Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Favorite Rakes

I've been thinking about some of my favorite rakes from 30+ years of reading romances. Some of them were heroes, and some were secondary characters, but they were all men who enjoyed the company of women for friendship as well as for sex. They were all sex-positive, not slut-shaming (philogynist, not misogynist). They were not bitter and mistrustful due to a toxic mother or ex. It seems to me that a rake of this sort is a much better candidate for a committed, long-term relationship than one who needs to learn that women are human beings who are worth talking to.

Here are the fictional rakes whom I remember most fondly even many years later, in chronological (for me) order. I've listed the year in which I read the relevant book(s). For some reason, the books I read in the 1990s didn't have memorable rakes of this type, so there is a lengthy gap.

Spider Elliott from Scruples by Judith Krantz (ca. 1980) - My first example of the species, encountered when I was very young and impressionable. Despite having his heart broken by a beautiful actress, Spider did not resent women in general. He was a considerate (and enthusiastic) lover who also developed a strong platonic friendship with a female colleague. It didn't hurt that in the 1980s TV movie, he was played by my crush at the time, Dirk Benedict from Battlestar Galactica.

Raven from The Windflower by Tom and Sharon Curtis (1984) - Like Spider, Raven was a secondary character. He was also far too young and clueless to be a good relationship prospect. However, I have no doubt that the teenaged Caribbean pirate grew up and settled down with some lucky woman 20-some years later. Unlike Cat, who had serious emotional baggage, and Devon, who had some unpleasant attitudes towards women, Raven was the kind of guy you could comfortably hang out with all night at a party. He would undoubtedly proposition you, but he would cheerfully accept "no" for an answer and still enjoy the conversation.

Sir Gawain (late 1980s) - In college, I took as many medieval literature courses as my schedule could accommodate. I developed a strong love for Arthurian romances. For hundreds of years, before Sir Thomas Malory's works were written, Sir Gawain was the most popular hero of English-language Arthurian tales. He was known for his courtesy and charm, as well as his numerous romantic conquests. Malory, drawing on the French Vulgate cycle, made Sir Lancelot the pre-eminent hero, and Gawain's character was somewhat blackened in contrast. Some modern authors have given Gawain his due, notably Thomas Berger in Arthur Rex and Sharan Newman in her Guinevere Trilogy.

Colin Bridgerton from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (2002) - This is my favorite book in the Bridgerton series. Colin is not only handsome and charming, he is kind to wallflowers. He treats socially awkward Penelope with respect and forges a friendship with her long before he feels a spark of physical attraction. As a former chubby wallflower myself, I found him irresistible.

Rupert Carsington from Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase (2006) - When he meets Daphne Pembroke, Rupert is entirely honest about his character traits:
“I may be stupid,” Rupert said, “but I’m irresistibly attractive.”...“And being a great, dumb ox,” he went on, “I’m wonderfully easy to manage.”

Colin Sandhurst from A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare (2012) -  Colin never sleeps alone. Literally -- he suffers from severe nightmares, due to a childhood trauma, when he falls asleep without the comfort of a woman beside him. He does not demand sex from his bed partners, but he won't turn it down if it's offered. When bluestocking Minerva Highwood bribes him to take her to Edinburgh, his personal sleep disorder forces them into close proximity during the journey, and Minerva finds the whole experience very educational.

Adrian Hawkhurst from Joanna Bourne's Spymaster series (2015) - When I read The Spymaster's Lady, I found young Hawker more compelling than the book's hero. Despite his brutal Artful Dodger upbringing in London's rookeries, he managed to develop a tender appreciation for females: "He never understood the way some men treated women. Himself, he never got tired of the marvel of them. The sounds they made when they felt good. When you made them feel good. There was nothing in the world like it." No wonder those widows in Milan remembered Hawker so fondly.

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