I was going through reviews from my readers three years ago when I came across something that inspired this entry on The Plain Jane.
“…why are ALL your GIRL characters ugly??”
This reader is refering to Amanda Hollingworth (The Runaway Courtesan) who is described to be very, very plain.
‘Contrary to all you said,’ Cecelia wrote, ‘Miss Hollingworth is so plain in appearance that I almost pity her. I can little fathom any other miseries than to be in possession of such a common-place face. And neither is she the possessor of any mental appeal. She is a creature that could not possibly tempt Lord Candover into offering his heart.
Why indeed ARE my heroines always homely? (Ugly is too strong a word). It was then that I remembered trying to write a beautiful heroine once….and failed. With this gorgeous heroine, I became sceptical about the male protagonist. Was he bewitched by her beauty or by her wonderful personality? I could never resolve this question in my head. Maybe if I hadn’t analyzed this issue to death, I might have been able to naturally progress the superficial interest into something more genuine. But, nay, I failed miserably. So I returned back to home base: The Plain Jane.
I love writing about plain heroines because I know that a woman’s appearance ”becomes” the mirror to her inner self. If beauty is within, beauty is reflected. So with the female protagonists, it’s almost as if they are carrying a secret hidden behind an unremarkable mask. She is dismissed by the hero because he cannot see past her appearance. He is unable to glimpse at the treasure within her. And I find this idea so intriguing—secrets waiting to be revealed, which also builds the tension in the story (will he see the beauty within her? Or will some other beautiful woman turn his head?) and also offers this dramatic twist to the developing relationship.
Depend upon it, you would gain unspeakably if you would learn with me to see some of the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull grey eyes, and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones.
—George Elliot’s “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton” Ch. 5
Even in reality we at times find ourselves in such a mind-blowing moment. There, before you, stands the person you once thought wasn’t at all beautiful/handsome. And yet…somehow…over time…s/he grew on you. His/her personality, that of confidence, kindness, and wit (to mention a few), won you over. And you can no longer figure out why you thought this friend to be dreadfully plain. In fact, now, you wonder how s/he could possibly still be single!
Another reader wrote to me:
We’re all living vicariously through Amanda right now, we need to know that the plain girl can get the misunderstood rake, no matter what society throws at them
Not only in my work, but in the works of so many others, there is the plain woman who wins the heart of an attractive man. Jane Eyre and Persuasion is what pops into mind immediately. There’s something…something about plain heroines that really draws the female reader in.
Tell me about your main character and why you chose to design his/her appearance and personality the way you did.