Apr 21 2012 1:30pm

The Very Definition of a Rake: Outlaw by Susan Johnson

Susan Johnson’s Outlaw was published in 1993. It’s a historical romance set in 1704 in Scotland, just over the border from England. The hero, John Carre, is laird of his clan, but to me as a romance reader, his most significant characteristic is that he is a Rake. Yes, with a capital R.

The term rake gets thrown around a lot in historical romances. Most of the time, I don’t think it’s warranted. The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that rake is short for rakehell and mentions the following characteristics that should apply: 1) stylishness (presumably in terms of clothing); 2) dissolution and/or promiscuity, dissolution probably referring to moral laxness of some sort, such as negligence or profligacy. Promiscuity is often referred to in romance novels, but not often shown with, well, profligacy.

Now let’s have a look at John Carre. Let’s get stylish out of the way first:

Every man’s eyes were trained on their tall, rangy Laird dressed like a freebooter: the shoulder armor on his leather jack gleaming in the candlelight; two pistols still shoved under his wide leather belt; an ivory-handled dirk swinging from a scabbard at his hip; his long black hair wet because he refused to wear headgear; his green-and-brown hunting plaid—the color of concealment—draped over one shoulder; his leather breeches and spurred riding boots dull earth brown like the landscape.

Dissolution, I will give you, is not really part of Carre’s character, because he’s the Laird and responsible for the lives of quite a number of people; he’s politically savvy and not wasteful with his funds. He does not achieve rakedom in that category, unless it counts that he’s willing to abduct a woman based on her potential ransom value. True, that’s not unusual for his time and place.

“Considering…the particular style of Godfrey’s sense of honor, and old Hotchane’s fondness for his wife, estimated to be in the neighborhood of sixty thousand English pounds…I personally feel having Elizabeth Godfrey Graham for a short visit would not only be a fair quid pro quo in terms of Robbie’s abduction, but perhaps a financially sound proposition as well. Any questions?”

“When do we leave?” a hotspur young clansman cheerfully inquired.

However, John Carre gets a high rating for promiscuity. In most historical romance novels, the reader might be told the Rake has had hundreds of satisfied lovers, and he might begin the book with a gorgeous, expensive mistress. For the most part, though, once the rake hero sees the heroine, all the other lovers stop, because he is smitten with the heroine. He promptly loses interest in all other women, unless, for example, he has sex with one to 1) try and allay his obsession with the heroine; 2) make the heroine jealous; 3) mend his broken heart after the heroine has rejected him.

Of course that’s part of the fantasy; the heroine is special, and she’s special to him in particular; but at the same time, I appreciate seeing a Rake who’s a little harder to win.

In the opening of Outlaw, Carre has been holed up with a pickup for days on end.

He’d met Mary Holm two days ago in Kelso at a country inn where her acrobatic troupe was staying. She’d caught his eyes deliberately and then came up to him where he stood watching his men throwing dice.

“I’m Mary,” she’d said, looking up at the tall, dark-haired Border Lord with an open invitation in her eyes.

…They’d hardly been out of bed since Tuesday.

One lover, you say, is not promiscuous. A few days later, after Carre is untimely snatched from his bed, he returns to find his kidnapped brother’s lover awaiting him:

[He] further sobered at the sight of Janet Lindsay in his bed. As Laird of Ravensby and Earl of Graden, he attracted women with his title alone, but had he been dispossessed of a title, his bonny looks would have served him equally well. “Is Jamie gone south again?” he casually remarked, softly closing the door behind him. His neighbor’s wife was one of several local women who entertained him. And while he never sought them out, he didn’t refuse them either.

…”I thought you might be in need of...consolation.“

He refused her gently, politely, standing very still...far away from the bed. But she hadn’t ridden four miles through the storm to be turned away.

…Pulling his head down, she kissed him instead. But he found he didn’t mind. Or not enough to be discourteous. And in the end he didn’t regret it, either, for she was a woman of remarkable virtuosity.

However, Elizabeth Graham, the heroine, has a hint of the rake about her, as well. The perfect match!

[Elizabeth] grinned back, recalling the stories beyond the Laird of Ravensby’s border raids, the ones detailing his amorous exploits. ”Perhaps I’m rich enough to afford you both [Carre and his brother].“ She surveyed him as slowly as he had her. ”Although I’m not at the moment in the market for someone to ... keep me. Remember that,“ she added in an altogether different tone, a warning that he duly noted. ”But if I were,“ she went on, the warmth returned to her voice, her green eyes amused, ”I’d certainly consider you.“

It stopped him for a moment, the fact that she showed no fear, the additional fact that she propositioned as a man might. And Godfrey’s daughter took on an instant fascination. While he’d previously harbored no designs on her except for her value in Robbie’s release, he found himself suddenly aware of the soft warmth of her bottom bouncing gently on his thighs as they rode hard for the border.

Elizabeth’s advent does not, however, instantly stop Carre’s indulgence in other women. Janet Lindsay remains a rival for some time, for his body if not his soul, and it’s that as well that, to me, qualifies John Carre as the dictionary definition of a rake.

”Why not indeed, you incorruptible prude,“ Janet facetiously retorted. ”I thought for a moment I might have to tie you up and strip your clothes from you against your protests.“

His smile widened. “Maybe later...”


Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief, May 2012, is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

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chris booklover
1. chris booklover
Thanks for a great post. Many heroes in today's romance novels are described as "rakes" but turn out not to be very .... rakish, because they have few romantic or sexual options. If authors do not want to write about real rakes that is perfectly O.K. - as long as they don't mislead readers.

Susan Johnson is one of the few authors who writes real, as opposed to fake, rakes. Alexander, the hero of her 1981 novel Love Storm, is more dissolute and even more of a womanizer than Johnny Carre, but nevertheless becomes a believable monogamous husband by the end of the novel.
Victoria Janssen
2. VictoriaJanssen
@Chris Booklover, you have convinced me I must seek out Love Storm.
chris booklover
3. NicolaO
What a great post! Now I need to read this book.
chris booklover
4. lady trudy
SJ writes consistently great books with excellent stories in addition to really interesting men. and her heros are blatantly naughty. Anne Stuart writes very naughty 'heroes' as well.
Victoria Janssen
5. VictoriaJanssen
@NicolaO - go for it!

@lady trudy, Johnson has been recommended to me more than once because I like Stuart!
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