Monday, December 03, 2007

The Rake's Progress




Over at the Word Wenches blog Rev Melinda issued me something of a challenge:
I'd love to see Laura Vivanco write about why we seem to love heroes who are so Out of Control that they can't keep their boy toy in their pants or their hands off the heroine. Why is that so fascinating to us? (And isn't that the total stereotype of the Lustful Animal Male?--aren't we skating pretty darn close to that Rape Fantasy in all this?)
Naturally I was very flattered that Melinda would think I'd have something interesting to say about this but because those heroes aren't ones I find fascinating, I can't draw on my own personal experience. However, I have a few thoughts on the matter and I'm hoping that we can discuss this further in the comments.

First of all, the stereotype of the "Lustful Animal Male" seems to be pretty much identical to what's referred to in academic circles as the "'male sexual drive' discourse" and it is, I think, what underpins the popularity of the rake in the romance genre (or "bad boy" in non-historical romance):
Foucault (1978), Tiefer (1995), and others have argued that sexuality is constructed within particular sociocultural contexts and discourses. The male sexual drive discourse was identified by Hollway (1984) as a principle discourse in the production of meanings concerning contemporary sexuality. This discourse has its origin in sociobiological views of men's role to pursue and procreate, and hence in the primacy and importance of the male sexual drive.

Themes associated with the male sexual drive discourse are well documented in the social psychological literature. Zilbergeld (1978) identified the following themes: sex is a male performance; the man is responsible for orchestrating sex; a man always wants and is always ready to have sex; for a man, all physical contact must lead to sex; and birth control is the woman's responsibility. Similarly, Reinholtz et al. (1995) included the following in their list of common themes in communication about sexuality: male sexuality as uncontrollable, female responsibility for male sexuality, sex as a force of nature, and men as dominant and women as submissive. These researchers also identified a theme they labeled, "romance," the cultural notion that when two people "fall in love," sex automatically follows and cannot be controlled by rational consideration. (Gilbert, Walker, McKinney, and Snell 755-56, emphasis added)1
So how do these themes relate to romance heroes:
  • the man is responsible for orchestrating sex. Rakes almost always are. Heroines may be "responsible" for inciting the rake's interest, but it is the hero who (with a few exceptions) has the expertise required to "orchestrate" sexual encounters, particularly the first one.
  • a man always wants and is always ready to have sex: note the prevalence of "lust thought".2
  • male sexuality as uncontrollable. This is why so many heroes are "so Out of Control that they can't keep their boy toy in their pants or their hands off the heroine."
  • sex automatically follows and cannot be controlled by rational consideration. And this is how many people define "passion." True passion over-rides reason and so, in order to demonstrate that the hero and heroine are experiencing true passion, they must have sex even if this is a rather illogical/dangerous thing for them to do. The discussion at the Word Wenches blog began with reference to condom use, and Susan Holloway Scott/Miranda Jarrett wrote that
    a love scene that includes the ritual foil packet or questions about having been tested hits the “ick-factor” for many readers. Romances are fantasies, they protest, and fantasies feature great sex over the safe kind.
    I suspect that the reason "great sex" is being defined as unsafe sex may well be because of this cultural association between passion and lack of control. One can see that this also affects behaviour in the non-fictional world. Flood observes that
    Common constructions of masculinity and heterosexuality inform some men’s resistance to condom use. Some men learn that male sexuality is uncontrollable, and stopping to put on a condom once you’re aroused is impossible. Some young men pursue sex in unsafe ways, and at a young age, to gain status with male peers.
Given these ideas about male sexuality, it's easy to understand why a hyper-sexual male is considered a more manly male and, therefore, why romance heroes, who so often embody "fantasies" should be depicted in this way. Not all romances have these "larger than life", "fantasy" heroes, of course, but many do.

Heroes tend to be bigger/better than other men in a variety of ways: often they're more handsome than other men, better at fighting than other men and usually have a reputation for having had more sex/being more skilled at it than other men.3 A high number of sexual conquests can be read as proof that the hero is more virile than other men. This may explain the way that heroes are often labelled "rakes" even when there isn't much evidence of their promiscuity within the novels themselves: it's often the label that counts, not a detailed and accurate exploration of the consequences of what, in some heroes, might otherwise be described as sexual addiction.

The rakish hero doesn't just tell us something about ideals concerning masculinity; his "taming" also tells us much about the heroine. Doreen Owens Malek wrote:
So what is the fantasy? Simply this: a strong, dominant, aggressive male brought to the point of surrender by a woman.
Why does this particular fantasy hold so much appeal for us? Because it dramatizes, colorfully and dramatically, a battle of the sexes in which the woman always wins. [...] We may want a caring, sensitive modern man in our lives, but we want a swaggering, rough-hewn, mythic man in our books. He provides the best foil; the more obdurate the hero, the sweeter the triumph when the heroine brings him to his knees. (74-75)
And I don't think this is just the heroine's triumph over the hero, it's also the heroine's triumph over other women. All those other women seduced and abandoned by the rake couldn't hold or "tame" him. She can. So, as Owens Malek says, "the more obdurate the hero", the more women he's seduced in the past, the greater the heroine's triumph. And if she can get him to lose control, to be unable to keep his hands off her (when he is somewhat more able to keep his hands off other women) this demonstrates that she is more alluring than other women. Recent laboratory-based research into facial attractiveness has in fact found some scientific basis for this, though of course individuals vary, and whatever the general trend, there will be exceptions, and other factors will also influence preferences outwith the laboratory: "Masculine traits in men indicate long-term health [...], higher reproductive success [...], but reduced commitment to relationships and offspring [...]" (Feinberg et al. 215) , which, in romance terms, means that the hyper-masculine men who are most likely to be alpha romance heroes are also those most likely to be rakes. As for women,
Preferences for male facial masculinity are influenced by the attractiveness and femininity of the female judges [...] . While relatively unattractive and masculine women demonstrated stronger preferences for masculine males as short-term partners than as long-term partners, the effect of relationship context on masculinity preferences was weaker for attractive, feminine women [...]. This effect of own condition on women’s masculinity preferences is thought to occur because more attractive, feminine women may be better able to obtain investment from masculine men during long-term relationships (Feinberg et al. 215-16)
So, in romance terms, while other women may find the rake attractive, it's really only the most "attractive, feminine women" who can "tame" the rake.

We can look also look at this dynamic of competition between women to attract the best male in economic terms, as Baumeister and Vohs do:
A heterosexual community can be analyzed as a marketplace in which men seek to acquire sex from women by offering other resources in exchange. Societies will therefore define gender roles as if women are sellers and men buyers of sex. Societies will endow female sexuality, but not male sexuality, with value (as in virginity, fidelity, chastity). The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a marketplace, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple's decisions may be influenced by market conditions. (from the abstract)
If we look at some of the key points in Baumeister and Vohs's analysis, we can easily see that it applies to the situations described in many romance novels:

  • "cultural systems will tend to endow female sexuality with value, whereas male sexuality is treated by society as relatively worthless. As a result, sexual intercourse by itself is not an equal exchange, but rather an instance of the man getting something of value from the woman. To make the exchange equal, the man must give her something else in return and his own sexual participation does not have enough value to constitute this" (340). In romances the heroine is very often a virgin, whereas the hero is not. He is not diminished in any way by this lack of virginity or chastity, but for the heroine, it has been argued that her virginity is "a metaphor for the qualities of female power, honor, generosity, and courage with which [she] [...] is imbued" (Krentz 111). The hero's power, honor, generosity and courage are not symbolised in this way. We also often find economic exchanges of sex for objects of monetary value, as when the hero pays off his mistress.4
  • "The laws of supply and demand can be substantiated in all sorts of marketplaces, and there is no reason that sex should be an exception" (Baumeister and Vohs 343) and "The economics of the sexual marketplace would suggest that [...] low-cost alternatives [...] to varying degrees will be welcomed by men. In contrast, women should generally oppose them as if they represent a threat to women generally" (343-44). Among the "low-cost alternatives" to sexual intercourse with a woman is masturbation, and it's interesting to note that romances generally do not include the hero masturbating (though there are some romances which feature masturbation listed here). His sexual appetite is demonstrated by the number of female partners he has had in the past, and he is only able to find relief from his current desire for the heroine with the heroine. Obviously this raises her value to him in the sexual marketplace.
  • "Usually the price of sex will vary somewhat within a community. Some women can command higher prices than others for their sexual favors. [...] The more men desire any particular woman, the higher a price she can command. This is true in both senses of the word "more:" more men and stronger desire. Most obviously, her sex appeal will influence how much and how many men want her" (Baumeister and Vohs 344). Sometimes the heroine's "price" is upped by her virginity (which gives her an edge over the sexually attractive but promiscuous "other woman"), sometimes the heroine is depicted as having an incredible beauty which makes her the envy of other women and the target of the villain's sexual desire. Sometimes the heroine's high "price" is demonstrated predominantly through how much a particular man (himself of high value in the sexual market-place) wants her.
  • "if low-cost sex represents a loss for the woman, it may be regarded as a gain for the man, and so the man who can boast of multiple lovers without incurring substantial costs (such as having had to marry each sex partner) may lay claim to high respect from other men" (Baumeister and Vohs 345). The romance rake also gains a high value to women, in part because he is a desirable commodity (because of his sexual expertise, good looks etc) and because demand for him is high in the sexual marketplace (he is desired by many women). Gaining the desired rake thus enhances the heroine's status vis-a-vis other women.

The economic aspect of the sexual marketplace may also help to explain the rake's progress to the heights of desirability within the romance genre. The term used to be a derrogatory one meaning "An immoral or dissolute person" (American Heritage Dictionary) and in William Hogarth's series of paintings which depict the life of a rake we see "the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, the spendthrift son and heir of a rich merchant, who comes to London, wastes all his money on luxurious living, whoring and gambling, and as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and ultimately Bedlam" (Wikipedia). For the romance rake, however, there are generally no lingering physical or financial repercussions of his previous sexual activities and in gaining "multiple lovers without incurring substantial costs", his "value" has actually been enhanced.5

  • Baumeister, Roy F. and Kathleen D. Vohs. "Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions." Personality and Social Psychology Review 8.4 (2004): 339-63.
  • Feinberg, D. R., B. C. Jones, M. J. Law Smith, F. R. Moore, L. M. DeBruine, R. E. Cornwell, S. G. Hillier, and D. I. Perrett. "Menstrual Cycle, Trait Estrogen Level, and Masculinity Preferences in the Human Voice." Hormones and Behavior 49 (2006): 215-22. [PDF available from Feinberg's website]
  • Flood, Michael. "Mobilising Condom Use Among Heterosexual Men." HIV Australia 5.4 (2007).
  • Gilbert Abino, Lucia, Sarah J. Walker, Sherry McKinney, and Jessica L. Snell. "Challenging Discourse Themes Reproducing Gender in Heterosexual Dating: An Analog Study." Sex Roles 41.9-10 (1999): 753-74.
  • Krentz, Jayne Ann. "Trying to Tame the Romance: Critics and Correctness." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992. 107-14.
  • Mumford, Kevin J. "'Lost Manhood' Found: Male Sexual Impotence and Victorian Culture in the United States." Journal of the History of Sexuality 3.1 (1992): 33-57.
  • Owens Malek, Doreen. "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know: The Hero as Challenge." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992. 73-80.
  • Rotundo, E. Anthony. "Body and Soul: Changing Ideals of American Middle-Class Manhood, 1770-1920." Journal of Social History 16.4 (1983): 23-38.

1 "Sociocultural contexts and discourses" have shaped ideas about masculinity and manhood in general, not just male sexuality. For example
the comfortable classes of the late eighteenth-century North [of the USA] [...] defined their ideal of manhood in terms of social and spiritual qualities [...] The good man of this era [...] was not just a person who gave the utmost to his community. He was also a man of God. [...] Benevolent restraint, then, was the key to piety. A Massachusetts youth copied into his journal the gist of a sermon he heard: "Let your moderation be known to all men - moderate the desires, and keep the passions and affections within proper limits. . . preserving that happy mediocrity, which leads to no extreem." (Rotundo 24)
but "The ideal of manhood changed dramatically at the turn of the nineteenth century. The key word now was 'self.' The good man was bent on 'self-improvement' in this, the era of the 'self-made man'" (Rotundo 25) and
the signs of a new, physical ideal of manliness were beginning to appear during the early nineteenth century. The concerns that men discussed in their letters and diaries suggest that a link was slowly forming between the male body and ideal manhood. For instance, the Christian moral code that many men tried to follow called for the control of sexual impulse and abstention from strong drink. (Rotundo 26)
By the late nineteenth century "A true man was now a physical creature, full of animal qualities and primitive urges. Men took nicknames like 'Tornado' and 'Savage' that connected them to basic, natural forces. They feared that humans had 'put reason in place of instinct and are going to no good end'"(Rotundo 26-27) yet
The good man was not [...] a victim of his own physical impulses. He took pride in his powerful will which vanquished laziness and lust. Parents held up this standard of inner control to their sons, calling on them to practice "Spartan" self-discipline and to live "pure in heart." Young men responded with despair when they could not live up to the principles of self-control. (Rotundo 27)
2 There is a marked contrast between this idea of the ever-ready male, whose health might be damaged by continence, and some of the beliefs that were prevalent in the nineteenth century:
between roughly 1810 and the 1850s, several prominent physicians and reformers had formulated a new scientific conception of impotence. The writings of Rush, Graham, and Lallemand contributed to the novel theory that licentiousness could diminish the individual's bodily energy. The resulting depletion, they reasoned, induced the state of debility, which in turn adversely affected male sexual performance. Rather than viewing impotence as a curse from heaven that impeded procreation, nineteenth-century authorities promoted the theory that it was predominantly a male disorder, caused by insufficient self-control, that resulted in the inability to perform sexually. (Mumford 39)
According to current medical thinking,
While we may have heard horror stories about "blue balls" and "lover's nuts," they are not harmful conditions. There may be some discomfort if a man doesn't ejaculate, but it passes. He can still have a pleasurable sexual encounter without orgasm, especially once he gets past adolescence.
and furthermore
Lack of interest in sex is actually very common among both men and women, and this may be related to the complexity and responsibilities of day-to-day living. In his work, Bernie Zilbergeld has found that 30% of men felt, at least at times, that sex was a burden. Yet while we have come to accept that women have a right to say "no" to sex, we sometimes deny men this same right by expecting them to be "sex machines." They're not.
Both quotations from the University of Alberta's "It's Your Call - Making Sexual Decisions" website.

3 This can eventually make some series of linked novels feel rather silly: how many supermen can there be in one family/group of friends?

4 On some of the recent threads about historical accuracy it's been mentioned that it's anachronistic for a romance heroine to refuse to marry a man to whom she's deliberately lost her virginity. It may well be, but I wonder if this could be read as an indication that she refuses to endorse the cultural value society still places on female virginity and the way in which sex is still often considered to be something a man gets/takes/is given by a woman. This doesn't mean, however, that the novel as a whole will reject other aspects of the sexual marketplace.

5 There are, of course, many exceptions to this general "rake's progress" in romance. The rakishness of Mary Jo Putney's Reginald Davenport, for example, is clearly shown to be a consequence of his alcoholism and Reginald gradually comes to realise that if he doesn't reform he will undoubtedly end up dead as a direct consequence of his lifestyle. This brings him closer to Hogarth's rake than many other romance rakes.

The illustration is Plate 3, "The Tavern Scene" from William Hogarth's series titled "A Rake's Progress," and is from Wikipedia.

38 comments:

  1. Fascinating column, Laura, thank you! While much of what your sources say hits chords of truth, none of them hit on the heart of romance--women want a man who desires her above all others. And if he shows that desire in reckless passion, then it proves the woman is irresistible and desirable. I think that's the real fantasy behind this rakish heroes--the emotional fulfillment of a woman's desires.

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  2. if he shows that desire in reckless passion, then it proves the woman is irresistible and desirable

    I think one can have passion without love, and love without reckless passion. I also think that passion doesn't have to be expressed through sex. When Darcy says "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" most readers do believe that he really does feel ardent passion towards Elizabeth, even though he doesn't even kiss her. Certainly his ardent passion has overcome some of his scruples/prejudices, but it doesn't express itself physically.

    In Austen's novels the characters who have a reckless, sexual response to their passion (Wickham, Willoughby, Crawford) are shown to be weak of will and/or lack morals. The heroes control the passion they feel towards the heroines.

    The idea that someone could really be irresistible is actually rather troubling to me. From a theological/philosophical perspective it would imply that the heroine's attractions are such that they over-ride the hero's free will.

    I think that's the real fantasy behind this rakish heroes--the emotional fulfillment of a woman's desires.

    Well, yes, but a rake is not the fulfillment of every woman's desire. There's clearly a cultural component to people's fantasies/desires. So what I was trying to understand in this post was the underlying cultural assumptions about male sexuality which make this particular type of hero the "fullfillment of a woman's desire" nowadays.

    If, in a particular era, "reckless passion" was seen as selfish and possibly destructive, as Austen depicts it, and if masculinity was constructed around control/reason, then the most admirable and manly hero would be one who didn't yield to his passions, and so a rake would be a lot less likely to be the fulfillment of most women's desires.

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  3. Good heavens! I didn't realize that "Laura Vivanco" was a pseudonym for a collaboration between John Maynard Keynes and Dr. Tatiana!

    http://www.kingsbookstore.com/tatiana.jpg

    I'm really stuck in the middle between romances with scenes of wild, explicit passion (did I mention that I'm a little old lady in Birkenstocks?) and those who treat the whole thing as a commodities exchange. My own preference is for the traditional Regency; explicit sex scenes somehow always remind me of the instructions for replacing the ball float in the toilet tank. ("While holding flap A in one hand, insert prong B into socket C.")

    There are other ways to look at this sort of thing, and I shall proceed to do so in a myth-critical sort of way:

    1. Male virility, in some very ancient traditions (at least if you believe Robert Graves and Margaret Murray) is linked is linked to the fertility of the land--the good old hieros gamos. In some, the Year King is sacrificed annually to preserve that fertility; in others, it happens only when the fertility is failing, the Nile doesn't flood that year, or the like. I often wondered, during the late impeachment unpleasantness, if people had been comparatively mild in criticizing Clinton's sexual excursions because of some subconscious association between a virile President and national power. Anyway, most people I talked about it with seemed to think that the lying, especially to his wife, was worse than the extramarital sex.

    2. Romantic love as invented in the Middle Ages (in classical times it was considered a form of madness), l'amour courtoise, was all about frustration--if the lovers ended up in bed together, there was usually a sword between them. Of course, this was not a truth universally acknowledged (witness Launcelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Yseult), but it is the theme of troubadour poetry. Whether or not you believe this was all a metaphor for Catharist dualism, it's still true that it was about longing, not lust. And all the more interesting for it. I am a great Nora Roberts fan, but I still find myself wishing that her lovers would at least make it as far as the hall runner rather than having at each other in the doorway.

    3. You are being very Northrop Frye-ish in commenting that the hero is superior to other men in many ways, including virility; but I think that perhaps the modern reader is also influenced to some extent by Freudian theory, especially that of the libido being a limited energy pool, so that any used in sex is unavailable for displacement into other more vital activities like inventing scientific theories about sex. We therefore may have an unconscious tendency to think of the rake as wasting his substance on riotous living, when he could be off winning the Napoleonic Wars or repealing the Corn Laws or something similarly constructive.

    4. I think it's more interesting if the characters think about each other in ways not strictly related to hot-sheet activities--for example, they want to talk to them as well. And sexual attraction need not be stated in explicitly anatomical terms: one of my favorite Jayne Ann Krentz lines is a heroine's mental comment that when she first met the hero, all her hormones rose to their feet and began to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus." The more the relationship is reduced to sexual terms, the less three-dimensional the characters.

    5. Condoms. I have read some scenes where they can become quite erotic, especially when the heroine makes a production of putting one on the hero. But I must admit, whenever he whips out that little foil packet, my main association is with the seasoning pouch in a package of Instant Ramen, and I tend to wonder "How can he think about food at a time like this?"

    6. Finally, taming the hero with sex. This is hardly a new concept--it goes back to Gilgamesh, written nearly four millennia ago. The wild man of the forest, Enkidu, is tamed by having congress with a harlot. The wild animals which had followed him as though he were a god now shy away from him, and he lets her persuade him to return with her to Uruk, where he becomes the companion of Gilgamesh. In the process, both heroes become more or less civilized.

    http://www.online-literature.com/anonymous/gilgamesh/1/

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  4. Laura, what a fabulous post! You brought many threads together that have been circling in my head for years. And any post that mentions Foucault and me in such close proximity makes my (once scholarly) heart go pitter-pat!

    I don't find these fictional rakes particularly compelling because I have always been more fascinated by the heroes who keep their passions smoldering under tight control (i.e. Darcy, GH's Sir Anthony,Jo Beverley's Rothgar, Star Trek's Mr. Spock --ok, he's not a romance hero but he did inspire many a youthful fantasy on my part). For me the payoff is The Big Reveal, when the controlled hero finally takes off the mask (in private, of course)and reveals himself to the heroine. And I guess I would also agree with Talpianna that real romance is found in the longing, not the lust.

    Laura, I found your comment about the heroine's irresistability overriding the hero's "free will" revelatory. It's the matched pair of them that irritate me the most: the "irresistable" heroine and the "lustful animal hero." He is out of control and has no free will because she is "irresistable" (awfully close to "she's asking for it") and she is forced to succumb to his attentions against her better judgement and free will because she's hypnotized by his out-of-control hands and parts (awfully close to "It's not my fault, he made me"). It seems awfully close to the rape fantasy thing to me--just kind of a modern variation.
    Your comment that "it's the label of rake that matters" exactly describes another source of my discomfort with these heroes. It often feels to me that the hero's rakish past is just pasted into the book as sort of a "qualifier"--as a shorthand way (avoiding all that troublesome expository writing that takes so many pages) of proving his desirability, worthiness to be a romance hero AND HIS MANLINESS. It's like the hero HAS to have had "tons of lovers" or we might think he's not normal somehow. (Um, how much sex does a guy have to have to be "normal"?) How long it's been since the hero had sex is ALWAYS mentioned in a romance book ("It had been four long months since he'd bedded a woman. . ." or "He realized he hadn't had a woman since he met Sweet Susie two weeks ago")--ok, so what if it's been two years? Or ten? Isn't that ok? Or does a writer imagine that a long time between women makes him Less Of A Man?

    Laura, thank you again for your terrific post and for the chance to comment. Not sure what I've said is very helpful, but I enjoyed the chance to rant!

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  5. Hmm, I wrote a comment and I don't know where it went. Pearls of wisdom, I'm sure, lost forever.

    Rev Melinda, one comment on your post. I agree with most of your posts, but I think in some circumstances the man's not having sex for a while is interesting. If, for example, he clearly is normally very sexually active.

    But I'm also struck by Talpianna's point that the romance novel often assumes that the sexual rake is useless for anything else. That's a very puritanical view, isn't it?

    If a man with a very active monogamous sex life can be a great artist, statesman, scientist etc, then there's no reason a man with a very active sexual life with multiple partners can't, too. What's the opposite of monogamous in that context? Not promiscuous. That means something else.Plurogamous?

    However, I still think the appeal of the sexual rake is built into brain chemistry. Assuming that a society has female consent, then the rake has to have a strong appeal for women and considerable virility. We don't call someone a rake who uses prostitutes all the time.

    I have this theory that the rake finds it hard to feel ecstatic love, allowing rakishness. But if he finally feels it, then he latches onto the source of it -- that special woman, even if she's only special to him -- and becomes completely devoted, bringing all that appeal, skill, and virility with which to win and delight her.

    Jo :)

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  6. revmelinda: Have you read Elizabeth Lowell's Shadow and Silk, written as Ann Maxwell? The hero has taken a vow of celibacy at a Buddhist monastery! (Fortunately, it has an expiration date....)

    My own preference is for the cerebral type, whose hidden volcanic passions we can only dream about. Or possibly up. I'll take Sherlock Holmes or Lord Peter Wimsey over your basic rake anytime.

    Incidentally, is Gone with the Wind considered a romance novel? Rhett Butler is certainly considered an archetypal romantic hero, but the book is not really structured as a romance. His giving up on Scarlett (and presumably returning to Belle Watling) is the sort of behavior we might expect of a real rake.

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  7. I didn't realize that "Laura Vivanco" was a pseudonym for a collaboration between John Maynard Keynes and Dr. Tatiana!

    I know I was using some rather disparate disciplines to analyse this particular theme in romance, but it seems to me that such an approach can be quite fruitful. Generally societies construct their worldviews from a mixture of science, economics, religion/philosophy, etc. Each area influences and informs the understanding of the others and authors of fiction then give these worldviews literary expression.

    Whenever there's a discussion about what's "natural" in the area of love, that's invoking science (since science helps us analyse and understand nature). And the economic aspect of marriage and courtship has long been recognised. Byron writes of "the Smithfield Show / Of vestals brought into the marriage mart", for example and in the past, when dowries/bride prices were common, the economic aspects of marriage were impossible to overlook.

    So yes, we can also analyse the same themes in a "myth-critical sort of way." That said, since I don't think that there's an unchanging universal acceptance of any given myth's meaning, I think we also need to look at how interpretations and uses of the myth vary over time and from one culture to another. In modern romance, because of the happy endings, the Year King is never going to be sacrificed, even if his sexuality is celebrated and does seem to be remarkably fecund (hence the theme of the previously infertile heroine who, after sex with the hero, becomes pregnant and, in the epilogue, has a massive brood of offspring).

    l'amour courtoise, was all about frustration--if the lovers ended up in bed together, there was usually a sword between them

    There's debate about quite how much consummation was involved in courtly love and to what extent it was real (as opposed to a courtly game), but certainly there does seem to be a lot of frustration for the lover, or delayed gratification, depending on the outcome.

    I think that perhaps the modern reader is also influenced to some extent by Freudian theory, especially that of the libido being a limited energy pool, so that any used in sex is unavailable for displacement into other more vital activities [...]. We therefore may have an unconscious tendency to think of the rake as wasting his substance on riotous living, when he could be off winning the Napoleonic Wars or repealing the Corn Laws or something similarly constructive.

    But the idea of the rake as a profligate who wastes his inheritance and spends most of his time carousing is one that's present in Hogarth's work, which is clearly long before Freud's time. In modern romances the hero is possibly more like the Year King you mention, in that his sexual activity complements his activity in other areas. We have a lot of rakish spies, dukes, and entrepreneurs for example. In romance it's rare for a hero to be a rake who's ended up in severe debt as a result of his rakishness.

    Not sure what I've said is very helpful, but I enjoyed the chance to rant!

    Thanks for your very kind comments about my post. And I did find what you had to say helpful, and not just because it confirms my own impressions ;-) but also because it brought in a few other aspects of the dynamic that I hadn't thought of.

    How long it's been since the hero had sex is ALWAYS mentioned in a romance book ("It had been four long months since he'd bedded a woman. . ." or "He realized he hadn't had a woman since he met Sweet Susie two weeks ago")--ok, so what if it's been two years? Or ten? Isn't that ok? Or does a writer imagine that a long time between women makes him Less Of A Man?

    Yes, and that ties in with what I was saying about masturbation. The hero can't just be assumed to have a normal sex-drive which he either controls and/or which expresses itself in masturbation. As you say, virility seems to be expressed in terms of how much penetrative sex he's had with women, and it does very much feel to me as though that turns all the other women into commodities/notches on his bed-post, because he never feels for them what he feels for the heroine.

    I think in some circumstances the man's not having sex for a while is interesting. If, for example, he clearly is normally very sexually active.

    Yes, that's true. It can sometimes be a way of signalling a change in his behaviour, caused by love for the heroine. And yet, so often it doesn't seem as though that's the only reason this sort of fact is mentioned. I mean, if the author just wanted to signal a change in the hero's behaviour, the hero could express surprise that he doesn't feel any desire for other women, or, as happens in quite a few romances, he could pay off his mistress. The reader doesn't need to be given precise details about quite how long (or rather, short) his usual periods of abstinence are.

    It's a bit like those very, very detailed descriptions which tell you precisely much the heroine weighs. Yes, it's part of the characterisation, but do we really need a precise weight? Is the emergence of this type of detail in descriptions related to society's increasing preoccupation with obesity/size zero etc? I suspect so.

    We don't call someone a rake who uses prostitutes all the time.

    Well, Hogarth might have done. And lots of romance heroes do have mistresses/frequent brothels/attend orgies where there are plenty of prostitutes. However, to get back to my economic analysis, a prostitute is someone who gets paid, so it diminishes the hero's ability to be seen as someone who's had "multiple lovers without incurring substantial costs." Using prostitutes/a mistress all the time wouldn't prove that the rake is a valuable commodity, desired by other women. As you say, "the rake has to have a strong appeal for women and considerable virility."

    I am intrigued, though, by the way you're linking "virility" and "strong appeal for women" there. It seems to imply that "virility" is determined not simply by the ability to perform sexually. Nor is "virility" linked primarily to other qualities which in the past might have been considered important aspects of "virility."

    One might contrast this with the Victorian ideal:

    To Britons of the 1850s, the rapid progress of the bearded look, and the enthusiastic rhetoric that attended it, constituted a veritable beard movement. Of course, when Victorians referred to a "beard movement"—sometimes wryly, sometimes seriously—they did not mean to imply an organized political campaign. Their intent was to recognize both a dramatic change in men's appearance, and the emergence of a host of writers to promote a new masculine image by articulating an ideology of beards. The contributor to the Illustrated London News, for example, wrote of a "new agitation," which in some measure represented a battle between reason and custom ("Beard and Moustache" 95). The reasons given for wearing beards were remarkably consistent during the 1850s and 1860s. At the core of this consensus was the idea that beards were integral to that elemental masculinity which still pertained in the modern age, first by contributing to men's health and vitality, and second by serving as the outward mark of inward qualities—particularly independence, hardiness, and decisiveness— that were the foundations of masculine authority. As such, they came to symbolize the "natural" superiority of men over women, and more vigorous men over their effete counterparts." (Oldstone-Moore 8)

    Note that this "manliness" is linked to "independence, hardiness, and decisiveness" and "masculine authority", not to sexual conquests.

    In addition, "manly nobility was defined in mid-century Britain by physical vitality and strength of will—a new sort of gentlemanliness that was cultivated and displayed in sporting activities" (9). We could argue that sport was a sublimation of sex, but it's still significant that the manly man wasn't, at that period, defined primarily by his sexual prowess. In fact, being highly sexed was a trait that they associated with the lower classes and "inferior" races:

    Beard and other sexual scientists employed [...] evolutionary concepts to explain the incidence of impotence among different groups of men. In brief, they argued that white middle-class men were highly susceptible to sexual neurasthenia, that working-class men were largely immune from the disorder, and that black men represented what might be called hyperpotency. Thus in the late nineteenth century, there emerged at least two primary sexual boundaries-drawn along class and race
    lines-which, if they wished to avoid both impotence and primitive sexual excess, white middle-class men had to negotiate.
    (Mumford 44)

    Obviously I don't agree with this racist and classist "science", but I think it's interesting to see how much ideals of "manliness"/"virility" can change, and how much they're affected by culture. It also reveals how science and scientists, while shaping our understanding of the world, are also influenced by cultural assumptions.

    I have this theory that the rake finds it hard to feel ecstatic love, allowing rakishness. But if he finally feels it, then he latches onto the source of it -- that special woman

    Ah, like a meadow vole injected with the gene for the vasopressin receptor:

    When the brains of male meadow voles, usually the most promiscuous of lovers, are enhanced with a gene called the vasopressin receptor, they instantly reform their loose ways and form lasting pair bonds instead.

    Because vasopressin is also active in the human brain, the remarkable experiment at Emory University in Atlanta, suggests that differing levels of the hormone could explain why some people find it harder to stay faithful than others.
    (The Times).

    Re "is Gone with the Wind considered a romance novel?" I'd say no, not unless you're a reader who's sure that Rhett is going to get back together with Scarlett. Otherwise it's romantic fiction, but not a "romance" as defined by the RWA.

    ---

    Oldstone-Moore, Christopher. "The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain." Victorian Studies 48.1 (2005): 7-34.

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  8. Great post; great comments. I love a rake hero myself. No-one's mentioned evolution yet. It seems to me obvious that a sexually confident male is going to be attractive to women. He's known to be up to the job as it were. The trick then is for the female to trick him into faithfulness. Similarly, it's fairly obvious in evolutionary terms why virgin and inexperienced females are desirable to men - elimination/ reduction of the risk of a cuckoo in the nest.

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  9. Great post; great comments. I love a rake hero myself.

    Thanks. It occurs to me (not that you've said this, but your comment, along with those of a few other people, got me thinking about it) that I may have given the impression that I'm trying to prove that readers shouldn't love rakes, and I'm not. I'm just trying to untangle the various biological and socio-economic reasons which might shape particular reading preferences.

    No-one's mentioned evolution yet. It seems to me obvious that a sexually confident male is going to be attractive to women. He's known to be up to the job as it were.

    From an evolutionary perspective, you can't know he's "up to the job" unless he's produced some children which are definitely known to be his. But romance rakes generally haven't got lots of illegitimate children. Also, in real life truly rakish behaviour might well result in contracting STDs which limit life expectancy and/or reduce fertility and/or limit the life expectancy of any offspring. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, perhaps one of the most famous real rakes, died of syphilis at age 33.

    it's fairly obvious in evolutionary terms why virgin and inexperienced females are desirable to men - elimination/ reduction of the risk of a cuckoo in the nest

    Yes, that eliminates the bride with a bun already installed in her oven. But really, a widow with at least one child who could be kept under surveillance until after the beginning of menstruation, and then kept locked up thereafter would be a better bet. There's no guarantee that a virgin's going to be fertile, and unless you stop a virgin bride being in contact with other men after the wedding, (except for trusting her or having a DNA test) there's no way to be absolutely sure of paternity.

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  10. I have always thought of romance novels as the modern descendants of "the marriage plot" novels (ie Austen)--but it seems to me that one important aspect of a "marriage plot" novel is the husband-worthiness of the hero. (And I would define husband-worthiness as maturity, fidelity, economic sufficiency, a place in the community. . .but maybe others would expect different qualities?)

    This discussion has made me think that maybe what we're seeing is not so much "the marriage plot" as "the passion plot"--that husband-worthiness need not be proved for a Happily Ever After ending, but passion-worthiness is essential (perhaps this is why the sex needs to be frequent, explicit, inventive, and always pre-marital?). And what does it say about the heroine that she is willing to accept someone whose "husband-worthiness" is not proven and take a monumental life gamble on a Grand Passion? Perhaps this is a way of exploring in fictional form the uncertainty of the contemporary institution of marriage--a modern sense that marriage is a Leap of Faith (instead of what I imagine is a more historically accurate concept, marriage as A Secure Future).

    Perhaps also in these rakes we are seeing an exploration of "sex vs. intimacy"--the rakish hero is good at the mechanics and the physical release of sex, but has a problem with intimacy--emotional intimacy, etc. ("He had never slept next to a woman all night. . .")This seems to me to be a pretty modern construct as well.

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  11. it seems to me that one important aspect of a "marriage plot" novel is the husband-worthiness of the hero. (And I would define husband-worthiness as maturity, fidelity, economic sufficiency, a place in the community. . .but maybe others would expect different qualities?)

    Ah, but within the novels the rake often achieves (some degree of) emotional maturity thanks to the heroine's love, which enables him to overcome his previous self-hatred or distrust of women or whatever other problem caused his rakishness; his fidelity is magically guaranteed by the irresistibility of the heroine; rakes often have economic sufficiency (most Regency rakes, playboy sheiks, and promiscuous billionaires are rich); the "place in the community" usually applies too (there's a reason AAR labelled this sort of rake a Duke of Slut); and in addition to all the above a romance rake is guaranteed to satisfy the heroine sexually, whereas among women of Jane Austen's class (and consequently in her novels) a "try before you buy" approach to pre-marital sex wasn't acceptable.

    maybe what we're seeing is not so much "the marriage plot" as "the passion plot"--that husband-worthiness need not be proved for a Happily Ever After ending, but passion-worthiness is essential

    But a lot of people nowadays do think of sexual compatibility as one of the most important parts of marriage and, as I mentioned in my post, there's "the cultural notion that when two people 'fall in love,' sex automatically follows and cannot be controlled by rational consideration" so the passionate pre-marital sex in these romances can in fact be read as a guarantee that the couple are truly in love (with an extra guarantee being provided by the fact that when the hero and heroine make love it's the best sex the hero has ever had, which proves the uniqueness and specialness of their relationship). [Crusie rather deflates that idea in Faking It]

    a problem with intimacy--emotional intimacy, etc. ("He had never slept next to a woman all night. . .")This seems to me to be a pretty modern construct as well.

    Do you think this could be a modern re-working of the idea that the love of a good woman civilises a man? For example, Betsy Jameson, looking at women in the American West, says that "Common stereotypes divide them into good and bad women-the genteel civilizer and the sunbonneted helpmate, and the hell raiser and the "bad" woman" (1) and

    The civilizer was projected from Victorian prescriptive literature, which reflected the cardinal virtues of "True
    Womanhood"-piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness to male authority.
    (1)

    and Dee Brown's 1958 The Gentle Tamers (note the use of the word "taming", which is also often applied to romance heroines) created

    The image of western women [...] who, while her man tamed the physical world, gently and passively tamed him and brought civilized culture to the frontier. (1)

    Nowadays perhaps "civilizing" involves the man acquiring a capacity for emotional intimacy, and the heroine doesn't have to be pious or submissive to male authority, but to me that description of the "good woman" doesn't seem so very, very different from what one can find in many romances which portray a virginal heroine domesticating/rendering emotionally open a man and then producing lots of children while living in a lovely home.

    ----

    Jameson, Elizabeth. "Women as Workers, Women as Civilizers: True Womanhood in the American West." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 7.3 (1984): 1-8.

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  12. Fascinating discussion.

    Very interesting about the manly-man Victorians and their beards. I'd never thought about why that happened. I'm always surprised by the fact that shaving has been the norm so much of the time, even back when it must have been more than a hassle than now. What's the reason for that? Not, I assume, a desire to look feminine. OTOH, beards today are mostly seen as a lifestyle thing -- hippy, back-to-the-earth etc, or scruffy, while at the same time stubble is sexy. I really don't get that. Look at actors who maintain a short stubble all the time. I heard that they have razors that do that. So very weird. But in books a hero's inability to stay clean shaven is often offered as proof of his manliness. Has anyone had deep thoughts on the historical social implication of men's facial hair? I might blog about this at Word Wenches one day.

    Slightly off topic, I suppose. I'll send that and progress to the next subject.

    Jo :)

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  13. Laura, what an interesting combination of ideas and sources. I can tell this will be a post I keep coming back to.

    My understanding is that applying evolutionary theory to romance is not all that sound. Dr Tatiana demonstrates quite persuasively that many widely-held theories of sexual selection were based on cultural beliefs rather than scientific observation. For example, Dr Tatiana comes up with a number of examples in the animal kingdom where it's NOT to the male's advantage to spread his seed around, and NOT to the female's advantage to be monogamous. She does a great job of discussing the enormous variety of configurations.

    One of the ideas that may not hold up is that a sexually (or otherwise) confident male is desirable. In some species, females have a harem of males who share duties defending, mating, and nurturing. The boldest males might spend their time defending, not mating. In other species, the female bites the male's head off or expects him never to leave her side--sometimes he's even absorbed into her flesh as a little sperm-storage appendage, so a docile male is fine in that capacity.

    The big lessons I learned from Dr Tatiana were that there's no single way sexual selection works, and no single theory that explains it all, and extrapolating any of these theories to humans is pretty shaky.

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  14. Has anyone had deep thoughts on the historical social implication of men's facial hair?

    I did a quick search and there's been quite a lot of research done into the significance of beards and hair. Anthony Synnott, for example, has looked at the significance of hair in the UK and US in the second half of the 20th century:

    The theory of hair to be developed here can be called the theory of
    opposites, since current symbolic practice can be summarized in three
    propositions
    * opposite sexes have opposite hair.
    * head hair and body hair are opposite.
    * opposite ideologies have opposite hair.
    (382)

    I suspect that the "head hair and body hair are opposite" proposition is a more modern thing, at least in the West, because it's only relatively recently (in historical terms) that women have started to remove leg, underarm etc hair. But I think the other two are more likely to apply throughout history.

    Women's hair, thoughout history, has tended to be longer and/or covered/styled in a different way from men's and I suspect that at times when both men and women have had long hair, then men were more likely to keep their facial hair.

    Although

    we do not know very much about the mode of dress in the early Middle Ages. Fragmentary data shows dress to be an ethno-political sign, like the beard of the Longobards, or Theoderic's long hair, worn as a royal emblem; and, later, the similarly charismatic role of long hair in the Merovingian dynasty. (Klaniczay 58)

    In a later period

    The main anxiety of eleventh-century clergy was that the scandalous new fashions would overturn society's moral order, which increasingly came to mean a strict differentiation of social categories. For instance, the fashion for shaving appropriated the distinguishing feature of the clergy, for they were the only ones to shave in the early Middle Ages. In the middle of the eleventh century, a Bavarian monk reported that a young nobleman, although innocent, was found guilty in a blasphemy trial just because he was clean shaven. The anecdote about William the Conqueror is in the same vein: his army is supposed to have caused panic among the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 because they assumed that the smooth-faced enemy soldiers were clergymen. (Klaniczay 60)

    but, by the end of the eleventh century

    the once outrageous novelties had become the custom, and the new 'hooligans' - young courtiers and urbanites in northern France and England - drew attention to themselves with their long beards, long curly hair [...] The first detailed description of the new fashion is from 1094, from the Court of William (Rufus) II, King of England. St Anselm, who had recently arrived from France to take up office as Archbishop of Canterbury, was extremely shocked by the conditions he found. 'Now at this time it was the fashion for nearly all the young men of the Court to grow their hair long like girls (Klaniczay 60)

    Skipping forward rather quickly in history:

    facial hair often conferred masculinity during the Renaissance: the beard made the man. The centrality of the beard is powerfully demonstrated by
    both portraits and theatrical practices. Indeed, virtually all men in portraits painted between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-seventeenth century have some sort of facial hair.
    (Fisher 155)

    Synnott concludes that

    Hair is thus not only highly symbolic, but it is also extremely subtle in its expression of political shades. How long the Hippies hair, how
    spiky or bright the Punks', how wide the Afro, how hairy or smooth the legs, how tightly curled and long the dreads, how shaggy the beard, how hairy the manly chest, and how clean the shave -all these incremental variations can indicate the duration and/or the degree of commitment to various ideologies and self-concepts. [...] There is no one-to-one correlation of particular phenomena with particular meanings, nor of meanings with phenomena. This is in part no doubt because of the complexity of society and societies: what is shame in one culture is glory in another. But it is also because of the rapidity of social change in western cultures: last year's glory is this year's shame.
    (409)

    ----
    Fisher, Will. "The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England." Renaissance Quarterly 54.1 (2001): 155-187.

    Klaniczay, Gabor. "Fashionable Beards and Heretic Rags." The Uses of Supernatural Power. Trans . Susan Singerman. Ed. Karen Margolis. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. 51-78.

    Synnott, Anthony. "Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair." The British Journal of Sociology 38.3 (1987): 381-413.

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  15. I strongly recommend reading Dr.Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson. The author is an Oxford-trained evolutionary biologist, who chose to write her message in the form of a series of advice-to-the-lovelorn columns. The message is that there really is a battle of the sexes. It is to the male's evolutionary advantage to spread his seed as widely as possible; and the female's to mate with as many males as possible to get fertilized by the best sperm. So the males keep inventing ways to prevent the female from mating with other males (like remaining connected with her for six weeks after sexual congress); and the females devise strategies in return to prevent a single male from monopolizing her (like biting his head off during sex, or eating him afterwards).

    Of course, this doesn't really apply to the rake, because he doesn't want to get all those casual liaisons pregnant; and the heroine is supposed to be monogamous from the get-go.

    Interestingly enough, when the male libido is allowed to dominate society, society strongly resembles a troop of baboons. I live in Arizona, where as you may know we've recently tried and convicted the leader of one of those Mormon splinter cults that practice polygamy. The actual charge was accessory to rape, for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her older cousin against her will. In these cults--there are a number of them up on the Arizona northern border, where the authorities can't easily get to them--the oldest and most powerful men have harems; the women are married off as young as 12 or 14, according to the will of the cult leader, without any choice on their part; and the young men, who have no available mates and are inclined to challenge the existing system, are charged with heresy or blasphemy and driven out. Since the cult controls the entire community, this means that they have no homes, no family, and no employment. Just like baboons.

    Tumperkin's post on rakes and virgins reminds me of a French proverb I came across somewhere: A man always wants to be a woman's first love, and a woman always wants to be a man's last love.

    The anecdote about the male meadow vole injected with the gene for the vasopressin receptor becoming a faithful spouse intrigues me, as my online persona is that of a mole. I wonder if a meadow vole would date me? Or, conversely, if the treatment would work on a male mole? Then all I'd have to worry about would be keeping him from eating the children...

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  16. Pssst! Laura! Watch out for that guy who dyes his beard blue...

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  17. Sorry, some of the formatting wasn't ideal there.

    what an interesting combination of ideas and sources

    I'm glad you think so. It does help a lot that (a) a lot of academic journals now have electronic versions available and (b) I have access to some of the academic databases which contain them. Being able to do keyword searches for so much material (both in academic databases and some freely available resources online) makes research a lot easier.

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  18. Tumperkin's post on rakes and virgins reminds me of a French proverb I came across somewhere: A man always wants to be a woman's first love, and a woman always wants to be a man's last love.

    I'm fairly sure it (or an echo of it) appeared in Heyer's These Old Shades, and though I can't check that personally because I don't have a copy to hand, the quote is mentioned on one webpage, which gives it as "I would much rather be the last woman in your life than the first?"

    It's certainly apt if it is an allusion to the proverb you mention, because Avon is a rake (but he expresses his true love via restraint rather than reckless passion).

    Watch out for that guy who dyes his beard blue...

    It's the one who wears a lot of red and has a long white beard that I'm watching out for this month.

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  19. I meant "watch out for" in the other sense. One does not put out milk and cookies in hope that Gilles de Rais will come down the chimney. Au contraire. One builds up the fire.

    I think the French proverb is probably from the maxims of Fran├žois VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld, le Prince de Marcillac. After all, most of them are. I do vaguely remember the line from These Old Shades; we had a very good discussion of the book on The Lunatic Cafe for Romance Readers over on delphiforums.

    Incidentally, some of our members there write erotica or "romantica" (a term I still haven't managed to wrap my brain around). When I mentioned that the modern equivalent of the heroine being a virgin was the heroine having her first orgasm with the hero, one of them remarked that the erotica version was first anal sex.

    She must have been talking to Gilles.

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  20. * head hair and body hair are opposite.

    This makes me think of the strangely common phenomenon of balding men starting to grow their remaining hair long in back:

    image

    It's as if there's some hair balance that must be maintained: for every inch lost on top, grow an inch of skinny ponytail.

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  21. Jo said: But I'm also struck by Talpianna's point that the romance novel often assumes that the sexual rake is useless for anything else. That's a very puritanical view, isn't it?

    Yes, but Freud WAS very puritanical. He saw the inner life as the poor ego, sternly lessoned by the superego (which makes John Calvin look like Timothy Leary), trying desperately to keep the lid on the seething kettle of the id. I don't think even the Freudians still believe in the libido as a limited energy source, where energy devoted to sex (wouldn't Freud love Shakespeare's "th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame"?) means that much less energy available for what Freud would undoubtedly consider more valuable activities; but the idea still lurks in the substrate of our society and is no doubt being pushed by the crowd promoting sexual abstinence for the young.

    Laura: I wasn't criticizing you for bringing science and economics to bear on the subject of romance; I was just startled by it for a moment. They are certainly relevant. In fact, the reflection of the economic status of women in popular fiction is a major theme of what may well be the first scholarly study of the romance novel: Pamela's Daughters by Utter and Needham (1936).

    In modern romance, because of the happy endings, the Year King is never going to be sacrificed, even if his sexuality is celebrated and does seem to be remarkably fecund....

    But remember, he is RESURRECTED, being a symbol of the seed going into the ground and being born again in the spring. The rake usually "dies" to his old life, often symbolized by paying off his mistress, giving up gaming, and retiring with the heroine to manage his estates properly. Northrop Frye describes this in both romance and comedy as a newer and more healthy society forming around the hero and heroine, whether it's just a nuclear family or an extended group of friends and relatives with sounder values. Cf. Millamant and Mirabell's mock vows at the end of The Way of the World. (Note: You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to get ahead of a myth critic.)*

    *No, actually you don't. I have insomnia and don't usually get up before 2 p.m.

    (most Regency rakes, playboy sheiks, and promiscuous billionaires are rich); Don't you just hate those dead broke promiscuous billionaires?

    Jo said: But in books a hero's inability to stay clean shaven is often offered as proof of his manliness.

    I'd say it was more likely to be proof of his inability to afford a decent razor.

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  22. One does not put out milk and cookies in hope that Gilles de Rais will come down the chimney.

    That was really silly of me. I managed to completely miss the Bluebeard reference, even though we'd been discussing beards. So now I know something about Gilles de Rais and I think total ignorance would have been a lot more blissful.

    When I mentioned that the modern equivalent of the heroine being a virgin was the heroine having her first orgasm with the hero, one of them remarked that the erotica version was first anal sex.

    That would fit with what I was thinking about it being signalled in some way that the sex is extra-special/unique for the characteres and so is an indication that the relationship is also extra-special.

    It's as if there's some hair balance that must be maintained: for every inch lost on top, grow an inch of skinny ponytail.

    I've seen that. Not very, very often, but enough to wonder if it was an attempt to maintain a hirsutely masculine appearance. Although I do have the impression that as men age they're likely to develop more chest hair

    balding men may find more hair on other parts of their bodies. The hair doesn't so much go away as move down [...]. Many balding men will find themselves with more chest hair. Although dealing with body hair in conjunction with loss of head hair can be difficult, lots of people see chest hair as a sign of James Bond-like manliness. You're handsome in that rugged mountain man kind of way. (from here)

    so perhaps that would also do something to offset the loss on the head (except that nowadays men don't tend to put their chest hair on display, accompanied by a gold medallion).

    But remember, he is RESURRECTED, being a symbol of the seed going into the ground and being born again in the spring. The rake usually "dies" to his old life

    Yes, you're right.

    Pamela Regis also gives the "Point of Ritual Death" as one of the eight essential elements of a romance novel:

    The point of ritual death marks the moment in the narrative when the union between heroine and hero, the hoped-for resolution, seems absolutely impossible [...]. In coining the phrase "point of ritual death," Frye has noted how often, "comic stories ... seem to approach a potentially tragic crisis near the end" (Anatomy 179).
    The heroine is often the target of ritual death, and beneath her very real trials in the narrative is the myth of death and rebirth, which echoes, however remotely, the myth of Persephone.
    (35)

    Can Persephone be considered the female equivalent of the Year King?

    in books a hero's inability to stay clean shaven is often offered as proof of his manliness

    But couldn't it symbolise his nature as the Year King. I thought he had to do with the sprouting of seed, growth of plants etc. So it makes sense that his facial hair should grow particularly quickly. And it's perhaps also a symbol of his virility: his phallus can't stay down and his facial hair keeps growing too.

    [I'm only semi-serious about that, because I know it sounds rather ludicrous, but nonetheless male facial hair has often been associated with virility.]

    ----
    Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.

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  23. If this seems naive - or if someone has already mentioned it and/or demolished it, I apologise. There are so many issues here that it is hard to know where to begin, but to me, with a tendency to see things from a Graeco-Roman rather than a medieval or modern perspective, the appeal of the rake is based on something fairly simple and now, no doubt, extremely unfashionable: the male as a wild creature, and the female as tamer. The human is an amalgam of animal passions, including sexual lust, and the rational mind. When Pysche binds Eros, she is controlling and domesticating a powerful, and essentially mindless, force of nature. Isn't this part of the fundamental appeal to women of the virile male who has been ruled by his animal nature - because she believes that she alone can channel that vitality and guide it into socially constructive paths, into protection rather than confrontation, that she can, if you will forgive the expression, ride the stallion? There are several telling quotations in Heyer's Devil's Cub which express precisely this concept; Mary's conviction that Vidal is merely a 'wild boy', and that she would be able to 'manage' him. Well, clearly she does manage him, with aplomb. Owing to the irritating custom of not indexing novels, I can't find the exact passages without spending some time searching in a book that is already extremely dilapidated and liable to fall apart.

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  24. Sigh. One day I shall learn to proof-read carefully before posting. Psyche, of course.

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  25. I was thinking of Pamela Regis's book when I wrote about the resurrection theme. It's excellent.

    Persephone is an interesting figure, because, like the "rolling stone gathers no moss" proverb, the myth can be interpreted in opposite ways. In Roberta Gellis's Dazzling Brightness, it is a love story, and Demeter is the villain who wants to keep total control of her daughter and not let her become either a full woman or a full priestess. The story is treated in a romantic way, with "rape" in the sense of "carrying off" rather than of brutal sexual assault:

    http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/suminst/eei05/proserpine.gif

    Other accounts treat it literally, with Persephone as the helpless victim of masculine lust:

    http://blogalice.com/files/persephone.jpg

    The Eleusinian Mysteries were all about vegetation myths and death and rebirth; but either in the metaphysical sense or the agricultural sense, not as a story about human relationships.

    Jo and Laura: Forget about the beard. It's all about the voice:
    The Latest in Love & Dating News:
    The Hidden Meaning of a Deep Voice
    Posted: 2007-11-28 14:04:40
    Men, if you have a baritone voice, the ladies are going to flock after you. Why? According to David Feinberg of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, low voices are a primitive signal for reproductive success.

    LiveScience.com reports that Feinberg has shown through previous research that women are attracted to men who have deeper voices, since they are perceived to be healthier and more masculine than those with higher voices. In addition, men are drawn to women whose voices are higher-pitched, since they perceive these females to be more attractive, subordinate, feminine, healthier and younger-sounding.

    But there seems to be a deeper reason why women prefer those baritones. Men who have lower voices really do have more children.

    To examine the link between voice pitch and birth rates, Feinberg's team studied the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, which even in this day and age is still a true hunter-gatherer culture. This was an ideal study ground since the tribe has no access to modern birth control, so the birth rates could be analyzed without outside influencing factors. What they found was easy to measure. The men of the Hadza tribe with the deeper voices had more children than those with higher-pitched voices.

    Feinberg says this provides insight into evolution. "If our ancestors went through a similar process, this could be one reason why men's and women's voices sound different," he explained to LiveScience.com.

    The study findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.

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  26. So I guess the ideal pairing is Billie Burke and Barry White.

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  27. Talpianna - I so enjoyed reading your comments on this post that I visited your blog but it appears to have expired a year ago! I think you should consider resurrecting your blogging career to talk about romance etc.

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  28. The story is treated in a romantic way, with "rape" in the sense of "carrying off" rather than of brutal sexual assault

    That's very interesting. I've been thinking a bit about her story in conjunction with something I've been working on, and this would make a connection between the various stories I was looking at. Thanks!

    Tumperkin, I can see Talpianna's FluffyCatBabylon blog, but the last entry is from August 17, 2006. Is that what you meant by "expired"?

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  29. It's just that my cats haven't been sufficiently amusing. (And I've been "off" both physically and mentally for quite a while.) I will try to blog again. Although it doesn't help that on one of my other favorite forum, people are fulminating against blogs and deploring the low character, intelligence, and charm in general of those who choose to blog...

    I have a number of literary subjects I've been thinking of discussing, but I have to get the cats' permission to use THEIR blog for my purposes first.

    The last Cat Food Night, they had Salmon Florentine. I had hot dogs. You see how things are run around here?

    Laura: I've been interested in the Persephone myth for quite a while, so I may know some sources (especially in SF/fantasy) that you haven't happened on.

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  30. Jumping in late here, very briefly, and from left field:

    I have a sort of undeveloped idea that romance rakery is a version of an underground theme that appears in lots of genre fiction: that of the secret, or alternative society. I'm thinking of course of things like the hellfire club, but I'm also thinking of a a cherished if unacknowledged fantasy of a kind of unofficial egalitarianism between wealthy sexy men and wealthy sexy independent women who make their money in a demi-monde (not a regency word, btw, according to the OED, but I think it's revelatory how often it's used). The companionship between Rhett Butler and Belle Watling is significant here. I think that there's a kind of romantic rakery that serves as a kind of model for a proper heroine who is not of that world but who wants to learn from it how to have a more egalitarian relationship than she's been taught to have.

    But what really fascinates me is this importance of sub rosa social constructs in genre fiction.

    Hope to write about this more when I have more time (deadline for my draft looming monday).

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  31. a kind of unofficial egalitarianism between wealthy sexy men and wealthy sexy independent women who make their money in a demi-monde

    That's a very interesting take. I'm always struck by Regency romances in which the hero has a frank, fond friendship with a mistress or madam--often in contrast to his relationships with "proper" ladies. Usually, despite a good relationship with the mistress, it's never going to turn into love. The hero falls for a woman he has to work harder to get, and who may not completely accept him as he is.

    Some of Susan Johnson's novels seem very similar to the usual depiction of those hero/mistress friendships--but with the heroine as the woman meeting the hero as an equal. I assume she's deliberately claiming the courtesan's sexual freedom, and freedom to be friends with a man, for the heroine.

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  32. I have a sort of undeveloped idea that romance rakery is a version of an underground theme that appears in lots of genre fiction: that of the secret, or alternative society. I'm thinking of course of things like the hellfire club

    And yet, in romance, if he's been bad he's almost always "tamed" by the heroine and he's almost always reintegrated into society, isn't he, by his marriage to the heroine. At least, that's the impression I've got from my reading, and it would fit with Pamela Regis's ideas about the significance of the wedding and attendant celebrations i.e. "Society has reconstituted itself around the new couple(s) and the community comes together to celebrate this" (38).

    I can't recall any romances in which the rake remains outside society, but maybe that's just because of the romances I happen to have come across. And in support of your theory, there do seem to be a lot of secret societies/groups (vampires, spies, groups like Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues, or organisations like Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane Society ). So there certainly does seem to be a fascination with secret societies/groups.


    I'm also thinking of a cherished if unacknowledged fantasy of a kind of unofficial egalitarianism between wealthy sexy men and wealthy sexy independent women who make their money in a demi-monde

    I was thinking that I couldn't think of any examples of this, and then I remembered Heyer's Black Sheep, in which Miles Calverleigh has to get help from Dolly (?), his former mistress and now a madam, and she insists on getting involved in a deception he's planning. They're not exactly equals (he's paying her, after all), but I can see a glimpse of the sort of comradeship you might be referring to.

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  33. Re comradeship, I was thinking of a quick, but obviously memorable, moment in Penelope Williamson's Blue Moon.

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  34. "I can't recall any romances in which the rake remains outside society, but maybe that's just because of the romances I happen to have come across."

    Interesting speculation. In general I think supportive community has to be part of the happy-together ending, because community tends to be important to women, especially childbearing women.

    "And in support of your theory, there do seem to be a lot of secret societies/groups (vampires, spies, groups like Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues, or organisations like Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane Society )."

    Just to be picky, the Company of Rogues isn't really a secret society. It was secret when they were schoolboys, simply because they were schoolboys. Subsequently they're known to exist as a group of friends, but few have any idea of the closeness (especially given that they live very different lives with different goals etc) or of the things they occasionally get up to, of course.

    What about the great popularity of family groups as the core of romance series? It's mostly in historical, isn't it?

    Jo

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  35. I was thinking of a quick, but obviously memorable, moment in Penelope Williamson's Blue Moon.

    This is what I mean about my reading being limited. I'd not even heard of her.

    Just to be picky, the Company of Rogues isn't really a secret society.

    Sorry, I wasn't very clear about that.

    What about the great popularity of family groups as the core of romance series? It's mostly in historical, isn't it?

    I've seen quite a lot of Harlequin Mills & Boon contemporary series about family groups, and Nora Roberts has single-titles based around family groups. I'm sure there must be others, but again, I'll admit my ignorance. I've mostly read M&Bs, because that's what's most easily available in the UK.

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  36. This is what I mean about my reading being limited. I'd not even heard of her.

    My reading is far more limited than yours, Laura. But it's a problem with a genre that produces so, so many texts. Something I don't actually understand about romance scholarship, its boundaries, standards, and possibilities... but that's another discussion (has it been addressed somewhere -- online or in print?)

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  37. Nora Roberts has several trilogies based on family/friendship groups (Three Sisters Island, In the Garden, Stars of Mithra). JAK's Eclipse Bay trilogy, and her AQ trilogy about Lavinia Lake and Tobias March, also involve family groups. But that's always been popular, at least back to Louisa May Alcott.

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  38. it's a problem with a genre that produces so, so many texts. Something I don't actually understand about romance scholarship, its boundaries, standards, and possibilities... but that's another discussion (has it been addressed somewhere -- online or in print?)

    A while ago I wrote a very, very brief blog post titled Academics and Romance: Approaches and Challenges, which possibly began to answer some of these questions, but I didn't think of the problems posed by the vastness of the material available.

    I think whether it is a problem depends very much on the sort of research you're doing. If you just want to show that there is a certain theme which crops up every so often in romances, you don't need to find very many examples. But if you wanted to be able to say how often that theme appears in romance, you'd need more than a few examples. If you want to study just one novel or one author's entire work, then that's self-limiting, but if you want to place that one work or that one author's work in the context of the entire genre, then you might need to do quite a bit more work. There are some short-cuts, e.g. you can tell if an author is popular by reference to sales and awards, or there might be something the author or other authors have written about which features of the work(s) are innovative.

    The standard of research depends on which discipline you're using. Some people study the genre from a sociological perspective, so their techniques are going to be different from those of an academic trained in literary criticism. But, obviously, picking a few examples, or talking to a few readers, and then making vastly inflated claims would not be acceptable in any academic discipline.

    The boundaries are partly defined by the RWA definition of romance (though there's wriggle room depending on what you think's an "optimistic" ending). That differentiates "romance" from the broader class called "romantic fiction", which can include romance. As to the chronology you may or may not want to apply the RWA definition to a time before it became current. To some extent, you have to, because the modern romance has very, very deep roots. So I think there's a fairly clear (but vast) core of romances, published by firms such as Harlequin Mills & Boon, Avon etc, within, say, the past hundred years. Mills & Boon was founded in 1908, though at first they published a mixture of fiction (not all romantic fiction) and non-fiction. E. M. Hull's The Sheik was published in 1919. Heyer's first romance was published in 1921. But then, you could also think of Austen's novels as romances.

    The possibilities, are, I think, very exciting and numerous. Well, I would say that, wouldn't I? There are so many texts to look at and so many different approaches one can take to them.

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