Monday, March 20, 2006

More on Heroes by Diane Perkins

This just in, from the Jane Austen Centre (Bath, UK), A plea from the BBC:

"Are you an avid reader of romantic fiction? Has Mr Darcy made you leave your fiancé? Has Mr Rochester, Heathcliff or any other fictional hero changed your love life in a significant way? Does your partner want you to be more like these fictional male heroes?...Reader, I married him will examine the work of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Margaret Mitchell, Helen Fielding and Catherine Cookson amongst others, looking at how romantic novels have changed the female perception of the ideal man....”

The BBC was specifically looking for “...real men and women whose love lives have been transformed by romantic fiction for better or for worse...”

My initial reaction to the BBC question was asking myself, has the romantic ideal ever changed? I went back to refresh my memory about ancient heroes, like in the Iliad and Odyssey, and later writings, like Tristan and Isolde, the Arthur legends, fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White. If we think of heroes in those tales, are they so different than what we love about our present Romance heroes or the heroes listed by the BBC?

I don’t think so. I think throughout history, our fictional romantic ideals, the ones standing the test of time, have been strong men who have honor and compassion, who have the capacity to grow, and are capable of loving a woman as an equal. Heroes might be depicted with different temperaments, personality styles, and professions, depending upon the social expectations of the day, but my thought is that strength, honor, capacity to love and change, are archetypal, universal ideals that resonate throughout human experience. I’ll bet if we analyzed our favorite fictional heroes in today’s market, we would find these qualities present, just as they are present in ancient folktales.

I just don’t think this is new stuff. I think it goes deeper into those instinctual survival-of-the-fittest needs that drive more of our behavior that we’d like to believe. My idea is that romance fiction reinforces these archetypal male images, recreating them in a variety of interesting and exciting ways, and that this is part of the popular appeal that sells almost 50% of mass market books.

I hope the BBC’s show comes to North America so we can see what they discover. I think they have this secret hope that romantic heroes somehow spoil women for real men. I hope, however, that women tell them romance novels have helped them hold men to a rather normal standard. Honestly, what woman would want to say she chose a mate because he was weak and dishonorable, unable to change, unable to love? Not me! And what man would want to describe himself as weak, dishonorable, unable to change or to love? None, I hope.

A Hero

(Gerard Butler as Leonidas in the movie “300” Coming in 2007)



Elizabeth Hoyt said...

I think the BBC is onto something here. I chose my own Mr. Hoyt because he reminded me sooo much of Mr. Rochester (*swoon*)--the bald patch at the back of his head, the slight, adorable potbelly, and the inability to take "no" for an answer . . . Well, one out of three isn't too bad.

Megan Crane said...

I don't think heroes ruin us for real men, I think they teach us how to identify the hero in the men we meet.

I hope we get to see the show!

Diane Perkins said...

Absolutely, Megan! that was very well said. You ought to send that to the BBC!

Paula Quinn said...

Megan, beautifully put. I couldn't agree more.

PS. Diane, I didn't think Gerry could look any better than he does in a kilt, but I was wrong. My goodness, that man does a loincloth good.

Candy Halliday said...


I only have one word to say about GB in that loincloth.