"Hello, my name is Nicholas, and I am an alcoholic.”
Let’s file this one under phrases that will probably never be read in historical romances, at least those set prior to the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
Take our fictional Nicholas above; raise your hand if you’d have a hard time buying a nineteenth century English duke willing to reduce himself to his given name and the fact that he is powerless to resist his urges. Maybe he’d allow that he really oughtn’t lose control this much, if he were in the company of his most intimate fellows. Even so, without recourse to AA, rehab, detox, therapy or professional counselors trained in interventions, with or without a reality TV crew in tow, this hero is going to have a difficult road to walk. In the hands of a talented author, this can provide a challenging but not insurmountable obstacle to happily ever after.
There is a reason why Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake (first published as The Rake and the Reformer) is a classic. In a word, Reggie. Okay, Reggie and Alys. Of course Reggie is going to have some issues; he was the villain of the previous book in the series, The Diabolical Baron. He lost his entire family at the tender age of eight, along with his home, and a surprise relative yanked the title Reggie had counted upon inheriting right out from under him, hurts and disappointments he tries to drown in drink, but readers can see that he’s only going to end up drowning himself instead. It’s Alys, the unconventional steward of his beloved estate, who suggests he not concern himself with the rest of his life, but one day of it at a time. He has to learn he is not alone, and there is a way out.
Delilah Marvelle’s Prelude to a Scandal goes beyond the stereotypical Regency rake by viewing its hero, Radcliff Morton, the Duke of Bradford, as what modern audiences would term a sex addict. Bradford doesn’t merely like sex; rather, it consumes his every thought, and he knows he has to do something to become a worthy husband to his desired bride, Justine. His first attempt is to remove all temptation, sequester himself in a male-only household for eight months, even to the point of insisting upon a (gay) male servant to serve as Justine’s maid. Even the best intentions of restraint have their weak spots, and for Bradford, it’s the portrait he keeps of his brother’s mistress, to serve as inspiration for taking himself in hand. Justine isn’t okay with this. Bradford makes promises to try to do better, and hopes marriage will cure him. Though Justine is a loving partner, and wants to help Bradford, they both have a lot to learn before they can stand on solid ground.
Addicted by Charlotte Featherstone opens with first person narration by the hero, Lindsay, waxing rhapsodic about his love of opium. The drug is his mistress, he its disciple, and he readily admits that his erotic dreams about heroine Anais are in reality a ménage, as the opium is forever between them. Opium, as Lindsay finds out, is going to fight for her man, an active player in driving Anais out of his life, but when Lindsay has the right motivation, he is able to choose between his two great loves, knowing that choosing one means losing the other. The anguish Anais feels rings true for those who have loved addicts and been caught in the fallout of behavior under the influence. Nothing is tied up in a pretty package, but Lindsay and Anais manage to weather the storm.
Judith James presents an almost irredeemable hero in her Restoration era Libertine’s Kiss. Note the almost. No fake rake here, William DeVeres is hell bent on his own destruction, hard drinking, promiscuous, careless with his words to the point of taunting the king in verse, all in an attempt to obliterate the horrors of his past. He’s also a brilliant poet, able to weave words like no other. In a historical novel, his downward spiral would be a fascinating tragedy, but this is a romance, so he has Lizzy, his childhood sweetheart, herself a survivor of domestic abuse. Lizzy isn’t afraid of walking through Will’s dark places with him, as she has her own traumas and knows they don’t have to rule the rest of her life. Still, she stands up for herself and tells Will she can’t save him. She can love him, but she can’t heal him. If Will wants to live differently, he has to be the one to take the passion he poured into his debauchery and use it to overcome his addictions.
A love that will be there through life’s darkest hours is a universal desire—no matter the century or circumstance. Much as readers love a bad boy, romance heroes (and heroines) who can commit to the difficult task of overcoming addiction can provide readers with an even greater payoff.
Have you fallen in love with any of these types of tortured heroes?
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing With Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.