Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Knight in Shining Armor – An Archetype Hero for the Ages

by Lisbeth Eng

There is something about “a man in uniform” that turns most women’s heads.  Police officers, soldiers, sailors – we find them virile and appealing, at least that’s been my impression from a rather unscientific survey of female friends and relatives. As romance writers, we want our hero to be as attractive as possible, and we often costume him in a military uniform, the archetypal “Knight in Shining Armor.” I believe this is especially true in historical romance, since contemporary fiction is much more likely to reflect the mixed-gender armed forces and police units that exist in present day society. 

I am an author of World War II fiction. Not only is it historical fiction, but the chances of finding a hero in uniform during that era are greater than in a peaceful period (if there have ever actually been any in the history of our planet).  If you read the back cover blurb of In the Arms of the Enemy, you will find that I mention one woman and two men.  No, this is not a ménage à trois. The woman, Isabella Ricci, is the heroine; either of the men, Italian Resistance commander Massimo Baricelli or German army officer Günter Schumann could be the hero. (You’ll have to read the book to find out which of the two it is.)

Men and women who served in World War II have been referred to as members of “The Greatest Generation” and we rightly honor those who served their country and fought against tyranny.  My own father, for the most part a peaceful man, was proud of his service in World War II as part of the American Army’s presence in Asia. We continue to honor, even glorify, men and women in uniform as defenders of our freedom.

My World War II novel takes place in Europe, and the characters are almost exclusively Italians and Germans.  The book opens in 1943 Italy, after Mussolini has been deposed, imprisoned and then rescued by German commandos.  At that point, Hitler had Il Duce brought to Germany, and Mussolini agreed to set up a puppet Fascist state in northern Italy under German control. The Italian Resistance, originally composed of independent troops and eventually banded into larger brigades, fought against the Germans and their Fascist allies. As partisans or “irregular forces” (francs-tireurs) they were not protected by the rules of war in effect at that time, and were subject to immediate execution if captured.

Both potential heroes in my novel, the Italian partisan and the German officer, could be categorized as soldiers, though only one wears a uniform recognized under international treaties.  Isabella Ricci, the heroine, can be viewed as a soldier, too.  In fact, her commander refers to her as his “brave little warrior.” She is committed to the Resistance, but unlike other female partisans who took up arms against the enemy, some even commanding brigades, she uses her wiles to elicit military information from the Germans. The only uniform she wears is that of a domestic servant at German headquarters, where she secretly uncovers intelligence to use against the enemy.

At least three other 20th century romances published by The Wild Rose Press (Vintage Rose line) feature heroes in uniform, and all take place either during, or just prior to World War II. American soldier Miles Coulson finds himself fighting for his life in Anzio, Italy in Christine Clemetson’s A Daughter’s Promise.  The hero of Janet Fogg’s Soliloquy, set in World War II France, is wounded British pilot Arick Ambrose. Rickard Sankt wears a German SS uniform in Jennifer Childers’ Kindertransport, set in Germany on the eve of World War II.  (If you’re wondering how a hero can wear an SS uniform, I suggest you read Ms. Childers’ wonderful book. You’ll be more than satisfied with the explanation!)

Throughout history, woman have worn uniforms and taken up arms in defense of their countries; it is not purely a modern phenomenon. Joan of Arc immediately comes to mind. But I have found in historical romance, it is most often the hero who wears the Shining Armor, as least figuratively.

BIO: An English major in college, Lisbeth Eng has also studied Italian, German and French. Lisbeth is a native New Yorker and has worked as a registered representative in the finance industry for the past 25 years. Her first novel, In the Arms of the Enemy, is available in e-book and paperback at The Wild Rose Press. Lisbeth invites you to visit her at


Skhye said...

HI, Lisbeth. Great info! My background is in anthropology. What I deem the interest in uniforms is power. And armor equated to money because it wasn't cheap. Besides, soldiers tended to wear chain mail--a costly protection. So, the early symbolism just carries through time like everything else. LOL. But who wouldn't like a tough guy? Maybe it's all symbolism of finding a protective mate (to safeguard home and hearth)? You know, that alpha male thing that gets us when we least expect it!!! Dunno... I'll stop rambling now. ;) ~Skhye

Susan Macatee said...

Hi, Lisbeth! I love a man in uniform too and find them extremely sexy heroes. I write Civil War romance and all of my heroes wear uniforms, but they can be for North or South depending on the story. And two of my stories did feature women in uniform, but in that time period, they had to pretend to be men, because women weren't allowed to serve.

Lisbeth Eng said...

Skhye, I hadn't thought about the financial angle to the attractiveness of men in armor and chain mail. I do think the symbolism of the man as the "protector" strikes a cord with many women.
And Susan, I've heard of those female soldiers who hid their gender during the Civil War, so that could fight for their country or cause, or perhaps to follow their men into battle.
Thank you both for stopping by!