Thu
Dec 5 2013 5:30pm

Seeing Your Way to Love: Blind Heroes in Romance

Miss Ware's Refusal by Marjorie FarrellBlind 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.

Yours Until Dawn by Teresa Medeiros4. 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.

The Dedicated Villain by Patricia VeryanThere 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.

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13 comments
Laura K. Curtis
1. LauraKCurtis
I'm interested in the fact that all your faves are historical. Is that because you're primarily a fan of historical romance or because you haven't found contemporaries you like as much with blind heroes?
Mo
2. Mo
OMG! Patricia Veryan has long been a favorite author of mine, but you never see her talked about. So excited to see a mention here, and with a reformed character.

As for contemporary romance with blind heroes, there are tons that I have read: some older Harlequins which I liked, some who get their sight back, some where the love interest is the cause of the blindness. I think I've read 3 or 4 this year alone, but I don't have them catalogued with a blind tag so I'd have to find them again.

@Laura: I think because she is focusing on the blind warrior that it doesn't translate as well right now to contemps. I have read a lot of contemporary military romance featuring PTSD or amputees, but none that feature blindness, come to think of it.
Janga
3. Janga
Laurel, I read a fair amount of contemporary romance, although I do probably read more historical romance. I have read category romances with blind heroes, and I actually planned to include blind heroes from contemporary romance when Megan and I first discussed this post. However, when I started writing, none of the contemporary heroes that I could remember measured up to these historical heroes. Such choices, of course, are always subjective.

I read several hundred romance novels a year, but we both know that's a small percentage of the total published. And my memory is all too fallible. Perhaps someone else can recommend contemporary romance novels that feature memorable blind heroes.
Janga
4. Janga
Mo, I'm happy to meet another Veryan fan. Manda Collins and I have frequently discussed our love for Veryan's books and how sad it is that she doesn't get more recognition in the romance community.

I started reading Veryan's books when they and books by Clare Darcy and Fiona Hill were the only books the librarian could suggest that were "like Georgette Heyer." All three still rub shoulders with more recent favorites on my keeper shelves.
Mo
5. lady trudy
I think Laura Kinsale had a blind hero in one of her books. great list!
Mo
6. chiheatherlove
Wroth! Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Kareni
7. Kareni
I enjoyed your post, Janga. Another historical book that features a half blind hero is To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. Now I'm trying to think of contemporaries .... Hmm, Blind Curve is a romantic suspense novel by Annie Solomon whose hero is blinded at the start of the story.
Myretta Robens
8. Myretta
Janga, my reading twin! I had forgotten how much I loved some of these books, particularly Miss Ware's Refusal and This is All I Ask (oh and the Mary Baloghs and Reforming Lord Ragsdale and Veils of Silk). Well, never mind. Let me just say that I'll have to read the one of two I've missed. Thanks.
Heather Waters (redline_)
9. redline_
@Kareni -- I was going to mention Blind Curve too! Really liked both the hero and heroine in that story.
Megan Frampton
10. MFrampton
I just read The Arrangement, and really enjoyed it. And, of course, Reforming Lord Ragsdale is on my personal Top 10 list EVER.
Mo
11. Mo
I'm going to have to give some of these a try. I've read Candle in the Window, though.

On the Veryan front, I think one of the reasons I like her so much is that she is not afraid to push in some areas - Mandarin of Mayfair comes to mind. I know I cried when I read that book. Though I think my all-time favorite is Wagered Widow, followed closely by Some Brief Folly. OK - done hijacking this thread now, but maybe we could have a lovely post on Veryan's books. :)
Mary Lynne Nielsen
12. emmel
Veryan is a wonder. Agree--great to see the shout-out here!
Melissa Hammitt
13. Llaph
Some contemporary books with blind MCs in them right off the top of my head that I liked were Dangerously Close by Dee J. Adams and The Rancher’s Secret Wife by Brenda Minton. I lost my sight a while back so I guess I can be rather critical about how blind people are portrayed. I especially liked The Rancher’s Secret Wife, I think it is inspirational for the most part but the romance is very sweet to me as it is wrapped up in his learning to cope with losing his sight.
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