Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Must the Rake Be Tamed?

There’s no getting around the appeal of the bad boy hero: Dark and dangerous, the most infamous rake in England, an abandoned libertine--if you’re like me, you need only see these words on a cover blurb to reach for your wallet. While others may prefer spies or wealthy dukes, no hero interests me more than the man who, heedless of society’s strictures explores the outer limits of his sexuality.

So when I set out to write the Regency set novel that became Lord Lightning that was the kind of hero I chose to write about. The man society has nicknamed Lord Lightning in tribute to his shocking behavior has behaved so badly he is forever barred from polite society. He is famed for his cold heart and his boast that he will never give his heart to a woman for even a single moment. He is also, like most bad boy heroes, witty and devastatingly charming, exuding sexual power from every pore.

But what sets him apart from a thousand other heroes of historical romance is this: My hero really is a rake, and as Lord Lightning unfolds he continues to act like one. Unlike so many supposedly rakish heroes, he is not a very nice man pretending to be a rake. He is not misunderstood. The transgressions for which society has excluded him are real.

Nor does he instantly fall in love as soon as the heroine, the gently bred amateur astrologer, Eliza Farrell, appears on his horizon. For from it. Her confidence that his astrological chart shows him to be a man who needs to love and be loved annoys him, and he sets out at once to prove her wrong. This should be easy, as Eliza is destitute and easily lured into his bed.

It should be a simple matter to seduce and abandon her, but even her trusting response to his sexual predation does not make him fall in love with her. We are not following the usual script here at all.

It is only when Eliza gives Lord Lightning a taste of his own medicine—and behaves in ways that are not what he expects-–and shows herself as capable as he is of outrageous behavior—that he begins to find her interesting. But even then, it is a toss up whether Eliza’s astrological art will transform the notorious rake into a better man or his seductive skills that will transform her.

It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that in most rake stories the heroine falls in love with the bad boy hero and joins him in an adventure filled with forbidden, edgy sex, but by the end of the story this wild, exciting man’s love for the heroine traps them both in a conventional marriage. We find them in the sequel dwelling in their comfortable home surrounded by perfect children—living the same life the heroine would have had if she’d married a nice man who had never thumbed his nose at the rules of the society.

The author may wish us to believe this domesticated pair is still having the same kind of earth shaking sex they had when they were strangers taking bold sexual risks, but I don’t buy it. So that isn’t kind of ending you’ll find in Lord Lightning. Though the delicious man who loves to shock will, by the end of the story, find happiness with his Eliza, it won’t be because she’s turned him into a nice suburban husband.

For before Eliza can finally find happiness, she will have to accept that she loves Lord Lightning for what he has always been—in all his rakish glory—as much as she loves the “better” man he has become. And I hope that when you read Lord Lightning you will, too!
This post originally appeared as a guest post at The Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills.

The illustrations accompanying it are Plate 3 of Hogarth's series of paintings, "The Rake's Progress" and portraits of the infamous Lord Byron and self-dramatizing rake and dreadful husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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