Rakes, Rapists and Alpha-jerks

This is the flip side of my ‘In praise of decent men‘ post. In this post, I’m going to talk about ‘heroes’ you won’t find in my stories (and a little about heroines that I won’t write, too).

You can’t reform a rake

One enduring trope of romantic fiction is that reformed rakes make the best husbands. Nothing wrong with that. It ignores inconveniences like illegitimate children and sexually transmitted diseases, and embarrassments like knowing your husband has slept with half the women you meet at any given social occasion, but this is, after all, romantic fiction.

It also makes the possibly erroneous assumption that said rake’s conquests depended on an application of charm and technique that could later be applied to the lucky wife. I’ve written comparing the rake of fiction with the real rakes of history, but again, let it pass. Undoubtedly, some rakes were both charming and skilled, so why not the hero?

I don’t object to heroes who have been rakes and who reform to become devoted husbands. Some of my favourite novels have ex-rake heroes.

What I don’t like and won’t write is the concept that all the rake needed to reform was the love of a good woman. I mean, I know this is fiction, so I’m not looking for fact, but I am looking for truth. We all know what happens to any female who takes this trope seriously and tries to apply it in real life. Maybe he’ll behave for a few weeks, or even a few months. But soon enough someone else’s perfume lingers around his shirts, and he spends more nights out than home (working late again? Yeah, right.)

You can’t reform a rake. The rake can choose to reform, and falling in love may be the impetus for the final shift in behaviours. But I’m looking for signs that he was already changing his way of life before the heroine came along, or the book goes.

At the worst end of the scale is the guy who falls in lust with the woman, seeks to seduce her thinking that will get her out of his system, and then is converted to true love by the power of her Magic Vagina.

Do Not Finish. Hate that Hero. Don’t much like that Heroine.

No doesn’t mean try harder

Rape was purportedly popular in romantic fiction decades ago. The heroine is in the hero’s power, and he uses that power to coerce her into sex, which she absolutely loves. She then goes on to fall in love with him, thanks to the potency of his Magic Penis.

I’m okay with seduction, and it is even more fun when it’s a game two people are playing, neither one aware of the intentions of the other. I absolutely abhor forced seduction, of any kind.

An arranged marriage story can be beautiful, if carefully handled. I’ve even read a story or two that I really liked where the heroine is in the hero’s power. If he’s the right kind of hero, he will leave her room to give true consent, and if he doesn’t, he’s no hero.

If one of the sexual partners has not consented, then it isn’t intercourse, it’s rape. Simple. Doesn’t matter if the unwilling partner then enjoys the physical sensations. In fact, the betrayal of one’s own body probably makes it worse.

Do Not Finish That Book. Throw At Wall.

Alpha-jerks are still jerks

Woman who trusted an Alpha-jerk

The Alpha, Beta, Gamma classifications have fallen out of favour in animal psychology, so I’m told. Pack dynamics are more complex than people thought. But they still have some useful application in writing romantic fiction, as I’ve discussed in a post called ‘Alpha and Omega‘.

An alpha hero is a natural leader; the man everyone turns to when things go wrong, the man who makes the decisions and keeps the group strong and together.

That doesn’t make him a good man or a good hero. It just makes him the boss.

Is he bossy, domineering, unwilling to listen to anyone else or to give credit to others? He’s not a hero; he’s an alpha-jerk. Stand clear. Do Not Breed From This Man.

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Writing realistic rakes in romantic fiction

This post was first published on Quenby Olsen Eisenacher’s blog as part of my blog tour for A Baron for Becky.

Casinova

In modern historical romantic fiction, the hero is often a rake who sees the error of his ways when he falls in love with the heroine, and—after undergoing various trials—becomes a faithful husband and devoted family man.

Most of those rakes, I suggest, are not rakes at all. They’re what we today would call womanisers or players, but they’re not rakes in the sense that the term was used in Georgian and Regency England. Our rake heroes sleep with multiple lovers (either sequentially or concurrently) or keep a series of mistresses, or both. But back then, the term signified a much more disreputable character. It needed to. Otherwise, most of the male half of Polite Society would have been defined as rakes. And a fair percentage of the female half.

We are talking of a time when one in five women in London earned their living from the sex trade, guide books to the charms, locations, and prices of various sex workers were best-selling publications, men vied for the attention of the reigning courtesans of the day and of leading actresses, and both men and women chose their spouses for pedigree and social advantage then sought love elsewhere.

In those days, a rakehell was defined as a person who was lewd, debauched, and womanising. Rakes gambled, partied and drank hard, and they pursued their pleasures with cold calculation. To earn the name of rake or rakehell meant doing something outrageous—seducing innocence, conducting orgies in public, waving a public flag of corrupt behaviour under the noses of the keepers of moral outrage. For example, two of those who defined the term simulated sex with one another while preaching naked to the crowd from an alehouse balcony.

Drunkenness certainly didn’t make a man a rake—the consumption of alcohol recorded in diaries of the time is staggering. Fornication and adultery weren’t enough either, at least when conducted with a modicum of discretion (which meant in private or, if in public, then with other people who were doing the same thing).

Lord Byron earned the name with many sexual escapades, including—so rumour had it—an affair with his sister. His drinking and gambling didn’t help, either. But none of these would have been particularly notable if they had not been carried out in public.

The Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova mixed in the highest circles, and did not become notorious until he wrote the story of his life.

On the other hand, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, lived with his wife and his mistress, who was his wife’s best friend. The three did not share the details of their relationship with the wider world, so there was gossip, but not condemnation. Devonshire is also rumoured to have been one of Lady Jersey’s lovers (the mother of the Lady Jersey of Almack fame).

I planned for my Marquis of Aldridge to be a real rake: a person whose behaviour, despite his social status as the heir to a duke, causes mothers to warn their daughters about him. On the other hand, I didn’t want him to be a totally unsympathetic character. After all, not only is he the only hero on the scene for the first half of the book; he’s also going to be the hero of his own book after he has been through a few more trials and tribulations.

He has had mixed reviews since A Baron for Becky was published. Most reviewers like the rogue, and are asking for his story, while still acknowledging that he is a libertine. One or two dislike him heartily, and one said:

Note to author: your main characters were very interesting but you hinted at some type of redemption for one particular character that I just cannot fathom. I challenge you to make me like him better because I disliked him throughout the story.

Now there’s a challenge I can’t refuse!

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