I was on an author panel recently and someone asked how we thought romantic heroines have changed in recent years. My answer was that I don’t think they have. Of course heroines now are more diverse, in age and in background, and thank goodness for it, but they’re still essentially US, you and me, the readers – funny, sad, brave, timid, clever, foolish, headstrong women and girls. It’s the heroes who have changed.

Emma Orchard image credit Anna Bonomi

Emma Orchard image credit Anna Bonomi

When I first worked in publishing, approximately a million years ago, most heroes still followed the Edward Rochester model. Dark and brooding – naturally – usually with secrets, prone to questionable life choices (bigamous marriages, wives locked in attics) and gifted with very poor communication skills. These heroes usually needed reforming/taming/turning into people who could actually function in society. Often the reader had very little idea what the hero was thinking and feeling, since we almost never saw a hero’s point of view. We knew we were reading a romantic novel, of course, so we could be confident that after 200 pages of being horrible to the heroine, our duke or billionaire would rain hard kisses down on her upturned face, call her a little fool, and then they’d get married. Swoon. Swoon?

These heroes were often psychologically traumatised by their terrible childhoods, which served as an explanation, if not an excuse, for their appalling behaviour. The Duke and I, the 2000 Julia Quinn novel that formed the basis for Bridgerton S1, still has a hero in this tradition. Does Simon Bassett have secrets? Oh yes. Poor communication skills? Tell me I’m wrong. Questionable life choices? Come on. (I can’t imagine you’ve forgotten, but if you have been living under a rock I should explain that Simon is determined not to have children, but doesn’t actually tell his bride this; he tells her he CAN’T, and then exploits her ignorance of the sexual act to… Well, you get the idea; it’s messy).

Luckily, even in the mid-century not all romantic heroes were like this. Some of them were even decent human beings, who didn’t need to be reformed. Georgette Heyer’s novels do contain heroes who fit the brooding, brutal, rakish stereotype perfectly (apart from the fact that Heyer heroes always have a sense of humour, which takes the edge off it a bit), but she also wrote male protagonists who were lovely: kind, caring, considerate as well as sexy. In some of her novels we know the hero is in love with the heroine long before she does. We see the hero’s point of view, especially in Frederica and The Corinthian, and we don’t see him treating her terribly as some messed-up sign that he loves her. Heyer’s Cotillion, which was published in 1952, was ground-breaking in the type of hero it featured. I won’t describe it – but if you haven’t read it, treat yourself.

This is the sort of hero I want to write. I’m not claiming my male characters are great at communicating – I’m still writing Regencies, we need our misunderstandings and jealousies – but they are, I hope, likeable if flawed human beings. Hal, the hero of The Runaway Heiress, is only 27 but is a loving guardian to his five uncontrollable younger siblings and has a life that’s long on responsibility and short on fun; when he does let off steam and get drunk, he finds a strange girl hiding in his house who may be just another burden for him to shoulder – or much, much more.

With the new season of Bridgerton coming soon, it’ll be fascinating to find out how closely the writers follow the storyline of the novel Romancing Mr Bridgerton – because Colin Bridgerton, surely, is one of these new and slightly more interesting heroes, rather than the old model. I can’t wait to see!

The Runaway Heiress:

London, 1815. Cassandra Hazeldon is on the run.

Under duress to marry a repellent friend of her uncle, Cassandra has made her escape, but now she is very much alone. With luck and quick thinking, she finds a refuge in a grand mansion in Mayfair, and a protector in Lord Irlam, or Hal to his friends.

Posing as a friend of Hal’s sister, Cassandra is swept up into the social whirl of a Brighton summer. But the attraction between her and Hal is starting to scorch, and when jealousy is added to the mix, things are set to reach boiling point.

Publication date 2nd November 2023 Price £8.99 ISBN 9780749029791

 Author Bio

Emma Orchard was born in Salford. She studied English Literature at the Universities of Edinburgh and York, before working behind the scenes in publishing and television for many years. Her first job was at Mills & Boon, where she met her husband in a classic enemies-to-lovers romance. She now lives in North London.

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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