What I've been thinking about is how most heroes are insufficiently memorable for me to -- well, remember them. Supposedly there are Alpha Heroes, Randy Heroes, Lords of Slut (i.e., a veritable House of Lords of Ill Repute, in effect), and so forth -- and I swear to you that if I didn't read that book last week, none of those men has stuck with me.
Okay, I'll acknowledge that I'm a lot more likely to remember the hero of a book I've read several times and really love. Christy from To Love and To Cherish, for example; I remember him well enough (a nice Beta, wouldn't you say?). But that's not always true. I remember a lot about Rachel (and her son Edward) in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Dream a Little Dream but I had to Google to remember the hero's name (Gabe) and also, if I'm being honest, the title. (Her titles are all pretty interchangeable. I should make a Mad Libs: SEP Rom version.)
So when someone commented that whenever we (readers in Romlandia) focus on the sexual virtue of the heroines but not on the sexual virtue of the heroes, I tried to think of "rake" heroes who take their tomcatting too far. No one came to mind. I'm sure I've read those books, but neither the hero's story arc ("from tomcat to lapdog!") not his physical excellence, skill at lovemaking, alpha qualities or even his name has stuck with me.
Frankly, I'm pretty sure heroines make more of an impression on me. Gaffney's Sweet Everlasting: I don't remember either character's name, but her story (simple, connected-to-nature girl marries doctor and then struggles to earn his respect) has stayed with me more than his. Joan Wolf's His Lordship's Mistress: the Earl of Linton is awesome, but much more cardboard than Jessica, who's the real star. I'm pretty sure all of SEP's heroines are more interesting than their respective heroes. Definitely Nora Roberts' heroines stand out when the trilogy is about them (as it is in the Flower Series, the Key Series, and the current Wedding Planners series), but even where the trilogy is about the heroes (Chesapeake Bay) or about a mix of men and women (the Sign of Seven series), the heroines are still pretty memorable.
In some books, to be honest, both characters make an impression. Elizabeth Mansfield's Her Man of Affairs has a great hero and a great heroine; neither is cardboard and both have nice story arcs. Kristin James (aka Candace Camp) wrote The Rainbow Season, and while I'd give Luke a bit of a nod over the heroine (whose name I don't recall), they both come across nicely. Jane Feather's Edwardian series has rather more interesting heroines (matchmakers and proto-feminists), but I recall at least one of the heroes, a stuffy conservative politician whose career could be ruined by association with a suffragette. Glenda Sanders' Island Nights -- a multi-read book for me! -- has a strong hero and heroine, but it's her actions that have stayed with me. Same thing with Mira Stable's High Garth.
[I should make it clear at this point that I'm deliberately not doing any research for this post, other than the Googling I've copped to above. So, sure, I don't remember any of the characters' names unless I read the book yesterday or reviewed it last week. All I'm doing is mentally trolling my bookshelves -- which are all downstairs in my office -- for my favorite books.]
There is one class of heroes, though, that I do remember: The Wounded Hero. Lord Ian McKenzie is a recent example, as is the hero of Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast. The titular hero of the "Beast of Belleterre," Mary Jo Putney's novella, is another. It's not their physical infirmity that makes them "wounded," it's the scars on their souls that make them so affecting to me. Sometimes he's been wounded by fate, as when Will is imprisoned unjustly in Morning Glory, or Luke in The Rainbow Season is labeled a loser even before he can try to prove himself. Laura Kinsale has created some of the most memorable wounded heroes. Even series author Betty Neels -- who wrote the same hero over 130 times! -- has one who's blind, and that's one I remember: Benedict in Cassandra by Chance.*
I love wounded heroes because I identify with them, and yet they're separate from my experience. Wounded heroines clearly don't make the same impression on me, as I can't think of any. (In this context, I'm classifying the heroines of Dream a Little Dream and Sweet Everlasting not as wounded heroines, but in a subset of "Plucky Heroines," namely Heroines Who Will Survive, or "Gloria Gaynor" Heroines. Oh, crap. Now I have that song running through my head. Serves me right; I shouldn't have gone there.)
I lack the academic credentials to say this, but I believe that wounded people -- people who survived particularly painful childhoods, for example -- find it easier to empathize with those in another and separate group of wounded folks. It's too painful for me to contemplate, in fiction and in real life, women or children who endure or endured what I did. But a guy who had a crappy childhood, or who has been rejected for superficial scars, or who struggles to overcome a bad break -- I'm all over it.
See -- and you're so smart you already figured this out -- I like the Gloria Gaynor Heroines because that's not how I see myself. I wish I did. But just as I cry over those Sarah McLaughlin TV ads for the ASPCA (wounded or lonely animals, *sniff*), I ache a delicious ache for the Wounded Hero. And when he finds love, it's the best thing ever.
As for the rest of the Hero subtypes -- the Alphas, the Betas, the Randy Devils and the Reprobates -- they don't make much of an impression on me.
I'm sure I'm odd in this respect. Everyone reading this may be thinking, "What about [insert lusty/bad boy hero name here]? Sorry, I don't remember him without being prompted. But then, if there's one thing I do know about myself, it's that my results may almost certainly vary from everyone else's.
* Three admissions about Betty Neels:
- I couldn't remember the blind hero's name (Benedict) but do remember a different Neels hero's name: Hugo van Elving from Fate is Remarkable. Hugo isn't wounded, but his HEA is very lovely and affecting.
- I had to go look up Benedict's name and Hugo's book title -- and found this AMAZING website: The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, which is even more about Betty Neels that I could possibly have asked for; I know what I'll be reading for the rest of the day!!!
- I love Betty Neels. Yes, she was old skool even when she was first getting published, and yes they aren't all good (even if you love Betty Neels), and yes they're positively regressive by today's standards, but I love her books. I think it's because her actual prose is pretty good (if wildly repetitive from book to book, hence the cliche of the "uncrushable jersey dress") and she represents an England that my mother also loved, albeit by reading Barbara Pym and Charlotte M. Yonge books. (I have no idea whose version of The Netherlands Neels was writing about, but it sure didn't have Red Light Districts and free pot there!)