Sabrina Jeffries and Sue Grimshaw pose an interesting question over on Borders True Romance today: How do you feel about “real” rakehells in romance, and where would you draw the line?
It got me thinking. Actually, it was a question I’d been pondering for awhile, but it’s been on my mind more since I finished Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm a couple days ago.
Here you start with a true a-hole of a man. And then he has a stroke and is unable to communicate, which makes him (understandably, in my opinion) physically violent toward the people who’ve locked him in an asylum.
However, as the story progresses, he pushes the heroine around, too. Is this a rake? Or is it just an abuser?
Does being a rake simply mean a man who gets lots of sex? Would today’s word for a rake be “stud”?
Or is a rake a man who uses and manipulates women? In the excerpt from Sabrina Jeffries’ new release, The Truth About Lord Stanville, this seems to be the case.
As I was reading the excerpt and thinking about the question, I realized that, for me, I don’t mind a rake in a historical romance. As long as the events leading to his redemption are proportionate to his a-holery, I will suspend my disbelief enough to believe in his change, and in his chances for staying a good person. That’s because the whole world built up in a historical novel is so different than mine that I’ve put myself in the author’s hands more fully.
In a contemporary, however, rakes just remind me of a-holes I’ve known in real life. The world that’s been built up looks and feels like my own, so I’m less willing to believe in complete personality shifts. I’m more likely to think, “Hmm, this guy seems like a manic depressive,” or, “There’s no way this guy would be a good dad.” I prefer my contemporary heroes to be like the men I most admire in real life: gentle, funny and loving.
What do you think? What’s your definition of a rake in today’s terms? Are there some subgenres where you can accept different standards of behavior?