(In honor of Read-a-Romance Month, I am re-reading my all-time favorite romance novel, The Windflower and remarking on how my perceptions of the book differ this time around).
In the Sizzling Book Club chat about The Windflower back in May, some readers remarked that they could not like Devon because he was abusive toward Merry, and his only redeeming quality seemed to be that he did not actually rape her.
In the early 1980s, a lot of classic romance novels featured villainous heroes, some of whom actually did rape the heroine. Even at the time, I found most of those books to be distasteful (although some provided unintentional comedy entertainment because they were so ridiculous). I wondered if I only liked Devon because I was too young to know better when I first read the book, or if I was willing to cut him some slack because I liked the book so much for other reasons.
Reading it this time, in the scene where Merry first encounters Devon, I realized that he reminded me of James Bond. He was competent, ruthless, and utterly convinced of his ability to charm any woman out of her secrets and her virtue simultaneously. In that first encounter, he has good reason to believe that Merry is engaged in some sort of intrigue that could endanger all of his colleagues. I did not feel that his behavior was beyond the pale.
In their second encounter, aboard ship, his behavior is worse. I do not recall if he does genuinely grovel and apologize later on in the book. I know that he will come to genuinely love Merry and treat her with tenderness and affection. I will have to see if the redemption arc works by modern standards (the hero is expected to grovel in proportion to his earlier bad behavior).
I suspect that readers who find James Bond appealing are more likely to enjoy this book than those who are not Bond fans.
Something else I noticed this time around is that my perception of Rand Morgan (the pirate captain who is also Devon's half-brother) when I read the book 30 years ago was based less upon his actual description than upon my preconceived idea that he should look like Blackbeard. I actually pictured him as Brian Blessed might have portrayed Blackbeard, which was a completely mistaken impression. He is not described as having a beard, and he is presumably rather fit (and probably at least a few years younger than I am now).