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10 September 2008

Libertine Heroes

Recently I blogged about Courtesan Heroines, both here and on my own website. Both posts generated a lot of fascinating discussion. The discussion touched on the fact that, as a literary archetype, the courtesan heroine has a great deal in common with the libertine hero. I think it’s particularly interesting that both types of characters are often portrayed as having known a number of lovers but never having actually been in love. I did a follow-up post on my own website that about Libertine Heroes that I thought it would be fun to repeat here, especially as so many of the similarities are differences between the Libertine Hero and the Courtesan Heroine are rooted in historical mores and double standards.

In the discussion of courtesan heroines, our own Pam Rosenthal commented, “I’m particularly taken with the notion (implicit in some of the comments) that the knowing courtesan is a female counterpart to the as-yet-untamed rake, and that both of these fantasy images may play parts in the romance marriage reconciliation — the erotics of an ideal marriage demanding a shadow/other/past to provide a sort of chiaroscuro modeling of its present.”

Of course there differences–the libertine hero is indulging in a life of pleasure. The courtesan heroine may be enjoying herself, but she’s also earning a living (hopefully a very good one). And in literature, though both tend to find their one true love, their fates tend to me quite different. As I wrote, “I think as literary archetypes there’s a definite parallel between the libertine (particularly the libertine who has yet to fall in love) and the courtesan (particularly the courtesan who has yet to fall in love). But I can think of far more stories where the libertine finds true love and settles down to a happily ever after than where the courtesan does (one reason I found the idea of Loretta Chase’s book so refreshing).”

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon commented, “It’s that old double standard, while it is fine in fiction and in real life for a man to be a bit of a male slut, it is not fine for a woman to use her body out of necessity or to enjoy too much sex.”

So while Marguerite/Violetta in La Dame aux Camelias/La Traviata is in a sense redeemed by falling love with the much more innocent Armand/Alfredo, much like many rakish heroes redeemed by the love of an innocent young girl, she doesn’t live happily ever after, she dies of consumption.

Rakish heroes are also much more prevalent in romantic fiction than courtesan heroines. In some ways, I think, it’s part of the fantasy. As Pam said, “One assumes that at the end of Pride and Prejudice, when D and E retreat behind the well-guarded gates of Pemberley, D has brought not only his riches, but a richness of worldly erotic experience — so Lizzy gets to spend her life clipping coupons, if I may call it that.”

Not that there’s anything implicit in Pride and Prejudice to indicate that Darcy has any more worldly erotic experience than Lizzy does (except that as an man he’d be more likely to be experienced). But I think we tend to assume he’s experienced. Just as I think we tend to assume Percy Blakeney has some past experience, though it is never addressed in the Scarlet Pimpernel books. As Dorthe wrote in the discussion on my website, “She [Baroness Orczy] never mentions Percy’s past (a fiancée - Mary de Courcy -appeared in her son’s biography of Percy). I find it hard to imagine Percy with another women, yet I don’t see him as a virgin….In a way Percy and Marguerite mirror Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Peter and Harriet also had this deep bond. Both had affairs earlier, but they never loved anyone the way they loved each other.”

And while I wouldn’t call Peter Wimsey a libertine, he definitely has a world of erotic experience. Far more so than Harriet, who had one, not particularly satisfying, lover. The difference in Peter’s and Harriet’s sexual knowledge comes through delicately but unmistakably in Busman’s Honeymoon.

Francis Crawford of Lymond spends six books indulging in every sort of erotic adventure (along with all other sorts of adventures) but doesn’t fall in love until late in book five (in one of the loveliest discovering love scenes I’ve ever read).

The worldly, rakish hero who finds true love can be a very powerful story. Venetia is one of favorite Georgette Heyer novels (largely because, despite the difference in their erotic experience, Venetia and Damerel are so very clearly well-matched soul mates). But sometimes I find myself longing for a hero who is a bit less debauched. I like Heyer’s Charles Rivenhall (The Grand Sophy) and Charles Audley (An Infamous Army) for that reason. My own Charles Fraser in my books probably owes his name a bit to both of them. Charles wasn’t a virgin when he married Mélanie, though he was a lot less experienced than she was. In fact, though I haven’t really dealt with this yet in the books, he was even less experienced than she realizes.

Perhaps because of this, Charles in a sense takes sex a lot more seriously than Mélanie does. He’s much more inclined to romanticize it and at the same time much less comfortable with desire. As Mélanie says in Beneath a Silent Moon, Lovemaking doesn’t always have to mean more than an exchange of pleasure. Surely there’s no harm if the pleasure is mutual.

To which Charles replies, That reduces us to rutting animals.

And Mélanie says, Perhaps animals have the right idea. They don’t try to think about everything so much.

Charles, of course, is inclined to think about everything, which is one of the things I love about him. He can’t separate sex from its emotional resonances, which is why he’s constitutionally incapable of being a libertine. As he thinks in Secrets of a Lady, Intimacy was difficult enough for him. He could never bring himself to pay for the substitute.

What do you think of libertine heroes? Do you like them better paired with innocent heroines or experienced women? What sort of assumptions do you make about the sexual history of characters like Darcy, whose erotic past is not touched on in the pages of the novel? Any favorite examples to suggest of heroes who are libertines or heroes who are quite the opposite? What makes these characters work?

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38 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Very interesting topic Tracy. I do like a Libertine hero but not one who is too debauched. No Lord Rochester for me. I prefer a hero like Rochester in Jane Eyre, a bit cynical, but still willing to fall in love. I don't even mind it if he's known true love and lost it, either through the death of a loved one or having been deceived. As for a heroine, it goes either way for me. Generally in fiction, the hero is the experienced rake and the heroine is the innocent, but I like the idea of a rakish hero having to deal with a heroine who's background isn't so pristine. He would have to confront that double standard and deal with it.

The more I read about Charles and Melanie, the more I have to dig out your books Tracy from my TBR pile that's threatening to crush me. If only I didn't have so many research books to read at the moment.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Fabulous post, Tracy! I've long been a fan of the libertine hero, for which I blame Rhett Butler. Reflecting on it, I think part of the charm of the libertine is the assumption that, having been around the block, he possesses a superior understanding of human nature in general and women in particular, not merely in the amorous arts, but in matters of character and sensibility. This is very apparent in Rhett and Scarlett's case, with Rhett's use of his knowledge of her character to both manipulate and please. I was also struck by it very forcibly in re-reading Heyer's "Civil Contract", where the Marquis Rockhill understands his Julia, in all her melodramatic absurdity, better than she understands herself (and certainly better than the non-libertine hero, Adam, ever understood her!), employing that perspective to win her from her allegiance to her prior, star-crossed love. My own Lord Vaughn falls directly into this paradigm, and I thought about him a good deal as I was reading about Lord Rockhill-- both men of the world ready to take on "difficult" women.

Interestingly, you do also see examples of libertines whose careers haven't done anything at all to give them that philosophical edge that characterizes Wimsey, Lymond, and your own Raoul, but these are usually comic side characters, loose-lipped attenuated rakes busting out of their corsets in the manner of Prinny as they reach to try to pinch a pretty young girl. They're the libertine's cautionary tale. Lord Ombersley from "The Grand Sophy", while not loose-lipped, also seems to fall into that category, as a warning of where libertinism can lead one. While his wife is philosophical about the amours, you seen the strain placed on his son and his family by his massive gambling debts and his hedonistic lifestyle.

While I'm rambling on, I also wonder if the libertine works better in some eras than others-- the Restoration, the late eighteenth century, the mid-nineteenth century American south, the Jazz Age, to name just a few. In those periods where libertinage is less socially acceptable-- the Victorians, for example, or even late in the Regency proper-- something about libertinage ceases to be attractive and just becomes gross (in the original sense of the word). Those libertines in fiction who do work generally seem to belong to eras in which rakishness is given a certain amount of social cachet.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I like good libertine, regardless of sex (hello, the heroine of my first book is sooo a lady libertine). And as most of you know by know, I have no time for the innocent, ingénue heroine. It’s even worse IMO when she’s matched with a Duke of Slut.

I hadn’t read SoaL or BaSM when I wrote Lord Sin, but I think the dynamics of the couple are very similar. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love Charles and Melanie so much . . . though Damerel is my favorite Heyer hero (so much so that my new puppy may end up being named Damerel).

9:53 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Great the post Tracy, especially as I am currently dealing with a hero whose very conventional life is about to be blown apart with his love life at the heart of the change.

Curious to hear what everyone else has to say. Never thought of Darcy's sexual past as he was always a more romantic than a sexual character for me. Have wondered about Rochester's life before Jane.

I prefer dark and alpha heroes more than troubled and love stories of culture clash which is often manifested in sexual experience.

That said one of my favorite heroes is the troubled Aral Vorkosigan from the Bujold science fiction series. The reader does learn a good bit
about his sexual history and isn't he lucky that his soul mate, Cordelia, is so open-minded.

Will think about the courtesan part of the question and respond again at my next break.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That's a good point, Elizabeth. It seems that usually experienced heroines are paired with less expreienced heroes. The idea of a rake involved with a woman with an equally varied and complicated past is intriguing. Can anyone think of a book like that? I can't off the top of my head.

And I hope you like Charles & Melanie when you get to meet them!

10:53 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Lauren, your Lord Vaughn is one of my favorite rakish heroes. And it's precisely because, as you elucidated so well, he has such insight into Mary (and well as a fair amount of self knowledge about his own failings and foibles; in fact, I think he views himself as less selfish than he really is). I loved that Vaughn was paired with Mary, who was his equal in cynicism, if not in experience, rather than with an innocent girl who redeemed him. I love that he understands Mary and loves and appreciates her for who she is. I hadn't quite thought about Raoul in those terms, but your right, he has a lot of insight into Melanie which he can use both to maniuplate and to help, and his prior experiences (with women such as Lady Elizabeth) has no doubt helped.

I'm fascinated by your comments about libertine heroes working better in some time periods. I think it's very true that libertine behavior seems less over the top in a time period in which it's considered almost the norm. For one thing, in eras such as the Restoration or the late 18th century, the social consequences for the women involved with the libertine would be less (provided they were married and discreet at least), so a libertine hero can seem less of a cad. To me there's something really unappealing about libertines who ruin women and don't think twice about the conseuqences.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kalen, Damerel's probably my favorite Heyer hreo too. I thnk it's because he has so much of that insight and understanding Lauren talks about. He also grows and changes in the course of the story, without precisely "reforming." What a great name for your new puppy!

Totaally agree about the dynamics of George and Ivo in "Lord Sin" being similar to Charles & Mel (probably part of why I loved "Lord Sin" so much). George is a lot more openly a libertine than Melanie. But I think there's definitely the same sense of the hero trying to make sense of the heroine.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Your new book sounds very interesting, Mary!

Darcy's past (raised by Pam's original comment) is interesting. I've never seen him as anything approaching a libertine, but I think I've always assumed he's relatively experienced. I'd be curious to hear what other people have to say about this.

I haven't read read Bujold's books about Aral and Cordelia, though I did read and enjoy one about their son, Miles.

Do post your thoughts on the courtesan part of the question when you have a chance!

11:19 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Certainly Loretta Chase's new book has that premise, and I'm pretty sure that Mary Balogh has had a hero and heroine who are of equal experience.

I love the idea that Charles in your books is less experienced than Melanie and has a more romantic view of love and sex. I've never seen that before in a male character and I find it quite intriguing.

Lauren, you brought up an interesting point about time periods. Certainly the Restoration was notorious for libertines and rakes, as well as the Georgian period. By the Victorians, any rakish qualities had to be dampened down, although Edward VIII was certainly a libertine!

I also love the point you made about Rhett knowing Scarlett better than she knew herself which is probably why she loved him and hated him at the same time.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

***What a great name for your new puppy!***

Don't know yet. I'm mulling over everything from Clancy to Angus to Gurth (the loyal swineherd from Ivanhoe) to Damerel to Fitzwillaim (aka "Fitz") . . . I pick him up tonight, so I'll probably settle on something in a day or two (you really have to "meet" the dog before you can name it).

Whatever his name, he'll end up being called, Lumpy, Doodle, and Pumpkin, LOL!

12:34 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

The book that comes to mind for me when I think of a match of male libertine to lady libertine is Carole Nelson Douglas' "Lady Rogue." The title says it all. The heroine, resolved to wreak her revenge on an unnatural father, sets out to ruin herself in a very orderly and business-like fashion, teaming up with a Georgian libertine of the first order (another Vaughn/Lovelace type) while living as mistress to yet another man, and having already slept with a third. I'm blanking out on the hero's name (it was something terribly appropriate), but the match of the two of them, both rogues and hardened gamesters, is absolutely brilliant.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Of course, Elizabeth, Loretta Chase's "Your Scandalous Ways" ia a great example. I think I didn't think of it because I didn't see James as libertine precisely. but he's certainly portrayed as someone who uses sex in his work (spying), which makes him very like Lymond. I loved the pairing of two hardened, cynical, experienced people in that book. There must be heroes other than Charles have a more idealized view of love and sex than Melanie does seemed to grow naturally out of who they were and what their psat experiences had been.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

They're all great names, Kalen! I like Fitz a lot too. Have fun picking up your puppy!

1:26 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Lauren, "Lady Rogue" sounds fascinating. Must look for it (I've read quite a few of her books but not that one).

1:27 PM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Great post, Tracy. I love all the comparisons you've done of literary heroes & heroines.

I love a good slut hero, or a slut heroine. The key to me is whether or not the character is reformed -- not just tamed and married off, but truly reformed. I love a story where a rake is brought to his knees by the love of a good woman.

One of my favorite libertine heroes is Lisa Kleypas's Derek Craven. He's such a bad boy, he even has sex with a prostitute in the midst of the story. A lot of readers hated it, but it worked for me.

I confess I'm a little wearing of *hearing* what a rake the hero is without *seeing* it. You have to see the character "raking" to believe he or she is truly a rake, IMO.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I agree with Doreen. If the hero is a rake, let's seem him raking a bit in the beginning of the book, until he realizes his feelings for the heroine. He can even rake some more trying to rid himself of those feelings. And then feel bad in the morning. And not just flashbacks either.

I remember reading a Susan Johnson novel where the heroine catches the hero having sex with her friend at a house party. That was rather shocking and interesting how she was going to turn that around. And then the friend offers her lover up to the heroine who is married to an older man who doesn't treat her well.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Doreen and Elizabeth, I totally agree. If a hero (or a heroine) is called a libertine, that needs to be made real in the story, whether in present-day scenes, flashbacks, memories, stories from other characters. I don't necessarily need a libertine to repent, but if the book has a happy ending, I do need to really believe that the marriage can work.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I personally adore libertine heroes and there is certainly a tradition of heroines, whether they're "bad" or "good" girls, falling for the rake or the bad boy -- because, face it, he's generally a more interesting character. And his experience, sexual and otherwise, is part of the package. Who picks Linton over Heathcliff, or Ashley over Rhett?

I don't think of Darcy as a libertine -- it's completely unsupported by the text. Wickham, however, is one. But Darcy is most definitely a man of the cosmopolitan world, and we may certainly infer that he knows his way around the boudoir.

I don't relate to male characters who don't have experience. Ditto for the females, as well.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The ultimate literary libertine, for those of us who've done the 2000-page slog, is Lovelace (pronounced Loveless) in Richardson's Clarissa.

Somewhere, in that mountain o' words (though I've never been able to find it again), Lovelace confides to his friend Jack that the quickest way to a woman's affections is to convince her you're good to your tenants. Which shines a slightly different light on the scene where Lizzy and the Gardiners tour Pemberley. Not that I'm suggesting Darcy's a libertine, but just that Jane Austen (a great fan of Richardson) knew a good seduction strategy when she saw one.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Amanda, I totally agree--Wickham is a libertine, and I think posseses at least some of the skills Lauren talked about in terms of having enough insight to know different ways to approach different women--after all, in addtion to seducing Lydia, he's able to make Georgiana fall in love with him and Elizabeth half-fall in love with him. I say from the text it's pretty clear Darcy is *not* a libertine. But like you, I tend to assume he knows his way around a boudoir. There's nothing in the text to support this though (as I remember).

3:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Pam, I've never read Clarissa, I confess. I love that line, and I love the idea that Jane Austen was playing off it in the Pemberley scene.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Oooh, I love "Clarissa"-- although I always wanted it to end differently. In my last book (the one that's not out yet), my heroine is a great reader and keeps trying to place the hero somewhere in her pantheon of literary archetypes. At first, she's convinced that he's an Orville (as in Lord Orville of "Evelina"). When the plot twists, she decides that he's a Lovelace, a la "Clarissa". The hardest bit for her is having to recognize him as neither an Orville or a Lovelace, but someone unique and particular.

Onto the Darcy point, I'd say Darcy is probably more of an Orville-- or a Charles Rivenhall from "The Grand Sophy." They're just so terribly competent that you assume that aspects carries over into, ahem, other aspects of their lives.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Darcy had an erotic life?

Do tell!

For the regency experts, what kind of pre-marital sex life would a well-bred upright guy like Darcy have had?

8:31 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I wanted Clarissa to end differently too, Lauren, when I saw the British television adaptation. I love the idea of your heroine trying to compare the hero to different literary characters. That seems at once so in period and so timeless (don't a lot of us do the same thing today, compare people to characters in books and movies and tv shows?). I like your comparison of Darcy to Charles Rivenhall in terms of competence in various aspects of life too :-).

Kathrynn, since I think Darcy would be too honorable (unlike Wickham) to seduce a woman who could be ruined by the affair, he'd most likely have had affairs with married women with compliant husbands or sophisticated widows.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Linda Banche said...

I don't like libertine heroes. I dislike the implicit double standard that finds sexual experience in a man attractive, but damning for a woman. I also don't like the idea of a libertine using his knowledge to manipulate women. I know these things exist, but when I'm reading for pleasure, I don't care to see them flaunted.

I also don't believe in reformed rakes. People don't change that much. Yes, romances are part fantasy, but the reformed rake is too far-fetched for me.

And the libertine hero and innocent heroine has been done to death by now.

I have to read "Beneath a Silent Moon". Charles sounds very attractive to me.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Great topic, Tracy! Lots of food for thought.

Doreen, I love Derek Craven too and I totally agree that if you are going to cast a man as a rake or libertine we need to see it! The lower he has sunk, the more powerful the love needed to redeem him, I think.

And I have no problem with a heroine who has been around the block. One of my favorite heroines is Verity/Soroya from Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan. Lets face it, both the hero and the heroine in that story are people of vast experience and jaded sexual palates, so to speak. Makes the love story that much more powerful!

Great name choices, Kalen. You'll have to let us know what you decide. It is true you need to meet and get to know the dog and then a name will just come to you.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Re the ending of Clarissa. Oh yes, Lauren.

In this book Richardson is too good a psychologist not to make it clear that Lovelace and Clarissa could have been perfect for each other: they're both the smartest person in the room, not to speak of the handsomest. And whatever you may have heard of Richardson (or your impression perhaps from reading the far inferior Pamela), the character Clarissa starts out with a neat, cutting sense of humor. There are a hundred chances for this relationship to work out -- even despite Clarissa's horrible family. But Lovelace's need to be a rake is stronger than any force in the novel. And when satisfied (but he can't be satisfied) he simply degenerates.

There were many long stretches of Clarissa I didn't enjoy. But many that absolutely shaped my take on so many issues. And Richardson was a huge influence on the Marquis de Sade -- who shaped my take on many others.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Linda, I don't like the double standard either, which is why I prefer libertine heroes paired with experienced heroines (though as I said, "Venetia" which is a classic rake-and-innocent-girl story, is one of my favorite books; it's all the execution). I think with the qualities Lauren was talking about, there's a fine line between a rake using his knowledge to manipulate women and simply understanding them and appreciating them and knowing how to talk to them. The later I find very attractive. Lauren's decidedly libertine Lord Vaughn is one of my favorite heroes I've read in the last year, because he has such wonderful understanding of Mary, the heroine, and loves her precisely for who she is.

Hope you enjoy Charles--he's definitely not a libertine!

Perhaps somewhat apropos of this conversation, my friend Monica McCarty once said that Charles was the guy you'd want to marry, but Raoul (also a character in my books) was the guy you'd want to have a fling with :-).

9:55 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Louisa, I totally agree--jaded, cynical characters with pasts finding each other can make for a powerful love story. "Claiming the Courtesan" is another good example of a book in which both the hero and the heroine have a past.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Pam, did you see the British television adaptation of "Clarissa" with Sean Bean as Lovelace? It's clear in that version as well that the relationship had a chance of working out. Which is what makes it so tragic (and Lovelace's behavior so frustrating, yet probably typical of a lot of libertines, which is why, as Linda says, the a happily-ever-after ending can be hard to pull off).

10:01 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

You know, Tracy, I disagree about Venetia.

Which is by far my favorite Heyer (though I haven't read all of them by a long shot), and to my mind surprisingly sexy. Because though the heroine is, of course, virginal, I would hardly call her innocent -- or if it's innocence, it's a wonderfully knowing, interesting, and complicated sort of innocence, "proved" in the end by the discovery she makes. (But if I say any more I'll spoil it for those who haven't read it, and I'd hate to do that.)

And no, Amanda, I haven't seen the TV Clarissa, though a young friend of mine was pretty blown away by the scene with the prostitutes.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It's funny, Pam, I hesitated over the word "innocent" when I was writing the comment about Venetia, but I had to get to work and didn't have time to consider word choices (on half a cup of coffee) so I went ahead and posted :-). Your right, Venetia isn't really innocent at all. Inexperienced might have been a better word choice. But it is still the story of a man who a libertine past and a gently bred, virginal young woman, and that distinction drives much of the conflict between them. But I think the fact that Veneta is not really, in the emotional sense, innocent makes the relationship wonderfully equal.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I did see the Sean Bean Clarissa and being pissed off that Clarissa was being such a pill. I mean come on it's Sean Bean! Which may not have been Richardson's point when he wrote the book. It just goes to show you how casting can affect your appreciation of a story. I suppose you are meant to applaud Clarissa for hanging onto her virtue when I was hoping that she would give it up to Sean Bean. I certainly would have.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

That crossed my mind as well watching "Clarissa," Elizabeth. But then he rapes her and the whole turns very dark. It's fascinating viewing the story in the light of today's historical romances which have a lot of similar elements but go in a very different (and much less dark!) direction.

4:22 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

I don't mind the ultra-experienced hero--if it's because he loves women and has some individual reason why I can't settle down. The typical rake of the romance genre is a misogynist. Not that I mind a curmudgeon, grouchy woman-hater as a hero (Catherine Coulter did this hilariously in one of her books), but when these misogynists are produced as lovely heroes we should want, I am left cold and I question the intent of the author.

But in the end, I'm one of those people who question why the romance genre is so wrapped up in the sexual histories of its protagonists. It's such a big deal that characterization hinges upon who's slept with whom and how many (at one point, after pointing out how forced her hero's promiscuity seemed, a former CP responded that the hero of a historical must be experienced in order to be the hero. Color me shocked).

Since I deal with the Edwardian era, in particularly the naughty circle around Bertie who made love affairs de rigueur, I think a romance sharper if both the h/h experience some highs and lows sexually and emotionally before getting their HEA. In the end, I question why sexual experience is considered in such a black and white manner in the American-authored, predominantly British-set historical romance market.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Good points, La Belle! I think it writing about a romantic relationship it's natural that most stories deal with whether or not the two people have been in love and/or had love affairs before (although we don't know the answer to either question about Darcy and we only do about Elizabeth because from her background we can infer she's a virgin). But I agree, excessive dwelling on the characters' sexual histories, when they aren't part of the story, can be distracting.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

You're right to ask, belle.

Perhaps it's because nowadays we have this sense that sex is something you're supposed to be good at. Which is a good and a bad thing, I suppose -- I mean why not be good at giving a partner pleasure? But on the other hand it does feel as though there's a competitive, Olympics feel to it sometimes...

I also think that in some romance fiction there's the need to imagine the good lover -- as opposed to the bad lover who we can all (or most of us anyway) remember, who made us feel ugly, unwanted, inadequate at some part of our life.

Another line of question might yield some more interesting answers. I think that romance fiction has an unspoken relationship to one very interesting idea continuum -- that of innocence vs experience (hey, that's why William Blake shows up for a walk-on role in my Almost a Gentleman). I think it's because in this unspoken set of assumptions, love brings who you "naturally" are smack up against who you "socially" are -- and when it's done right, interrogates both the terms and the quotation marks around them.

There's also probably this nasty unspoken belief subtended from the notion (not my favorite) of the alpha male -- as the leader of the pack, he's had everyone but he loves me. And these days, because we don't want to be sexist about it, we don't get rid of the alpha male, we simply posit an equal and opposite alpha female...

5:33 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Excellent, thought-provoking points, Pam! Food for another whole blog. There's also, I think, the fact that lovers don't exist in a vacuum. They have pasts that they bring to the relationship (and elements of their present and future that are separate as well, no matter how faithful and in love they are). But I like stories best where we don't just learn about their sexual and romantic pasts, but about who they are as people, their goals, ambitions, loyalties, the forces that have shaped them, the people that have been important in their lives (whether or not those people were lovers).

5:45 PM  

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