|The original cover|
From the opening words of her novel, Samuel wants her readers to know that her hero, the estranged only son of the Earl of Monthart, is a rake: "Lucien Harrow was drunk. It was not uncommon. In his set, to be sober at three of a muggy early summer morning would have been a far more unusual occurrence" (Loc 28). Yet what follows—a description of Lucien madly writing down the music he hears in his head, then burning it before finally falling into sleep—suggests that Lucien's drunkenness serves not only, or perhaps not even primarily, as pleasure. Lucien, then, embodies the archetype of the tormented rake that would haunt historical romances during the 1990s: a rake, yes, but one who uses self-gratification to keep other, more disturbing feelings at bay.
Invited to a house party by lusty widow Lady Juliette, Lucien is immediately attracted to the countess's step-daughter, Madeline. Juliette makes it abundantly clear that Lucien is not to pursue the challenge her step-daughter presents, for she's intended for another. Though his best friend Jonathan is currently carrying on an affair with Juliette, an affair in which Jonathan's heart seems to be at risk, Lucien has no scruples about deploying his seductive arsenal on both women:
God, it was too perfect! As he met that [Juliette's] avaricious gaze, Lucien made up his mind to seduce the girl. What rake worthy of the name could resist?
.... Yes, he would seduce Madeline, under the watchful eye of her guardian, and meanwhile let Juliette think he was intent on seducing her.
It might be his most splendid adventure to date. (Loc 325)
Lucien's Fall evokes not the current crop of rascally rake romances, but instead the intense, all consuming passion of late 17th century and early 18th century amatory fiction, stories of rakes overpowered by their love/lust then seducing or overpowering the objects of said feelings. In books such as Eliza Haywood's Love in Excess (1719) (an immensely popular English novel, outsold only by Defoe's Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe in its day), passion is overwhelming, beyond the control of either lover; it cares not what damage it does to those around it, even to the lovers themselves.
|Frontispiece and title page from Love in Excess|
What other historical romances feature heroes who are rakes in more than name only? Who actually act in cruel or selfish ways during the course of the novel, rather than in the distant past? Or do you find such heroes so unappealing that you wouldn't want to read about them?