Friday, October 24, 2014

The Book Lover's Den #9: Charlotte Bronte's Inluence on PNR Author Amanda Ashley

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

I am continuing with the topic of Gothic Fiction's spawned 'children', or, to use TV terminology, 'spinoffs'. 

When I first began to read paranormal romance, I was immediately attracted to one specific type -- vampire romance. The reason for this attraction is that many of these novels contain a very interesting metaphor; the male vampires in them strive to protect the human women they love.....from themselves. This relates to some real-life relationships, in which a man consciously strives to protect a woman from his own  dark side. This analysis is not mine; I came across an online article dealing with the topic some time ago. The author's name is Michael De Groote; he is a staff writer for "Deseret News". You can access that article HERE.

There are several books on Amazon dealing with the evolution of the vampire in popular fiction -- from evil monster to tortured romantic hero. Dracula and Nosferatu are obviously depraved, evil creatures. Edward Cullen and his family, on the other hand, conscientiously avoid killing humans. Instead, they hunt animals. 

Not all vampire romance novels explore the theme of the vampire as tortured hero, but I prefer to read those that do. My introduction to such books was through the author Amanda Ashley. This is a pen name for author Madeline Baker, who writes historical romance novels under her real name, and paranormal ones under her pen name.

The first Ashley novel I read was Embrace the Night, which was first published in 1995, and has since been re-issued. The hero, Gabriel, becomes the guardian for Sarah, a young girl who is the incarnation of Sara, a woman he loved centuries before. I read this book several years ago, and loved it, although in a more recent re-reading, I found it a bit too melodramatic. I'll have to read it a third time, though, so that I can write a review for this blog.

There are two other Ashley novels that captivated me after that first one: A Darker Dream, and Midnight Embrace. In the first one, the hero, Rayven, rescues a young girl, Rhianna, who was being sold into white slavery by her own father, in 1843 England. In the second, the mysterious hero, Lord Alesandro de Avalone, becomes the benefactor of Analisa, a young orphan, whom he invites for an extended stay at his mansion, Blackbriar Hall.

Fans of the great romantic classic, Jane Eyre, will notice the influence of Charlotte Bronte in these novels, especially the third one. In fact, one of the characters in Midnight Embrace is even named "Mrs. Thornfield". This is a clear reference to Thornfield Hall, the mansion featured in Jane Eyre.

When I first read these novels, I was totally enthralled by all the Gothic trappings, the tender, caring heroes, the way everything worked out so perfectly for the lovers. Looking back now, however, I do have to say that all three heroines -- especially Rhianna and Analisa -- are much too passive for my liking. This is in marked contrast to Jane Eyre, who is a passionate, intelligent, and very resourceful character. Orphaned at a very young age, she knows how to fend  for herself. She does not expect to be rescued by a handsome, wealthy, overprotective hero. The fact that she does fall in love with  such a hero (except that he's not handsome) is purely coincidental. The novel focuses heavily on her strong moral character. Although Bronte does include several romantic interactions between Jane and her hero, Edward Rochester, these do not override the emphasis on Jane as a powerful female character who is very much her own woman.

The three heroines named above are like Jane mostly in the fact that they are orphans with no relatives or friends. To be fair, Sarah does have a burning ambition -- to become a world-class ballerina. She's crippled, though, so she doesn't see any chance of that happening. Gabriel helps her to achieve her dream by curing her, and then sending her off to ballet school, in Paris. As for Rhianna and Analisa, they don't seem to have ambitions in lilfe. In spite of my misgivings, I did enjoy their interactions with their heroes; their foremost personality trait was that of compassion, something they share with Jane Eyre. Still, they did not really have lives of their own; their whole world revolved around their vampire lovers. Thus, these characters were not entirely satisfactory.

The three heroes mentioned above also can't quite compare when contrasted with Edward Rochester, who, far from attempting to spare Jane the effects of his rather abrasive, arrogant character, instead inflicts them upon her, albeit unintentionally. He's still a tortured hero in spite of this, paradoxically enough; he longs for true love and happiness, but is burdened with a terrible secret that makes this goal impossible for him to achieve. His love for Jane makes him a sympathetic, fascinating hero, but he needs to overcome his character flaws.

Ashley's heroes, in contrast, are all too aware of their own character flaws; they are vampires, after all, so they regard themselves as monsters. In contrast to Rochester, they are always attempting to 'atone' for their own inescapable vampire instincts. Like Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga, they regard themselves with self-loathing, no matter how successful they are at controlling their thirst for blood.

As for the Gothic settings, these have become standard in some vampire fiction -- the dark, mysterious mansion, the young girl exploring its secrets, the equally dark and mysterious hero, the overwhelmingly gloomy, oppressive atmosphere, frequently full of stormy weather and evil forebodings. Although I dislike the Horror genre, these  Gothic elements do fascinate me, especially since one would not expect to encounter any goodness and light right along with them. It's the tension between such elements and the unending quest of the vampire heroes to attain redemption that is so incredibly fascinating to me. It's the eternal struggle between good and evil.  

It's interesting how a reader's tastes evolve and change as they go along. Books once loved become books that are merely liked, while books once hated become books that, while not loved, can be valued on their own terms.

This has been the case for me with Ashley's novels. I can always see the clear influence of Charlotte Bronte in Ashley's settings and characters. As regards the latter, though, Bronte's characters  are more fleshed-out, more realistic, while Ashley's seem somewhat bland at times. In Jane Eyre, Bronte endows her characters with flaws as well as virtues, and they undergo emotional and spiritual growth as the novel progresses. While this is also true of the characters in the three Ashley novels I've mentioned, it is so to a much lesser degree. Her heroes are overwhelmingly good, while her heroines are overwhelmingly compassionate and understanding.

Of course, the comparisons I'm making here make it obvious that literary fiction  is much superior to popular fiction, in the sense that it requires deeper thought and analysis. However, popular fiction  can still delight a reader looking for escape from a frequently intolerably, dull, routine, reality, which can at times include incomprehensible tragedies. Besides, popular fiction sometimes manages to straddle the divide between it and literary fiction; this is the case, for example, with Tolkien, whose towering masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, is at once a prime example of literary fiction, as well as popular fiction.

I would definitely like to re-read these three novels to see whether I can attain a satisfactory compromise between loving them  wholeheartedly, which I no longer do, and hating them  outright, which I feel is not fair to the author, as they are romantic works that do fulfill the function of entertaining and delighting the reader. I do remember getting lost in them, completely forgetting the so-called 'real' world around me.

In March of 2011, I published a 'literary musing', regarding the vampire as metaphor, on this blog. You can access that post HERE.

What do you think of my views?
Please leave me a comment 
and let me know!


  1. What a great post with so much food for thought Maria.

    You raise so many interesting points. The idea of a male protagonist attempting to protect a female protagonist from some of his own dark tendencies is fascinating. It seems connects to much of literature as well with gender relations and psychology. I have not yet read De Groote's piece but I will.

    I know that you are not partial to horror genre, but as you point out with paranormal romance, some very dark horror books do also highlight, and sometimes champion, virtue and morality.

    I agree with you concerning Jane Eye's morality and strength of character. I think that she ultimately goes way beyond what we would even call a typically "strong person". I will be writing more about that.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!!

      Yes, this metaphor is definitely a fascinating one. Although boys are traditionally taught not to hit girls, they are NOT taught that verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. Besides, I think that only a minority of men would even think about taking steps to protect their women from their own dark sides. This theme has a HUGE pull on me, and it's apparent, from the worldwide success of The Twilight Saga, that many women and girls feel this fascination, too,

      You're most likely right in stating that even the Horror genre contains elements of virtue and morality, even championing them. I saw this very clearly in one book I read, surprisingly enough, since I do my best to avoid the genre. The book is an omnibus edition, which means that it contains three previously-published books in one volume, and is titled "The Forbidden Game". The author is L.J. Smith, who also wrote "The Vampire Diaries', a series I don't like much.

      Well, "The Forbidden Game" is categorized as Young Adult Fiction, and it definitely can be classified as being in the Horror genre, as well, Yet, I was totally fascinated by it! Although there were times when I almost stopped reading it, because of the fear I was feeling, I somehow felt drawn to push on.....and yes, there were definitely very strong elements of virtue and morality in it.

      I'm still staying away from Stephen King, though. I don't think his work contains any redeemable positive value in it.

      As for Jane Eyre, I would also agree that she goes beyond being "a strong person". She is, in fact, heroic! I actually consider her a role model.

      Thanks for such a terrific comment!!! : )


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