent than I am. When a heroine is as smart or smarter than me, I immediately warm to her and enjoy the book thoroughly, with few exceptions. However, when the heroine is quite a few points down the I.Q. scale from me, I quickly become exasperated and lose all patience with the book. And when I say I.Q., I don't necessarily mean strictly book smarts, but social smarts as well. This is one of the reasons why I detested Dizzy from Connie Brockway's As You Desire, despite her being a so-called child prodigy fluent in a bazillion languages: I thought she was a moron.
What I found particularly fascinating is the notion of the heroine being a rival for the reader of the hero's affections. I think this is particularly true in cases where the hero is truly worthy. Dizzy's physical and mental perfection in As You Desire is indeed nauseating, but it would have been even worse if I thought Harry had been worth it (and considering his taste in women, he definitely wasn't). On the other hand, I had to continually fight stabbing pains of jealousy while reading Pride and Prejudice, despite the fact that I loved Lizzy as a heroine. Whether this may in fact be caused by the considerable similarities between myself and Jane Austen's heroine is an interesting notion to ponder.
I think there's definitely something to be said about the reader's identification with the heroine. We seem to be searching for a heroine who walks the fine line between being intelligent but not intimidatingly so. She can't be an idiot (that would disgust both the reader and the hero) but she can't be too perfect, either, or else the placeholder fantasy is broken. For me, romance novel reading isn't so much wish-fulfillment as trying out my own personality in different situations and with different heroes. The flawed heroine must lie somewhere between the impossible perfections of Dizzy and the bumbling foolishness of Bridget Jones (admit it - you'd like everything to work out for you like it did for her, but you sure as heck wouldn't want to be her). There's a reason why Jennifer Cruisie's average-looking, smart heroines are so popular* but the virginal, flawless beauties of old romances are not.
If anybody is reading this, I'd be curious to know: does having a heroine who's too different from you turn you off? Have you ever felt jealous of a heroine who's both wonderful and gets a wonderful hero? Have you ever felt the heroine just didn't deserve the hero (or vice versa)? Am I the only one who wishes the women in romance would behave with the same sense as smart women in real life?
*Although I still cannot see what all the fuss is about and have never warmed to her books.