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?

 

Comments
by Moderator dhaupt on ‎10-20-2009 02:15 PM

Great article Michelle, the heroine that is underestimated could be that she doesn't use her so called feminine wiles to get what she wants, or maybe she plays the ditzy blonde, or simply keeps it a secret that she's really a rocket scientist when she's approached by Conan the Barbarian at the bar. Unattractive gets a whole other description and it can be hurtful to be put in that category either in novels or in real life, so while sometimes it's fun to play the ditz and know that your IQ out scores his cholesterol it's never fun to be made fun of for something that "society" thinks is less than perfect. So I don't enjoy heroines who are made fun of for imperfections it's just too close for comfort for me being the zit queen of the 70's and star of the Janice Ian song "I Learned the Truth at Seventeen.  But I love heroines who come from behind and blow the boys outta the watta.

And a lot of Susan Elizabeth Phillips heroines fit the underestimated bill, her Chicago Stars novels and her stand a-lones, as she tells us in her youtube letter to her readers, when you first meet her heroines you might not want them as your girlfriend, but when the book is done you will.

Deb

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎10-20-2009 02:51 PM

dhaupt, you hit the nail on the head with that one. We can all probably relate to being underestimated at some point or to not fitting in. And it does differ than imperfections in looks, because those are more obvious than 'imperfections' in our characters. Unusual characters, though, sometimes make for the most interesting, hehe. Indeed, a woman with a higher IQ WOULD have been thought, I would think, as being odd as that was somethign you wouldn't show. I could be wrong, but it does seem as though women weren't encouraged to show their intelligence, so maybe, as dhaupt pointed out, she has to hide it.

I love, though, that she uses it to her advantage instead of hiding in the corner feeling sorry for herself. You go girl!

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎10-20-2009 04:38 PM

Deb, you wrote: the heroine that is underestimated could be that she doesn't use her so called feminine wiles to get what she wants, or maybe she plays the ditzy blonde, or simply keeps it a secret that she's really a rocket scientist when she's approached by Conan the Barbarian at the bar. 

The thing that strikes me about underestimated heroines is that they're often roundly considered not to have feminine wiles, or as being without the need to experience the fun and power associated with using them.  The underestimated heroine is a little different from the romance fave of the 'plain' heroine whom the Biggest Rake in Christendom falls for and gets wildly jealous over because he finds her so gorgeous. Meanwhile, everyone around him is scratchin' their noggins' goin', she's nice an all, but she's no goddess. 

This book actually deals with both of your observations in interesting and amusing ways...

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎10-20-2009 04:58 PM

principessa, sometimes being underestimated is a blessing.  When someone is surprized by our accomplishment, we either can be insulted that they didn't believe in us, or have a small laugh at the fact that we pulled one over on em and hid our brilliance, well, brilliantly. 

 

you wrote: And it does differ than imperfections in looks, because those are more obvious than 'imperfections' in our characters. Yes.  Flip is easy to relate to cause she really is a lot like everyday women.  Some days we're more beautiful than other days. Sometimes we shine. Sometimes we say stupid things.  And, in general, folks don't look at other people trying to look for the 'winner' within.  So we keep her in sight for ourselves.  That's what Flip's doing, I think. 

From what we see depicted in historical romance and know from history, of course, like you say, being a bright woman wasn't at all the thing. Historically, if the goal was survival, marriage, provision for children, hiding intelligence may have been the only option for many women.  There were those remarkable women throughout history who were able to carve out paths that allowed them to display their smarts. Yet even today, some women hide their intelligence around men, and that's their choice. Who knows what their goals are. But if Betty Brainiac thinks she's got a better chance of a one-night hook up w/ Deb's Conan at the bar if she plays it average? Go, girl. 

 

May I say something shocking? Sometimes some really smart women understand that to get men to do things we need them to, we have to help them think they thought of it in the first place. Sometimes they feel smarter than us when they we do this.  Thing is, sometimes men do the same with women and other men and the outcome on both sides is the same. 

 

I'm totally w/you: awesome that Flip uses her bluestocking time to her advantage.

 

 

by 1lovealways on ‎10-20-2009 06:05 PM

Wonderful article Michelle! :smileyhappy:

 

For the time period Flip lived in, it appears she not only envisioned her ideas, but she put them to use in reality by doing exactly as she wanted to.  The Ton being the starchy stuck ups that they were, obviously didn't know that they were actually helping feed her independence.  Flip knew this herself and kept quiet by going her own way and doing her own thing.  I've always loved the heroine that was underestimated, because there's a wealth of ideas and information that she's hiding that hasn't been tapped.  What could be better than having someone you've underestimated turn out to be "the one."  Just the icing on the cake!  

 

As for the unattractive heroine, it's a totally different scenario. She hasn't underestimated herself.  She knows what she has to offer, but by deeming her unattractive because of how she looks, society has played havoc with her head.  That can play with what's inside, which can be her shining glory.  This shining glory is what makes her "beautiful" in the hero's eyes and completely overpowers the outside as far as looks are concerned.  

 

There are two books that come to mind in ref/to the unattractive heroine.  There is a book by LaVyrle Spencer, but I can't remember the title. I want to say it's The Endearment, but I'm not sure this is the one, as it's been a long time since I've read it.   Also the Outlaw Hearts by Rebecca Brandewyne.  In both cases, these turned out to be great books! Love did indeed bloom for these "plain Janes" with these handsome heroes as they came to appreciate the true beauty of these heroines which was from the inside out. I believe Linda Francis Lee has a book also that deals with this. :smileyhappy:

by on ‎10-20-2009 07:05 PM

I don't know ever seen those coins with Cleopatra's profile on them, so not what most would consider attactive. Yet the reputation she had.....

 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎10-20-2009 07:15 PM

another great point, tiggerBear.  And it's funny you bring up Cleo, cause my husband's been watching HBO's "Rome" on dvd. I mentioned how gorgeous I thought Cleopatra was. He was like, eh.  And we talked about women guys think are hot, and women chicks think are hot,and why they sometimes differ. Also, so many societies value attributes that Western society finds unattractive and vice versa, no? 

 

In Regencies, 1la, isn't it funny how the 'oddball' herione in terms of beauty sometimes is the one w/out the delicate English-rose beauty of blond hair, heart-shaped face, blue eyes and rose-bud mouth. that oddball's always got that derned mouth that's just a tad too full for fashion, but just perfect for our rakish hero's fantasies.  Clever, that. Of course, the author is helping us understand the point we're making. 

Mary Balogh recently published a series of novels, the titles of which escape me.  In the first, just fab btw, the hero sees nothing attractive re the heroine, and it takes him a long time to view her that way.  Very interesting that Balogh resists the urge to have him jump all crazed from the start.

Many of the 'unattractive' heroines start from a place of being underestimated in terms of their appearance.  But there's also a result of that same underestimation: When someone finds them attractive, suddenly they become valued by the ton, or their dance cards start to fill, etc.  I find an authors' exploration of the underestimated heroine's behavior at that point always interesting...

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎10-21-2009 10:10 AM

1love, that's a great point. The underestimated heroine probably knows she's pretty smart, but at the same time, realizes most will not see it, where as an unattractive woman might know she is unattractive and accept that. It must be very frustrating for the underestimated heroine.

Michelle, that's an interesting point about the unattractive heroine's sudden...attractiveness, hehe. Probably because she's beign pursued by the biggest rake in the ton, hehe.

 

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