Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Good vs. Bad Girls of Fiction

Part 2

Good Girl vs. Bad Girl: Which is more fun to read about or watch?

Two authors weigh in.

Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, talks about bad girls we hate to love.

We love bad girls because they bring a feast of conflict to whatever scene they enter. You don’t know what they might do, but you want to watch them do it.

When we do read about them, it’s usually from the point of view of the person they treat most cruelly. I think we like to read/watch them because there is that voyeuristic exchange, that we can live out saying or doing things through a character that we would find unacceptable in our own lives. And then there’s the part of us that wants to see them evolve and change. We root for them to learn their lessons. And often, if they are drawn well, we achieve an understanding of why they are so bad.

Some of my favorite bad girls are:

Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Who can forget how Emma pined for unattainable love while tromping all over the heart of her husband? Though Emma pays for her badness with her life, I think this story endures because, while her actions are cruel, her yearnings are universal.

Lexy Ransome in The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst: Lexy is one of my favorite modern bad-girl characters. In truth, she walks the line of being a good/bad girl. But it is the manipulation of her sexiness that she knows she can use to her advantage that puts her squarely in bad girl territory.

Lily in the The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa: Again, a derivative of the classic Madame Bovary story, “Lily” goes through several chameleon like guises as she lies and leaves, coming in and out of Ricardo’s life. This is the bad girl who loves that a man is obsessed with her.

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Immortalized on page and screen, the character of Scarlett might have been the first to be described as “Every woman wants to be her and every man wants to have her.” The bad in Scarlett is not just her charms, but her stoic resolve to get what she wants. She would have been a powerful business woman in the 21st century.

And last, even star Omarosa of TV’s The Apprentice fame has been brought back to the show again and again and again. Whatever he may truly think of her, Donald Trump knows bad girls drive up ratings.

Why else do we have Bridezilla-type reality shows? The public has a greater appetite for watching bitchy brides-to-be unravel than graceful, kind brides who allow you to wear the dress of your choice.

Karen Harrington
Visit to read about the bad things Jane did in Janeology.


Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale, talks about the good girl and why we love them.

Good girls can be boring, the reader preferring to love and hate the bad broad with passion. Good girls get passed over for the gum-chewing, hardened, kick-em-when-they're-down bitch. That’s the character the reader will remember. The writer has to endear the good girl to the reader, make her appealing without making her a paper doll cut out. That’s why, historically, good girls are often portrayed as tough women with heart. To exact this point I will go off the linear path for my examples; myth, music and movie.

Myth: Isis, an Egyptian goddess of great distinction, among her many titles: Lady of the Words of Power and She Who Knows How to Make Right Use of the Heart.

Isis was the sister and wife of Osiris and when Osiris was tricked by their brother into stepping into a ready-made sarcophagus and sent down the Nile, Isis set out on a journey to find him. She finds the dead Osiris and lies down upon him and because she is a goddess, allows his seed to enter her and she conceives Horus. The statues and pictures that have come down through history of the Madonna and Child originated from the mother and son, Isis and Horace. You cannot get much better than that for a good girl role model.

Music: Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow have a duet entitled “Picture”; Country Western lyrics that exemplify the good girl in twang. The bad boy is living his life in a slow hell with a different girl every night at the hotel and he’s wishing he had a good girl to miss him.
The Good Girl in question has been waiting on him for a long time, fuel’ in up on heartaches and cheap wine, and hasn’t heard from him in three damn nights.

Got to love that good girl, because she put the bad boy’s picture away, so she can’t see his face while she’s lying next to another guy!!!

Movie: The African Queen, 1951, Bogart and Hepburn on the silver screen…this one is by far the absolute best Good Girl. The legendary bad boy of film meets strong-willed, God-fearing, good woman. Charlie Allmat saves Rose Sayer and good ole Rose tries to rehabilitate gin-loving Charlie along with killing off the Germans. She wants to sink the German boat, Louisa, by turning the Queen into a torpedo boat. Charlie, of course, thinks she’s nuts. But what man wouldn’t after all, because it wasn’t his idea. We all know the end, how sober Charlie marries lovely Rose thinking that they are about to die and then the Louisa strikes the over-turned African Queen, blows up, and Rose and Charlie, Captain and Mrs. Charles Allmat swim to safety and live happily-ever-after. Bravo to the Good Girl, she’s got her man and blew the boat out of the water too!

…And for the sake of literature, how about sweet faced, Melanie of the Ashley and Scarlett triangle. Ashley was the wimp…not Melanie.

Linda Merlino, author, Belly of the Whale

No comments: