Apr 15 2014 8:30am

What We Do for Love: Sacrificing Heroines from Higgins, Carr, and More

Recently in my post about family ties in romance, I talked about the impact of families, or lack thereof, on the heroine and hero. Basically, they—the hero and heroine—were either the recipient of a good or bad family situation. But what if we changed the focus a bit, and looked at how the heroine’s or hero’s actions affected their family.

Now we have all read books where the hero or heroine gives up the other for one reason or another—he thinks she hasn’t had the opportunity to experience life, or he has a wonderful career opportunity, and the heroine knows that she will tie him down. But what about the hero or heroine that makes sacrifices for a family member. Do you remember the embryotic romance between Sarah and Karl in the film Love Actually? Sarah and Karl both work at the same graphic design company and she has been in love with him for years. And it’s not like it is a secret; everyone in the office knows. But Sarah has a mentally ill brother. And just when the relationship with Karl is about to go to the next step, she picks her brother over Karl. Luckily our heroines are not like Sarah, because they do have a happy ending in their future. So who are these heroines?

Immediately, the first heroines that come to mind are Kendra Taylor from Lover’s Knot by Emilie Richards, and then her sister, Jamie Dunkirk who has her story in Sister’s Choice. Kendra and Jamie were born to rich and spoiled parents, who went off and did their own thing, leaving them in the care of nannies and staff. Kendra did the best she could to be a stabilizing influence on sister, acting as a parent, even though she was child herself. But their mother, Riva, flittered in and out of their lives. Her intermittent, erratic influence only reminded Jamie that Kendra wasn’t her mother but her sister, which created tension between the two. Still, Kendra always tried to care for her sister. When it was time for Kendra to go off to college, rather than break free of her responsibilities she set up housekeeping in an apartment and hired a nanny for Jamie. But Jamie resented her control and rules and ran away at seventeen. And so the sisters spent ten years estranged.

With maturity and age, Jamie realizes that Kendra was only a child when she assumed the responsibility for her well-being. And she wants to do something special to make up for the worry and heartache she caused her sister. So she offers to be a gestational surrogate for Kendra and her husband. If that is not noble enough, while pregnant with her sister’s babies, she discovers she is ill:

The doctor had been appalled at Jamie’s choices, and when Jamie insisted she did not want her sister and brother-in-law to learn about them until she was ready to tell them herself, Dr. Raille had threatened to remove herself from the case.

Moonlight Road by Robyn CarrBy the time Jamie left the office, she and the doctor had come to any uneasy agreement, just as she and Suz had done over her treatment. Jamie’s body was her own, and it was up to her to decide how much she shared about her health with her sister and when.

In Moonlight Road by Robyn Carr, we discover that the heroine, Erin, has a long history of being the responsible one and making sacrifices for her family. She was eleven when her mother died, and although her father continued in his parental role, Erin still had to rush home from school to take care of her two younger siblings, ages four and two. This continued all through school. Erin even lived at home during college so she could continue helping out. Then in Erin’s first year of law school, when her siblings were thirteen and fifteen, their father died. From then on she was solely responsible for their care. But there is even more:

After her younger sibs had survived their teen years, she’d helped her sister, who was married to a marine, who had been wounded in Iraq and had lingered in a vegetative state for years in a nursing home before he died. She’d gotten her younger brother through college and medical school.

Now she is thirty-six, and a big portion of her youth is gone. She has to discover how to be carefree.

Another Robyn Carr heroine that sacrificed a portion of her youth for family is Shelby McIntyre from Temptation Ridge. Luke Riordan, her love interest, feeling guilty because Shelby hasn’t had an opportunity to have a normal life, tries to explain to his brother Aiden why his relationship with Shelby is complicated:

Her mother had ALS and Shelby was her nurse for years till she died—the girl had no life. She dropped out of school and hardly left the house. Her idea of a big night was reading to her mother or watching a DVD with her.

Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsIn Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Ain't She Sweet, Sugar Beth Carey’s youth was the complete opposite of the above heroines. She was self-centered, egotistical, and wild, but after her marriage to her third husband, Emmett, she found her family and learned the true meaning of love. In fact, it is only the thought of Delilah, her step-daughter, that gives her the strength to keep her head high as the people she so carelessly hurt in the past gang up together for revenge. Sugar Beth was all already to walk away from the degradation and humiliation when she remembers:

I love you my Sugar Beth. And you love me, too, don’t you?

Delilah…Just for a moment, she’d let herself forget. Preserving her pride wouldn’t put a stop to the bills that were coming due for her stepdaughter’s care. Once again she’d reached another of life’s turning points. Emmett would have called tonight a golden opportunity to show what she was made of.

In Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins, the heroine, Grace Emerson, forgives her sister for falling in love with her fiancé.

Natalie had no part in this, I assured myself. It was just that I really hadn’t found The One, no matter how deceptively perfect Andrew had looked, felt, seemed. Nope as I sat in my newly painted living room, in my newly purchased house, power-eating brownies, and watching Ken Burn’s documentary on the Civil War till I just about had it memorized. Andrew just wasn’t The One. Fine, I’d find The One wherever he was, and, hey. Then the world would know what love is, goddam it.

Natalie finished her degree and moved back East. She got a nice little apartment in New Haven and started work. We saw each other often, and I was glad. It wasn’t like she was the other woman… she was my sister. The person I loved best in the world. My birthday present.

She even goes so far as to make a pretend boyfriend to ease her sister’s guilt.

What books and heroines made an impact on you for making sacrifices for their family?



Leigh Davis, blogger

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Lee Brewer
1. LeeB.
Love Love Actually but I just couldn't understand Laura Linney's character. I suppose it's great to sacrifice something for others but very hard to do in real life.
Jennifer Proffitt
2. JenniferProffitt
@LeeB. I never felt satisfied with LL's storyline. I didn't think there was a definitive ending for her like there was for everyone else. There's a deleted scene that shows her celebrating Christmas with her brother and I felt that it always should have been kept because it lets us know that she's always going to choose her brother--and maybe someday Karl could have been part of that too, but it always made me sad.
Maggie Boyd
3. maggieboyd66
I always thought Laura Linney's character in Love, Actually loved the idea of Karl more than she loved Karl. There was a way for her to have both, to establish guidelines with the facility where her brother was and to also discuss it with Karl. She could have sort of set up the whole thing but I thought she didn't because it was really just a celebrity crush kind of thing. A safe love that we never expect to act on.

Just my .02 of course.
4. scarlettleigh
@ LeeB. I love Love Actually too. I did understand why LL felt obligated to care for her brother, but felt sad, that she was putting his life first, because like maggieboyd66 said, I didn't think it was really necessary.
@Jennifer Proffitt - I think the scene is in the movie. She is at the home and someone opens a scarf?
@maggieboyd66 - well, I suppose she was just in love with the thought of him, since she states she felt in love with him the moment she saw him. Plus she just knew him as a co-worker. I have had some of those crushes and dreams but never even got to the point of them being in my apartment and wanting to take my clothes off (grin). There was the potential for it to be something wonderful, and she didn't give it a chance.
Jennifer Proffitt
5. JenniferProffitt
@scarlettleigh, there was one more with the brother slightly more lucid saying something like he was sorry, or talking about parents, I can't remember, but it gave more of an explanation. I still LOVE Love, Actually, and am totally satisfied with it as a film...I'm just botching explaining that one scene... lol.

As for the rest of your post, you mentioned Robyn Carr twice and I always felt like she did a good job of making her heroines multi-dimensional with their family issues, but never like they resented their families...at least not the point of making themselves the victim, you know? Which always made me like them more. Great post!
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