Hi, Jo here, talking about my story in the anthology Mischief and Mistletoe. When the idea of a wicked wench came up I immediately thought of a vague idea that had been rattling around in my head for a long time -- "The Triumph of the Red Fingernailed Lady."
Not a story per se, but a concept.
I don't know if the "Red Fingernailed Lady" means anything to you. It probably depends on how many Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances you read in the olden days, but they often had a particular dynamic. The millionaire (back before inflation -- they're all billionaires now!) somehow connects with the Poor But Honest (PBH) heroine, often an orphan who is hired to care for his child/mother/wheelchair-bound sister etc etc.
He is already connected with a woman of his own world who considers him her property. She is sleek and perfectly turned out, including perfect nails, generally blood red....
When the RFL sees that Her Man is ridiculously taken with the innocence of the unmade-up and poorly dressed heroine, she will stop at nothing to show her up in his eyes. Of course in the end innocent goodness is perfect protection from sneaky malice, etc etc.
Here's a bit of the storyline from Country of the Falcon by the great Anne Mather. "...it was not long before Alexandra had exchanged one danger for another-that of falling in love with him. For Declan was far too old and experienced for her, he thought of her, and treated her, as a child and in the sophisticated Clare Forman he had a more than willing woman of his own sort anyway . . ."
I don't know what it says about me, but I soon wanted to turn this scenario on its head. I didn't like the RFLs as presented, but I didn't much like the PBH twits either. (Twits because they always fell for the RFL's schemes.) I was also bothered by the hero loving her for her sweet naivity and the RFL getting no points at all for fighting spirit.
Do any of you remember those sorts of books, and did you have the same reaction as me? I suspect that many did, which is why the RFL had to be so nasty. If she was simply well-groomed and sophisticated too many readers might be on her side.
However, you'll note that I kept reading the books! As readers we're not at all logical, are we?
Back in the '70s I began a story in which the free-loving, drug-enjoying heroine snatches the guy from a sanctimonious drip. Never got far with it, and I'm sure it would never have sold, but the urge was there, even then, and at mention of a Wicked Wench....
No, Penelope Brockhurst is not truly wicked, and she's not really a RFL, but she is a sophisticated lady of the ton, and has a reputation as well. She's known as Miss Breakheart because she's jilted a number of men. She's belatedly realized why, and she intends to hook her one true love over Christmas at his parents' home. When she arrives there, however, she finds him about to engage himself to a vision of sanctimonious propriety.
What's a red-blooded lady to do but set out to undermine her rival get Ross Skerries for herself?
You can read a short excerpt here. http://www.jobev.com/novellas.html#PENN
As I'm in Britain, I'll send a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe to one randomly selected commenter who lives in the UK or Eire.
Do you remember the Red Fingernailed Ladies?
Are they still around?
Is naivity v sophistication still a good dynamic in a romance novel?