Reblogged from my Archieves: The Gary-Stu or Marty-Stu; Neglected Compared to the Mary-Sue.

evelina-or-the-history-of-young-lady-entrance-into-the-world-by-fanny-burney-0486808580

 

I wrote a longish post about research for historical novels and changing opinions on ‘facts’ in history, and guess what – my PC has eaten it. It is ‘irretrievable’.  Ironically, part of the post metioned the frustration of wasting hours carrying out fruitless research on topics where nobody can give you anything but the vaguest of answers. Well, I wasted a number writing that post, that is for sure.

Seeing that I have resolved to write a blog post every ten days or so in 2020, I am going to cheat and reblog this post that I have already reblogged once, as it still seems to get a fair amount of reads. It is about the male equivalent of the Mary- Sue.

I’ve been looking for discussions about the male equivalent of characters defined as Mary-Sue’s online, and what interests me is how few posts there are about Gary-Stus and Marty-Stus,and how few male characters are defined in this way.

In fact, I read a blog which, while admitting that there are few Gary Stu discussions compared to all those  Mary-Sue accusations flying about, didn’t explore this, going on instead to list various heroines perceived by the author as Mary Sues. I was surprised to find Elizabeth Bennet on this blogger’s list; but more on that later.

Goodreads has a ‘Listopia’ list of Gary-Stus. As I am not a great reader of current fantasy, and most of the male leads named came from this genre, I didn’t know enough about the characters to comment. Even I, however, knew the male leads from the top two. First on the list was Edward Cullen from ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Myer, and second was Jace from ‘City of Bones’ by Cassandra Clare.

Well, I think I said in my last post that the fact that many readers define the heroes and heroines of these books as Marty-Stus or Gary-Stus seems to have done little to detract from their bestselling status and continuing popularity.

I did let out a hoot of laughter at seeing that Frances Hodgeson-Burnett’s tiresome ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ featured on this list, that infamous young Cedric of the sailor suits and suave compliments.

lord-orvilleI added the hero of Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ to this list. Lord Orville is, surely, the original Marty-Stu, perfectly matched to the heroine who competes with Pamela for the title of the original Mary-Sue.

Lord Orville is handsome, witty, suave, gallant, and unlike his roguish rival, Sir Clement Willoughby, tenderly respectful of the heroine’s innocence (this is off topic; but did Jane Austen borrow Clement Willoughby’s name for her own rogue in ‘Sense and Sensibility’?).

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I also added the secondary hero of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ to the list. Charley Kinraid ‘the boldest Specksioneeer on the Greenland Seas’ is handsome, fearless, irresistible to women, can drink endlessly and never fall down, is a brilliant raconteur, beguiling and the life and soul of the party. Just about the only person who doesn’t admire him in the book is his jealous rival Phillip Hepburn.

Not only that, but he has so much good luck that he is virtually indestructable. He survives two serious gunshot attacks without seemingly lasting ill effects. A woman is rumoured to  have died of a broken heart after he finished with her.

The only bad luck he has is falling victim to a press gang, and the Royal Navy officers quickly take to him and realizing his exceptional abilities, promote him so that within a few years, he is able to marry an heiress. Then, further promoted to Captain, he is able to send out press gangs of his own…

As the term ‘Mary-Sue’ (later mutated to ‘Marty-Stu’ or ‘Gary-Sue’ to accommodate male characters) originated in fantasy fan fiction, I suppose it isn’t surprising that most of these online discussions are about this genre.

I did find a very witty catalogue of types of Marty-Stu on this link. Unfortunately, it’s about those on television rather than in books. It is excellent, and the types are easily recognizable in novels as well as television series and films:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

This biting paragraph is particularly apt:

‘Dark Hole Stu: His gravity is so great, he draws all the attention and causes other characters (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate him and elevate him above all other characters. Characters don’t act naturally around him – guys wish to emulate him and all the girls flock to him regardless of circumstances. They serve as plot enablers for him to display his powers or abilities, with dialogue that only acts as set-ups for his response. He dominates every scene he is in, with most scenes without him serving only to give the characters a chance to “talk freely” about him – this usually translates to unambiguous praise and exposition about how great he is. Most people don’t oppose him and anybody who does will quickly realise their fault in doing so or just prove easy to overcome. ..’

Nevertheless, looking about for Marty-Stu or Gary-Stu discussions, I am a bit perturbed. There was seemingly so much more talk of Mary-Sues on the web compared to that centering on their male equivalents.

This seems accurately to reflect the different standards  and expectations applied to male and female characters. There does appear to be a good deal less resentment of male characters presented as admirable, handsome, unflappable, invincible in fights, and invariably attractive to most women.

A male character is permitted to have glaring character flaws and still be presented as generally heroic. He is also allowed to be sexually adventurous and even promiscuous; a female character so free with her favours would be defined as ‘slutty’ and lose the sympathy of many female, as well as male, readers.

In fact, being emotionally challenged is often seen as a desirable attribute in these stereoptypical male leads. It is only rarely one with female leads. This has led me to wonder how readers would react, say, to a female version of the Byronic male?

This strikes me at least as being unfair.

I also note, that  for some reviewers, the term ‘Mary- Sue’ is applied rather loosely, being leveled at almost any female character whom they for whatever reason, resent.

This leads me back to the term being applied by one blogger to Elizabeth Bennett. She doesn’t seem to me at all to qualify.

jane-austen-p-and-p

Yes, she is lucky to attract the hero’s admiration, but she does that through wit rather than her looks, which as everyone knows, originally elicited that  ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ remark from him. It is true that her mother doesn’t appreciate her, and a virtual requirement for Mary-Sues is not to be appreciated by her family – but she is her father’s favourite daughter.

Apart from wit and dancing, she has no particular skills apart from perception.  In the book (as distinct from the film versions) she is depicted as a mediocre singer and pianist; her sister Mary in fact described as more skilled, but with an affected style, so that people find her performances tiresome.

I suspect that the blogger disliked the character of Elizabeth Bennett, but not because she is a Mary-Sue. Possibly, the blogger disliked her because she is generally such a favourite among Jane Austen lovers that the chorus of praise from them becomes boring.

Therefore, it would be good if readers applied that suggestion I found on a fan fiction website about Mary-Sues: ‘Would I find these characteristics so annoying if she was male?’

james-bond

Finally, a highly perceptive remark from a  male poster called Tim Kitchin on Gary Stu’s:

https://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-most-notable-Mary-Sue-characters-in-books-and-literature

‘Jason Bourne, Tintin, James Bond, Ethan Hunt would all ‘fit the description’. The absurdity of these Gary Stus doesn’t go unremarked by fans, but it doesn’t seem to evoke the same cultural baggage and resentment as many Mary Sue characters – for one thing because the intrinsic role-conflict (for which read ‘socially conditioned expectation’) inside male character leads is less complex…and for another because we are so used to them..

Purple Prose and a Rapist ‘Hero’: The Original Bodice Ripper: Review of ‘The Flame and the Flower’ by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Mummy Porn cover

Marty-Stu rapes Mary-Sue and then they find a love so true…
I am so glad that I have finished this (by the way, I read it for research: honestly!). I detested reading it; and it was epic length. The only reason I am not giving it one star is because an online friend of mine said that it had helped her in dealing with memories of sexual abuse.
It has been argued that the whole ‘rape to love’ theme so beloved of the Bodice Rippers of the 1970’s developed from the fact that the US was many decades behind the UK and parts of Europe in accepting a woman’s right to sexual pleasure; this being so, readers of this age group were attracted by the comforting fantasy of a man who is at first a sexual aggressor coming to love and treat the object of his lust with tenderness and respect.
This being so, I will give it two stars. This is the most acid review that I have written about any book. As I have often said, I don’t like giving low star, savage reviews and only award them for novels which romanticise rapist so-called heroes or the brutalisation of women.
Even so,being a softy, I doubt I would have been able to bring myself to write it, had the author still been alive.
This story seems to be a verison of Georgette Heyer’s ‘Devil’s Cub’ meets Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’.
From ‘Devil’s Cub’ there is the abduction on a ship by a seemingly wicked man who misunderstands the female lead’s purpose and mistakes her for ‘a light woman’, the male lead making a rape attempt (in this case, after earlier successful ones) with the words: ‘Be damned, I’ll take you’ , the male lead’s murderously violent temper, his showing unexpected kindness to the female lead when she is seasick, etc.
Birmingham is also as a sea captain from Charleston, like Rhett Butler from ‘Gone With the Wind’, though Rhett Butler has the ability to laugh at himself that this ‘hero’ does not, and is far likable and intelligent generally. Birmingham’s late mother and the female lead are obviously based upon Scarlett O’Hara’s mother Ellen; the countless other similarities include a version of the sharp-tongued Grandma Fontaine, who in this case becomes one of a chorus devoted to singing the female lead’s praises and running down other women.
I have to find some positive things to say about this. I suppose the writing can be described as vivid; in some passages, it is even striking if overburdened with adjectives and adverbs. For instance, this description of a storm: –
‘Horse and rider entered a forest gone wild. Once lazy branches lashed and stung and whipped and clawed. The trees bent and swayed in what seemed a frenzied determination to snatch her from the horse and failing, moaned their frustration to the wind.’
In its day, it was a phenomenal success.
Views about rapist ‘heroes’ have changed, and I am frankly disturbed that it still receives glowing reviews.
On the writing style, unfortunately, this is far more typical:–
‘To her he appeared as some splendid, godlike being. Murmuring her love to him, she slid her arms about his neck, pressing her soft breasts into the mat of hair that covered his chest …’
For someone who is supposed to be devout, the female lead doesn’t seem very troubled by the First Commandment. Elizabeth Gaskell would have pointed the moral to that.
Purpose prose abounds. Such tautologies as ‘He laughed at her with mirth, throwing his splendid head up high’ are typical. I felt that if I read once more about her, ‘looking up at him timidly’ or the muscle in his jaw ‘twitching spasmodically in his anger’, or ‘the elderly ******* grinning from ear to ear’ I would turn into a dung beetle. Sometimes, the ‘hero’s’ eyes are like ‘flames of fire’ or ‘burning with passion’s fire’. At other times, he ‘chuckles softly’. He is very fond of doing that.
I lost count of the number of times the allure of these ‘soft breasts’ is mentioned, or of descriptions of Heather’s ‘ flowing dark tresses’, or her other charms. Possibly more often than we hear about his ‘dark, handsome face’.
There is no man who meets Heather who doesn’t fall for her, and all the women long for Brandon Birmingham, which surely qualifies the pair as fully paid up, card-holding members of the Mary-Sue and Marty-Stu club .
All men are seized by violent desire the minute they set eyes on Heather. Fat, repulsive ones are stimulated to unusual athleticism in trying to rape her, and as a result are thrown out of windows or knocked flying into bushes by the male lead.
Interestingly, fat people in this are invariably evil, with the exception of Hatti , rightly described in a Goodreads review as a ‘Cringeworthy Mammy stereotype.’

Here
And after all, she is merely, ‘ample’. She is the black domestic tyrant slave wholly devoted to the interests of her white owners. A typical speech from her is: – ‘Oh Lordy, Master Bran, we done thought something bad had happened to you.’
Interestingly, by contrast, none of the black men in this are given any personality or indeed, any sort of distinguishing personal characteristics at all.
At least, the racism of Margaret Mitchell in ‘Gone With The Wind’ had the excuse that was published in 1936, and begun ten years earlier. This novel was published in 1972, long after the Civil Rights movement. Yes, of course there was slavery in the US of 1799; but should it have been portrayed wholly uncritically?
Everyone regards the ‘hero’ with admiration, even those who suspect the rape, though a couple express misgivings over it . All the single local women swoon over this fellow. In fact, his jilted former fiancée continues to pursue him shamelessly. Just why everyone admires him, when he is depicted as being as callow and insensitive as a boy of fourteen at the age of thirty-five or six, isn’t explained, except by his being handsome and rich and something of a bully. Neither does he have the excuse of having lost his mother early; she died when he was twenty-five.

KEW
*Warning: spoilers follow*
This fiancée is understandably humiliated when the ‘hero’ turns up with a bride at the port where she comes to greet him back to the US. Here, one wonders at his total lack of social graces. Even given that overseas post would be disrupted by the French Revolutionary Wars, he might have had the sense to send one of his men with a note ahead of him before coming ashore, asking his brother to get his former fiancée out of the way. No, such delicacy is beyond him, and all of a piece with his performance as a rapist.
This rejected fiancée makes a point of aiming cruel barbs at the poor, helpless Heather (her late nineteenth century name being one anachronism among many concerning the late eighteenth century UK).
This woman, Louisa, is referred to as a ‘blonde bitch’ (off topic: as one born with light coloured hair, I find the way two terms are commonly casually linked in light novels to be wholly unfair).Strangely enough, the ludicrously named ‘Brandon Birmingham’ -it may be that the author had never taken note of what an unromantic city the Birmingham in England is- though he is portrayed as a macho man, shows a feminine streak of spite in his replies to these taunts.
For instance, this exchange, when the ‘hero’ is seen by his ex- fiancée carrying the now heavily pregnant Heather upstairs, is typical:
‘”Do you do this every night, Brandon?” she enquired jeeringly, with a raised eyebrow. “It surely must put a strain upon your back, darling…’
‘His face was expressionless as he made his reply, “I’ve lifted heavier women in my life, including you…’
Louisa keeps walking into these put-downs as if she can’t see them coming, though she is supposed to be so socially confident. In fact, she is, like most of the characters, wholly unbelievable.
Credible characters can make a wholly incredible plot seem believable, but these are as unreal as the events in the story. These characters are caricatures.
Though the story begins in England, the author shows a remarkably blasé attitude towards the need for any familiarity with the topography, language or customs of the UK of the late eighteenth century.
In fact, the action begins in ‘the English countryside’, with no county specified. The description is apparantly much admired, and is certainly striking, but it is set in a geographically impossible location of moorland which is nevertheless within a day’s journey of London on the appalling roads of 1799. Also, here, there is apparently a climate so dry that on a hot summer’s day dust hangs continually in the air. Even when roads were only partly paved, there could be no place in England, even in a prolonged drought, dry and hot enough to create that effect.
These anachronisms are so numerous that it is not worth listing more than a couple.
Heather presumably has lived through the terrible winter of 1794-5, when birds fell dead out of the trees, and in fact, even the mildest winter in the UK is decidedly cold and damp. Despite this, she does not think to order any flannel petticoats or warm underwear to take with her on a winter’s voyage across the Atlantic. This gives the male lead an opportunity to show he cares by having fashioned for her some quilted underwear.
Then, why does Brandon Birmingham (whose father was apparently ‘an English aristocrat’ who during the American War of Independence renounced his citizenship and therefore, any title he had, though we are never told exactly what his was) think that he would be entitled to ‘the axe’ for rape and abduction? It would have been a short drop hanging for him along with the hoi polloi.
There are myriad misunderstandings following on not, it seems, from Birmingham’s raping Heather three times on board the ship, or for his Dominic Alistair impersonation in the inn. No, none of that matters; what does come between them is that Birmingham has told Heather that as he suspects she was in the plot along with her aunt and the others to force him to marry her. Accordingly, he vows to punish her by treating her as an upper servant, allowing her no money, and refusing to consummate the marriage.
For months, he is tormented by desire for her soft breasts and firm youthful body, and finally he resolves on another rape as a way of solving their problems. This, however, proves unnecessary. Heather is already waiting for him in a provocative nightdress of the sort they definitely did not wear in the late eighteenth century.
This, apparently, is very romantic and exciting.
I think what outraged me most is that the rapes that take place when first they meet are recalled by both as finally a good thing, a fit subject for joking, and even a topic for sentimental recollection (by the by, Heather has no ambiguous feelings, no distaste, about having a pregnancy as the result of the rape).
For instance, Heather reflects at once point that she ought to be grateful to him for ravishing her, as her life was so hard before with her abusive (and naturally, obese) aunt. At another time she says, ‘I was nothing before he met me.’
He is sentimentally attached to the dress that she was wearing when he first raped her – regarding it as ‘Their Dress’. He sternly admonishes her for bartering it for some cloth which she uses to make him a Christmas present. She sheds tears and apologises.
At the end, before a wholly improbable piece of love making – though the ‘hero’ is pale from blood loss from a shooting, he can always rise to the occasion – he and Heather have this exchange. He says of one of the many would-be rapists in her life: –
‘”He got what he deserved for trying to rape you.”
She looked at him slyly. “You were the one who raped me. What were your just deserts?”
He grinned leisurly. “I got my just deserts when I had to marry a cocky wench like you.”’
He then threatens to spank her. The timid Heather shows some apprehension. Then he reassures her smugly, ‘”Madam, you amaze me. Never once have I laid a hand to you and yet you still act as if you expect me to.”’
As a critic said of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: ‘It is sentimental and obscene. The obscenity lies in the sentimentality.’

Reblogged from my Archieves: The Gary-Stu or Marty-Stu; Neglected Compared to the Mary-Sue.

evelina-or-the-history-of-young-lady-entrance-into-the-world-by-fanny-burney-0486808580

 

I wrote a longish post about research for historical novels and changing opinions on ‘facts’ in history, and guess what – my PC has eaten it. It is ‘irretrievable’.  Ironically, part of the post metioned the frustration of wasting hours carrying out fruitless research on topics where nobody can give you anything but the vaguest of answers. Well, I wasted a number writing that post, that is for sure.

Seeing that I have resolved to write a blog post every ten days or so in 2020, I am going to cheat and reblog this post that I have already reblogged once, as it still seems to get a fair amount of reads. It is about the male equivalent of the Mary- Sue.

I’ve been looking for discussions about the male equivalent of characters defined as Mary-Sue’s online, and what interests me is how few posts there are about Gary-Stus and Marty-Stus,and how few male characters are defined in this way.

In fact, I read a blog which, while admitting that there are few Gary Stu discussions compared to all those  Mary-Sue accusations flying about, didn’t explore this, going on instead to list various heroines perceived by the author as Mary Sues. I was surprised to find Elizabeth Bennet on this blogger’s list; but more on that later.

Goodreads has a ‘Listopia’ list of Gary-Stus. As I am not a great reader of current fantasy, and most of the male leads named came from this genre, I didn’t know enough about the characters to comment. Even I, however, knew the male leads from the top two. First on the list was Edward Cullen from ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Myer, and second was Jace from ‘City of Bones’ by Cassandra Clare.

Well, I think I said in my last post that the fact that many readers define the heroes and heroines of these books as Marty-Stus or Gary-Stus seems to have done little to detract from their bestselling status and continuing popularity.

I did let out a hoot of laughter at seeing that Frances Hodgeson-Burnett’s tiresome ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ featured on this list, that infamous young Cedric of the sailor suits and suave compliments.

lord-orvilleI added the hero of Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ to this list. Lord Orville is, surely, the original Marty-Stu, perfectly matched to the heroine who competes with Pamela for the title of the original Mary-Sue.

Lord Orville is handsome, witty, suave, gallant, and unlike his roguish rival, Sir Clement Willoughby, tenderly respectful of the heroine’s innocence (this is off topic; but did Jane Austen borrow Clement Willoughby’s name for her own rogue in ‘Sense and Sensibility’?).

12618f13

I also added the secondary hero of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ to the list. Charley Kinraid ‘the boldest Specksioneeer on the Greenland Seas’ is handsome, fearless, irresistible to women, can drink endlessly and never fall down, is a brilliant raconteur, beguiling and the life and soul of the party. Just about the only person who doesn’t admire him in the book is his jealous rival Phillip Hepburn.

Not only that, but he has so much good luck that he is virtually indestructable. He survives two serious gunshot attacks without seemingly lasting ill effects. A woman is rumoured to  have died of a broken heart after he finished with her.

The only bad luck he has is falling victim to a press gang, and the Royal Navy officers quickly take to him and realizing his exceptional abilities, promote him so that within a few years, he is able to marry an heiress. Then, further promoted to Captain, he is able to send out press gangs of his own…

As the term ‘Mary-Sue’ (later mutated to ‘Marty-Stu’ or ‘Gary-Sue’ to accommodate male characters) originated in fantasy fan fiction, I suppose it isn’t surprising that most of these online discussions are about this genre.

I did find a very witty catalogue of types of Marty-Stu on this link. Unfortunately, it’s about those on television rather than in books. It is excellent, and the types are easily recognizable in novels as well as television series and films:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

This biting paragraph is particularly apt:

‘Dark Hole Stu: His gravity is so great, he draws all the attention and causes other characters (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate him and elevate him above all other characters. Characters don’t act naturally around him – guys wish to emulate him and all the girls flock to him regardless of circumstances. They serve as plot enablers for him to display his powers or abilities, with dialogue that only acts as set-ups for his response. He dominates every scene he is in, with most scenes without him serving only to give the characters a chance to “talk freely” about him – this usually translates to unambiguous praise and exposition about how great he is. Most people don’t oppose him and anybody who does will quickly realise their fault in doing so or just prove easy to overcome. ..’

Nevertheless, looking about for Marty-Stu or Gary-Stu discussions, I am a bit perturbed. There was seemingly so much more talk of Mary-Sues on the web compared to that centering on their male equivalents.

This seems accurately to reflect the different standards  and expectations applied to male and female characters. There does appear to be a good deal less resentment of male characters presented as admirable, handsome, unflappable, invincible in fights, and invariably attractive to most women.

A male character is permitted to have glaring character flaws and still be presented as generally heroic. He is also allowed to be sexually adventurous and even promiscuous; a female character so free with her favours would be defined as ‘slutty’ and lose the sympathy of many female, as well as male, readers.

In fact, being emotionally challenged is often seen as a desirable attribute in these stereoptypical male leads. It is only rarely one with female leads. This has led me to wonder how readers would react, say, to a female version of the Byronic male?

This strikes me at least as being unfair.

I also note, that  for some reviewers, the term ‘Mary- Sue’ is applied rather loosely, being leveled at almost any female character whom they for whatever reason, resent.

This leads me back to the term being applied by one blogger to Elizabeth Bennett. She doesn’t seem to me at all to qualify.

jane-austen-p-and-p

Yes, she is lucky to attract the hero’s admiration, but she does that through wit rather than her looks, which as everyone knows, originally elicited that  ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ remark from him. It is true that her mother doesn’t appreciate her, and a virtual requirement for Mary-Sues is not to be appreciated by her family – but she is her father’s favourite daughter.

Apart from wit and dancing, she has no particular skills apart from perception.  In the book (as distinct from the film versions) she is depicted as a mediocre singer and pianist; her sister Mary in fact described as more skilled, but with an affected style, so that people find her performances tiresome.

I suspect that the blogger disliked the character of Elizabeth Bennett, but not because she is a Mary-Sue. Possibly, the blogger disliked her because she is generally such a favourite among Jane Austen lovers that the chorus of praise from them becomes boring.

Therefore, it would be good if readers applied that suggestion I found on a fan fiction website about Mary-Sues: ‘Would I find these characteristics so annoying if she was male?’

james-bond

Finally, a highly perceptive remark from a  male poster called Tim Kitchin on Gary Stu’s:

https://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-most-notable-Mary-Sue-characters-in-books-and-literature

‘Jason Bourne, Tintin, James Bond, Ethan Hunt would all ‘fit the description’. The absurdity of these Gary Stus doesn’t go unremarked by fans, but it doesn’t seem to evoke the same cultural baggage and resentment as many Mary Sue characters – for one thing because the intrinsic role-conflict (for which read ‘socially conditioned expectation’) inside male character leads is less complex…and for another because we are so used to them..

Those Necessary Sympathetic, Rounded Characters: A Classic Novel Without Them

220px-Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_NevadaIn my last two posts, I discussed the dismal topic of getting really scathing reviews, and how a novice writer friend of mine had her confidence knocked through being on the receiving end of a particularly savage one.

On that, I’d like to add that perhaps that  is better than the lukewarm reaction over my latest I got from an associate the other day: – ‘I’ve been reading your book.  It’s all right; but nothing like as good as the first. Maybe I’m just tired of Gothic. I’m glad you’re doing something different with your next.’

I see.  Thanks for that.

Now, in a way, isn’t that indifference almost worse than having someone write a rant instead of a review of your book?

Anyway, I was wtiting about whether or not it is necessary to have sympathetic characters in order to like or become fascinated by a book, and how far this depends upon genre.

Then – wait for it, regular readers – I mentioned how in fact, I didn’t really care for any of the characters in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’.

I might as well add at once, that I found it hard to sympathize with the active whaling community depicted in the book. I tried, by doing that act of  historical distancing which allowed me to see that while they were decimating the whale population, they couldn’t see it, or that it was wrong. For all that, the descriptions of the battles which the Specksioneer (Chief Harpooner) Charley Kinraid and the heroine’s ex-whaler father have with the whales may have impressed Victorians as heroic, but struck me as downright barbaric and pitiful.

I have written before of how unsympathetic I find the two flawed heroes, the lovers (in the old fashioned sense) of the heroine Sylvia Robson: Charley Kinraid and Philip Hepburn.

The romantic interest, Charley Kinraid, ‘the boldest Specksioneer on the Greenland Seas’, is dark and handsome, hearty, fearless, a brilliant raconteur, able to drink endlessly without showing it, the life and soul of the party, irresistible to women and admired by men. In short, he is an early example of the  ‘Black Hole Marty Stu’ described by a blogger:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

‘His gravity is so great, he draws all the attention and causes other characters (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate him and elevate him above all other characters. Characters don’t act naturally around him – guys wish to emulate him and all the girls flock to him regardless of circumstances. They serve as plot enablers for him to display his powers or abilities… He dominates every scene he is in, with most scenes without him serving only to give the characters a chance to “talk freely” about him…’

220px-BH_LMC

This, basically, is why Charley Kinraid, though overwhelming, isn’t convincing. As Graham Handley observes, he ‘comes but fitfully to life’.  He is a walking macho stereotype. Such a man would never suffer form sea sickness, or fall flat on his face.

Philip Hepburn has the misfortune to be the polar opposite of a Black Hole Marty Stu. He is the indoors type with a sallow complexion, quiet, humourless,  and influenced by his grim quasi stepmother Alice Rose into the belief that any form of fun is sinful. Nobody admires him but Alice’s daughter. As an early critic observed, his whole personality seems to revolve around his obsession with Sylvia.

This might be interesting, for a short infatuation; but his drags on during years of indifference from Sylvia, who makes it painfully obvious that she worships his rival. This makes him a dismal character to read about.

Generally, then, to me, both flawed heroes seem curiously one dimensional and incomplete, as if they need to merge into each other to form one three dimensional character. As if in some bizarre way they are aware of this, they seem to be more interested in their rivalry towards each other than they do in the heroine Sylvia Robson.

At first I sympathised with Sylvia in her longing to have adventures at sea herself. However, as this is impossible for a respectable Victorian girl, she can only realise this wish by transforming it into a longing to have the man who personifies those adventures.

Unfortunately, then Sylvia Robson suffers the fate of any female character who falls for a Black Hole Marty Stu – she remains trapped forever in his event horizon, seemingly frozen in time and seemingly static, though she has in fact, vanished. In other words, she ceases to have an independent existence of her own.

Part of this dissolution of her personality is bound up in her tragic fate. She believes that Charley Kinraid is dead, but in fact, he has been taken by the press gang, and though Philip Hepburn knows, he keeps quiet about it so that he can marry her himself. Naturally, Kinraid returns, imagining that they are still troth plighted.  Sylvia swears never to forgive Hepburn. In the end, after Kinraid has humiliated her through an astonishingly speedy marriage to an heiress, and Hepburn has heroically saved both Kinraid and her daughter, she does.

Most of the time for the second two volumes, the once high spirited and rosy Sylvia is depicted as pale and suffering, mourning Kinraid’s loss almost obsessively. As the critic T J Winnifrith remarks, ‘Kinraid is finally shown to be a shallow character; but the depiction of him is always so superficial that this makes it difficult to understand the depths of Sylvia Robson’s love for him.’

The melodramatic tone and improbable co-incidences in the last part of this novel are notorious.  However, I thought that the problems started far earlier, in the strange interdependence of the characters. Just as Hepburn seems to have no passion in life except in being Sylvia’s lover, so Sylvia very soon comes to have none except in worshipping and then mourning the loss of, Charley Kinraid. This fate – far more usual in a female than in a male lead – finally makes them both dismal.

Of course, one of the things that Elizabeth Gaskell was attempting to explore in this novel was how wrong (in her eyes, blasphemous) it is to ‘make an idol’ out of any other human being. She was also, as her daughter had recently gone through the disillusioning experience of having to break off  an engagement to a charming man with a questionable past – one Captain Charles Hill –  exploring the painful consequences of ‘ill advised’ love.

In fact, when I came to sum up the novel in a sentence, here is what I came up with: –

‘Philip Hepburn worships Sylvia Robson, and finds dishonour; Sylvia Robson worships Charley Kinraid, and finds disillusionment; Charley Kinraid worships himself, and  finds a wife who agrees with him and a career in the Royal Navy.’

But, as I said, for all the unsatisfactory nature of the characters – for all that  they aren’t markedly sympathetic, I have been intrigued by this novel since I first read it in 2002.

True, I found Sylvia’s extended mourning of Kinraid tedious; I found Hepburn’s destructive pursuit of Sylvia frankly distasteful, and I found Kinraid to be about as rounded a character as a cardboard cut out. Also, I am disgusted by whaling and how we decimated the whale population in the Greenland Seas. Yet, still it remains one of my favourite novels.

It can’t be ‘comfort reading’ as there is scarcely any worldly comfort to be found in it, but clearly, there are elements in the depictions – perhaps, the vivid descriptions of life in the late eighteenth century sea faring community of Whitby (called Monkshaven in the novel), which have made me unable to dismiss it.

…And the same is true for me of ‘Vanity Fair’.  There, again, I don’t exactly like any of the characters – though I do feel sorry for Amelia – and yet, that is a novel I have read three times. True, it contains some unsurpassed passages on the battles of Quartre-Bras and Waterloo – but that is in the middle;  much of the later part is taken up with the society career of the vain, unfeeling Becky.  I suppose this book is also remarkable, in having in Becky Sharp what falls only a little short of a Black Hole villainess (a Mary Sue she most certainly is not).

Therefore, perhaps when advice to novice writers on how to draw in readers includes the invariable: ‘To draw readers in, you must create sympathetic, fully rounded, convincing,  developing characters’ – then the exceptions from classic novels which continue to be read but which have signally failed to do that just might noted?

Finally, for anyone interested, here is my link for my article on ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ published a few years ago on the F Word website: here

 

The Marty Stu or Gary Stu – Neglected Compared to the Mary Sue

evelina-or-the-history-of-young-lady-entrance-into-the-world-by-fanny-burney-0486808580I’ve been looking for discussions about the male equivalent of characters defined as Mary Sue’s online, and what interests me is how few posts there are about Gary Stus and Marty Stus,and how few male characters are defined in this way.

In fact, I read a blog which, while admitting that there are few Gary Stu discussions compared to all those  Mary Sue accusations flying about, didn’t explore this, going on instead to list various heroines perceived by the author as Mary Sues. I was surprised to find Elizabeth Bennet on this blogger’s list; but more on that later.

Goodreads has a ‘Listopia’ list of Gary Stus. As I am not a great reader of current fantasy, and most of the male leads named came from this genre, I didn’t know enough about the characters to comment. Even I, however, knew the male leads from the top two. First on the list was Edward Cullen from ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Myer, and second was Jace from ‘City of Bones’ by Cassandra Clare.

Well, I think I said in my last post that the fact that many readers define the heroes and heroines of these books as Marty Stus or Gary Stus seems to have done little to detract from their bestselling status and continuing popularity.

I did let out a hoot of laughter at seeing that the tiresome ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ featured on this list, that infamous young Cedric of the sailor suits and suave compliments.

lord-orvilleI added the hero of Fanny Burney’s ‘Evelina’ to this list. Lord Orville is, surely, the original Marty Stu, perfectly matched to the heroine who competes with Pamela for the title of the original Mary Sue.

Lord Orville is handsome, witty, suave, gallant, and unlike his roguish rival, Sir Clement Willoughby, tenderly respectful of the heroine’s innocence (this is off topic; but did Jane Austen borrow Clement Willoughby’s name for her own rogue in ‘Sense and Sensibility’?).

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I also added the secondary hero of Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ to the list. Charley Kinraid ‘the boldest Specksioneeer on the Greenland Seas’ is handsome, fearless, irresistible to women, can drink endlessly and never fall down, is a brilliant raconteur, beguiling and the life and soul of the party. Just about the only person who doesn’t admire him in the book is his jealous rival Phillip Hepburn.

Not only that, but he has so much good luck that he is virtually indestructable. He survives two serious gunshot attacks without seemingly lasting ill effects. A woman is rumoured to  have died of a broken heart after he finished with her.

The only bad luck he has is falling victim to a press gang, and the Royal Navy officers quickly take to him and realizing his exceptional abilities, promote him so that within a few years, he is able to marry an heiress. Then, further promoted to Captain, he is able to send out press gangs of his own…

As the term ‘Mary Sue’ (later mutated to ‘Marty Stu’ or ‘Gary Sue’ to accommodate male characters) originated in fantasy fan fiction, I suppose it isn’t surprising that most of these online discussions are about this genre.

I did find a very witty catalogue of types of Marty Stu on this link. Unfortunately, it’s about those on television rather than in books. It is excellent, and the types are easily recognizable in novels as well as television series and films:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MartyStu

This biting paragraph is particularly apt:

‘Dark Hole Stu: His gravity is so great, he draws all the attention and causes other characters (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate him and elevate him above all other characters. Characters don’t act naturally around him – guys wish to emulate him and all the girls flock to him regardless of circumstances. They serve as plot enablers for him to display his powers or abilities, with dialogue that only acts as set-ups for his response. He dominates every scene he is in, with most scenes without him serving only to give the characters a chance to “talk freely” about him – this usually translates to unambiguous praise and exposition about how great he is. Most people don’t oppose him and anybody who does will quickly realise their fault in doing so or just prove easy to overcome. ..’

Nevertheless, looking about for Marty Stu or Gary Stu discussions, I am a bit perturbed. There was seemingly so much more talk of Mary Sues on the web compared to that centering on their male equivalents.

This seems accurately to reflect the different standards  and expectations applied to male and female characters. There does appear to be a good deal less resentment of male characters presented as admirable, handsome, unflappable, invincible in fights, and invariably attractive to most women.

A male character is permitted to have glaring character flaws and still be presented as generally heroic. He is also allowed to be sexually adventurous and even promiscuous; a female character so free with her favours would be defined as ‘slutty’ and lose the sympathy of many female, as well as male, readers.

In fact, being emotionally challenged is often seen as a desirable attribute in these stereoptypical male leads. It is only rarely one with female leads. This has led me to wonder how readers would react, say, to a female version of the Byronic male?

This strikes me at least as being unfair.

I also note, that  for some reviewers, the term ‘Mary Sue’ is applied rather loosely, being leveled at almost any female character whom they for whatever reason, resent.

This leads me back to the term being applied by one blogger to Elizabeth Bennett. She doesn’t seem to me at all to qualify.

jane-austen-p-and-p

Yes, she is lucky to attract the hero’s admiration, but she does that through wit rather than her looks, which as everyone knows, originally elicited that  ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ remark from him. It is true that her mother doesn’t appreciate her, and a virtual requirement for Mary Sues is not to be appreciated by her family – but she is her father’s favourite daughter.

Apart from wit and dancing, she has no particular skills apart from perception.  In the book (as distinct from the film versions) she is depicted as a mediocre singer and pianist; her sister Mary in fact described as more skilled, but with an affected style, so that people find her performances tiresome.

I suspect that the blogger disliked the character of Elizabeth Bennett, but not because she is a Mary Sue. Possibly, the blogger disliked her because she is generally such a favourite among Jane Austen lovers that the chorus of praise from them becomes boring.

Therefore, it would be good if readers applied that suggestion I found on a fan fiction website about Mary Sue’s: ‘Would I find these characteristics so annoying if she was male?’

james-bond

Finally, a highly perceptive remark from a  male poster called Tim Kitchin on Gary Stu’s:

https://www.quora.com/Who-are-the-most-notable-Mary-Sue-characters-in-books-and-literature

‘Jason Bourne, Tintin, James Bond, Ethan Hunt would all ‘fit the description’. The absurdity of these Gary Stus doesn’t go unremarked by fans, but it doesn’t seem to evoke the same cultural baggage and resentment as many Mary Sue characters – for one thing because the intrinsic role-conflict (for which read ‘socially conditioned expectation’) inside male character leads is less complex…and for another because we are so used to them..’