Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Heroines Across The Ages in Writing


They have existed for always it seems. From the myths and lore transmitted through word of mouth across generations, to the tales penned by authors with a quill and ink, and later through the medium of film as the visual strutted side by side with the written word.

Heroes have existed, as have heroines. Women and girls have gone through all these walks of life, recounting to us their struggles, their tales of romance and chivalrous men who wooed them and made them queens. Women have struggled through the confines society imposed on them, to emerge the victor, despite the fact that the struggle is far from won even today.

Yet, has this woman been the same throughout time? Has she changed, evolved, matured, or even, regressed?

What better way to capture this evolution than through stories and their heroines? Every age's tales reflects upon its womenfolk and brings her to light as the persona she encompassed in that era. Even today, when we pen a tale from a time we have not personally witnessed, we depict this heroine as she would have been in that set-up.

Let's take a more in depth look.

Stories rarely go beyond the year 1000. At the time of Crusades, in a world of knights and ladies and commoners, women are portrayed here as needing a man by their side, as nurturers, as wilting flowers. Mind you, there is strength in this woman, but she doesn't flaunt it. Virginity, especially among the higher realms of society, is a virtue, though liaisons and dalliances happened oftentimes after the lady was married and bedded by her husband on her wedding night.
Examples of such heroines (even from times before the first millenium): Queen Gorgo, wife of King Leonidas in 300; Princess Sybilla in Kingdom of Heaven; Evolet in 10,000 B.C.

You then move to the middle ages. The likes of Shakespeare abound here, with the young ingenue as the heroine. It has to be recalled that women were married and mothers here at the age of 12. Political alliances, marriages to merge big families, human lust and desire characterise the personalisation of romace in this age.
Examples of such heroines: Juliet from Romeo and Juliet; Queen Elizabeth 1 from Elizabeth; Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love.

Then comes the 1800s, the age of romanticism and society stories. The Civil War, the Napoleonic reign, the Regency - all fall into this period, though the Regency is more stringent on matters on proper society manners and conventions. The heroine in this time aspires towards a 'good' marriage, otherwise it's a life of drudgery as old maid, governess, or lady in waiting. There seems to be very little to motivate this heroine, but it's a wrong assumption. Rebellion is often characterised here. The heroine aspires for more, though she very rarely manages to break through the confines of the age. Again, virginity is highly valued. Women who have sex outside of marriage are viewed as 'fallen creatures', and the only action between the sheets happens after marriage. Even liaisons are shunned even more in this era.
A little observation to be made here - the period of 'libertinage' on the Old Continent around the turn of the century. Think Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos.
Examples of heroines: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice; most Jane Austen heroines.

The rest of the century brings us the 'regular' historical heroine. Mostly set in England or America and the war between North and South, we have polarized heroines in this age. These women abide by the society rules, nurturers to a fault, or they throw it all by the window. Think Scarlett O'Hara v/s Melanie Wilkes.

Another contender in this bracket of time is the settlement of the American West stories, or Westerns as we know it. The rugged lands of the New World provide a harsh and often brutal backdrop against which heroines must live in the shadow of the men, the law-abiders or the outlaws. Women in this set-up are depicted as courageous, gritty, and not afraid. Still the nurturer, some break the mold. Think Calamity Jane, Ellen "The Lady" in The Quick and The Dead.

At the turn of the twentieth century, you have a heroine who is breaking the cocoon and trying to emerge as the free butterfly. Social conventions are being pushed aside and she is thinking about herself and her own happiness. A preclude to the women's liberation movement, in a way. Still bound by the corset though, but times are about to change as the Big War is lurking and women get their first shot at handling everything while the men are away fighting.
Examples: 1812 brought us Rose DeWitt Buckater in Titanic.

Despite all the evolution women meet in between 1913 to 1935, there aren't many stories to showcase this. Of course, fashion hasd changed. The corset has been ditched, hem lines are much shorter, undergarments are pretty much a thing of the past. The mindset has also evolved, more liberated. Rarely do we come across a heroine from that age though. It seems as if time just jumped to WWII and that's when you see more of this 'new' woman.
She has a job. She doesn't need to rely on marriage as her only avenue. She can choose her mate relatively without hindrance. She can decide to be an old maid and that's not an issue.
Examples of such heroines: Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson in Pearl Harbor; Kay Lake and Madeleine Linscott from The Black Dahlia.

From this point onwards, the heroine takes new avatars at every decade.

The 1950s brought a time of repression, in a way. Men are back from the war and women are expected to go back to domestic life. It often happens that women cede their places readily, but such is not the case always. There is a battle here between home life and the life of the working woman who takes her own decisions.
Examples: Cathy Whitaker in Far from Heaven; the posse of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood. (I don't get Mad Men here or I'd have used that example!)

For all the 1960s brought the hippie movement forward, there aren't many hippie heroines. It is mostly the secondary characters who get saddled with this trend. The era probably brings to mind the sultry image of Marilyn Monroe. Family is still a driving force in this age, though there is much a shift in focus as to what the woman wants from her man.
Examples: Margaret "Maggie the Cat" Pollit in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.

The 70s returned us to the classic wilting flower and the damsel in distress. The rise of Harlequin romances and Mills & Boon stories accounts for much of that.

The 80s, however, and the 90s too, sketch a curve away from the wilting rose and brings more power-hungry women. A career is not a thing that's scorned any longer, and men are meant to be enjoyed like candy. What a change in the mindset! From books to movies to the soap operas, the women take their destiny in hand and they are not afraid to show who and what they are.
Examples: Kristel Carrington & Alexis Carrington-Colby in Dynasty; Katharine Parker in Working Girl.

Another explosion here happens in the genres where women were not exactly present until then. Think sci-fi and paranormal. You can't have a wallflower there, and that's how strong heroines come to the forefront and take charge.
Examples: Ellen Ripley in Alien; Sarah Connor in the Terminator series.

From this springboard then come the heroines as we know them today. Wide and varied, strong in body or in mind and heart, funny and poignant - they have all evolved from the women who have led us through time and eras.

As always, I would love to have your comments.

From Mauritius with love,



Anonymous said...

Ms. Monodee, your continued use of TJ Killian's lessons, in part or in whole, is the 'theft' of intellectual property owned by T.J. Killian Enterprises.

It is in your best interest to cease and desist.


Terran J. McGahae
Vice President

T.J. Killian Enterprises.

Zee Monodee said...

Dear Ms McGahae,

These posts are not TJ Killian's lessons. These are posts I have myself written in the past on a blog that has today been deleted.


Z Monodee

RL said...

Ahh, these are totally Zee's posts. I used to read the Royal Blush authors blog continuously and really enjoyed the writing advice there. I remember Zee posted these herself and is completely in her right to repost them on her own blog.

Unknown said...

I am sure I had posted a response but somehow it disappeared. Anyway, all these blog posts belonged to you, Zee - I know you wrote them. I myself used to contribute to the blog and I consider everything that I wrote mine. I would not appreciate others attempting to appropriate my material and claiming it to be theirs. I do take copyright infringement and plagiarism most seriously.

Zee Monodee said...

Rae and Angela - Thank you for the support. I posted this above reply to Ms. McGahae because I knew I was in the right here and have nothing to fear.

As an author and a person who overall respects others, I would never lift or even think of passing anyone's comment, post, words, material as my own.
Case in point - all the articles I post on my Link Thursday posts are acknowledged to the site they originated, and where I can find the link, I also add this in.

Doin' It Myself said...

at this point, I am rather wondering if TJ Killian Et al are following your blog anonymously? Otherwise, since you have changed blogs, etc, I don't see how or why they would be able to find you. I mean, I know you didn't make it hard or anything but... this bespeaks a creepiness... something rather like obsession. And harassment. At the very least harassment. You could press charges, you know. Cyber stalking, cyber harassment and cyber bullying are the next big cases for DA's and what not to prosecute! If they followed you here then that may constitute stalking! Posting nasty messages without proof of the accusation is harassment and bullying.
Just stay aware, babe. If this escalates in any way, be prepared. In fact, if you haven't, I would print off your last couple of blogs and all the comments therein, just for proof's sake.


Anonymous said...

What an odd claim. I've read Z's blog(s) and some of her novels and she has very clear and distinctive writer's 'voice' - the same voice that's used in the above blog post.

Unless T.J. Killian owns the intellectual property rights to all discussions about historical characters across the internet? No, I don't think so.

Back to your post, you're so right that the period between 1920 and 1935 gets passed over in favour of more 'popular' periods. Yet for me the emergence of female independence during this time, and the shifts in society, are just fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I meant between 1910 and 1935. Freudian slip there, since my novellas are set in the 20s.

Unknown said...

Rae - one of the most fascinating characters of this period for me is Hercule Poirot. I just love the atmosphere, the style, the class of the 30s.

Zee - I agree with Doin' It Myself about the cyber stalking issue. One thing I tell you is, NEVER delete anything they post and keep scans of everything (just in case they delete it themselves), on FB, your blog, or anywhere else. I do have the same feeling - that these people are stalking you. Either that, or someone is passing on information, but this still qualifies as stalking as it stresses a pointed interest in your cyber activities. Keep an eye open, sweets. x

Doin' It Myself said...

BOOYAH! LEGAL GROUNDS! BTW, if you're going to covertly and passive-aggressively threaten your authors not to say bad things about you on the net or it will come back to haunt you, That could be considered harrassment, bullying, blackmail, and threating. Anything else you want me to cover here? Cuz I can keep going. For DAYS!
Anyway, Z, my gorgeous, keep trucking. I adore you and your writing style (if they try to claim that too, then they better be the devil selling souls, cuz that's what it's tantamount to).

Love, Britt

RL said...

Ange, yes! I love the 30s/40s style, music and dress, also. I wouldn't want to live during that time (whoa, tensions!) but it was definitely fascinating and I would love to read and write more stories in that time frame. Too bad it's not more prevalent in historicals!

Z, forgot to comment on your post! I love that you described women throughout the ages. It's always interesting to see how the roles shifted and were similar, even a few years or decades down the line. I love that mentioned Ripley and Sarah Connor. They're on my list of great she-roes! :-D

Lastly, I definitely agree. Keep everything, screenshots and webpages, exchanges, etc. It's essential in all business today which is a shame. :-(

Zee Monodee said...

Doin' It Myself,
I hadn't realized this but this whole slamming at whatever I am doing can definitely be considered harassment, and posting such a message publicly without first even contacting me - bullying!
At the point it is right now, I won't think of pressing charges or building a case - my time is too precious and valuable to lose on such idiocy as this despicable behaviour of posting accusations without any proof. Maybe the eprson thought I too wouldn't have proof of my being not guilty.
I will definitely stay prepared - don't walk all over me and expect to get a doormat under your feet! The time for when I allowed that is way past.
Loves back!

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks for the comment. I actually thought of you and Let's Misbehave when I wrote the bit about the lack of stories set around the 1920s. :)
Yes, you have read pretty much all my work, even the unpublished ones, and yes again, my voice here on the blog pretty much carries the same feel and aura as my story-writing.
Big hugs, thanks for coming over.

Zee Monodee said...

I forgot that Poirot was set in that period!
About this other 'stalking' matter, I have made the mistake of not giving due consideration to some instances that could highlight this treatment I'm being subjected to. But, once burnt, twice careful.

Zee Monodee said...

Doin' It Myself,
It's true that the publisher asks that its authors not talk bad about the publisher, its employees, and anyone and anything associated with it in bad terms on the Net or otherwise, for fear of libel and defamation.
Does that though give the publisher the right to do as same to one of their authors? Yes - I am still their author, even if the management of EP has changed hands.

Zee Monodee said...

I loved the dress/fashion/style of that era too. I think it's the classiest women have known in the past century.
Glad you liked the post. When I had first sat down to write this, the differences and evolution of roles astounded me too, and I found it fascinating. True too that pop culture has been the perfect medium to showcase these changes and the progression.
I'm not getting paranoid, but I will take you all's advice and keep my records straight and tidy now. Sadly, it appears one can never be cautious enough nowadays.