Blind characters feature prominently in Western literature from very early in its history. Tiresias, who received the gift of prophecy from Zeus, was always a favorite of my students, whether they encountered him in the plays of Sophocles, Dante’s Inferno, or Eliot’s “Wasteland.” (Of course, it was the connection with sex rather than his blindness that most of them found appealing, but I digress.) My point is that the idea of blindness being accompanied by a compensatory gift, often a kind of “second sight,” is an ancient one. The blinded war veteran who functions as a metaphor of a wounded post-war world reestablishing order from chaos, although not as old as the blind seer, is another familiar literary motif. Romance fiction lacks a Tiresias figure as far as I know, but historical romance authors have used the blind warrior hero who must come to terms with a new self and reassert his command over a reordered world with wonderful results for at least the past two decades. My top five such stories (in order of publication) includes both medieval warriors and Peninsular War veterans.
1. Miss Ware's Refusal (1990) by Marjorie Farrell
Simon Balance, Duke of Sutton, suffers a head injury at Waterloo and loses his sight as a result. Farrell does a superb job of showing the stages Simon moves through, from disbelief and denial to frustration, fear, and humiliation to an inner darkness more intense than his physical blindness, and finally to—with the heroine’s help—acceptance of his limitations and triumph over them. A bookish hero and heroine make this one a special treat. Words are inadequate to describe my delight that Simon takes his first tentative step out of his self-imposed isolation when Judith reads to him from a copy of William Blake’s engraved Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I wanted to join their conversation.
2. Candle in the Window (1991) by Christina Dodd
This is Dodd’s debut novel, a medieval story and a Golden Heart and RITA (Best First Book) winner back in the day. Although not a perfect book, it is an extraordinary read that shows two views of blindness. The heroine, Lady Saura of Roget, who has been blind from birth, has learned all the skills needed to act as the chatelaine of a castle because her mother taught her those skills and expected her to have the intelligence and physical competencies to do them well. At the request of the hero’s father, who fears losing his widowed son, Sir William, to the emotional/spiritual darkness that has claimed Sir William since a violent skirmish left him blind, Saura comes to Burke Castle to teach the hero how to live as a blind man. Sir William’s anger and frustration turn him into a raging beast who conducts his life at that level. Saura’s strength of purpose and compassion restore his humanity to him.
3. This Is All I Ask (1997) by Lynn Kurland
Another medieval romance, This Is All I Ask takes a hero, Christopher of Blackmour, a powerful lord warrior blinded in an attack and fearful of being pitied, and a plain, insecure heroine, Gillian of Warwick, who is terrified of her new husband who is rumored to be in service to Satan, and brings them together in a character-driven, forced-marriage story that is deeply romantic. Kurland gives readers a real sense of what blindness must have been like for a man whose ability to protect his land and the well-being of those dependent upon him have been compromised by his condition. His very sense of himself as a man is threatened. A new note is introduced since Gillian almost welcomes her husband’s blindness since it means he is unaware of her lack of beauty. This one made me cry and laugh and sigh blissfully over a perfect ending.
4. Yours Until Dawn (2004) by Teresa Medeiros
I know several people who list this as their favorite Medeiros novel. I don’t rank it quite that highly because I don’t think the end succeeds at the level of the rest of the book, but it definitely has a place among my Medeiros keepers. Gabriel Fairchild, Earl of Sheffield, was once a darling of the ton, an angel-faced charmer who left women swooning in his wake. He returns from Trafalgar scarred and blinded in the battle that claimed Nelson’s life. Jilted by his fiancée, he retreats to his childhood home where he becomes a wounded, angry beast who “roars” and “lumbers” and troubles his devoted servants. Samantha Wickersham, who can see the man inside this beastly exterior, has her own reasons for wanting to help Gabriel. Her particular motivation and her experience as a governess who tamed out-of-control children and a nurse who has cared for wounded veterans make her the ideal candidate to fill the position of nurse to the self-pitying young lord. The joy of this book is watching the relationship develop between these two. There is a rich vein of humor in their exchanges, but there is also an emotional depth that readers will find engaging.
5. The Arrangement (2013) by Mary Balogh
Vincent Hunt returned from his brief war experience a changed man with changed circumstances. He is blind, and he has inherited a fortune and a title. Having come through the worst of the trauma from his war wounds, thanks to the help of his closest friends and fellow members of the Survivors’ Club, Vincent is ready to get on with his life as Viscount Darleigh. The problem is the women in his life, his mother, grandmother, and sisters, who, with the best intentions, are smothering him and keeping him a man who is defined by his handicap. In escaping them, Vincent finds himself in a situation that makes marriage to Sophia Fry, a poor relation of former neighbors of the Hunts, the honorable choice. He gets more than he expected. Sophia the mouse becomes Sophia the lioness in seeing that Vincent’s need for independence is met, and she is ingenious in thinking of things that will allow him to reclaim many of the things he loved before his blindness. Vincent, in his turn, fosters Sophia’s awakening self-confidence and encourages her to see herself as part of a family. He also proves himself fully capable of protecting his wife. No reader will be surprised that these two people who seem to have nothing in common turn out to be perfect for each other. Watching them come to know, trust, and love one another is just the kind of developing intimacy that Balogh presents most persuasively.
There are also fascinating heroes of romance fiction who are half-blind. Although these characters retain their sight in one eye, their battles and their victories are similar to those of the fully blind. I have my favorites among these heroes too.
The Dedicated Villain (1989) by Patricia Veryan
Roland Fairleigh Mathieson, a gorgeous reformed opportunist and rake in the final book of my all-time favorite Georgian series, loses an eye when he is tortured.
Veils of Silk (1992) by Mary Jo Putney
Ian Cameron, Baron Falkirk, a Scot to sigh for, endured a horrific imprisonment, lost an eye, and experiences impotence. The last is temporary, of course.
Reforming Lord Ragsdale (1995) by Carla Kelly
This is my favorite Carla Kelly and high on my list of all-time favorite romance novels. John Staples, Marquess of Ragsdale, is an indolent drunkard, a feckless charmer, and a man who lost an eye fighting in Ireland—a complex, surprisingly likeable, ultimately irresistible hero.
Texas Destiny (1997) by Lorraine Heath
Scarred and half-blinded in the Civil War when he was only fifteen, Houston Leigh has become a taciturn recluse. If you can hold back the tears when the heroine astounds him with her words (“I don't see any ugliness when I look at you.”), you have a harder heart or greater self-control than I do.
Simply Love (2006) by Mary Balogh
Sydnam Butler, an artist and younger son, was tortured by the French in the Peninsular War. Scarred on one side of his body, minus one arm and one eye, he still rebuilds his life and eventually finds love and a reconnection to his art.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.