July 13, 2013

Heroine Week, Day 6 – The Contrasting Strengths of Mary Balogh’s Lauren and Freya by Jennifer Lohmann

Author Jennifer Lohmann

Jennifer Lohmann isn’t afraid to make risky decisions, something that reflects on her unique, interesting heroines. These women feel real because they go get what they want, make difficult choices and sometimes, they get angry and want to be left alone.


The Contrasting Strengths of Mary Balogh’s Lauren and Freya by Jennifer Lohmann  

A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh
Whenever I am asked who my favorite heroine is, I have a ready and easy answer—Lauren Edgeworth from A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh. In a Historical Romance sea of feisty heroines, Lauren is quiet, calm, and (dare I say it) timid. But she is not weak. Bedwyn after Bedwyn makes the mistake of believing her politeness is a sign of weakness and she demonstrates her backbone, while remaining polite. Her family presents her with safe futures in the form of safe husbands and she rejects the easy path. Lauren wants what she wants. She won’t be loud about it and she wouldn’t be rude about it, but neither will she be pushed around. And she may be afraid of swimming, riding horses, and climbing trees, but her kindness means she’s not afraid of difficult emotions. When faced with the messy and unhappy Butlers, Lauren looks around and thinks, “I can fix this.” More than being willing to participate in wrenchingly emotional conversations—she’s willing to start them. Lauren ends the book much as she begins it. Her journey requires her to learn that she can be imperfect and still be loved—that she is loved—but she doesn’t take this knowledge and become a different person. She becomes a bigger version of herself.

Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh
Balogh introduces us to the Bedwyns in A Summer to Remember and explosive Freyja Bedwyn (Kit Butler, Lauren’s hero, and Freyja had a brief, passionate love affair) is set up as a contrast to quiet Lauren. Freyja is everything Lauren is not. She swims, rows, plays cricket, and gallops her horse instead going at a proper trot. In her book, Slightly Scandalous, we learn she doesn’t slap a man across the face; she punches him in the nose. When confronted by her fears, Freyja leaps to tackle them. Having often wished I could be a woman like Freyja and only recently come to accept that being quiet didn’t mean I wasn’t strong,* I prefer to read Lauren’s story.  But talking about Freyja and Lauren together—what they have in common instead of what about them is different—demonstrates the range of great heroines available to romance readers and that being a great heroine isn’t limited to being either a hoyden or perfectly proper. Talking about Lauren and Freyja means were are talking how complexity makes a heroine great.

If Lauren is reserved while Freyja is brash, what they have in common is more important than their differences. Both are loyal to their friends and family. They understand that loving someone doesn’t mean you don’t see their flaws, but that a person’s flaws are part of the reason they are lovable. They both feel that they have a role in making the world around them a better place. Lauren sees rifts in families and tries to heal them. She comforts, listens, and never judges. Freyja uses her forceful personality to push and argue, but she also knows when her help wouldn’t be wanted and can step back, even if it is hard for her. Both women would be wonderful to have as a friend. Lauren would be there to pat your back when you cried while Freyja would wait until you didn’t even know you were ready to hear it, then tell you to be strong and fight. Both are open to having their minds’ changed.  I admire Freyja’s ability to step up and defend the vulnerable around her. I admire how Lauren forgives, without minimizing her own hurts.

Both heroines have their faults. Freyja acts before thinking, which hurts both her and the people around her. Lauren constantly battles her own desires with her fear of being judged and rejected. Freyja allows her fears to make her reckless, so she won’t look weak. Lauren’s fears turn her self-control into self-denial. Freyja’s passions mean she is often rude and her privileged background means she doesn’t always walk the line between sticking up for herself and walking all over others. Lauren’s self-control means she is often haughty and her belief that being perfect is the only way she’ll be loved means she’s often too willing to correct other people (this is more evident in her role in One Night for Love).

Without these faults the journeys of these heroines would be less compelling. Their stories would be less interesting and their ultimate HEAs less satisfying. Nothing about Freyja and Lauren being great heroines is about how they look, nor does their expertise at any one thing matter. Their experiences in life have made them both vulnerable and strong and it is what they make out of those experiences that keeps their stories alive long after the book is closed.

Have you read the books? Do you find Freyja or Lauren to be more compelling?

*Romance Novels for Feminists has a lovely post on why Lauren is a feminist heroine. See it here.

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  1. Lauren all the way for me. I find Freyja very hard to like.

  2. a great post. I've read both and ASTR is one of my all time favorite, desert island keepers. I think I prefer Lauren, although I like Freya too. I love Lauren's ability to politely stand up for herself and to politely cut someone when needed. I was brought up to be nice and it took me ages to figure out how to be nice without being a doormat. But I really identify with how Freya sometimes brazen things out when she doesn't know what else to do.

  3. I agree with Ros that Freyja is hard to like* though I do respect her, particularly how well she knows herself and doesn't make any apologies for who she is. I just found my old copy of ASTR a few weeks ago (Hallelujah!) and have been meaning to reread it, so I think I'll try to do it through a feminist lens now and see how I react to Lauren.

    *The moment in Slightly Dangerous where Freyja hugs Christine and says, "If this is what you've done for him, I'll love you for the rest of my life," is my favorite moment in the entire series (it's after Wulfric dives into the lake). An interesting interaction between two heroines.

    1. Yes, that's a good point. I'm glad that Freyja doesn't ever tone herself down to make herself more likeable. She is who she is.

  4. It took me a while to warm up to Lauren in ASTR, because I still had the Lauren from One Night For Love in my head, and she wasn't that interesting to me. But she grew on me, and by the end of the book I was convinced she was a far better partner for Kit than Freyja would have been.

    I love, love, love Freyja, and I did from the start. I felt bad for her in ASTR, and I think it was her rough and prickly nature that won me over. Balogh did something very rare in the genre: she made a forthright, blunt, "mannish" character a convincing heroine, and she didn't take away Freyja's femininity to do it, she just tweaked it to be different. And I thought Josh was the perfect match for her.

    Can you tell that Slightly Scandalous is one of my very favorite Baloghs and my favorite of the Bedwyn books? ;)

    Terrific post, Jennifer, thanks to you and to Brie!

    1. I think there is something really interesting about what Balogh does with characters who appear in other books when she gives them their own book. I don't think they ever become different people, but she does have a great skill of showing you how the world looks from their perspective and making you understand and sympathise with characters in a new way.

    2. I think the most poignant moment of the book is when Freyja desperately wishes to look pretty on her wedding day. So much is made of her appearance, with her Bedwyn nose and frizzy hair, and it doesn't seems to bother her. She accepts it and in fact uses her looks to her advantage against Josh and others. So the wedding moment has always stuck with me because it's the one time Freyja gives in to traditional femininity. And unless I'm remembering wrong, she wants to be beautiful that day just for herself, not for Josh.

  5. Ros said:

    "I think there is something really interesting about what Balogh does with characters who appear in other books when she gives them their own book."

    I love this about Mary Balogh's books. Everyone has a different version of the same history, colored by their experience and their personality. She gives her characters the chance to tell their own version of the events and she does it so well that both feel true.

  6. Completely agree about this as a wonderful feature of Mary Balogh's series. And I'm a Lauren fan all the way. I never could stand Freyja, though I did like her book (go figure) and I agree that the scene where she thanks Christine for causing such a change in Wulfric is one of the best moments in the series. Hey, maybe I don't dislike her as much as I thought...

  7. I loved both Lauren and Freyja but for different reasons. It did take me a while to warm to both of them. Freyja's brashness was intimidating and Lauren seemed like she thought she was always right. But as Balogh unveiled their characters to me, I came to love and appreciate them both. But out of the Bedwyn series heroines, I probably like and admire Christine best.


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