Monday, January 23, 2017

Why take the risk of creating a female protagonist?

Why did I take the risk of creating a female protagonist (please note that I did not say heroine) who is profanely spoiled, mindlessly impulsive, supremely selfish and at times, downright irritating? When I was inspired to give life to the character of Lacey de la Roche in The Irish Tempest, I naively thought that she would become more palatable over the span of ten years as she matured from a feisty eleven year old to a wife and mother. Alas, she would have none of it and remains to this day, as I toil on the sequel, quite resistant to self-improvement. I blame this on the psychoanalytic theory of nature/nurture and genre stereotyping. Lacey is very much a product of a privileged environment. Left motherless at four, adored by a benignly neglectful father, indulged by a bewildered domestic staff and of course, perpetually bullied and beloved by the male protagonist, Courtland O’Rourke. Such extremes of nurturing only exacerbate the less endearing aspects of her nature.

The Irish Tempest by Elizabeth J. Sparrow
When pedaling the manuscript to agents, I resorted to carefully constructed euphemistic descriptors such as “she is a selectively kind-hearted child”. Translation: if you cross her, she will torture the piss out of you. Or “precociously astute” meaning that lacking an innate filter, she will utter some rather cruel, petty and/or shockingly rude things. One agent seethed over Lacey’s penchant to “lie and connive - to manipulate others to get her way”. Apparently, she did not adhere to a mysterious code of behavior for romance heroines. I do cringe as I type that word. There are times when she does behave admirably, unselfishly – even heroically. But haven’t we all, at one time or another?

So why did I take the risk of making Lacey such an aberrant creature? There are notable literary exceptions: Shakespeare’s Kate, Austen’s Emma and of course, Mitchell’s magnificently unapologetic, Scarlett. These are women of passionate purpose and steely stamina. They live and love on their terms, successfully or disastrously. While they persevere the way many real women do, they are confined to a genre that prefers them to be handmaidens to the male protagonist.

This brings me to Court, Lacey’s one and only, despite her primal attraction to the sociopathic Ransom Longo. Court needs Lacey to be exactly who she is. Though he is ten years older, experienced with women and charmingly overbearing, he is emotionally needy of her. I quote from the proposal scene, “In this dank hole, reduced to atavistic longing, desire trumped denial. He: pragmatic, brooding and skeptical; and she: vivacious, impetuous, and mercurial were two lambent bodies spinning within the same orbit. He deflected the heat from her volatility and she burnished the rough from his reticence.”

I expect that some readers will pass on The Irish Tempest because Lacey is not their cup of tea. I know that there will be reviews from those who tried a few sips and couldn’t quite swallow her for more than a few chapters. I hope that those who she exasperates, read on and discover what the other characters have to offer them. It’s a risk that I’m willing to take. 

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