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Beautiful Heroines? Bah! Humbug!


At 13, when I started getting interested in boys, all the heroines in romances seemed to be head-turning, heart-stopping beauties, with bee-stung mouths. Long hair tumbled to their shoulders or was worn in a carefully tousled chignon, like Brigitte Bardot.

One look, one flutter of those eyelashes, and the hero would be smitten.

I’d already suspected that this was how things worked, because my best friend was beautiful, like a young Elizabeth Taylor.

When we started Grammar School, cool fifth-formers with Elvis quiffs would pass her crooning, ‘Wh-a-a-at is luurve, five foot of Heaven and a pony-tail.’ (The song goes on, ‘the cutest pony-tail, that sways with a wiggle when she walks.’ )

I, on the other hand, was more Beryl-the-Peril – small, sturdy, self-conscious, blessed with hair that frizzed in damp weather and a tendency to flush easily.

How could I ever inspire love?

Because this was how the world worked, wasn’t it? So cruel, so unfair! It was a terrible blow.

Then, I read Jane Eyre.


Here was a heroine, as plain and self-conscious as myself (and Charlotte Bronte!), who still sparked passion in the hero. I started to see that passionate relationships could be generated by great conversations, argument and humour.

Ever since, I’ve been drawn to books by Carol Shields,(Republic of Love, Happenstance) Anne Tyler,(all books!) Barbara Trapido,(Temples of Delight, Noah’s Ark) all confirming that belief.

So, I’m afraid my own heroines are condemned never to be beautiful! Too easy for them! Too dull, too predictable!

In An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy – Annie has a limp. I’d been tempted to give her a stutter, too, but thankfully was talked out of it!

Gerardina, in The 20’s Girl, is no beauty, either.

So, is it just me? Does anyone else prefer plain heroines?

If you do, I’d love to hear about them.