The Classic Ingénue

The ingénue is a stock character in literature, theatre (especially musical theatre), opera, cinema, television, and last but not least, real life. I have always been fascinated by this archetype and embody this classic ingénue dimension.

The ingénue is a beautiful, sweet, shy, romantic, idealistic girl with the endearing doe-eyed innocence of a child. The ingénue can be linked with either the girl-next-door or the princesse lointaine. Wikipedia links her to the girl-next-door while TV Tropes links her to the princess classic, which I have deemed to be synonymous with the princesse lointaine. I idealize a combination of the ingénue and the princesse lointaine.
In fiction, the ingénue is often involved in a romantic plot or in a coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman, as she comes to see the world. It is the ingénue's evolution and growth in the story arc that makes the story rich and profound. In fiction, there is also often a foil for the ingénue taking the form of a vamp or more worldly-weary character, setting the scheming,harsh nature to underline the sincerity and delicacy of the ingénue. Sometimes, the ingénue is a foil to a strong-willed, independent protagonist to underline the protagonist's free-spirit. Examples include the polite, pleasing Bianca for the rebelling, shrewd Katharina in Taming of the Shrew, the compliant, naïve Jane for the strong-willed, intelligent Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, and the sweet Melanie for the scheming Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.
The ingénue is a type in theatre, but the classic ingénue is different from the regular ingénue that one associates with casting. So I will have to specify. The regular ingénue is just any young female lead while the classic ingénue embodies all of the qualities listed above.
Some believe that any kind of actress can play the classic ingénue, but I believe that the actress should at least have some innocence within her. An acting teacher once said that innocence is the hardest quality to portray so it would be helpful if the actress naturally had innocence.
In literature, examples of the ingénue include Guinevere from Le Morte d'Arthur, many of the damsels-in-distress/princesse lointaines in medieval romances, several female characters in The Faerie Queene, Catherine from Mansfield Park, Jane from Pride and Prejudice, Amelia from Vanity Fair, and Melanie from Gone with the Wind.
In straight theatre, examples of the classic ingénue include Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, Miranda from The Tempest, Marina from Pericles, Portia from The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia from Hamlet, Luciana from The Comedy of Errors, Perdita from The Winter's Tale, Bianca from Taming of the Shrew, Hero from Much Ado About Nothing, Melissinde from La Princesse Lointaine, Sylvia from The Romantics, the title character in Ondine, and Emily from Our Town. Of all these Shakespearean ingénues, Juliet is my favorite since she is a mix of innocence, romance, and wisdom. One Shakespearean acting teacher said that Juliet is the plume of Shakespeare's ingénues, that she is a wise innocent. I made a good decision in Juliet, the plume ingénue for a Shakespeare Character Study class. I most embodied the wise innocent when I was twelve years old; that age was the wisest and purest that I have ever been. That same teacher also said that Miranda is the main innocent due to her complete sheltered life in the island where she has never seen any male other than her father and Caliban. He was of the opinion that Miranda is the Shakespearean character closest to me. He also said that Marina is innocent, but has a horse sense. I think that Melissinde from La Princesse Lointaine is a good combination of an ingénue and princesse lointaine.

In musical theatre, examples of the classic ingénue include Guinevere from Camelot, Luisa from The Fantasticks, Lilli from Carnival!, Christine from Phantom of the Opera, Maria from West Side Story, and Marian from The Music Man. The ingénue is usually sung in the soprano range. There is a beautiful selection of songs in The Broadway Ingenue where all of the songs are in the soprano range. I loved Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere in the film adaptation of Camelot! She was just what I would imagine Guinevere to be & a role model ingénue! I also love the classic ingénue, Lilli from Carnival! She is an interesting mix of innocence, free-spirit, independence, and romance, being an orphan. She is another role model for me as an ingénue, a mix of carnival and romance, both which I love! Anna Maria Alberghetti was the original Lilli in the Broadway production of Carnival!

The ingénue is a very popular type in opera. Examples include the title role in Rusalka, Pamina from The Magic Flute, Adina in L'Elisir d' Amore. The ingénue is sung by a lyric soprano. In opera, usually the roles are cast based on voice types more than character types.
In cinema, examples of the ingénue include many Disney princesses (i.e. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine), Princess Ann from Roman Holiday, the title character in Sabrina, Ariane from Love in the Afternoon, Sandy from Grease, Baby from Dirty Dancing, and Annette from Cruel Intentions. As you can see, Audrey Hepburn was cast in a lot of ingénue roles. As a star, her glamor was associated with her ingénue, gamine personage. The plot of Grease, however, relies upon Sandy coming out of her shell and shedding her good-girl image. On Wikipedia, it lists Cecile, rather than Annette, as the ingénue in Cruel Intentions. Yet, I believe that the ingénue in that movie is Annette since she is innocent, yet not naïve, unlike Cecile, and unlike the unfortunate Cecile who becomes corrupted, she maintains her purity throughout the movie.

Now I would like to discuss the way that the ingénue is received. I have found that in real life, it is quite hard to find an ingénue these days. I read somewhere that it is because it is hard for a girl to be completely innocent in an unsheltered environment. Many girls today would rather have fun and do what they want instead of considering their purity. Some frown upon the ingénue in real life, wishing for experience rather than innocence. In musical theatre, also the role can be fading at this moment as the more risqué heroine is preferred. Here is an article on that:

I also just attended a presentation on the evolution of the Disney heroine at a pop culture conference. The presenter there argued that the Disney heroine has evolved from the earlier depiction of the fragile damsel-in-distress to the independent, strong warrior, such as the title character in Mulan and Elsa in Frozen.

And here is a beautiful article that discusses the diminishment of the ingénue in literature: 
The above article presents how the ingénue has been "euthanized" in contemporary literature as reality and complexity is depicted more; that it is often the strong, independent woman that takes center page/stage with the ingénue as a supporting character and foil if she exists as all. I liked the points that the article makes that earlier, in literature, the strong protagonist was on a seesaw with the supporting ingénue; that the progression of the story depended on this seesaw. The article states that earlier, it seemed like the unique counterpart could not exist without her ingénue foil, yet today she can exist independently of the ingénue.
Now I would like to share my personal thoughts and preferences on this topic. I believe that the ingénue can exist as a three-dimensional character, rather than a flat character. I come across as sweet and innocent, yet I am full of complexity (i.e. passion and emotion). And I believe that the ingénue can be innocent, but not naïve. I believe that it says on Wikipedia that intelligence is usually not the strength of the ingénue. Yet, I believe it quite possible for the ingénue to be independent, intelligent, and strong-willed. That is why I like Juliet so much. Juliet is a three-dimensional, intelligent, wise, independent, strong-willed, innocent, yet not naïve ingénue. She is a role model for me as an ingénue.
I would like to now discuss my preferences regarding the portraits of the ingénue versus the foil. I prefer the witty Katharina who prefers to stand out and not fit in to the crowd-pleasing Bianca since I admire her shrewdness, and I also rebel, stand out, and do not conform. I particularly loved Julia Stiles's depiction of the modern-day Kat in Ten Things I Hate About You! I also really love the intelligent, independent Elizabeth Bennett and prefer her to the saccharine Jane. I would love to be like Elizabeth in her intelligence. I really appreciated the part in the movie, "You've Got Mail" when Kathleen states, "Elizabeth Bennett is one of the most complex characters in English literature." I would really like to grasp this complexity! However, in the case of Gone with the Wind, I prefer the sweet, straightforward Melanie to the scheming, selfish vamp, Scarlett. I appreciate how Melanie keeps giving and trusting despite bad experiences. I hope that the ingénue will persist in literature, musical theatre, etc.
Someone told me that she saw me as Katharina rather than a stock character type because of my independence and strength. I really appreciated that compliment. However, I would like to embody both the ingénue in her innocence, dreaminess, and romanticism and the woman on the other end of the seesaw in her intelligence, complexity, and uniqueness. I am even a lyric soprano singer.
My future goal is to do in-depth research on the ingénue and possibly present a paper at a conference.


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