Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poorly written heroines/Why I hate your protagonist

First off, I want to say that the cover is gorgeous. I don't generally like pink, but this is fantastic. Good job New American Library.

The problem is the main character Penelope. It's the 19th century with all the gender roles firmly in place. Penelope is a bit of a misfit in that she is outspoken, strong willed and sexually confident. I guess this is meant to endear her to the reader.

It fails.

Not only is this set up cliche and overused, it's not even used well. Mostly I see this issue in YA fantasy. The young heroine is meant to be strong and spunky, but is really just rude and arrogant. It boils down to this:

Being nosy, loud, ignorant and conceited is annoying. It is not spunky.

This pattern of characterization in literature is insulting because it implies that this is what a strong female is: irritating, bull headed, inconsiderate and/or bitchy.

What particularly bothers me about Penelope is that she is a grown woman and her actions clearly can have horrible consequences (that she lucks out of). She also had some rather cool qualities so I tried to suspend disbelief and rationalize her actions throughout the first third of the book, until she proved what I suspected: she is a useless bint.

Penelope invites herself along on a dangerous chase after a French exile, after the British captain tells her not to come, because "Did [the British captain] really think she was just going to sit there and wait for him?" (178) What kind of idiocy is this? Why yes, actually, I expect you to shut up, sit down and let the trained military officer to conduct the state's business. She then finds a note the exile left behind that is obviously meant for the captain, and she hides and keeps it. Why? BECAUSE SHE'S BORED. She figures it'll be more exciting if she investigates it herself.

If the adult protagonist is bumbling through your story interfering with military operations and international intrigues in a dangerous political climate because she's BORED, this doesn't make her brave, independent, charmingly inquisitive, or endearingly spunky. She's a spoiled dumbass endangering the lives of thousands of people on a whim.

That she is supposed to be a strong female heroine or even an adult in this story is ridiculous. What she needs is a time-out. Or a punch in the face.

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