Heyer’s Damerel and The Rake Hero

I love audiobooks for re-reading, whether it’s classics I might not otherwise make time to go back to or old favorite comfort reads. I’ve been building up a stash of Georgette Heyer novels on audio, and was thrilled when an unabridged Venetia finally became available. That novel’s hero, Lord Damerel, is often described as the prototypical reformed rake. While listening to it, I foolishly said I was going to write something about rake heroes, but I’m not sure I have anything worth saying–especially when many of my Romanceland friends are bigger Heyer experts than I am. Still, here are some thoughts that I hope will spark discussion. Certainly none of these are hard and fast opinions.

What Is A Rake?

Damerel is not, I think, the first rakish hero Heyer wrote, so I wonder why he’s usually seen as the prototype for the reformed rake? I haven’t read early books like These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub (I know, I know, I’m kind of hoarding them), but aren’t their heroes rakes? Venetia is among the most romantic of the Heyer books I have read, and perhaps her sexiest; is that part of why it’s seen as the inspiration for later genre romance rakes? Also, Damerel’s rakishness is the closest to on-page of any Heyer I’ve read. A year before the events that open the book, he scandalized the staid neighborhood by spending a debauched week at the Priory with a group of dissolute friends and London lightskirts; there’s a scene in the novel where he’s drunk.

I looked “rake” up in the OED out of curiosity, or in case I was missing something. There he’s defined as “A fashionable or stylish man of dissolute or promiscuous habits.” The definition for “rakehell” offers, in addition, the idea that the rake is “immoral” and “a scoundrel.”

The Heyer rake heroes I know best–Damerel, Miles Calverley from Black Sheep (my favorite), and Oliver Carleton from Lady of Quality–don’t exactly fit these definitions. Miles and Damerel are partial outcasts from society, and none of the three dresses in the height of fashion: Heyer emphasizes their distance from the accepted mode. At the same time, they all have an individual sense of style and a careless grace that other characters notice and admire/envy. They are above the mode and the need to be fashionable as much as excluded from it.

What about “immoral scoundrels”? It’s true that they don’t espouse conventional morality (they aren’t chaste, obviously, and most of them disown their family responsibilities) and that many people around the heroine warn her against the libertine hero and try to keep them apart. But these heroes do have their own morality; the heroines refuse to see them as immoral, and the narrative voice doesn’t either, I’d say. It’s true that Miles began his rakish career by eloping with a girl from the schoolroom and Damerel by running off with a married woman, but these episodes are explained by their youth (also, the innocent girl is safely married off, scandal averted, while the rakish matron abandons Damerel for a wealthier lover. Neither is harmed by the rake hero). Since then, neither has ever seduced a virginal lady of quality; this seems to be the essence of the Romance Rake’s Code of Honor. Both Miles and Oliver are contrasted favorably in their books with fortune hunters trying to seduce very young girls. I think Venetia the noveland Damerel himself, are ambiguous/ambivalent about whether he intended to seduce Venetia. He warns her not to trust him, but this could be read as self-protective as much as a threat. He knows he might love her enough to be hurt.

What do Heyer’s rakes, none of whom are conventionally handsome or conventionally seductive, offer their heroines? Understanding and freedom. Venetia finds in Damerel the only friend she has ever known. These heroes can read the heroine’s feelings, they laugh at her jokes, they share her intellectual interests. With the rake, she can be herself and say what she thinks, something not possible with her more conventional friends and relations. All three of the heroes I’ve mentioned here rescue the heroine from annoying and stifling domestic responsibilities (well, Venetia engineers her own rescue, which is part of why I love the book). They have charm, and Heyer is great at conveying that charm. All of these couples love talking to each other–even Annis and Oliver Carleton, who are often fighting. Finally, a man (or anyone!) really listens to what the heroine has to say. What could be more seductive?

Is Damerel Reformed?

Here again, I think the book is ambiguous, and listening to it reinforced that. There are plenty of ominous warnings from those around Venetia that even if Damerel wants to reform, changing the habits of a lifetime isn’t easy.

But it doesn’t really matter, because Venetia thinks that even if he isn’t faithful, he won’t flaunt it and hurt her, and the novel did make me believe that. Venetia seems willing, at least to some extent, to accept her friend Lady Denny’s view that sexual fidelity doesn’t mean anything to men, and their little affairs don’t matter as long as they are still good husbands and fathers. It might not be my HEA, but I believed they’d remain in love and happy. I also think there’s plenty of textual evidence for the idea that Damerel will reform, and that Venetia’s friends and relations consistently underestimate him.

Is Damerel a Prototype?

Here’s where I’m really interested in the viewpoint of other readers. I can think of older romances I’ve read (Diane Farr’s Fortune Hunter, or Laura London’s Love’s a Stage, for instance) that emphasize the rake as charming rather than sexy/sexually experienced (although of course that is part of his charm–just not all of it).

My sense is that a lot of current historical romance rakes are Dukes of Slut. Their sexual prowess is central to their appeal and they are bent on seducing the heroine. (Or sometimes she’s the one bent on it). Sexual liberation is the focus of a rake-reformed story, and the magical hoo-ha is a catalyst for reform, though the heroine’s refreshing innocence often plays a part too.

Moreover, I think of these heroes as being moody/broody/wounded/damaged. They are rakes because some woman hurt them in the past, and now they can Trust No One and Never Love Again. Heyer’s Miles and Damerel explicitly reject the heroine’s attempts to read them this way. Hearts don’t stay broken, says Damerel, “an easy lover.” They long ago got over any hurt caused by that first escapade that set them on the path to rakedom. Maybe we’re not supposed to believe them, but I do.

Many of today’s rakes strike me as more like Venetia’s comic young suitor, Oswald Denny, a Byronic hero wannabe who dresses in an affectedly bohemian way and moons around yearning to fight a duel over Venetia. Everyone sees him as ridiculous.

So in this sense, I don’t see Damerel or Heyer’s other rakes as prototypes of today’s rake heroes. And I’d rather read about men with a sense of humor who love the heroine for her mind as much as her body. I’d rather the author show me how the hero frees the heroine to be herself and leave me to infer that he frees her sexually (which I think Heyer always implies) than showing me the sex and leaving me to infer the other stuff. (Though doing both is fine).

But I can’t actually point to specific historical romances that leave me with the impression that this is what today’s rakes are like, so I’m happy to be corrected. Please comment about rakes you’ve read and how you think rakishness is defined in today’s romance.

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49 Responses to Heyer’s Damerel and The Rake Hero

  1. Isobel Carr says:

    The hero of Devil’s Cub kidnaps the heroine while attenpting to run off with her more than willing little sister. But he gives a speach about not abducting ladies of quality when he figures out Mary is NOT like her sister.

    Dameral is by far my favorite of Heyer’s rakes. I love that he’s not really reformed, or rather that Venetia doesn’t want/need to reform him. She loves him as he is, flaws and all. Change him too much, and he won’t be the man she fell in love with.

    I’ve written a few slightly rakish heroes, but no Dameral-level rakes. I’m saving that up for later (just like I have yet to write a duke, LOL!). I’d put Julia Ross’s Dovenby (The Wicked Lover) in the rake category, and I’m *really* looking forward to Miranda Neville’s book for the Duke of Denford. He’s a rake, and I love him!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I do think Heyer makes certain good/desirable qualities part of her heroes’ rakishness: the things that make them “get” the heroine, that mean she can speak her mind around them. So we wouldn’t want them to be completely reformed.

  2. Shannon C. says:

    Reading this post actually caused a bit of a derail in my head.
    Would you say that the bad boys of NA or the motorcycle club members that are so popular in contemporaries should be considered rakes? The heroines of those books obviously wouldn’t use the term, but the whole “not very moral” and “good girls avoid him on principle” parts of the definition tend to point to that.
    I loved Venetia, and I read Damerel as not all that reformed in the end. It was one of the things I loved about the book. in fact, the comment that got me to read Venetia in the first place was one in which someone said, “Yeah, it’s a book where the villain gets the girl.” Which makes me think my thoughts about contemporary rakes are still on the mark.
    Sadly, no examples of rakes in modern historicals spring easily to mind, although I did remember the Jude Devereau book where the total womanizer of the set of brothers gets the heroine delivered to him naked and wrapped in a rug by her enemies.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I was thinking about the bad boys of NA and motorcycle-club type heroes when I wrote this! Genre romance definitely likes to recycle or, to put it more positively, give new life to tropes by presenting them in a new guise. I haven’t read enough of those types of heroes–well, none really–to say how similar they are to Heyer-type rakes, but I definitely think they are in the Romance Rake tradition.

      And people who love Kristen Ashley often comment on how her heroes really get and support the heroines, at least eventually, and bring them into a new life where they are really at home, so I think there might be a parallel with Heyer rakes there.

      Some of these heroes might be closer to true, historical rakes, really; they are much further outside society than most romance rakes, and may act in truly amoral or immoral ways, if not in regard to the heroine.

  3. Sunita says:

    I think Romance rakes are not exactly the OED (or Laclos etc.) version of rakes. It’s hard to convincingly write a true rake who is reformed by love. I think Damerel and Miles are basically done raking before they meet Venetia and Abby respectively, or at least the pleasure has mostly worn off. Avon, by contrast, may give up women, but I don’t see him fundamentally changing his moral code; he changes his behavior because he doesn’t want to hurt Leonie, not because he’s seen the error of his ways. Which is I suppose about as convincing a transformation through love as you can get. The other so-called rakish heroes, like Vidal, I think are just boys who haven’t settled down yet, the Georgian version of college dudes.

    I think that Romland can’t often have truly rakish, i.e. amoral or immoral, male characters because they’re very hard to redeem. Most of the rakes turn out to be damaged or something similar that the heroine can “fix.” Some of Anne Stuarts’s heroes come closest for me, and I don’t believe they really change, I think they just modify slightly because they honestly love the heroines and don’t want to hurt them, in the Avon way. But the HEAs aren’t always believable (or well spelled out). I’m fine with that, because to me the point of the romance is the love relationship, not that True Love transforms bad boys into good ones.

    I’d love to read your thoughts on Avon. Or Belmanoir (the original version of Avon), who totally steals The Black Moth out from under the main couple.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think you’re right about the romance rakes not being the true historical type (or the literary figure of the Restoration period). And when they are–would Sebastian in To Have and to Hold qualify?–I am often not really comfortable with the book as a romance.

      In some ways I see Heyer’s rakes meeting the heroines half way, at least when we’re talking about the older, more independent heroines like Abby, Venetia, and Annis. He frees her from some of her entrapment in conventions, she brings him back into the fold of society, at least somewhat. They aren’t too tied down by demands of annoying relations, but they are tied to each other. (And I think that this is more social comedy than romance–Heyer is more interested in the social working out of these relationships than in transformation by love. Or maybe that’s just what I find more interesting/developed in the novels).

      I’d agree that Miles, especially is done raking (in fact, it’s not at all clear to me what kind of life he led in India, when business kept him interested–his raking might all have been done as a very young man). And while Damerel is still keeping it up, he does seem kind of bored by it. Why did he come down to the Priory in the first place? (We don’t exactly know, but he seems ready to become interested not just in Venetia but in his estates). Plus they are middle-aged! Maybe they are just too tired to keep up the orgies.

      • rmaitzen says:

        I’m just rereading Black Sheep, coincidentally, and I was thinking about the point you make here, that Miles’s life in India remains a bit obscure but we don’t have any specific reason to think he’s been a “rake” since the failed elopement — just unconventional (signaled especially through his carelessness about his clothes). But a key point to the romance here, as you say, is that he meets Abby in an interesting territory where she feels free to be more like herself than if she had to fulfill the roles she’s expected to by the others around her — same with Venetia. I think at one point Abby says that in him she has found a ‘counterpart,’ something she never expected. I think @sonomalass is right (below) that there’s something importantly liberating about these men’s acceptance of women in something besides the pit/pedestal alternatives.

        Vidal is a more conventional rake, but one of the charms of Devil’s Cub is how hard he falls for Mary because of her brains and independent spirit. I’m not sure how far that makes it OK that his original intentions (including to her) are wholly dishonorable, but he’s pretty impressed that she shoots him when he makes his move. I hope you read Devil’s Cub soon as I’d like to know what you think of it!

  4. @Sunita Pretty much what you said. Historically the Regency rakes (and it was a thing) were kind of disgusting. Man sluts and not remotely respectful of women. They might not seduce innocent girls of good family but most likely had no such scruples when it came to the lower classes. Not acceptable to the modern reader.

    A true rake who is redeemed is the hero of Edith Layton’s The Duke’s Wager. I adore the book and the hero but there’s a scene at the beginning where I have to turn off my STD warning system. Another who fits the Sunita’s definition – reforms to make the heroine he loves happy – is Saint in Suzanne Enoch’s London’s Greatest Scoundrel. He quite gleefully sets out to seduce the very proper heroine and the book is a hoot (a long time keeper) despite a finale with a public declaration which is a pet hate of mine.

    @Isobel. Thanks for kind words about Denford. I’m not sure I see him as a rake but I’m lousy at pigeon-holing my characters. One of these days I will take on the challenge of writing a *really* awful guy and making him sympathetic. Not easy to do.

    Finally, re. Damerel, I totally believe in his HEA with Venetia; his jokes about orgies and infidelity are just that – jokes. That couple will be happily laughing forever. I will add one more comment about Heyer: I find that the British, by and large, are less uptight and more forgiving about adultery than Americans. I would be very cautious about writing an adulterous MC for the US market but personally unfaithful characters – in the right context – don’t bother me.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think I have that Enoch book in my TBR somewhere!

      I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, or a class thing, or what, exactly, but I agree that Heyer’s attitude towards adultery is not that of genre romance in general–and of course not, because she wasn’t really writing genre romance. Her characters are most certainly not middle class and I always feel that she very clearly gives them not middle-class morality. I’m thinking of Hugo teasing the Darracott’s by saying “I’ve always been respectable” in The Unknown Ajax–that’s one of the ways he plays on their expectation that he’s not a gentleman.

      Whether Damerel is truly reformed or not, I don’t think the novel presents any possible future straying as a failure of the relationship.

    • GrowlyCub says:

      Miranda, that really awful guy can be the older man in that May/December rom you are contemplating. 🙂

  5. Janine Ballard says:

    I haven’t read Venetia so I can’t comment on Damerel, but I agree with Sunita’s assessments of Avon and Vidal. And it may explain in part why I liked Vidal better than Avon (but then again I haven’t read The Black Moth and maybe I would view Avon differently if I had. Having read only These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub in that series, it’s hard for me not to see Avon as a near pedophile).

    I agree with both Sunita and Miranda that most Romancelandia rakes aren’t true rakes and that that’s because true rakes are really off-putting and redemption / reformation isn’t easy to pull off convincingly. With regard to infidelity, that’s also a very tricky trope, because even if unfaithful spouse is genuinely remorseful, once the trust within a marriage has been shattered, recovering it can be very, very hard.

    I think that the redemption / reformation trope was more common in the 1990s; not just rake redemption but other kinds of redemption as well. When I think back to books like Balogh’s The Notorious Rake or Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer, those heroes weren’t true rakes but they had issues like estrangement from family members or alcoholism to overcome.

    I didn’t love either of these books but I enjoyed other titles by these as well as other authors which had at their core that concept of the character who had to overcome some internal struggle or personal issue in order to find happiness.

    That’s actually the kind of book I’m trying to write, because that’s the kind of story I miss. I don’t know if it was the decrease in wordcount, the increase in sex scenes, or something else that made such books less common than they used to be, but as a reader, I’m hungry for that type of book.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I don’t think that Heyer would necessarily see trust being shattered by infidelity–it really depends on the people involved. Or at least, not by MALE infidelity. I’m not so sure women get the same license. Her heroines certainly don’t take it.

      Real reformation, explored in psychological depth, takes time and space to pull off. I don’t think that the romance publishing world today is kind to books like that. I can just see the reviews: “too much introspection.” No one seems to believe in character development as “action” anymore.

      • Janine Ballard says:

        I meant that a majority of today’s readers, at least in the US, see infidelity as trust-shattering, and therefore I think it is tricky for an author writing today to pull off that type of plot. Mind you I think it’s been done, but it isn’t common.

        Re. real reformation/redemption and today’s publishing world– while it’s certainly not the dominant paradigm, there have been a few recent books where redemption was an important element and explored in some depth. I’m thinking of Courtney Milan’s Unlocked and The Heiress Effect. But you’re certainly right that it isn’t the easiest route to take.

      • Laura Vivanco says:

        Heyer’s False Colours includes a female character who was unfaithful to her husband. She’s not the heroine but she is presented sympathetically.

    • Sunita says:

      Leonie is 19 in TOS, so whatever one thinks of Avon, “near-pedophile” isn’t really fair to him. He’s around 40, but 19 wasn’t a child then or now, and there’s no textual evidence that he systematically preferred young women and/or virgins; quite the reverse.

      • Janine Ballard says:

        Sorry but what I meant by near-pedophile wasn’t that Leonie was a child but that the dynamic between them was one that resembled that of a child and an adult. I felt similarly about The Windflower, and to a lesser extent about Gaffney’s Sweet Everlasting. Sometimes anything that smacks of adult / child can make me feel to uneasy about a book.

        I read These Old Shades only once (without reading The Black Moth) and that was in 2002 so I had to go dig up what I wrote on the topic back then to refresh my memory. It wasn’t much, but here it is:

        “For much of the book though, the relationship wasn’t very romantic.
        Leonie was 19, Justin over 40, and he pretty much treated her as a
        child and she treated him with hero-worship. ”

        “What bothered me was her hero worship of Avon.
        I think I don’t really care for hero worshipping unless it is
        outgrown at some point, especially when accompanied by a big age
        difference. I liked Leonie, but I didn’t think she and Avon belonged
        together in any romantic way. ”

        I also had a discussion with a friend who was bothered by the age difference between Leonie and Avon. My friend pointed out that the romantic feelings between Avon and Leonie were a lot more told than shown and suggested that the age difference might have been less disturbing had that not been the case. I thought she was onto something.

        I think i may have seen an element that reminded me of grooming in Avon’s dynamic toward Leonie as well, but I can’t find notes on that and with the passage of time, it’s something I’m less sure of.

  6. sonomalass says:

    I feel that rakes understand heroines better, and treat them as people, because in a way they’ve already walked away from society’s Madonna/whore, woman on a pedestal, way of classifying women. They have had relationships with women; they often have mistresses with who they have laughed and been honest in a way that the more conventional men of their society have not. They can see that sexual feelings don’t make a woman “bad,” and they aren’t interested in women who aren’t in touch with their sensual side. I see this being very empowering for heroines like Venetia; they can be themselves with such a man.

    • pamela1740 says:

      @sonomalass This sums up what I’ve been thinking, without being able to articulate it, so beautifully and concisely, I just want to say, “what she said”! Rakes, if we define them as men who are self aware (at least regarding their own willingness to break society’s codes for behavior, or even morals), can provide space for their womenfolk (sometimes sisters and/or other female relatives, in addition to heroines) to explore what it’s like to reject society’s definitions of good/bad behavior and female roles. It’s always a bit dicey to introduce GWTW to a romanceland discussion (for one thing, it’s not a romance), but I am reminded of Rhett Butler encouraging Scarlett’s “bad” (honest, blunt, business-like, “unfeminine”) behavior because he “gets” her and recognizes a fellow rule-breaker, while at the same time deploring her many hypocrisies and lack of self-awareness.

      I just picked up a Kristen Ashley book for the first time last night, so I was thinking about this great post, and the outlaw biker as possible rake/ bad boy hero as I read the first couple of chapters. Certainly the glorification of drinking and promiscuity among a group of young men feels like it could translate back to an earlier century of rakehells. I think there might also be a parallel with the way they go from frequent hook-ups with multiple partners to sexual fidelity with the chosen “old lady.” And the “band of brothers” aspect of motorcycle club romances is interesting to compare to earlier romance rake heroes – I’m not sure if traditional romance rakes may have been more unique figures, rather than members of a rake dude group. It feels like with many historical romance series, all the heroes may have slightly “rakish” characteristics but there’s usually one of the bunch who’s the card-carrying super rake.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Yes, I agree–but I think Sunita is right that this support of women/the heroine, encouragement of their self-expression, freeing them from conventions, is a feature of ROMANCE rakes, rakes as a trope, rather than “real” rakes (or even, I think, fictional rakes written in the Restoration/Regency). Those guys were bad. They ruined women. I think PAMELA with its marriage ending is an outlier in this kind of story, and CLARISSA more the norm. But I wouldn’t insist on that, because it’s outside my period of expertise.

        • pamela1740 says:

          Yes, I didn’t say this very well, but I was not thinking about the origins of the trope, more the way the rake is manifested in later fiction, and yes, especially romance fiction. That certain aspects of the rake hero get magnified, and also he appears in more mainstream fiction, I think — like a Rhett Butler character.

      • I love the comparison of the motorcycle gangs to historical rakes. It makes me understand the appeal of that milieu which had somewhat baffled me. I think I still prefer the historical ones 🙂

    • Erin Satie says:

      You’re reminding me of a conversation I recently had about Don Draper. He’s awful to the women he has sex with, but also better at understanding the women he has non-sexual relationships. He accepts that they have ability, complexity, while male colleagues who are more “decent” remain hidebound & conventional.

  7. GrowlyCub says:

    I wanted Tracy to get the girl (Black Moth), except she’s such a wet blanket and the hero so boring that they deserve each other. 🙂 Tracy and Frank are probably the closest Heyer got to bromance/slash without necessarily trying.

    I always thought Avon ‘did women’ because that’s what affluent Georgian males did, not because he really felt an overwhelming need for lots of sex or variety, so never considered that he gave them up in order to not hurt Leonie. I do think he gives more thought to his actions/other people’s comfort/needs after he meets Leonie because he fears she would think less of him if he didn’t. Which I think is kinda what Sunita said, but not quite, but my brain’s too muddled to make it clearer right now. 🙂

    I’m struck by Janine’s point about Edmund and Reggie as not true rakes because I feel as far as rom heroes go they are pretty far out there. Both tried to seduce and then abduct gently born women, were sexually promiscuous and Reggie is an alcoholic who’s suffering from blackouts and violent rages while under the influence. I think Freddy (Dancing with Clara) is also pretty close to an OED rake, he’s dapper in dress, a compulsive gambler and womanizer and, man, is he ever unfaithful. I used to get physically ill when reading those bits, but in later rereads have mellowed some. Clara is pretty close to Venetia in the attitude towards that but from a different starting point, I think. Hers is all about ‘I love you and if you fail, I’ll forgive you because of that,’ whereas Venetia seems to come from the point of view of ‘I know you love me, we laugh together, you get me, and you having sex with other ppl just isn’t that important to me.’ Btw, I don’t think either man will, although I think that Freddy is wise to stay away from town because his gambling is a true addiction.

    And last but not least, I’ll reiterate my twitter observation that while there is a lot of textev for Venetia’s equanimity with regards to Damerel’s possible extramarital exploits I didn’t see any that made me think Damerel would consider or feel a need for them. After reading Kloester’s bio with its allusions to Heyer’s low interest in intercourse/physical closeness and to possible other sexual partners of her husband, I feel Venetia’s attitude is probably a fairly close reflection of Heyer herself.

    • Janine Ballard says:

      In The Trysting Place Edmund convinces Felicity to elope with him — that is not an abduction! He is also a completely different character than he is later in The Notorious Rake; such a different character that I can’t think of Edmund in TNR as the same person who did those things in TTP. Balogh rebooted the character to such a degree that I can’t consider TTP Edmunds’ actions part of TNR Edmund’s past.

      In The Notorious Rake Edmund is portrayed as a sensitive soul who was wronged by his family. He does not change profoundly so much as he is reunited with his family and his wounds are healed.

      Re.Reggie in The Rake and the Reformer, I can’t recall the prequel book at all anymore, but again, I mainly remember that he had to go through a similar process to the 12 Steps program and kick his addiction. He wasn’t a callous person at his core, but his alcoholism had destroyed his life and he had to rebuild it.

      To my thinking a real rake is someone like (arguably) Jervaulx from Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, Sebastian from Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, or the hero of Layton’s The Duke’s Wager (I know his name but let’s not mention it since it’s a spoiler). All three are initially willing to take chances with other people’s happiness and well-being to alleviate their boredom. It’s that kind of callous selfishness that I consider the hallmark of a real rake.

      • GrowlyCub says:

        I clearly need to reread TTP because I misremembered him as wanting to both seduce and abduct. Reggie did some pretty ugly things to the heroine of The Diabolical Baron and I’d say he really fits your definition. Hmm, I’d never have thought of Jervaulx as a rake. Too busy with mathematics but I’ve only read it twice (not fond of Maddie at all) so I probably just don’t remember.

  8. AMG says:

    Fabulous comments, with lots of food for thought. I was always interested in the amorality of Avon & Vidal, and how that contributed to their ‘rakedom’. There’s a line in Devil’s Cub when Vidal has just burst in on Mary and Avon. As Avon leaves the youngsters to their love-making, he remarks to Mary that “BTW, Vidal’s morals are rather better than mine” (to paraphrase).

  9. Janine Ballard says:

    I take your point about Reggie, then. I think I read The Rake and the Reformer before I read The Diabolical Baron and that probably colored my perception of him.

    With regard to Jervaulx, I said it was arguable in his case, but here is my case for it.

    The opening scene finds Jervalux in bed with his lover, Eydie Sutherland, whom we quickly learn is married and pregnant with a child Jervaulx fathered. Eydie’s husband arrives and catches Jervaulx in his house; this results in a duel in which Jervuaulx kills the husband and suffers a stroke.

    Later on in the book Jervaulx is described as having been a rake; in fact I think he owns up to it and if I’m not mistaken his mother locks him up in the asylum because she believes his aphasia is the result of his immoral lifestyle.

    He is described as a rake and a womanizer and there is a scene in which Maddy finds miniatures of his former lovers in his home. At first she thinks these paintings are of his sisters; later she realizes they are not. There is also a lock of Eydie’s hair which Maddy discovers at the same time, but she does not realize what it is until later, when Eydie shows up on the doorstep to demand Jervaulx marry her (by then he is already married to Maddy).

    Finally, Jervaulx sends for Eydie’s baby and calls it “the parcel” in his note, which Maddy discovers. I think that is the straw that breaks the camel’s neck for her — that it turns out he fathered a child with a married woman and that he refers to that child as a parcel.

    I read this aspect of Jervaulx’s character — his past as a reckless rake — as being the central conflict between him and Maddy, who has a very different set of values. I sympathized with Maddy’s struggle to accept his more decadent lifestyle as a duke because of this issue.

    • GrowlyCub says:

      I have zero recollection of any of that and, yes, being reminded I totally see why you call him a rake. My dislike of Maddy has to do with religion of which I’m not a fan in general. It’s amazing what memories stick and what information is ‘suppressed’ or forgotten. Thanks for explaining/reminding me.

  10. Laura Vivanco says:

    “What bothered me was her hero worship of Avon. I think I don’t really care for hero worshipping unless it is outgrown at some point”

    I didn’t think she hero-worshipped him: I think she respects his intellect but that’s because he really is almost omniscient as depicted by Heyer. It seemed to me that Leonie’s well aware of his faults/sins and doesn’t much care because she’s also single-minded and approves of violence against those she dislikes.

    • Sunita says:

      I read them the same way, Laura. I think Heyer was writing them to be kindred spirits in many ways.

      • GrowlyCub says:

        So did I. Although I remember reading somewhere that Leonie in the original version was quite a bit younger. I can’t remember where and how much credence could be given to that. But even if she had been younger, there is quite a bit of textev pointing to her maturity level far outstripping her years.

        That said, with the repeated use of ‘my child’ and similar I can see where Janine is coming from. I’ve always loved May/December and I read it as a teen, though older than you were, so the dynamic didn’t bother me. I’ll admit that in more recent rereads I’ve felt stirrings of unease remembering that reaction by other readers.

  11. Sunita says:

    “Sorry but what I meant by near-pedophile wasn’t that Leonie was a child but that the dynamic between them was one that resembled that of a child and an adult. I felt similarly about The Windflower, and to a lesser extent about Gaffney’s Sweet Everlasting.”

    I think we just read the characters and their relationships very differently. I don’t think either Leonie or Merry are child-like (I haven’t read Sweet Everlasting). Leonie lived on the streets and is described as being wise beyond her years in some ways, and Merry has regular internal monologues where she upbraids herself for being silly, naive, etc. (and it’s not as if Devon is that old). I find both characters’ “girlish” behavior to be affect more than a marker of maturity.

    “My friend pointed out that the romantic feelings between Avon and Leonie were a lot more told than shown and suggested that the age difference might have been less disturbing had that not been the case.”

    As I read TOS, the book is just understated (perhaps to a fault) in the way that it reveals Leonie’s and Avon’s feelings. Since both are complicit in the charade that Leonie is a boy, and neither is certain that the other knows the truth, they can’t be overt. But I found plenty of clues of affection and love, certainly on the rereads (I think on my first read I was just credulous and not thinking much below the surface, but I was 12 or 13).

    • Janine Ballard says:

      Yes, I agree we read the books very differently. The Devon / Merry dynamic was even more disturbing to me; Merry came across as having the naivete of a girl no older than sixteen at most (her awareness of it did not convince me it was otherwise) and in the section I read (up until she takes the boat out alone– that’s where I quit) Devon seemed like a stalker. I seem to recall him literally circling her like a predator– but maybe I’m remembering wrong?

      Leonie at least was not so naive but yes, Growly is right, that “My child” stuff really squicked me. Additionally if I recall correctly, Leonie got violently angry whenever someone besmirched Avon in any way, and it seemed very much like the reaction of a child to an insult or transgression against a hero worshiped father-figure. With that said, it’s been twelve years since I read TOS so I could be misremembering. I found both books unsettling; obviously your mileage may (and in this case does) vary.

      • Sunita says:

        On my recent reread I found Merry to be much less clueless than I expected her to be. But then, to be honest, I don’t know what it would mean, in 1814, to be 16 as opposed to 18.

        I followed the twitter conversation about discomfort at terms like child, enfant, petite, etc. and I’ve been thinking about them. With respect to TOS, I think part of the difference for me is that “ma petite” in French doesn’t necessarily mean diminutive in the same sense it does in English. It’s a modifier to an endearment, so “mon petit chou” doesn’t mean smaller than “mon chou,” but just the same endearment with greater emphasis. At least that’s how I understand the use of “petit/e” in French terms of this construction.

        I always interpreted Avon as using “child” as the English version of “enfant,” which while translated that way literally, doesn’t have quite the same meaning. And I assumed he was reminding himself of the impermissibility of the relationship, not that he literally saw her as a child, because he indicates repeatedly that he does not see her that way.

      • Laura Vivanco says:

        Thinking a bit more about the “my child” thing, I’m wondering whether contemporary heroes who call their heroine “baby” or “babe” give you the same impression?

      • Janine Ballard says:

        Laura, your question is an interesting one. I have to admit I’m not wild about “baby” but “babe” doesn’t bother me as much– because it was popular when I was in college and I know its figurative meaning is something like “person I find attractive.” My husband and I still call each other “babe” every once in a while (we met during those years when it was commonly in use in our age group), and I guess I don’t mind partly because of my familiarity with it and partly because it goes both ways.

        In part it’s because in romance descriptors like “little one” and “ma petite” are applied in only one direction that I dislike them so.

    • sonomalass says:

      “As I read TOS, the book is just understated (perhaps to a fault) in the way that it reveals Leonie’s and Avon’s feelings. Since both are complicit in the charade that Leonie is a boy, and neither is certain that the other knows the truth, they can’t be overt. ”

      Yes to this. It’s one of the things I find refreshing/bracing about TOS, that the sentiment is even more understated than usual for Heyer, which is saying something. In general, I turn to Heyer as a palate cleanser after reading less subtle romance, but TOS is the extreme example (of the books I’ve read).

      I didn’t get the pedophile vibe either, mostly because it seemed to me that Avon was resisting, rather than welcoming, involvement with Leonie at first. It’s her energy, her passion for living, which are at least partly due to her youth, that makes her so irresistible to him — she gives him a new view of the world. But he isn’t looking for that until she brings it, so it never felt to me like he was predatory.

      • Yes! Avon resists his attraction to Leonie and she has to chase him down. I agree with Sunita about the French origins of the Leonie/Avon endearments. However, quite a number of Heyer’s heroes call their heroines “my child” and it always grates on me. But it’s a minor thing and doesn’t stop me enjoying the books.

      • Just wanted to add re. “my child” vs. “babe” that I don’t mind the latter because it goes both ways, as Janine points out. I cannot imagine a Heyer heroine addressing a man as “my child.” I realize the implied condescension from man to woman is true to the age (though the actual usage, like much of Heyer, sounds early 20th century to my ear) but we make our choices about which early nineteenth-century attitudes we emphasize.

  12. Liz Mc2 says:

    Thanks for the great discussion, everyone! I knew if I posted something people would have interesting things to say. And now I think I MUST read These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub this summer.

    • GrowlyCub says:

      And the Black Moth (preferably that one first). BM is her first book written when she was still a teen. It shows, but you can also see why she became such a great writer.

      • Isobel Carr says:

        Black Moth always makes me want to weep with frustration that she was THAT GOOD at that age! And yes, I love its connection to ToS (the main couple of BM are the neighbors that Leonie bumps into when living at Avon’s estate in England, which is another nice touchback).

  13. Kathryn says:

    I just finished a reread of Black Sheep the other day and started thinking about the differences between Damerel and Miles who are two of my favorite Heyer’s heroes.

    Miles had a long history of being rebellious and unconcerned about what the rest of the world thought about him. He was tossed out of Eaton and sent down from university. Before he was exiled to India, his friends and he liked to party with dashing young actresses and prostitutes and snub their noses at the ton. Part of his wildness is apparently driven by his rebellion against his own hypocritical gambling-addicted father and brother, who are obsessed with their social status, but part of his wildness is apparently because for Miles being a gentlemen is boring — the social routine and conventions of his class are for him mind-numbingly dull. As he tells Abby going to India and being forced to participate in business were the best things that happened to him — he really enjoyed it. (Although I suspect that Miles’ way of conducting business in India was probably highly problematical and unethical at times.) What redeems Miles (and makes it possible for me at least to not think too much about the sources of his wealth) is that to the people he likes, Miles is a good friend. That’s what I thinks propelled him in his younger days to elope with Celia — he in part wanted to help her escape from a stultifying marriage. There are glimpses of this aspect of Miles throughout Black Sheep — the fact that he nurses Oliver on the ship and then makes sure that he gets to Bath or the short scenes where he sees his old friends, who are pleased to see him, and asks them for help in setting up his scheme to con Stacy and of course the con itself. I have the impression that once Miles had a new interest — growing his business in India — he outgrew his need to be rakish. He’ll probably settle quite happily with Abby at Danecourt and keep improving his estate and growing his business.

    Damerel’s youth was very different than Miles’. He was an only child, a dedicated classics scholar, who excelled at university and was being groomed for a prestigious diplomatic career. From what is said in Venetia he was a slightly naive, earnest, romantic young man, who, unlike Miles, happily subscribed to the social conventions of his class because he had always been rewarded and praised. I don’t think it’s so much the married woman, who left him for her Italian nobleman, that turned Damerel into a rake. It’s that everyone, whom he admired and respected, deserted and rejected him when he found himself embroiled in scandal. He discovered that his parents’ love and society’s respect were conditional and there was no tolerance for error. I also think to a certain extent Damerel internalized the idea that because he caused a scandal, this meant he was indeed a wicked person and undeserving of forgiveness. It doesn’t occur to Miles that he should give up Abby when her family pressures her — but it does occur to Damerel that he is not worthy of Venetia and that he should give her up.

    Damerel’s raking strikes me as a way of him trying to hide his own hurt and pain at being rejection and as a way of coping with the loss of all he loved. For the most part I fall into the camp that thinks Damerel won’t cheat sexually on Venetia (although I also agree that sexually cheating is not an issue for Venetia because she knows that he loves and respects her). I’ve always thought that part of the reason Damerel came to Yorkshire to his estate is because he is just tired of being a rake. Unlike Miles, he hasn’t been lucky enough (until he meets Venetia and also Aubrey) to discover something that interests him and gives him a purpose. It’s Venetia and Aubrey that give him purpose — they help rediscover his love of learning, a way back into society, and Venetia sees his faults and still offers him respect and unconditional love that will support him even if he makes a mistake.

  14. So I wrote this http://popularromanceproject.org/talking-about-romance/2578/ at one point, which summarizes a lot of my thinking but I’ll extrapolate from that to add this:

    1. There is no such thing as a modern rake because rakes aren’t bad boys or womanizers. Rakes are defined not just by what they do, but how they think. The ideologies and cultural climates that allowed for the rise of the rake–who comes about in English literature duringh the Restoration period (E. Beresford Chancellor wrote a history in the 1920’s called “The Lives of the Rakes” which begins with Charles II and ends with the Regency) and dwindles away at the beginning of the 19th–simply don’t exist anymore. Rakes are kind of like duels in that way.
    2. This is because rakes are heavily connected to an aristocratic culture, the demise of which probably doesn’t need an explanation. Rakes are, first and foremost, gentlemen. A middle class or lower class man cannot, by definition, be a rake. He can be a cad or a fortune hunter or a dandy, but not a rake.
    3. This is because rakes operate under a certain level of privilege and class entitlement. They are cirminal in a lot of ways, but their criminality is is the kind that never (or almost never) gets prosecuted because of the power and wealth they have access to.
    4. I agree with everyone who said it is difficult to write a real rake because real rakes were usually horrible people. Well, they ran the gamut, but they are never people they you’d call good. You’ve got everyone from Charles II, who was quite lovable in his own way and reportedly incredibly fond and affectionate and somewhat soft-hearted, to Charterais who was a rapist and a monster.
    5. That said, I think they only way you can write a rake is to write one who is redeemed, not reformed. The difference, in my view, is that reformation means you re-form the person–they take a new shape, beccome a different person. Redemption, on the other hand, is a kind of rescue. When you are redeemed you are not turned into a different person, but a better version of yourself. People who are rakes aren’t generally a comfortable sort of people. Even the best versions of themselves are likely to be . . . off. I don’t know if this makes any sense.
    6. I prefer rakes who are rakish because they are rakish and not because they have some dark past. Or I prefer rakes who are rakish because they are aristocratic men and they can. That makes total and complete sense to me.
    7. Rakes are appealing because of libertine philosophy which really makes an art out of seduction. Seduction isn’t just about getting the woman to have sex with you, it’s about really destroying her emotionally, having command over her person. A libertine likes a subject–subjects are more fun to ruin than objects because they are more challenging, so to speak. It’s a game. It needs two players. A libertine isn’t going to bother to seduce a dairy maid because he doesn’t have to. He could just have her or buy her or just give her a few false promises. He doesn’t have to get her to love him or believe in him or trust him because of class. So in “Pamela”, there’s a way in which Mr. B already marks her as his equal because he bothers with a seduction in the first place.
    8. That means, in order to go about properly seducting someone, you kind of have to get to know them. This is dangerous on both sides. For the woman, it means not only ruin in terms of reputation but also psychologically. For the rake, it means you might get caught in your own trap and fall in love with the lady.
    9. I don’t think that Damerel is a rake anymore or at least, there might be something leftover–he does grab and forcefully kiss Venetia at the beginning, but he’s more or less done doing that sort of thing before they even meet. But his rakishness was never about the exertion of class privilege on women of the same class in order to break their hearts, which I think is the thing that is at the heart of being a rake: you are purposefully trying to break hearts and hymens.

    Which is why you can’t really be a rake now. You can break hearts. You can break hymens, but there isn’t the same culture apparatus in place where you can really ruin someone in the way a seduction would in 1757. In fact, I’m not entirely sure seduction is a thing that exists anymore.

  15. willaful says:

    I just came across my review of Lord of Sin by Madeline Hunter and thought it might be worth adding to the rake discussion: “I think this is one of the most thoughtful depictions of a historical rake I’ve ever seen; Hunter doesn’t excuse his behavior with some tortured sob story, but creates a person who is deeply interested in all aspects of sexuality, including aesthetic aspects, and who is deeply offended by the hypocrisy and repression of his environment. His inevitable reform for monogamy is not difficult (this is a romance, after all) but is something he has to think about a bit. ”

    Other notable rakes of this type?

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