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Give and Take

Give and Take

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Posted in: willaful


I was thinking about an argument I had at “All About Romance,” regarding Cecilia Grant’s “difficult heroines.”  Someone argued that Grant’s heroines, especially Martha of A Lady Awakened, are too difficult to appeal to men.  I disagreed, based on what I wrote in my review:

“Serious, conscientious, and seeking her opinion: he could have had anything he wanted of her in that moment. She pressed her lips together. Generosity demanded generosity in return. ‘Think on it. Sleep on it. You’ll make the right choice.’

“She felt his pleasure as surely as though his skin was shuddering against hers. He was all but a virgin in this, the experience of being taken seriously. Perhaps no woman–no one at all–had ever gazed at him with quiet faith and encouraged him to believe in his own abilities.”

I love the emotional symmetry here: Martha, who needs so much to be taken seriously by men herself, discovering that this is something she can give to a man, who needs it as much as she does. That realization of the possibility of reciprocity between a couple, sexually and emotionally, is Martha’s true awakening.

The other poster found this ridiculous as a reason to fall in love; I’m guessing it didn’t make sense to her because she didn’t feel chemistry between the characters. Fair enough — that’s something that works for you or doesn’t.

But I don’t see how you can truly appreciate the romance genre without appreciating the reciprocity model.  It’s so essential, especially when one or both characters are damaged, that they provide something that can’t be found with anyone else.  (Or if you must be cynical, has never yet been found.)

I started The Portrait by Megan Chance mainly out of curiosity about how the romance could be made to work: it’s a historical romance about a man with bi-polar disorder. A magical cure would be a serious let down, but how could there be a true happy ending? Through that reciprocity: the heroine loves him, and deals with his issues, because he’s the only person who’s ever seen how special she is.

Thinking about this gave me a new insight into the “gently used” paranormal heroine I wrote about a while ago: perhaps that’s the only (or best or favorite) equalization the authors could give their couples. If a heroine is a fighter, manly protectiveness isn’t going to be enough (though invariably the hero has that coming out the wazoo as well).  Modern paranormal heroines are expected to be tough and capable, so being sexually unfulfilled is one way to make them fragile. I still dislike it in large doses — I’m not crazy about fragility as a heroine trait in almost any form, and in this form it’s got a lot of baggage — but I understand it better now.


  • hilly
    November 27
    11:50 pm

    I think that unique reciprocity is a valid reason for any two beings to bond. In fact, when I look back at all my favorite romances, that’s the aspect that made them my favorites: neither the hero nor the heroine could be exchanged with any other male or female. It’s a partnership with non-interchangeable …er,… parts. To my mind, the authors who’ve done that best are G.Heyer (Venetia), L.Kinsale (Flowers After The Storm), L.Chase (Captives of the Night), even J.Crusie (Bet Me), to name some off the top of my heart. The couples created are singular in the ways that the h/h can connect with each other – even, oddly at times, when they don’t always completely understand each other.

    “Emotional Symmetry” is a label that I had never thought to use, but it describes a very real, very important component of my favorite couples’ relationships. However, I do wonder if other components (i.e., security, family, status, even humor) would mitigate any inequality to be found in an asymmetrical emotional exchange and could thereby provide enough balance for most people (fictional and non-fictional).

    On another note: Shout out and much love for the late Maurice Sendak (& Sesyle Joslin)’s “What Do You Say, Dear?” It seems especially apropros to conclude by saying “Thank you”, willaful, for an extremely thought-provoking post!


  • @hilly: “I do wonder if other components (i.e., security, family, status, even humor) would mitigate any inequality to be found in an asymmetrical emotional exchange and could thereby provide enough balance for most people (fictional and non-fictional).”

    I think it could indeed take many forms — and of course sometimes the equation won’t balance for one reader, while it will for another.

    What Do You Say, Dear was a big childhood favorite, though it was actually my husband who found this image. He was looking for the one in which the two characters are bowing to each other, but I thought this would do just fine.


  • Isn’t something like reciprocity and compromise the only things that can make a real relationship work? It seems like it’d be a no-brainer but when I think of my own writing and books I read, maybe it isn’t a natural thought. Although it should be.

    And what could be better than a relationship where two people each can give something no one else in the world can give. that’s much more romantic than fated mates.


  • […] whiff of the “gently used heroine” trope (hat tip to willaful for her thoughts here and here), but since Kel has spent most of his immortal life trapped in a sword (yes, like the […]

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