Good Morning, fellow readers. I’m actually cheating a bit today. I’m reviewing a much older book than usual, Jo Beverley’s first in the Company of Rogues series, An Arranged Marriage. This is for two reasons: first, because I love the book, and second because I wanted to use it as a jumping off point for a discussion of Heroes I’ve been itching to do.
I’m actually piggy-backing off of two postings from the past few days. One was on a Goodreads post Leia Shaw did last week that ended up talking about heroes. The other is a blog posted yesterday by fellow writer Casea Major over on Tabitha’s Nocturnal Nights. Her post was entitled “What is It About the Hero that Captures Our Imagination?” and she gives us reasons why we instinctually seek a hero.
My question is: what happens when heroes fail? Not necessarily fail in accomplishing the task they are set, but fail to live up to the ideal we have of them as hero? We put heroes up on pedestals by forcing expectations on them, especially in romance novels. Real life heroes we cut some slack–they are human after all. But our romance heroes are held to a higher standard, well, because they are the higher standard we want others to measure up to.
So what happens when the hero falls off that pedestal?
Nicholas Delaney, the hero of An Arranged Marriage, does fall and though he tries to climb back up, he never quite makes it, in my opinion. The novel’s premise, for those who may not have read it, is Nicholas is pressured into an arranged marriage with Eleanor, a woman who his twin brother raped but cannot marry. Nicholas is engaged, at the time, as a government spy, trying to prevent another rise to power by Napoleon. In order to do this, he must seduce a former lover and courtesan to get her cooperation in this delicate matter. So he’s having a very sordid affair for three-quarters of the book, cheating on his wife, who of course finds out about it. Well, but it’s just an arranged marriage, so no big deal, right?
Wrong, because during the course of the book, Nicholas and Eleanor fall in love. But he continues to carry on the affair, for God and country. In the end, though, he does break with the courtesan and come back to Eleanor, who learns the truth and forgives him.
I have read the book several times and the character of Nicholas Delaney is as charismatic and charming as they come. He is the hero’s hero, the leader of a band of very powerful men–including the heir of a duke, a speaker in Parliament, soldiers, others of high-ranking nobility–called the Company of Rogues, a schoolboy band of friends whose friendship remains steadfast long past the schoolroom. Nicholas is also a ladies’ man–a renowned lover with a handsome face and beautiful body. And he is an extremely compassionate, warm, loving man. The perfect hero.
But how does the perfect hero cheat on his wife, cause her untold misery, pain and humiliation, and still remain the perfect hero? Does his single-minded devotion to his country outweigh his duty to his wife? And why, at the end when he is seeking forgiveness from Eleanor, does he not seem quite contrite enough?
This last may be my biggest beef with Nicholas (and by extension with Ms. Beverley who created him). I might be able to forgive this hero for continuing his affair in the service of his country. But he never seems to try to atone sufficiently for his sins when he and Eleanor are reunited. And I, as reader, am left feeling that he gets off too lightly in the scheme of things. I still love the book–I recommend it as a deeply romantic novel–though it has given me a love-hate relationship with its hero.
So what do you do with a flawed hero? A hero who falls off his pedestal, who doesn’t quite live up to your expectations of hero-like behavior? Are there other heroes out there like Nicholas Delaney who you love to hate? Please share your thoughts with me on this topic. I’d really like to get some perspective–am I holding Nicholas to too high a standard?