After my post yesterday, which linked back to a post on Racy Romance Reviews, there was a comment by AG there that I felt I could respond to more appropriately and more at length here and without getting too far off topic for Jessica’s post:
Despite the definition it kind of feels like placeholder heroine is a term similar to bodice ripper. It’s meant to put the reader of romantic fiction into a position of defense.
Actually, I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. We have to understand that this is something that respected and relatively popular authors within the genre bought into and wrote about – in more than one essay in that Dangerous Men, Adventerous Women collection. Authors who were and still are teaching other authors about the writing process within the community. They accepted it as being applicable to what they were writing then and maybe even still do. I honestly don’t know.
My impression is that it was (is?) more an attempt to explain why the genre moved from mostly 1st person to mostly dual perspective in such a relatively short period of time in what is mostly the post-bodice ripper era. That may sound weird but look at the title of the essay I quoted from “The Androgynous Reader” by Laura Kinsale in the last post. That era is considered to be the 1970s, more or less. I don’t remember dual perspectives showing up en masse until well into the 1980s or later and the book of essays was published in 1992. Do the math and one realizes it’s about a perfectly natural learning curve for the authors.
Then, too, Kinsale was one of the ones who attempted to explain placeholder heroines and reader identification to me over on the AAR forums right after I first read about them and questioned what in world it was all about. She quoted a lot of the same references Jessica talks about in her RRR post. Kinsale had all her own answers down pat, was very eloquent in her responses and it was still about as clear as mud to me in the end.
When you get right down to it, the dual perspective unlike simple third shows a merging of two perspectives into almost one voice and can go very badly if not done correctly, which is what I believe gives a lot of people considerable pause. Unlike 1st person or even limited third it isn’t a very clear-cut perspective to use in writing. Or in reading it, either, for that matter. It’s also a perspective that’s caught a lot of flack as being considered poor writing in many circles over the years, which has not added to the respect romance receives as a genre.
And yet romance readers love it, so are publishers going to desert its use? Hell, no. But why do readers love it? Simple, because it highlights the one thing that they hold sacred above all else – The Relationship. Not the individual elements that make it up, the hero or the heroine, but that ultimate goal of getting them together in the end.
See, that’s the one thing that’s misleading about the hero being all important to the romance, about the stories being written “by women, for women” or even romance being about a women’s journey solely – if any of those things were the ultimate truths about the genre, then dual perspective would never work because it would always be out of balance. Dual perspective would just be the wrong approach. It works, though, even in some of the most badly written stories because it was only with the use of dual perspective that the true nature of The Relationship’s importance in romances came into focus. Blindingly clear focus.
Romance readers loved it and we’ve never looked back. We don’t want to look back. We may occasionally accept and even love some stories told in other points of view but we will never give up dual perspective completely now that we’ve found it because it’s the voice of The Relationship itself.
But the writers and the academics, of course, they had to figure out a way to explain why we as readers were so strongly deserting limited perspectives in our reading choices. Why in the world did we love something that was yet again supposedly bad for our mostly female minds – I mean, we’d been perfectly happy to be the woman in control of the journey before (1st person/limited third povs) so why stop now? Wasn’t the story supposed to be all about us women? Romance = women’s fiction, after all. Why choose something so literarily wrong-headed and maybe even difficult (uncomfortable?) for them to work with? The genre needed the respect, you know.
And the placeholder heroine was born to explain how right everything still was and how everything still worked within the “complicated” female brain. If one just tilted one’s head far enough and looked at it the right way long enough, it would all become clear.
One has to wonder if they’d have felt the need to wonder why if it’d been Holmes and Watson thinking and working in dual perspective, though…