Or, why does basically every female childhood literary heroine have to fall in love with someone?
Not everyone does this. For example, I don’t remember any even silly childhood sweethearts in the American Girl books. Not every member of the Baby-sitters’ Club dated. But three of my favorite book series from childhood, the Little Women books and the Anne of Green Gables books and the Betsy-Tacy books, were surprisingly romance-heavy, and now I can’t help but wonder why.
Little Women at least wasn’t perfect. A lot of people probably childhood-shipped Jo and Laurie, but Laurie ended up for reasons unknown with Amy and Jo ended up with… an older German man. To this day, I don’t understand that, but I allow that romance is weird and theoretically can bridge gaps, so I guess if that’s what Jo wanted. I get that it was the olden days when it was written, and it was especially normal to get married in the olden days, but I just have to wonder: if Louisa May Alcott was writing these books nowadays, in a nowadays setting maybe, would she feel compelled to write Jo’s “happy ever after” with romance? Couldn’t Jo theoretically be happy without, you know, anyone?
Anne of Green Gables, well. I know a lot of people who childhood-shipped Anne and Gilbert, and whatever. That was the classic “I pull your pigtails because I like you” scenario, kind of the childhood equivalent of unresolved sexual tension. Which… okay, to each their own. I just have to wonder, though: if L. M. Montgomery was writing these books nowadays, in a nowadays setting, would she feel compelled to write Anne’s “happy ever after” with popping out seven kids? If that’s your choice, that’s your choice, but I’d be curious to see how it would be handled in a time when kids are less of a certainty.
Betsy-Tacy is a tough one, because technically the books were based on Maud Hart Lovelace’s life. If Maud Hart Lovelace really did get as many dates as her analogue Betsy, then good for her. But wow, Betsy dated a lot – not that it’s a bad thing, though I remember it bumming me out as a kid because I related to Betsy but didn’t have any concept of romance as related to myself, so I felt left out. Betsy’s best friend Tacy didn’t date anyone ever, and I loved that (I also related to Tacy) but then in senior year of high school, suddenly she met an older man who worked with Betsy’s dad and… whoops. He was immediately in love, and she went along with it. I guess that was based in real life too, but I remember being really sad. I liked that Tacy didn’t date. I liked that there was a character whose happiness revolved around personal pursuits and around friendships and stuff.
Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that romance in and of itself is not bad, if that’s what you want go for it, but I also wish and wished even as a kid that I had more heroines to look up to who didn’t have romance and were okay with that. And really, the same is true of most grown-up books I read also. It’s strange that there’s this idea that a character is apparently incomplete with a romantic partner, but it’s also something we still need to work on. Representing all kinds of happiness!
Oh, and I’m not talking about childhood literary heroes as in boys because I never read any books about boys, ever. (It was impossible for me to connect to any of them, which is still somewhat of a problem for me.)
–your fangirl heroine.