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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday Discussion: Is He Experienced?

What's with all the rakes? 

 In the early days of historical romance as we know it (post-1972's The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss) the experienced male with a long list of conquests and perhaps an existing mistress was often shorthand for cluing the reader in on what a virile man our hero was. This has been common, but is it strictly necessary? Virgin heroes, like Winter Makepeace in Elizabeth Hoyt's Thief of Shadows, have their own appeal, and it's entirely possible that a desirable man could choose to wait to begin that intimate part of his life. Fear of disease, moral and/or religious conviction, family or cultural tradition or expectation, lack of preferred partners, personal choice, a tight focus on another aspect of life...there are as many reasons as there are individuals, in any time, past, present or future. 

On the other hand, it's true that men of the upper classes were not, as a rule, expected to remain chaste (unlike their female counterparts, but that's another topic.) which begs another question. Does a hero need to have a long string of conquests to prove his virility, or does it come from some other source? Is a long term relationship with a wife or mistress enough to establish the hero in this aspect, or is it a different matter when the hero has several past amours? Does the nature, rather than the number, tell more about how our hero will treat our heroine? 

Perhaps it's not the facts but the fantasy that makes a rakish hero popular.  Does the idea of a heroine being "the one" to tame a notorious rake (and dibs on To Tame a Notorious Rake as a future title; it would sell, dangit.) contribute to the appeal of this trope? With historical romance heroines largely virginal, a first partner who knows what he's doing could be counted as a plus. Then again, there's something special about two people being the other's one and only, discovering the intimate side of love together, a scenario that need not be limited to sweet romance, either. 

So, dear readers, what's your pleasure? Is your ideal hero experienced, or about to discover a whole new world? Does it depend on the historical period, class, or subgenre, or does it hinge on the individual alone? 


  1. I dislike rakes. Tell me, what is so appealing about a man who sticks his dick in every available female hole he can find? Forgive my vulgarity. But the thought is quite disgusting.

    First of all, why do most historical romance authors depict men to be of experience? Why are practically all of them so well-versed in sex? I just cannot understand.
    That era, was a very strict religious one. Surely, the church sermons did not encourage men to do the deed. Secondly, how could you have so much time to do it? Wasn't there work, poverty, politics and don't forget the diseases. Thirdly, if women were expected to be chaste and men not, then how could each and every man find an available woman to do it. The ratio just doesn't match. I doubt everyone went to brothels, for that matter. It costs money.

    To me, sex is an intimacy one shares with a very special person. You give yourself completely. Ultimate trust. Holy, in fact. Who cares if the first few sexual experiences between the man and woman is not good. It will improve. And I find this journey of theirs to be a hundred times more sweet and heart melting then 3 o's in a row.

    Romance is about wooing, staying with each other no matter the faults, compromising when necessary, accepting the other person for who they are, supporting and believing them completely. Not a 1 hour bang on the bed and and Iloveyou declarations. Because love has to grow through the years.

  2. Anna Carrasco BowlingJuly 5, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Minesha, those are some great points, and I totally agree that romance and lasting love are more than a physical connection. "Rake" is a handy shorthand term, but when looking closer, there are are a lot of considerations that fall under that umbrella. Considerations that talented writers could get some great story points out of, if you ask me.

  3. If the rake is well done, then I actually do enjoy the story. For instance, the hero in To have and To hold by Patricia Gaffney. He has no scruples. (Except that he gave the heroine a job, among a few others) Seducing anyone he thinks is pretty and wanting to get a reaction out of the housekeeper for the sake of his amusement. Yes, I can believe he really is a debauched aristocrat. The author actually shows this through his actions and his cruel un-thoughtful remarks. His transformation is also believable; him realizing at the party how crude and meaningless his life was. So in these cases, rakes in story lines do work because it is focused on them.

    But in other stories, simply to make the sex scene easy to write, by giving the hero experience is just yawn inducing. Sometimes, not having a sex scene makes the romance 10 times stronger.

    In confessions of an arranged marriage by Miranda Neville, the hero is experienced, but the first few love scenes do not go well, (no rape, simply over-enthusiasm and resentment ) and the emotions following the scenes, really worked out. Their love-making was more of a journey and I enjoyed the story.

    Yeah, it really then depends on how the story is written and actions that portray the hero's character. Simply saying that he had mistresses or he likes to gamble just ends up being more annoying than appealing.

  4. Anna Carrasco BowlingJuly 5, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    If it's done well, and shows the complicated issues involved with such behavior, a well written rake can be wonderful. I second To Have and To Hold, and also highly recommend Libertine's Kiss by Judith James. William DeVere is hell-bent on his own destruction, an out of control rock star of the Restoration, and his turning away from that is done for believable reasons, and not in one moment.

    I love the idea of lovemaking as a journey, so we can see the intimacy develop.

    Excellent point about the heroines' reactions. Even when society could turn a blind eye to a man's indiscretions and a wife might be expected to go along with it, or ignore her husband's past partners, that didn't mean she was always okay with the fact, and addressing the emotions there could provide some excellent development.

  5. Awwww Winter Makepeace!!!
    I guess it really depends for me. I'm all game for a rake in the story but I do tend to love the more inexperience type, meaning the one that haven't bumped every female who threw themselves at his feet -- courtesans, prostitutes, widows..... He can have like maybe 2-5 in his life time but I sometime could care less for that part of their past life unless it's always brought up in the novel. But I have thought about it. Like wouldn't the heroine at least take it a bit rough? Like wouldn't she be a bit jealous or something of his past paramours? I'll feel so weird if I were to meet a widow he romanced in bed with you know. It doesn't matter the period, genre, or status.... I tend to think the same way for all of it.

  6. I'm not fond of the complete "play the field" types who suddenly shut down because she's the one. I do like the ones who may have been that way in their past but have changed a bit as they grow older and more responsible.

  7. I love that Gaffney story. And, yes, it breaks my rules because I tend not to like the type. But maybe it's because the reader knows where the behavior comes from--it's not some "ooh, shiny, must try," but something far more deep-seated.

  8. Anna Carrasco BowlingJuly 7, 2014 at 12:04 AM

    Corrina, I think that's the reason it does work that well. We know the root and what's really at stake, not just "something to do" by rote.

  9. Anna Carrasco BowlingJuly 7, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    Ki pha, there is a lot to be said for balance. I definitely agree that the consequences of a hero with a long list of dance partners, so to speak, could be a good opportunity for internal conflict. The heroine would definitely have an opinion, and meeting one of her husband's past conquests could be awkward indeed.

  10. Anna Carrasco BowlingJuly 7, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    That's the sort I prefer as well.Much more complex.

  11. I don't mind their experience...but I'd love to read more where the hero was a virgin. Interesting twist in the genre for sure.



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