After working months on a manuscript, mostly in isolation, it is fun when my beta readers and editor read what I have written and provide comments. Often their insight, makes me re-frame what I have constructed. Occasionally, their comments are observations on things I have done that they liked or were surprised by. These make me smile because I know the small details I labored over were noticed.
Something my editor pointed out to me during the course of edits on Storm in the Mountains got me thinking about what is and is not permissible for female leads in romance or books with a strong romantic element. She pointed out that my female leads drink, a lot, and they enjoy their ale and whiskey, unabashedly. She loves this about them.
When Petra, Dora, and especially Marina are sitting around, they are either eating cookies (biscuits), drinking tea, drinking tea fortified with whiskey, drinking whiskey straight, or drinking ale. There is a ton of drinking going on in Turning Creek. When I wrote them, I did not consider that this was odd, because it is what I would prefer to be doing most days. Who doesn’t want to sit under a shade tree with a pint of brown ale and chat with friends?
I love tea and I love beer. I drink copious amounts of tea because I am a recovering coffee drinker. I love coffee, but I loved it too much.
I like enjoy beer. Mr. Rochester and I are fairly serious homebrewers and you can get me to agree to pretty much anything by offering me a wee heavy or a Belgian ale. The darker, heavier the beer, the more likely I am to love it. I would drink scotch and Irish whiskey more often, but I can not afford that indulgence. I save those for special occasions. I might be a good Baptist girl now, but I was raised Catholic and it shows.
After Brenda, my magical editor (Her blog says she is a story sorceress and I completely agree with that.), pointed out my characters’ tendency to drink for leisure, I started thinking about what drinking means in romance.
In romance drinking can be a sign of dissipation, especially in regencies and historicals. A character who drinks too much is most likely a reprobate in the process of losing his family’s fortune. These characters will either be stripped of their responsibility by the hero or if they are the hero, will have to sober up, shape up, and win the lady to redeem themselves.
Characters will also over-indulge when they are grieving. It should be noted that the grieving is often brought on by their own poor choices. Poor choices, it should also be noted, which drove the damsel away. The moment the hero sees the backside of the heroine (ha!) often results in them realizing that, oops, I think she might be my soul mate. You screwed that one up, buddy. They may also be drinking because the damsel in question is making them insane with lurve and they are having trouble with all these new emotions coursing through their veins. Male leads in romance novels frequently struggle to contain and understand emoshuns and turning to drink, though only briefly, can magically help them realize, like the tin man, that they too have a heart.
All the scenarios I have described above relate only to the male leads in the story. Female leads rarely drink and almost never to excess. If they do drink, it is in ways socially acceptable for females, like wine at meals or after dinner drinks. If they become intoxicated, it is by accident because in their inexperience they did not know the punch was that strong or that too much whiskey makes everything go wibbly wobbly. In contemporary romances, which shares most of the rules historicals follow, the female leads will sometimes have a night of excess. These result most often in either accidentally winding up with the male lead or moving the plot along in some fashion. Female leads rarely drink just because and never because they really want to get their hands on that special edition limited release bourbon barrel ale.
Mmm, I really need a drink now. Good thing I have a fully stocked beer fridge.
I have been trying to think of some notable exceptions to these rules. I have read a lot of historical, steampunk, paranormal, and some contemporary romances and I could only think of one exception. It may because, honestly, it is pretty much all I am thinking about the last few days.
Outlander is on my brain. In the first book, Claire get smashed before her wedding and enjoys scotch neat, surprising many of the men. The men around her note often that she is able to hold her liquor much better than other women of their acquaintance. Claire has trouble hiding her modern sensibilities and habits which makes for some amusing conversations.
In the book, she is gloriously hungover for her wedding day after drowning her nerves the night before. Once the wedding day commences, she applies the hair of the dog strategy and drinks a bit more. She gets tipsy and then strips Jamie of his pesky virginity. In the show, she is a little more than tipsy by the combination of nerves and drink and goes through the day in a fog. It is a nice reversal that Jamie remembers the day with clarity and Claire has trouble with many of the details. In the book, she actually passes out from too much drink and not enough food as they are leaving the church.
My female leads have never drunk in the books, yet. Marina does get out of hand, as she likes to do, but even she even is never truly drunk. The harpies enjoy good whiskey and good ale. They are violent creatures who are a bit wild and do not quite fit social norms. I love them for it.
Can you think of any female romance leads who enjoy drinking openly?