Oct 15 2011 3:30pm

He’s Gotta Have It: Addiction in Historical Romance

The Rake by Mary Jo Putney"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.

Prelude to a Scandal by Delilah MarvelleDelilah 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.

Libertine’s Kiss by Judith JamesJudith 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.

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Lynne Connolly writer
1. Lynne Connolly writer
The Rake, or in its earlier incarnation, The Rake and The Reformer is a true classic. In the age Reggie lived in, it was dangerous to drink water. Everybody drank alcohol of some kind because the process rendered water safe. And Reggie is a true alcoholic, not a drunk who needs to reform.
Beautifully told and highly believable.
I've written a book about a reformed addict, and I'm about to write one about a reluctant addict. The research is heartbreaking.
Anna Bowling
2. AnnaBowling
Lynne, I have both versions of Reggie's story and treasure them. This is one of the greats.

A reluctant addict sounds like a fascinating character, and I'm sure you'll do them justice.
3. KateRothwell
Yikes, I haven't read any of these. Carrie Lofty's book, Scoundrel's Kiss, has a heroine addicted heroine for an interesting change.

I have a Victorian-set book with an addict --The Mad Baron (that's a Summer Devon book). It was interesting to discover how very many drugs they had access to in those days, including peyote.
Myretta Robens
4. Myretta
Jo Beverley's To Rescue a Rogue's hero is Darius Debenham, a long-missing member of her Company of Rogues, who turns up unwillingly addicted to opium. She does an excellent job (which should come a no surprise) in telling the story of his recovery. Dare is probably easier to love because his addiction was not self-inflicted.
Lynne Connolly writer
5. jo bourne
I love Rake. It's one of the classics of the genre. And I was going to bring up Jo Beverley's book but Myretta beat me to it. So I'll just add
Judy Cuevas/Judith Ivory Bliss.
Louise Partain
6. Louise321
Love Reggie and the Rake and Dare in To Rescue a Rogue because even though the addiction was involuntary, the withdrawal is shown in detail as well as the self hatred addiction brings. Another look at opium addiction is in The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter. It doesn't just show the enticement of the opium addiction, but the East India Company's traffic with China in opium smuggling and if you know your history you know how the opium wars turned out. Plus besides the hero whose withdrawal struggle is in the past, there is a current victim shown in the opium dens of London.
For the contemporary paranormal romance, I vote for the BDB featuring a take your pick cornucopia of addictions.
Anna Bowling
7. AnnaBowling
Kate - I can't believe I didn't mention The Mad Baron; I loved that book and thought the addiction angle was handled beautifully. I have Carrie Lofty's books, and an addicted heroine should be an interesting change to be sure.
Myretta - I'm looking forward to discovering Jo Beverley's Rogues; she's fabulous, and I'm intrigued by the fact that Dare's addiction isn't his own doing.
Jo - Bliss is in my TBR mountain, and it looks delicious.

Louise - The Sins of Lord Easterbrook sounds intriguing and informative. Can that be read on its own or is it better to read the connected books first?
Louise Partain
8. Louise321
Anna -- Of course I read all of Madeline's series in order *G* and the back stories (because this is a series ender) are more prominent than usual and therefore you will miss a lot if you don't read the other books, but still, if you can't find the others, Easterbrook is well worth reading on its own.
Lynne Connolly writer
9. Juliana Philippa
Wonderful post. I've read some of these (am a huge fan of The Rake - it's one of my all-time favs), but not others. Will be looking them up now because yes, I love these types of heroes!
Darlene Marshall
10. DarleneMarshall
I liked The Rake and the Reformer better than the re-write. I was working in the addictions field at the time, and thought Ms. Putney did an excellent job walking the line between anachronism and the reality of Reggie's life and need to get past his addiction.

If you're interested in more on period thoughts on alcohol addiction, I recommend the biography Benjamin Rush, Patriot and Physician by Alyn Brodsky. Rush was an American physician who died in 1813 and wrote a seminal paper on "Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits".
Anna Bowling
11. AnnaBowling
Louise - I'm like you; if I read a series, it must be in order. I'll have to find the correct order for this one in that case. I hate missing out on the details.

Julianna - I'm glad you liked the post, and it looks like you have some great reading ahead of you. Lots of fabulous heroes in this category.

Darlene - Thanks for the recommendation on the Benjamin Rush book; I'm very much interested in finding out more period thoughts on the subject.
Lynne Connolly writer
12. mochabean
Eloisa James The Taming of the Duke (#3 in the Essex sisters series) probably qualifies, although not as romangsty as others; it has James' humorous and light touch. It is pretty interesting in that the hero has spent the previous two books drunk, unkempt and (gasp!) paunchy, and the heroine has spent the previous two books being selfish, petty and stupid. Yet the story works, and includes a pretty grim portrait of alcohol withdrawal and the difficulties of an alcoholic's decsion to remain sober.
Anna Bowling
13. AnnaBowling
Mochabean, I'll add The Taming of the Duke to my TBR list. That is very interesting that the hero undergoes such a drastic change in his journey out of addiction. Plus "romangsty" is a fun word.
Lynne Connolly writer
14. mochabean
Credit where credit is due: I first heard "romangst" from Sarah at "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" and Jane from "Dear Author"...

The Essex Sisters series is really good. I hate to add to your TBR pile but I think The Taming of the Duke works better if you read the first two books in the series first. And the last one in the series is a joy -- the heroine is deemed "overweight" by society (nicknamed "The Scottish Sausage" at her debut) and the rake hero teaches her to love her curves, including showing her how to walk in a gown by wearing said gown.
Lynne Connolly writer
15. desiree reilly
the victorian era is getting ppular and then i would love to win then
and then the books sound great
Vanessa Ouadi
16. Lafka
My list of to-be-read books is getting longer and longer by every comment I read - it already spread while reading your post Anna, I've only read Featherstone's Addicted so far ! I find addiction-struggling heroes simply compelling, and the love stories in those books really breath-taking. Higher the mountain, deeper the love, isn't it?
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