The Appeal of the Wounded Hero(ine)

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I was asked a while ago who were some of my favorite tortured heroes in books other than my own. It was not easy to narrow down the possibilities, but I eventually came up with Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE; Christian, Duke of Jervaulx from Laura Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM; Darius Lindsay from Grace Burrowes’s DARIUS; Reggie Davenport from Mary Jo Putney’s THE RAKE; Lord Ian Mackenzie from Jennifer Ashley’s THE MADNESS OF IAN MACKENZIE; and Holden Caulfield from THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. And that was just the heroes. The question did not ask about heroines. I have created my fair share of wounded heroes and heroines. Why do I do it? Why do I write so often about men and women who are wounded in body and/or tortured in spirit—especially in books that are billed as feel-good love stories? Why would you read them or other books like them?

To a certain degree woundedness of body and brokenness of spirit are common to the human experience. We all suffer. No one is immune. Because I am an optimist, I am fond of saying that I have lived a blessed life, and indeed I have. Yet I have also known times of intense suffering, either in my own person or involving people near and dear to me—or concerning people worldwide whom I don’t know personally but only through media reports. Often the heart feels as if it must surely break. Sometimes  it is hard to hold off the self-pity and the “why me?” or “the world is doomed” reaction. Now these facts don’t mean we have to read about suffering in the books we choose for relaxation and pleasure. So why DO we do it? Why do I write about suffering? Why do you read about it?

I think maybe it’s because we are all uplifted when we witness or hear of other people enduring pain and rising above it, conquering it, finding themselves capable of extraordinary achievements and acts of kindness and heroism and love, not despite their suffering, but because of it. Think of real life people such as Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, for example, and all the innumerable heroes and heroines, often nameless, who selflessly give of themselves and risk their lives and often lose them in the face of great calamities and tragedies. They are an inspiration to the rest of us. They can raise us above the sufferings that threaten to drag us down into despair.

Such people are irresistible (to me, anyway) as the heroes and heroines of love stories, for love can help them accept what they cannot change and find healing for what they can. It can help bring them the peace of acceptance for what life offers them. The healing and wholeness they find can enable them to trust the love that is offered them and to give love in return. Great love stories are about more than just romance and sexual chemistry and happily-ever-after. They are about two people who have lived long enough to have picked up baggage and to have constructed layers of armor and masks behind which they hide. They are about two people who at the start of a story are not ready or whole enough in themselves to take on the great risk of loving their way through life regardless of what the future may have in store for them. As a writer I love taking two such characters and showing the healing process, which must be both personal and shared. I love to take them to the point at which they trust love—trust that they are good enough to give it and worthy enough to receive it. I like to run them through the mill so that the happy ending can be all the more satisfying and believable. And I want readers to feel that yes, love works and suffering for the most part can be overcome.

In my book ONLY BELOVED, the final book in the Survivors’ Club series, George, Duke of Stanbrook, is a sad character. His only son was killed in the Napoleonic Wars and his wife committed suicide soon after. Since then he has devoted many years to helping severely wounded officers heal and recuperate on his large country estate. The stories of six of those people are told in the other books of the series. George is quiet and kindly and always ready to listen to other people’s sufferings. But deep inside is the raw wound of a far deeper torment than any of his friends suspect. Dora Debbins, whom he marries early in the book, saw the dreams of her young womanhood fade when her mother ran away from home with a lover, leaving Dora to bring up her much younger sister. After that sister married one of the other Survivors (in ONLY ENCHANTING), Dora was left alone, quiet and cheerful, seemingly content with her lot as an aging spinster giving music lessons in a country village but in reality deeply wounded. The marriage of the duke and Dora promises a placid sort of contentment to both. But the real suffering they hold deep and try to hide from each other must be confronted and dealt with if they are to know the full glory of love. In the course of the book I give them no choice, poor things!

 

 

As a reader, which would you prefer? To read about the placid contentment or to tackle the woundedness and the healing and the real, passionate love story to which it gives rise? To one person who leaves a comment below by Thursday, September 27, I will send a signed copy of ONLY BELOVED.

 

[The winner is CLAIRE GILLESS. Congratulations to her!]

 

 

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Showing 52 comments
  • Erica C
    Reply

    I prefer the wounded ness between the character’s the best part of losing yourself in these differnt worlds is to laugh and cry with them and for them. I find myself some times yelling why did you not just tell her or him lol i know it will all be revealed eventually but at that moment you just want them to come together .

  • Carol
    Reply

    you tackle the wounded in spirit and body, weaving a story not so much a hea but a journey to become a better version of current circumstances if that makes any sense. Life’s journey is not meant to be uneventful and we’ve all had more then our fair share of trials and tribulations to work thru and overcome. Reading these stories takes me into another demension where I can clear my mind of my own troubles even for a few short hours. I can relate to these stories in a way that the perky happily ever after with 20th century names and corny writing can never achieve.

  • Annette N
    Reply

    I believe that imperfect characters are a little more realistic. I believe that even though people have been wounded in one way or another, they can still be optimistic and positive. Those are the characters I admire. They do not ignore what has gone before, but they deal with life as it is for them. I do not know anyone who has not had difficulties in their lives. So, being able to read about the Survivors was a joy for me.

  • Rhiannon Rowland
    Reply

    I like to see someone who is/was wounded have their happy ever after more than anyone, it’s like they deserve it so much more! Not that everyone doesn’t deserve it, but it makes your heart soar even more. Being a wounded person myself, I know sometimes you feel like you don’t want to carry that hurt into someone else’s life, but if they truly love you then they don’t care and are willing to take on your hurts and to help you feel better about yourself.

  • Brenda
    Reply

    Because nearly all of us have been there,life can have many difficult and tragic situations.How we come through these hard times is the measure of our inner strengths and recognising our weakness Heroes take on this challenge,trust their instincts and go for it.We want them to win the prize plus the happy ending is the bonus.The survivors series for me is Mary Balogh at her best.Please keep writing your novels thank you.

  • Sandra deitz
    Reply

    I would love to have a copy of this book.

  • Dianna R
    Reply

    I prefer the wounded characters, though I do sometimes get frustrated with them.

  • Kat Tolle Wiley
    Reply

    As a person who worked in an ER I like the wounded hero. So many times the hero is just too perfect and having a flaw whether physical or mental makes it so much more real to me! I have read all your books Mary and my favorite book will always be Silent Melody and my favorite series is The Survivors Club! ❤️ Thanks for the chance to enter!

  • Mary T
    Reply

    One of your wounded characters that I had always wondered about was Gwendolyn, Lady Muir. She appeared as a side character in the Simply, Slightly, and Pre-Slightly books. From the first time you meet her in ONE NIGHT FOR LOVE you get the feeling that there is more to her story besides the tragedy of losing her husband and. unborn child. Maybe this isn’t a fair question, but did you always have her full story in mind or did you not see it clearly until you wrote THE PROPOSAL?

    Again, no need to put me in the drawing. I have ONLY BELOVED in print and on my kindle.

    • marybalogh
      Reply

      No, Mary T, I didn’t know Gwen’s full story until I wrote THE PROPOSAL. I thought it was one thing, but it turned out to be another!

  • Betty Jean
    Reply

    Because we’re all wounded in some way, reading about the triumph of spirit over injury gets me every time.

  • Christine herd
    Reply

    One of my absolute favourite authors is Dinah Dean. many of her characters are wounded. They are wonderful books and their healing journey brings so much pleasure through the quality of the writing and the wonderful believable heroes and heroines

  • Cynthia Rinear Bethune
    Reply

    I liked how George and Dora married for companionship and a placid kind of contentment and received so much more for taking the risk. It may not seem like such a risk to marry a rich and handsome duke, but Dora was giving up an independence and contentment that few women probably had at that time. The Survivor’s series is definitely a favorite of mine and George a favorite character because he dealt with his own grief by helping others with his time, space and resources. Imogen’s story and her journey are heart-wrenching and the last few scenes ALWAYS make me cry, but Only a Kiss is one of my favorites. I love how Gwen walked (stalked determinedly) from one favorite series into introducing us to an entirely new group of characters and stories.

  • Julie-ann Ford
    Reply

    I prefer tackling the woundedness and healing. Thank you for the chance.

  • Gillian Hanhart
    Reply

    I love Simplyy Love in which both the hero and heroine are each wounded in their own way

  • Kim Scott
    Reply

    I see the appeal in both the placidness and the woundedness, and I love the idea that the placidness could be the mask that is hiding the woundedness, or the life they have chosen in an attempt to try to move past it. I enjoy the way you write wounded hero/ines because they seem so real and human, and they stay with you long after the last page. And, of course, they show that anything can be overcome with the right attitude and a bit of love, which is the point of a good romance novel!

  • Jeanne McGuffin Shaw
    Reply

    I just reread THE RAKE, and agree with your love of Reggie, but my favorite series ever is the Survivors Club series. It is impossible to pick a favorite among them, but thinking that I would never find out more about was so very sad. Also, I loved the man who made their healing possible. His wound was different, but he was so kind an generous and understanding…I wanted him to find someone to complete his life. I don’t want this series to end…ever?

  • Yvonne jones
    Reply

    You are a wonderful author.
    I can’t wait for all your new books to arrive at my library.
    The signed copy would be great thank you.

  • Karen M
    Reply

    I prefer to read about a wounded character. They are more realistic and easier to relate to.

  • June Hart
    Reply

    As a nurse, I worked many years at Veteran’s Administration hospitals. I am amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit.
    I enjoyed all the books in the series, and was happy to read George and Dora found happiness.

  • Joyce Creely
    Reply

    Each of us is wounded in our own way! Having said that, I much prefer to read about wounded, souls, bodies, or spirits that overcome and triumph! Only Beloved is one of my favorites. George’s wounds are lifetime deep, as are Dora’s! It is a brilliant story…

  • Pamela Jolly
    Reply

    This was my favorite in the series, for the very reason that they are content to come together in their loneliness, then find so much more together. Both are such good and kind people, and deserve the joy they eventually find together.
    This entire series is full of beautiful people finding the love they deserve.
    Thank you for writing their stories!

  • mary vanslyck
    Reply

    Definitely agree with your choice of wounded heroes. You listed some of my favorites.
    I love that you redeemed Edmund and various others especially am enjoying your latest series.
    However Wulfric remains a favorite.
    mary VanSlyck

  • Becky
    Reply

    I love this series and how you intertwined the wounded characters who find others who have their own “wounds” but deal with them in a variety of ways and in this series and times women had to find content with their lot but they help the wounded feel safe and secure.

  • Dorothy MacDougall
    Reply

    I don’t have an absolute choice. When I am having struggles of my own, I prefer a simpler less troubled hero because if an author is good, you can feel their pain. But during good time I love a tortured hero.

  • Judy Owen
    Reply

    I have always preferred characters with depth, rather than superficial personalities, and can feel more rapport with them. The “woundedness” in each person, and how they are able to cope and overcome their problems, find happiness and fulfillment with others, is such an enriching experience for the reader. The Survivors Club Series is such a marvelous group of different people, all linked together by George’s generosity and selflessness. Getting to know them all, and their stories, has been inspiring, and it has been because of their wounded personalities that we feel so attached to them.

  • CarolW
    Reply

    Your Survivors series is a favorite that I’ve read and reread. Not many authors write about seriously wounded characters. Wounds tend to be relatively minor – a limp or scar- rather than the severity of the Survivors – and it’s one book of many. That you created an entire series with each character and story equally compelling was a unique pleasure to read. I have little interest in the placid, contented.

  • Luciana
    Reply

    I love a wounded soldier that finds in the heroine a soulmate capable of helping him heal. You write those feelings in such a way that I feel part of the story suffering the pain but also rejoicing in their happy ending. That is one of the many reasons why I love your books so much.

  • Norma
    Reply

    I like stories of difficulty, challenge and healing. These books were great. My daughter’s tell me that I like movies with strong women. Mr. Rochester was one of my favorites too. Keep writing! You’re wonderful!

  • Sand
    Reply

    The happy ending is the reward the characters reap after surviving the damage and fighting their way back. Often they feel defeated and have no desire to engage in battle again, to risk the hurt again, to open their door and take the next. Fear has enormous muscle. I own the entire Survivor series (also the Sligbtly, the Simply, the Web, and the Huxtables series along with many of your stand alone novels) but the two I pick up and reread most often are Only Enchanting and Only Beloved. Having survived the long misery and attsined the happy ending myself, I truly appreciate that joyous pot of gold. I thank you for the shelf full of happy endings in my library.

  • Ana Ruiz
    Reply

    I read the story of George and Dora already, but I really loved this blog entry. I like to read about a wounded hero or heroine because it shows how strenght and courage could have a reward. It gives me hope. And Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of my favorite hero too. In the case of your stories, I cannot stop thinking about Kit and Sydnam when we talk about a wounded hero (because Kit has scars in his soul and Syd in his face but in his heart too. So happy the 2 brothers found their own HEA).

  • Claire Gilless
    Reply

    I think what I like about your writing style is that you do focus on humanity as it really is – many wounded but also many healed by love. I think you have a wonderful grasp of human nature and can bring out the best in some awful situations. I always thought you must have a psychology degree as you really do relate to so many situations that just come from every day life. Anyway – just love your books and have recommended many series to friends. Thanks.

    • Erica C
      Reply

      Congratulations ?

  • Julie Wolf
    Reply

    to me it makes the character real. This life is not all glory, fun, sparkles. But to throw in realism and pain and humor in a book makes it so readable to me. I can relate to their pain in some books I read. Not to be a downer but to reflect on their character and life. I like a book with a good ending as well, not a cliff hanger.

  • Melanie Berry
    Reply

    I think the whole Survivors series draws all of us because in real life none of us are perfect either. And although we may not have experienced the wounds that war brings(although many today have) life itself wounds many of us. This seems doubly so in modern times. So to see your heroes and heroines work through their pain and achieve a deep and abiding love is a very uplifting feeling for your readers. Please keep giving us your complicated heroes and heroines…. and bringing a little light in our lives.

  • Tracey K
    Reply

    My favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre. Mostly because of plain, proud little Jane and her quiet war against sexism and classism but Edward Fairfax Rochester is a complicated bundle of fun! I think I have read that book 12 times and each time there is a different layer of the story revealed to me. Having said that, I came very late to the romance world, only due to a bad bout of insomnia. Flowers in the Storm was one of the first I read and became completely obsessed. I like the emotional roller coaster I guess. Soon I found Mary’s books and was delighted by their wit and elegance and the fact that the heroines had brains in their heads. The Survivors’ Club series still remains the best I have ever read. It’s hard to pick a favorite, as they each explore a different kind of wound and a different kind of love.
    The wounded hero(ine) appeals to me because their suffering makes them real. Too often our society want to dismiss anything that cannot be understood in a soundbite. We are captives of marketing and political slogans that bring an immediate reaction, but rarely engage any thought. Our compassion for each other is what connects us and makes us human. What makes these characters great is the journey to self acceptance, to a deeper appreciation of their own humanity. Perhaps it isn’t always the case that true love, however it grows, can bring true healing. Accepting our vulnerability, our human frailty, brings us deeper strength and a deeper capacity to share with others. To love and be loved is life’s greatest gift.

  • Cindy Wadsworth
    Reply

    I prefer the woundedness, healing and passion.

  • Agnes
    Reply

    I haven’t yet read any of your Survivors series (I’m glad you have written so many books that are yet in store for me), but I have read quite a few of your wounded heroes and heroiens to understand what you are referring to – I just finished Someone to Wed, and Wren definitely qualifies, as most of the protagonists of that series). However, I think the contrast is a bit exaggerated: a hero/heroine doesn’t need to be severely wounded/broken to avoid placidity and lack of emotional depth. As you say, complex and realistic character always have a bit of baggage/troubles to deal with/flaws they need to face and correct before they can make the leap of faith that love is, before they can give and take love, comfort, healing, acceptance. Wren is damaged but Alexander is not – even though he has his share of the calamity of the Westcott family. Lord Aidan Bedwyn isn’t broken, although he was forced to become a soldier against his dream and inclination which does cast some darkness on him. Eve isn’t broken although she needs to fight a seemingly hopeless fight for those she tries to protect and has to make a marriage of convenience. I’m not always in the mood for overcoming extreme damage: everyday sort of darkness and character faults are sometimes enough for me.
    I do enjoy your ability to write about overcoming darkness: extreme damage of a character and a healing that is realistic and emotionally fulfilling for the reader is extremely difficult to write.
    Thanks f or this thought provoking post!

  • Kathleen Thompson
    Reply

    Love your Characters = love your stories!

  • Kristen
    Reply

    I like the imperfect heroes/heroines. Whether it is a visible injury or the hidden imperfection, I can relate better to the character. And when I can relate better, I buy into a story more. Love all of your characters!

  • Polyanna
    Reply

    As people, life can be difficult sometimes. Some of us can spend years living one day after another, waiting for the moment that everything will be easier. Then the truth comes out: there is no such easy life thing. Each one lives his life with difficulties and sufferings. And alright, why in the end are these difficulties and those sufferings that make us grow. About your question: nothing better than accompanying a character through his healing. I think that’s what caught my attention in this series. Each personage suffered and already they were certain that they did not deserve the love, on account of its internal and external wounds, but the love showed that this is not true. It does not matter how we are on the outside, but what we are on the inside. I can say that I have become a better person with each book, seeing the healing process of Hugo and others. I look forward to the end of this incredible series. With affection, Polyanna
    Kisses from Brazil

    (I’m sorry about my bad english)

  • Elena Romaniuk
    Reply

    Mr Rochester is my number 1 wounded hero but after him, the stories of all the wounded heroes in your books have touched me.

  • Larisa LaBrant
    Reply

    Your protagonists and Grace Burrows characters seem more human and real because they are not perfect, or extravagantly flawed. Reading about how they grow and change together makes it seem more possible for the rest of us mere mortals to do the same. And cheer on those who do in the mean time, even if it is just in fiction.

    Thank you for many hours of hope,

  • Cathy Stout
    Reply

    I love your Survivor’s Club books and George and Dora’s is one of the best.
    I think that we love reading about people who are wounded because we are all wounded in some way. I had a rough childhood myself. Your books show how the human spirit can overcome adversity and how love can (cliche) conquer all or most. The world is a hard place and a happy ending (but not a happily ever) gives us hope.

  • Vanessa
    Reply

    I love this series so much and I’m grateful to have other books to add to my to-read list!

  • Christine
    Reply

    Anne and Sydnam from Simply Love are my favourite (wounded) couple . It has been the first book I read from you and it is still on top of my list.
    I think we love these wounded characters because there is always a happy end looming at the horizon.
    And thank you that you’re taking the time reading all our comments.

    Christine

    • marybalogh
      Reply

      It is why I blog, Christine–to be able to read what other people have to say.

  • Silvia García
    Reply

    I really love the wounded heroes/heroines. We suffer for and with them and that makes the whole thing real. I remember that my first book from you was «one night for love», I was in the middle of a trasatlantic flight and couldn’t stop reading. Lily was a damaged soul, but with so much resilience that it was inspiring. And it’s the same with the Survivors club and with Simply love. That’s the word for all the books with this kind of heroes/heroines: inspiring.

  • Karen Bunn
    Reply

    A story with strong but believable characters always hooks me especially if there is a backstory where they have to learn to trust and share again. It is possibly no accident that my favourite Jane Austen is Persuasion, – thankyou to A level English many years ago.

  • Bonnie
    Reply

    Woundedness adds such texture to a character and an interesting addition to conflict in the plot. Stories set in Regency and Victorian times especially lend themselves to it because of the suffocating social protocols prevalent in Northern Europe during that era. If one is suffering, best to bury it!

  • Darla Denny
    Reply

    Thank you. I love this series and the post on what inspires you to write about people who have wounded spirits. For those who are wounded physically, sometimes the mental struggle can be the hardest part of recovery
    Again, thank you for the happily ever afters.

  • Margot Purcell
    Reply

    The Survivor series has been the best so far. Their pain and life experiences make each one of the characters become a person. To read how they struggle to live a good life and to accept their problems makes them so human and become friends I would love to spend time with. As I read each book, I could not wait to continue reading and shared their lives for that time. George is the kind of man who deserves so much love for all that he gives to others. I just read Imogen’s story (had to skip hers till now as it was not available in the library) I have read them all and love the wonderful family they have created. This is a series I most certainly want to buy so I can have them all anytime I want to re-connect with them. (libraries do not keep books forever).
    Thanks for writing these wonderful human stories. We all have our difficulties and good times in life and that should be reflected in what we read. It makes us who we are and who we love.

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