Keeping a stiff upper lip?
So My Lady Governess comes out today – hurrah!!! I am joyous! Tam and Marina are unleashed upon the world, and I hope they make some people as happy as they have made me. Thus ends 2017 on a very high note, before 2018 comes in with more books on the way. The next one is almost finished and very different; my next hero may be Army, but he is not an iron-clad haughty Crusader like Tam. Not that Tam is as invulnerable as he would like to portray, which has just made me start wondering about vulnerability in characters, and in particular the men.
Many romances have invulnerable heroes, which is fair enough; British men in general were not expected to show vulnerability. The fashion for being emotional in public died after the French Revolution, and a harder time emerged, ushering in nearly two centuries of the notorious British stiff upper lip. Read Siegfried Sassoon’s To any dead officer, stop crying, and you will have an idea of the sheer pressure put on British men to keep themselves in check. Going by this, you will also see why so many heroes fit the unemotional, iron-clad model, which Tam strives so hard to fulfil. Men were not supposed to be vulnerable. It was unmanly.
Except, of course, that most men couldn’t help it. Physically, both Tam and his friend Sandy are vulnerable from the war, as so many were at this time. Sandy, the worse affected, is particularly touchy at the idea he should go easy on himself, because vulnerability was for women – vapours, fainting, hysterics and general frailty were de rigeur signs of femininity. Mental vulnerability was even less acceptable for a man. It’s interesting to see the terrific writer Julia Quinn’s heroes’ experience with this: dyslexia, colour blindness, depression and childhood trauma are all visible in her work, all things not diagnosed at the time, leaving them to struggle and hide it as best they could.
But for someone to be invulnerable is for someone to be a bit off-putting really. To know someone in depth, one needs to know their foibles and the fact is that everyone has foibles. Everyone. Even Mr Darcy admits that his childhood was lacking, saying that he was left to follow principles ‘in pride and ignorance’. Possibly this awakens sympathy within Elizabeth, whose own father let her family down so badly.
Also, most characters just don’t make sense without any weaknesses. Take the perfect Jack Darenth. He has three mad brothers and too much to handle, yet he acts like Lord Wonderful. There is no way he doesn’t have an Achilles heel. He’d be loathsome if he didn’t. And looking at his family further, why is Stephen so nervous? Why does Anthony only ever speak by shouting? None of them is failing in their masculine duty, but there’s clearly a lot going on behind closed doors.
Some of those doors will be opened in 2018. And other doors will reveal a naked sugar merchant in the snow, in massive need of help from his reluctant potential bride. Now that’s vulnerable!