Monday, February 05, 2007

High Romance


A captain of hussars, a Viennese waltz, the court of Franz Joseph.
(Horizon, Winter, 1968)

I suppose it's because I read too much Haggard and Scott. Too much Kipling and Homer. Too much history.
And so I am susceptible to heroics. To drama. To an adrenalin rush in my reading.
Certain actions reflecting courage, honour, loyalty, duty, tradition may make a book a keeper.
Especially if reflected in dialogue.
In the brief, harsh dialogue of crisis.

The lady Anna holds Falcor, Hanfor said, and all the Prophet's officers support her. You guard her, with your lives, or I'll have them.

That sort of line (L.E Modesitt - The Soprano Sorceress) elevates my blood pressure to no end.

Gabriele, in a passage in one of her WIP describing a break-out melee with gate guards produces - for me - the same thrill. Her character draws his sword and snaps:

Make way - or pay for it.

Die cast. Absolutes. No equivocation. Into the breech.

Not a feminine taste, I suppose. Too Hotspur. Too lock 'n load. Or so some claim.
Surprising though, the number of women who may identify with the hussar above as much as his dance partner, who may buy, read and sometimes write damn your eyes drama.

23 comments:

Amy Lavender Harris said...

Me neither. I have no tolerance, in fiction or real life, for weak/needy women, or those who use weakness or manufacture emergencies to obtain service. No use for weak men, either, because there are plenty who do the same.

At the same time, though, it's possible to protest too much, and so I don't care too much for uber-fem warriors who'll bash a man just for wanting to help, or for sociopathic female protagonists who view all men as, uh, tools. Nor for male protagonists who take John Norman's Gor world(s) literally.

I don't read much genre fiction, but do like Tanya Huff's Blood Lines, Blood Trail, Blood Price etc. series (set mainly in Toronto). Her protagonist is a female ex-cop who teams up with a romance novel-writing vampire to do detective work. Strong and funny. Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring (another Toronto novel, speculative this time) shows plenty of female strength. Pat Capponi's Last Stop Sunnyside (characters living in a Toronto rooming house who solve the murder of a friend).

The novelist who, in my view, best delves into women's (social?) strengths and weaknesses, is Margaret Atwood in The Robber Bride.

Anonymous said...

I have always considered literary adrenalin rushes, as well as the obvious moral lessons, to be practical training. "This is how it feels under emergency", these books say. Scenario mapping and transmission of knowledge, and the encouragement to face any and all crises full-bloodedly, not timorously. No woe is us.

Obviously not a full substitute for military training or emergency response, but often enough to a) make the right micro-decisions, b) not get in the way of those who have that formal training, and c) enjoy yourself during an emergency. It's not just the moral, it's the morale.

Asa

Bernita said...

I want to borrow those Tanya Huffs, Amy.
I don't mind a few weaknesses in characters of either sex - though I get very tired of the stereotypical kind, so oviously inserted so the character can "grow" - but I do like to see them overcome in a novel.

Bernita said...

An interesting point, Asa.
Novels as instuction for emergencies, a template for choices. A morality play, as it were.

December Quinn said...

You know I agree. Give me a hero who's willing to fight or kill to save his woman and I'm a puddle of soppy goo.

I like fiesty heroines who fight, too. But I don't fall in love with them.

writtenwyrdd said...

If the pov character is a wimp, it is really annoying. If I'm going to escape the real world by reading, I want to have a worthwhile experience--and that generally means adrenaline, action and characters who are "into the breach" sorts. Male or female.

I also love Regency novels, but if the female exhibits "die away" airs and faints, forget it.

Tanya Huff's books are good, but there are many more good ones to choose from. I am most fond of the "never say die" sort of character, like in The Skolian Empire series, Miles Vorkosigan, Honor Harrington, and even the Anita Blake books.

Scott said...

The damsel in distress has become gauche in literature I think. I am working on something where the men think they are saving the woman, who in the end is going to save them. Keeps me out of trouble with the old lady.

Sam said...

I blogged about this yesterday - then lost the blog. So I changed the whole post. I could only dredge up one rant on weak heroines, lol.
I agree with Amy - love Margaret Atwood's books.
Amy Tann has some strong heroines as well, and so does Philippa Gregory and Sharon Pennman. (Historical figures - Real women, lol)
One author who has both is Elizabeth George. Both the strong woman and the weak doormat. I have been known to scream "Get A Spine Woman!" just before hurling a book against the wall!
LOL

Bernita said...

Damned straight, December.

Me too, Written.
Have read about half a dozen of the early Blake series. Though I don't find her dialogue memorable, she does not give up.

Bernita said...

Scott, you are thrice damned.
"The old lady," indeed!

My post isn't really about strong/weak women though, Sam, but about the those writers who are not afraid to overtly express certain nuances that occur during life/death conflict.
I suppose the opportunity arises more in historical and SF/fantasy.

anna said...

Really must look up the Tanya Huff books. I do so love a local scenario. As for pov characters, I think they must be brave and at least somewhat attractive for us to identify with them. Gotta have those redeeming qualities whatever their faults.

as always Bernita, enjoyed!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Bernita, naturally we like the same 'rushes'...LOL...that's what twins do...even though I'm older, mother always loved you best *snort*!

Although, my adrenalin rush doesn't come from swords (I still wonder why it has that stupid 'w')or that ilk, mine is sorta like the Lara Croft TombRaider kind of charge.

And I am totally I in agreement with Amy...screaming, weak women set my hair on fire, and my teeth on edge! Every time I hear a woman screaming on TV, I want to shove a sock in it...so much for compassion *snort*!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Anna.
One of the things I'm trying to say is that sometimes I want the MC to BE a hero - and sound like it.

Eh, Bonnie, harumph...then how come she always said "I wish you would be more like Bonneee"?
Yes, screaming wimmin give me a tic.
And I get even more annoyed at the dudes who then feel all protective.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think you bring up an interesting point, Bernita. The weak lead character weakens the book. It doesn't often work to have the pov character be weak or an observer. So whether the pov character is the hero or a villain, the lead needs to be dynamic.

Personally, I think I love a good anti-hero best. But these characters aren't as compelling when they are the pov character, are they?

raine said...

I'm with you on the excitement well-written heroics can generate. Getting the feel of that in a line, or few words, of dialogue can be a rush!
I don't know if it's 'feminine' or not, but I do think women love that sort of thing as much as men! Such words from a strong, heroic figure make me want to grab a weapon of my own--or the hero, depending on the circumstances.
:-)

Bernita said...

I agree, Written, passivity usually isn't exciting, except for the exasperated suspense of what will they muck up next.
For some reason,your post made The Murder of Roger Ackeroid (sp.) jump into my head.
I'm afraid my idealism craves reinforcement and so I don't get a charge out of anti-heros and don't care if the salesman dies.

That's exactly it! And I've never outgrown the thrill.
Such words from a strong, heroic figure make me want to grab a weapon of my own--or the hero, depending on the circumstances
~chortle~
Raine, you are a joy.

Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, you remember that scene? Wow, I didn't expect it to make a lasting impression.

Though it is one of the scenes that makes me go back to the book and try to sort out the mess from time to time.

Bernita said...

Gabriele, I loved it.
Felt it contained an entire ethos. And it was real .And I was there .

Erik Ivan James said...

I ditto Amy's first two paragraphs.

Rowan said...

Oh yes, male or female, give me some action. Give me some action in the name of something! The Honor Harrington series is particularly good for that. In one book, one scene (can't remember specifically, I binged books 1-7, so they're all one in my mind), there's a Queen's vessel escorting an evacuee ship, pursued by the enemy. The captain of the escort vessel turns around to hold the enemy, knowing they'll be destroyed, to buy the evacuee ship time. The captain's husband and child are on the other ship. It's not a major scene, no 'name' characters, but that kind of action just gets me going. Against the odds, for the Right, yeah, bring it. :-)

Robyn said...

Bernita, not only yes, but hell yes!

Bernita said...

Unlike Norman, Erik, Modesitt likes women, clearly respects them.

Thank you, Rowan.That's it!
I see I'm not the only one who binges on series.
Must. Get. Honor Harrington.

Robyn...shield sister!

Rowan said...

Yes, you should get the HH series (up to book 11 or so now, with a spinoff book and four short story volumes - no drop in quality). I also recommend listening to martial music (CDs of The Rock, Crimson Tide, Babylon 5) to enhance one's reading pleasure. Then again, maybe that's just me.