Apr 1 2014 3:00pm

Rhett Butler, Colonel Brandon, and More: The Allure of the Older Hero in Romance Novels

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne LongToday we're joined by author Julie Anne Long, whose Between the Devil and Ian Eversea has just been released. Julie Anne has written many heroes, including the titular Ian Eversea, but was inspired by older heroes when she wrote the Duke of Falconridge in What I Did For a Duke. Julie Anne is here to discuss the appeal of older heroes. Thanks, Julie Anne!

The other day I was talking with a friend about historical romance epics—those sweeping, deliciously fat tomes that in all likelihood influenced, if only tangentially, the writing of a generation of romance authors, myself included. Books like Gone with the Wind, The Thorn Birds, and specifically in my case, Through a Glass Darkly (one of those immensely satisfying dynastic romances brought to us by the '80s, and one of the books responsible for my career, in that I was captivated by it). They had in common richly realized historical settings, casts of dozens, generations' worth of passion and drama. Rich, rich veins of angst ran through all of them.

And interestingly, the ones we remembered off the top of our heads all feature older heroes and younger heroines.

Much older heroes and much younger heroines.

Does a historical saga require a May/December romance to be considered sweeping and epic and unforgettable? Probably not. Still, it was an intriguing realization.

I do know many readers have unshakeable opinions about age differences between the hero and heroine in historical romances, either pro or con. But others—and I'm among them—think the ages of the two are entirely character and story dependent. And in reviewing the evidence, it's hard to deny that the older hero has a certain indelible romantic appeal. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, to Rhett Butler to The Thorn Birds' Ralph de Bricassart all the way to the present day's Duke of Falconbridge (you see? I succumbed to writing an older hero in What I Did For a Duke)...what's the appeal?

Well, for one, they're seasoned—established in their careers, often independently wealthy, possibly widowers or veterans of war. They've known triumph, failure, love and heartbreak, and they're stronger for it. They have vision based on the lofty perspective of years. Whatever confidence they have is earned, often in a trial by fire, and they're unapologetically themselves—they could care less what anyone else thinks at this point and they don't suffer fools gladly, because they're conscious of the value and passage of time. Think of the moment Rhett Butler sweeps onto the scene in Gone with the Wind—he could give a damn (to borrow from a famous line) what anyone thinks of him, or as he says, “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.” He alone has the vision to see what the war will really do to the country and to all those ridiculously giddy young men; he knows instantly that Scarlett. There's the Duke of Falconbridge in What I Did For a Duke—he knows a haze of nefarious rumors surround him, but he couldn't care less—it in fact affords him a certain amount of privacy, and he's entirely comfortable in his own skin.

They know what they want. There's a sort of calm, often of the steely sort, and certainty to many of these older heroes. Because experience has taught them to recognize what they want when they see it.

They're patient. Which, granted, is not a quality typically synonymous with “sexy.” But it's a different kind of patience. It's a man who knows what he wants, and has pride enough to wait for it with a certain romantic integrity; if necessary, he's willing to play the long game, though he's not above a little strategizing. He's known wins and losses; he's solid enough not to lose his nerve. He's passionate, but it's not a stormy passion, usually; but in some ways it's more thrilling, because damming and channeling it emphasizes its intensity. (When these guys do let go, it's hot.) It's Rhett Butler waiting out Scarlett O'Hara's determinedly blinkered obsession for Ashley Wilkes, or Colonel Brandon's dignified endurance and absolutely commitment to his love for Marianne Dashwood, as if he knows she needs time to mature, to recognize him as the worthy one. It's the Duke of Falconbridge, who never loses a card game, deliberately throwing one in order to force Genevieve Eversea's hand—he knows it's the only way he'll ever really know if she loves him, the only way she'll know her own heart. It's an enormous, terrifying gamble. He's brave enough to make it.

They can be authoritarian. They're so damn sure of themselves that this can be the source of delightfully interesting friction and conflict when they encounter independent-minded women or women they want but can't immediately have.

Finally, I'm reminded of that scene in Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne Dashwood is so terribly ill, at death's door. Alan Rickman's Colonel Brandon slumps against the wall outside the room, saying to Elinor with a sort of strangled torment, his usual grace and patience hanging by a thread, “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.” It's that scene in What I Did For a Duke, when Falconbridge suggests to Genevieve they marry, and she protests, confused, says, “but we're not in love.” She's dealt him a mortal blow, but she only knows by how very still he goes. He doesn't contradict her. But we know how he feels.

It's devastating when men this strong and mature, so seemingly unmovable, are made vulnerable by love. And this is probably why they'll keep showing up in romances for years to come.

Learn more or order a copy of Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann Long, out now:

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USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long originally set out to be a rock star when she grew up (and she has the guitars and fringed clothing stuffed in the back of her closet to prove it), but writing was always her first love. Since hanging up her guitar for the computer keyboard, her books frequently top reader and critic polls and have been nominated for numerous awards, including the RITA®, Romantic Times Reviewer 's Choice, and The Quill, and reviewers have been known to use words like “dazzling,” “brilliant,” and “impossible to put down” when describing them. Julia lives in Northern California.

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Tracey Parker
1. Tracey Parker
What a great article. I have read some books with older gentleman in the is early 40's. Are you talking about older in your books? If so I can understand with the reasons you pointed out. As usual the men need more time to mature so you usually see a gap in age.
Tracey Parker
2. Author Julie Anne Long
Glad you enjoyed the article, Tracy! And yes, we're talking about the appeal of the older hero in books. You make a good point and one I almost mentioned—that women DO seem to mature more quickly than men. ;) Which is another reasons older heroes are effective.
Heather Waters
3. HeatherWaters
You know, I miss the May/December romances you saw a lot more of in historicals in the '80s and '90s. Not only historically accurate but when done well, as you say, there's a *lot* to like about a man who knows what he wants and goes after it. Mmmm.

Great post!
Tracey Parker
4. Author Julie Anne Long
Glad you enjoyed the post, redline! And I suspect a lot of us miss those big, sweeping romances. Perhaps they're more accurately historical love stories, as they often buck many of the accepted definitions of today's romance genre. I wonder if they're extinct, or just dormant, waiting to be a trend again? ;) The publishing world moves so fast these days that in all likelihood those kinds of books can't be accommodated/marketed easily.
Tracey Parker
5. Landra Graf
Yes to all those reasons. The Duke of Falconridge is probably one of my all time favorites and I sincerely enjoy the older hero. They are more fun to read and to see them fall head over heels is a delight.
Tracey Parker
6. Author Julie Anne Long
Honored that the Duke of Falconbridge is one of your all-time favorite heroes, Landra!
Tracey Parker
7. Kary Rader
I totally agree most (4 of the top 5) of my favorite romance heroes are significantly older than the heroine and you've named at least one. Ironically, my all time favorite romance hero (Jamie Fraser) is actually younger than his heroine.
8. Janga
While I love all your examples, Julie, especially Falconridge, I can remember a lot of older hero/younger heroine pairings that left me wondering what on earth they found to talk about when the passion cooled a bit. I generally prefer to see the older hero paired with an older heroine as they are in Lauren Willig's The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. I also include books like Sherry Thomas's Not Quite a Husband and Judith Ivory's Sleeping Beauty, which pair younger heroes with older heroines, among my favorites. In the hands of the right writer, heroes and heroines of various ages leave me a happy reader.
Tracey Parker
9. Author Julie Anne Long
Those are great examples, Janga and worthy of another blog post—the younger hero. I can think of a few examples, too, and not just in romance—an Erica Jong book comes to mind. I do know from experience that many readers have strong feelings pro/con big age differences between the H & H. I always figure that once an older hero and younger heroine make a life together, they'll create a life in which they have shared experienes in common—children, friends, pastimes, land, and that will form the substance of their conversations. Or like in BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND IAN EVERSEA, Tansy and Ian find they both like riding, shooting, and adventure stories, among other things. They have similar sense of humor and equal libidos. :) I've always thought that the sum total of a person's life experiences and how they've processed and integrated them determine maturity, not necessarily how long you've been alive. And it's who a person is at heart that matters more than age, and that's why Ian and Tansy were a match, for instance.
Tracey Parker
10. Mandy B
Personally I am more drawn to stories where the characters are the same age (or close enough) and similar experiences (whether in love or sexual). That being said I love the Duke of Falconridge. I got it with him and I loved how Ms. Long handled him being more experienced at everything. While he was more experienced the relationship never felt unequal. I guess that my biggest problem with the May/December romances is that the hero (who is usually the older one) is so patronizing, ugh who wants that. I must admit I also love the older woman, younger man stories too. As long as the older woman isn’t a cougar type of person, they usually end up being very sweet.
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