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?
I agree with finding the ending unsatisfactory, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that Nicholas should give up what he was doing. The commitment predated he and Eleanor having feelings for each other and once in it, it would have been pretty difficult to get out without some kind of resolution.
Considering how devastating the threat of a new attack from Napoleon was, I can almost see him not giving up the mistress. He did believe he was doing a vital service for his country, which is laudable. But as I said, I think if the end had been more satisfactory, I would have been more forgiving for the infidelity.
Thanks so much for commenting today! I do appreciate it. 🙂
Hey Jenna! Know we talked about this particular book before. I think it’s almost too much realism for me, at least without a lot of groveling on the part of the hero. For me, I’d want the whole book to be about him scrambling to earn her forgiveness, lol.
Sounds like he doesn’t really beg much forgiveness, and the heroine just goes along with the status quo. That such a huge issue was glossed over at the end would leave me dissatisfied.
He does beg forgiveness, but it still seems to be on “his terms.” And that’s put down to his personality, i.e., he’s not going to grovel and if you love him you have to take him as is. I do think it’s a healthy dose of realism that most romance readers don’t care for. That’s the problem with realistic romance–it still has to encompass the ideal of the hero because the fantasy element is what the reader craves. This is the perfect world, not the real one and we want that fantasy. That’s why it’s called fiction.
I’m also wondering if this book is partly a product of it’s time period. It was published in 1991, but was actually written, I think almost ten years before, just after the crest of the second-wave of feminism. The pendulum had shifted and a lot of the reality of the status quo was again apparent to women. That’s a theory anyway.
I wonder if other works written about that time would have similar issues with the hero? I know there were a lot of books written in the seventies and eighties where the heroine is raped by the hero and then goes on to fall in love with him. (This one borders on that actually–twin brother marries her, but can you imagine waking up to that same face every morning?)
Anyway, thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the discussion! 🙂
Hmmm…tough question. I love heroes that fall, but only so I can read about their redemption. Lost soul’s are my favorite to write. This story sounds like he falls, but doesn’t really redeem himself. I’m sure it’s a great read, as all of Miss Beverley’s books, but I don’t think he would be a favorite hero of mine.
Great review, Jenna!
That’s just the problem, Jennifer. He’s really portrayed as a great guy–I believe Jo Beverley ranks him as her favorite hero–but really caught between a rock and a hard place.
He is the hero who has most stuck in my head because I do like him so much throughout most of the book. He’s very caring towards his wife, even as he’s cheating on her (which sounds bizarre, but is true).
Every time I read it, I just keep hoping the words will change and so will he! 🙂
I don’T do well with disappointment. So a hero that falls from grace after the story begins will most likely not be my fav. I cant think of a book where the hero fell. If he did, I’d stop reading.
Even if he’s struggling with the problem? I must admit, Nicholas does struggle with the decision to quit–you do get that he’s anguished about it at one point, but decides for the good of the country to continue. That hope that he would quit kept me going until the end. And you only see him with his mistress once, at the end of the book.
I guess I just kept hoping up til the very end that he would more of less grovel at Eleanor’s feet. But he doesn’t.
The problem is that he’s too realistic–a fantasy/romantic hero is expected to do that sort of thing. Men don’t do it in real life, but women forgive and take them back anyway.