Our culture tends to believe of success that unless you bring it, whale on it, and reign victorious over it -- from atop the eviscerated corpses of your fallen comrades if necessary -- you may as well stay home. Inspirational quotes abound, like racecar driver Bobby Unser's "Nobody remembers who came in second but the guy who came in second."
But I rather dig this one from author and scholar William Lyon Phelps: If at first you don't succeed, see if the loser gets anything.
From my vantage point, somewhere in the admittedly comfy vicinity of mediocrity, I'd have to say it seems not being society's sweetheart - and perhaps even a little underestimation - often can lead to a more sustainable form of success. For instance, the majority of judges didn't think highly enough of Sharon Stone's or Kristen Chenoweth's talents to crown either Miss Pennsylvania when each competed for a place at the Miss America pageant. Yet those women seem to have overcome that lack of faith in their abilities.
When the In Crowd in any social structure doesn't place one at the top of the heap regardless of one's talents or character, self-possession is the best defense, as is the case with Lady Phillipa Eddison, heroine of Suzanne Enoch's absolutely delightful and wonderfully sensual new "Care and Taming of a Rogue ."
When the ton - the upper crusty, cutthroat part of British high society we love to hate in Regency romance - decides "Flip" Eddison is too odd to attract suitors, she doesn't question it, but rather happily uses the belief as an excuse to do as she pleases: join reading clubs, visit museums and avoid the silliness of gossipy debs and nasty social parrying.
Unfortunately, while Flip's family adores her, in their effort to protect her feelings, they've accepted that she's some kind of loveable misfit. So when brash, dashing and socially-rough-around-the-edges explorer Sir Bennett Wolfe returns to England from the Congo -- and "from the dead" -- and pays marked attention to Flip, they only can assume he's using her to gain social entré because she's easy pickings; Flip "belongs" to no one.
The problem is, while Phillipa likes herself and appreciates the slice of freedom her "underestimated bluestocking" status allows, she's absorbed a bit of her family's lack of belief in her feminine attributes. So she's leery of whether Wolfe - whose work she worships - actually is interested in her for anything other than her help in teaching him the rules of society, and perhaps her help in proving his expedition partner stole Wolfe's journals and published the outlandish, erroneous account of their journeys, which ruined Wolfe's reputation.
Wolfe's interest in Flip becomes a little easier for her to believe once he adds a little predatory passion to the mix. But practical woman that she is, for her own good and his, Flip's going to help Wolfe realize that Society is every bit as dangerous as the jungle, and learning the rules is what keeps one alive in many senses. And Wolfe just may convince Phillipa to see herself as he does -- as a vibrant, precious individual - if he first can get her to stop risking her life to prove to him she's worthy of his attention.
How do you find a heroine who is "underestimated" to be different from the heroine who is considered "unattractive" by society? What value does each have in a romance, and as a placeholder to the reader? What are some of your favorite heroines of either type?