Wallflower or English Rose…

These last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of regency romances, in the realms of one per day. Probably has something to do with the fact my expanding waistline means I need to take a break from chores about every ten minutes, even unloading the dishwasher has me out of breath. Although you would think I would pick a reading material which didn’t boast arms full of young and slender girls decked in empire line dresses. A fair proportion of my current wardrobe has empire line fitting but let me tell you, below my bustline I definitely don’t have the willowly column these girls have.
But that aside, reading so much in the era does remind me how difficult a young lady’s position could be when it came to finding a suitable partner, and with no employment for such ladies, marriage would be everything. A crooked nose, an excess of freckles, or an unfortunate hair colour, all would be enough to send the suitors scurrying and the season would turn into one long wait with the other wallflowers.
And even if you should be blessed with fashionable looks, the chase would be no less difficult. Family line, size of dowry, manner and voice, a lack of accomplishments, all could tip the scale between Rose and wallflower.
So how would I have faired? Well ignoring the fact that my family history seems to be farmers or labourers, I don’t think I would been a success, in fact a blue-stocking would have been an appropriate label.


This is NOT the kind of blue stocking I mean.

I’ve studied hard, and I have no objection to supplying my opinion whether it is asked for or not. Now, romance books are teeming with blue-stockings but exactly like the feel-good romance movies we have these days, under every blue-stocking there is a pretty heroine waiting to emerge. You know the type, clad in ugly glasses, frumpy clothes and hairstyle, all it needs is a few hours with a stylist and viola, a beauty emerges that the hero could really fall in love with.
So what has all this reading taught me? That in the next story, my heroine Harriet is NOT going to be pretty. And I don’t mean that in the normal romance way, you know, where she just has slightly unfashionable looks, I mean a proper plain Jane with only her wit to recommend her. I want my hero to really have to look beneath the skin.

Here is the first description of Harriet from Held in the Balance as Lydia Taunton’s best friend.

“Harriet, I can’t do it.” The words burst from Lydia in a rush. If it had been anyone other than Harriet she would have been tempted to get a bit more drama in. “I’ve made a mistake.”
“A mistake?” Harriet’s eyebrows nearly disappeared into the flaming carrot orange hair the poor girl had been cursed with. The hair, along with a heavy enough case of freckles sufficient to look like a skin disease, was referred to them only as ‘the affliction’ and as far as Harriet was concerned was the reason for enduring her third season.

About Jessica Baker

Mother, writer, DIYer View all posts by Jessica Baker

3 responses to “Wallflower or English Rose…

  • kathils

    I wouldn’t have fared too well myself I’m afraid. Poor family line, opinionated, independent . . . I’d probably be the one telling the poor, ignorant man how to catch the girl his eye had landed on. 😉

  • Layla

    Great post! I think I would have been a wallflower :p

    I like the excerpt, but I think that here >> “The hair, along with a heavy enough case of freckles sufficient to look like a skin disease, was referred to them only as ‘the affliction’” << Your use of the term 'affliction' is enough to show how bad the freckles are… the skin disease might be a bit of overkill 🙂 just my humble opinion 🙂

    Good luck!

  • Philippa Jane Keyworth

    A very interesting article and a bold choice with the carrot top and freckles. I’m actually married to a red-head and have a decided partiality for them…well him actually.

    I feel very challenged by this post though, it can be so easy to write a character who is ‘plain’ when really, like you say, they just aren’t quite fashionable or something. But to write a character who both the reader and the hero can fall in love with despite genuinely unfortunate looks is a task, but a noble challenge I think. Jane Eyre springs to mind, after all, as much as their looks are smoothed over in the TV adaptations, their actual appearance was described as plain and ugly. Yet, they are one of the most beautiful couples I’ve come across in literature.

    See now I’m rambling, but that’s good, I think you’ve gotten me thinking. In fact, I write fantasies too and in one of them I have a woman who is terribly scarred by burns. That was a challenging story as I had to have her coping with it and the hero ‘seeing past it’ as you put it.

    All very interesting. A thoroughly enjoyable post and I shall be pondering on it for a while.

    PJK x

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