Mar 1 2011 5:00pm

Manly Men in Red High Heels: Alistair and Rothgar Bring It!

Jo Beverley’s DevilishAll fictional stories involve world building. Historical stories require world introduction, the conveyance of a sense of place and time that the characters are going to inhabit.

The further you go back in the mists of time, the more imaginative the knitting together of the bare (and barely available) facts needs to be to make the world seem plausible.

Take the Georgian period, which for the purposes of the historical romance novel is the mid- to late 18th century to 1811. The glittering world of the nobility in Georgian England was symbolized by lavish fashions for men and women, culinary marvels, soaring architecture, and every other excess imaginable.

These Old Shades by Georgette HeyerInto this world, Georgette Heyer dropped her Alistair, Duke of Avon, from the story These Old Shades. He wore red-heeled shoes, carried a scented lace handkerchief in his hand, sprinkled jewels on his cravat, and powdered his hair. But no one reading the novel would mistake him for a fop. Avon was a formidable hero of strength, character, intelligence, and strong will.

Just as Jo Beverley’s Beowulf, Marquess of Rothgar, éminence noir of England was formidable. As the story Devilish shows, there was nothing of the mincing dandy in Rothgar. He may have moved in languid hauteur, allowed no emotion to mar the tranquility of his face, worn elaborate clothes fashioned from the cloth of gold, traveled in a sedan chair to court, and yet to the heroine: “He was a man who had to be engaged mind, body, emotions, and soul” in order to truly be reached.

Both Rothgar and Avon are examples of men who were ascetic in their mannerisms and behavior yet who dressed and moved about in keeping with their peers. They were both physically strong and skilled at fighting with swords and with their fists and had the wherewithal to use them. However, they rarely used physical force, because a cutting word, a chilling look, a measured tone were intimidating enough. They were alphas in their milieu.

The incongruity of a foot massage from Rothgar to Diana and of Avon allowing Léonie to jump up on a chair in front of his family notwithstanding, both men had a ruthless streak that was in keeping with their redoubtable reputation. While they were both clearly more indulgent with their heroine than with anyone else, even their siblings, there was always a part of them that was inviolate, that made them strong men who were not pushovers. “I am yours to command in all things,” Rothgar said. “My body and heart want you. Only my cursed will reminds me of other things.”

Heyer’s hero isn’t shown to be doing work for his vast dukedom, whereas Beverley’s hero is clearly involved in all aspects of the business of his marquessate. This is a stylistic difference between the authors. Beverley tries to portray more realistic characters, which has her hero doing his “job” in addition to his relationship with the heroine. Heyer, on the other hand, doesn’t let up on the focus on the hero and heroine and their relationship. Outside events influence Beverley’s characters just as they influence external events. Heyer’s characters focus on influencing outside events by and large. And yet, in every instance of the story, the reader is fully immersed in the society and culture of the time period.

Both Rothgar and Avon were clever, astute, indurate, yet always honorable men. They lived sumptuous lives and were actively engaged with their Georgian society. But the authors’ greatest achievement was to humanize them.

Red roses image in thumbnails 

Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval and Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR's Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook.

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Louise Partain
1. Louise321
Love them both. Actually Heyer's Avon was a villain turned hero from her first novel The Black Moth which I remember that she wrote as an adolescent to entertain her brother while he was ill (no TV in those days). The names were changed from the first book, hence the title -- These Old Shades but the back story of the neighbor and his wife are nearly the same and his character certainly is deliciously similar. It was also part of a loosely knit family series as was the Rothgar book, Devilish, and was followed by Devil Cub (his son) and An Infamous Army (his great-granddaughter.)
2. Phyl
I agree with this. And I'd add to these two Mary Balogh's Luke from Heartless. There's some rather vivid description of the Georgian dress yet Luke is as in control and masculine as Avon & Rothgar. Great heroes all.
Keira Soleore
3. KeiraSoleore
@Louise321: Thanks for the background to Avon's character. A villian redemption makes the best hero in a good author's hands.

@Phyl: Ah, yes, Luke, of course. He's a good addition to the pantheon.
4. Jo Beverley
Thanks for the analysis, Keira. Avon was certainly an influence when creating my Malloren World, but there were others. And as pointed out, Avon was a cold-hearted villain rescued by love, whereas Rothgar is a reserved, powerful man who needs love to compel him to take the ultimate risk.

As I see it, anyway. Every reading is valid.


Liz Maverick
5. Liz Maverick
I remember when Devilish came out. I think it was the first time in my historical romance reading experience where a huge collective anticipation had built up amongst readers for a story featuring a particular hero. There was a sort of Rothgar madness, if you will. Great fun! We couldn't wait. It's more common now because so many writers write series with the ramp-up to the final hero built in.
Keira Soleore
6. KeiraSoleore
@Liz: As you pointed out, Rothgar was indeed groundbreaking in himself and the way his story was the apex of the series.

@JoBev: Thank you for your comment. It's always interesting to know how the writer envisioned a character, that the readers now have made their own, with their own version of him, their own emotions attached to her.
7. Janet W
Glad someone included Mary Balogh's Luke. Of the trio, he discusses and cares about his ... presentations aka clothes ... more than the other two yet, like them, he's deadly in heels. Can't say I agree with
Both Rothgar and Avon were clever, astute, indurate, yet always honorable men ... the word I highlighted. Which I had to look up :) And I would perhaps quibble with always honourable for Avon -- certainly the brief glimpses of his past make one wonder altho he turned himself inside out (while staying Avon) for Leonie. Readers are missing a good game if they don't read Devil's Cub -- where Avon is more the Lion in Winter but still in charge of every web.
Keira Gillett
8. Keira
You mentioned the magic words .... "These Old Shades" and now I'm picking up Devilish at the library! Yum!
Louise Partain
9. Louise321
By all means, Devilish is a yummy read. You might want to do the whole series. From loving frustration to frustration, to frustration, to loving frustration, to total absolute head banging frustration, Rothgar leads siblings and beloved on a wonderful Georgian carpet ride where all things are possible.
Keira Soleore
10. KeiraSoleore
@Keira and @Louise321: Any time anyone is inspired to read the Mallorens, particularly Devilish is a good thing. Heh, and I get the frustration and the headbanging and aaarrggghhh where Rothgar is concerned, and that is why his story eventually so satisfying. A job superbly done by the author.
Keira Soleore
11. KeiraSoleore
@Janet: Avon is most certainly not cuddly in the first book, but in his own book, Leonie, by her sheer presence, elicits all his protective instincts, albeit reluctantly, that make him want to treasure her instead of merely use her, and in doing so, he's fundamentally changed.
12. Janet W
Keira said, "Both Rothgar and Avon were clever, astute, indurate, yet always honorable men." And I would say prior to Leonie, that Avon was not, by his own recognition, always honourable. Rothgar was. They both left indurate behind when they fell for their respective heroines -- and both were fundamentally changed, altho I think Avon more so. Another interesting conversation about changing for love is between Wulfric and Christine (Slightly Dangerous) ... those sorts of conversations are always so fascinating, imo.
Louise Partain
13. Louise321
Ah, Wulfric and Christine! Who can forget the scene with the handkerchief, the drenched pink dress, and Wulfric covering her in his coat and bearing her to her home on his horse. And Wulf diving off a tree and admonishing the children on the bank that it was still against the rules, while his sister hugs Christine and says if that is what she has done for him, she will love her the rest of her life. What a wonderful love story!
Estara Swanberg
14. Estara
I think we can count Lynne Connolly's Richard from her Richard & Rose series (most recently with Samhain) as another hero in this mold. Because there is more than one book about the pair (this being romance and mystery) the author is able to explore the family ties and the weaknesses and strengths of hero and heroine while showing the way they develop a united front of behaviour according to the mores of the time.
Keira Soleore
15. KeiraSoleore
@Estara, @Janet, and @Louise: Thank you for bringing up more examples. I have not read Lynne Connolly's book, but now I most certainly want to read it. I have read Mary Balogh's and I agree that Wulf's story is very much in keeping with the Rothgar-Avon heroic style.

@Janet and @JoBev: Both of you brought up the point that Rothgar was a hero waiting to be moulded, Avon was a real scapegrace in the earlier book and had much further to travel in order to be hero-material-ready.
Kaetrin @Kaetrin's Musings
16. Kaetrin
I thought I'd commented before but I something weird must have happened. Try again! :)

I, too, am a huge fan of Rothgar. He's one of my very favourite heroes. Oh and the scene where he and Diana first kiss? *sigh*. Devilish is a comfort read for me - I can pick it up and start just about anyway and be instantly in the zone. I also loved how Rothgar let Diana fight her own battles - as much as he is an alpha male, he recognised that Diana is an independent woman who needed to stand on her own two feet and the way that's played out in the book is just the best.

I'd second (third?) the nomination for Luke from Heartless - that's my favourite Mary Balogh novel. I adore it. He's about the only hero I can think of who can totally pull of makeup and fan and still be 100% masculine!
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