Jun 30 2011 10:30am

Their Pain Makes Me Happy: Those Schadenfreude Moments

Devil’s Bride by Stephanie LaurensI am aware that writing this post may make me a marked woman:

“Oh, that Myretta. She’s only happy when she’s reading about someone being made unhappy. Why can’t she just enjoy the romance like the rest of us?”

Well, I do enjoy the romance. Why else would I read so much of it? Why else would I write it? But, God forgive me, I love those little moments in romance novels when the evil cousin, or the nasty boss or the crazy mother gets her comeuppance. Yes. During scenes like these, I am all about the schadenfreude.

One of my favorite schadenfreude scenes is in Stephanie Laurens’s  Devil’s Bride.

Honoria Anstruther-Wetherby is hired as a finishing governess to turn out Lady Claypole’s daughter to marry the local duke (who, as it turns out, has no idea that Lady Claypole has made this match). When weather and circumstances force Honoria to spend a night with said duke in a gamekeeper’s cottage, and Lady Claypole comes looking for her absent governess, all Lady C’s grand plans fall apart in a big way:

Her ladyship shrugged. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be all right. So terribly inconsiderate of her to put us to all this fuss.” Directing a weary smile at Devil (the duke), Lady Claypole gestured to the grooms. “We felt we should mount a search, but I daresay you’re right, my lord, and she’ll be sitting snug at the vicarage.”

After Lady Claypole finishes telling Devil how highly recommended her governess was, Honoria appears at the cottage door looking like she just woke up (which she had).

“Well, miss!” Lady Claypole’s strident tones overflowed with indignant outrage. Devil fixed her with a clear, very direct glance that any sane person would have read as a warning. “. . . if this is what you get up to when you say you’re visiting the vicar, you need not think to cross the Claypole Hall threshold again!”

When Devil calmly explains that, of course, Miss Anstruther-Wetherby will become his duchess (both the marriage and duchess part coming as a surprise to Honoria), Lady Claypole backtracks in the most delightful way.

“Really, Your Grace! You can’t have considered.” Lady Claypole had paled. “This matter hardly warrants such a sacrifice—I’m sure Miss Wetherby will be only too happy to reach some agreement…”

Her voice trailed away, finally silenced by the expression on Devil’s face.

It does go on for a little while longer until Lord Claypole manages to extract his wife and get her out of there. I love every bit of this scene. I love seeing Devil put the scheming and hypocritical  Lady C in her place and, as an added bonus, getting Honoria’s back up by his high-handedness (but that’s another post).

Who doesn’t love Lady Whistledown? The plot of Julia Quinn’s Romancing Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia QuinnMr. Bridgerton revolves around the revelation of who has been writing those delicious gossip columns for the past ten years. But it’s also about Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington who has spent the past ten years relegated to the wall by her mother, who feels she is the least attractive and least accomplished of her daughters and who dressed Penelope in absolutely dreadful clothes throughout her girlhood. Who can forget the gown than made her look like some sort of citrus fruit?

Penelope has been pining after Colin pretty much since she was old enough to pine after anyone, but never felt she had a chance, mostly because she had been so overlooked by her family. My next schadenfreude moment comes when Colin goes to Mrs. Featherington to tell her he wants to marry Penelope.

Mrs. Featherington, of course, thinks that Colin is there to offer for her youngest daughter and tries to send the whole family, including Penelope, out of the room except for Felicity (the youngest); Colin holds his ground amid Mrs. Featherington’s repeated attempts to remove Penelope from the room:

Mrs. Featheringon’s lips spread into a feeble attempt at a smile. She looked from Colin to Penelope and back again, and then finally said, “You desired a word?

”Yes,“ he replied, eager to get this done with. ”I would be honored if you would grant me your daughter’s hand in marriage.“

For a moment Mrs. Featherington made no reaction. Then her eyes grew round, her mouth grew round, her body – well her body was already round – and she clapped her hands together, unable to say anything other than, ”Oh! Oh!“

And then, ”Felicity! Felicity!“

. . .

Why are you summoning Felicity?” Colin asked, rising to his feet.

Mrs. Featherington turned to him quizzically. “Don’t you want to marry Felicity?”

Colin actually thought he might be sick. “No, for God’s sake. I don’t want to marry Felicity,” he snapped. “If I’d wanted to marry Felicity, I’d hardly have sent her upstairs for her bloody watercolors, would I?”

Well, there’s more of this, but you get the idea. It is total vindication of Penelope and a direct put-down of her mother’s life-long relegation of her to the bottom of the family totem pole. In my opinion, it’s the best scene in the whole book.

Now let’s take a look at the crazy boss. This one lives in Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas.  Vanessa Flint, for whom our heroine, Haven Travis, works, is one of those crazy/nasty bosses who exert their authority by trying to gaslight their employees. Because Haven is working in her brother Jack’s company, she feels compelled to prove that she can put up with Vanessa’s insidious behavior rather than complain to her brother. And she puts up with a heck of a lot. Until the day she walks into Vanessa’s office to talk about a problem Vanessa had created for another employee  and Vanessa forgets to turn off the intercom.

“You’re out of line,” she informed me. “How I choose to manage the employees is none of your business, Haven.”

“So taking that money out of Samantha’s paycheck is some kind of management technique?”

“I think you’d better leave my office right now. In fact, take the day off. I’ve had more than enough of you and your bratty attitude.”

“If you don’t agree to put that money into Samantha’s account,” I said, “I’m going to Jack.”

That got a reaction. Her face darkened, an her eyes flashed. “You spoiled bitch,” she said, her voice taking on a crisp edge. … “You dare say one word to him, and I’ll unload. By the time I finish telling him what you really are, he’ll be as disgusted by you as I am. He’ll tell you where to –”

And after a little more of this:

“Get out of my office, Haven. And don’t come back. You’ve just been let go.”


I went to my desk to get my purse. As I reached my cubicle, I was bemused to see Samantha, Rob and Kimmie all standing there, wearing identical blank expressions… “What’s going on?” I asked, going into my cubicle. I stopped short as I saw Jack beside my desk. He was staring down at the intercom pad, his color high and his mouth hard.

Then we get to see Jack fire Vanessa. Get the book, if you haven’t read it. It’s worth it just for this scene, but there’s so much more. 

It’s true. I’m one of those people who loves to see the meanies, the crazies, and the negligent get what’s coming to them. And I love to see it embedded in some great romance. Is it just me? Should I seek professional help or can I keep on reading?


Myretta Robens
The Republic of Pemberley

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Jen G.
1. Jen G.
I'm right there with you! Whenever I read a book with a nasty character, my stomach's twisted in knots through the entire book. And I'll admit it -- there are books I've rushed through because I couldn't standing waiting to see the comeuppance!
Jen G.
2. Phyl
Quinn wrote another memberable moment in An Offer from a Gentleman when Benedict & Violet give what-for to Sophie's evil stepmother. Love that scene!
Laurie Gold
3. LaurieGold
I love a good comeuppance. I think in situations like that with Penelope and Mrs. Featherington, the schedenfreude feeds that negative mother-daughter dynamic so many of us hold on to well into adulthood. In other instances it's all part of cheering on the underdog. Either way, it's terrific.
Jen G.
4. EbonI-Rai
Thumbs up! I remember one of my very first romances (the title lost in the dusty attic of my mind) featured a plump heroine who is constantly berated by her step sister who of course is perfect, when the hero completely sets her down I think I shouted yes! I've been hooked on romance ever since. Nothing quite like seeing the bad guy (or girl) get what's coming to them.
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
I'm all about the smack-down. All the tittles mentioned above I've already read. I'm always on the look out for a good payback scene. I'll read most anything if the bad guy/gall gets a good 'beating' by the end of the story.
Anna Bowling
6. AnnaBowling
Late to the party on this one, but another vote for the scadenfruede. There's nothing to match the moment when the villain knows they are never ever going to win and have in fact lost it all. One of my favorites of this sort is from an old, old historical, A Banner Red and Gold by Annelise Kamada, where the same villainess who has tormented the same hero and heroine for two entire books, knows without a doubt that not only are hero and heroine together and happy, but that she has lost and will forever be utterly alone.
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