I just finished reading Scandal by Carolyn Jewel and I'm still in a muddle about it. It's a historical romance that questions the desirability of rakes as heroes, which I appreciate. I'm a modern woman, a proud feminist, but I still lust after these bad boy characters. Why? Should that trouble me? In Scandal Carolyn Jewel presents us with a heroine, Sophie, who's captured the attention of a reformed rake, Bannalt. Sophie knew Bannalt at his worst, so she's in no doubt about what kind of man he was. He cheated on his wife and disdained the whole concept of fidelity. All while Sophie suffered from the neglect of her own rakish husband, Tommy, who patterned his misbehavior on Bannalt.
By the time the book opens, Sophie and Bannalt are both widows. Bannalt is in love with Sophie and he pursues her with marriage in mind. Sophie turns him away because, as she explains, "I would rather die than marry the man my husband wished he could be."
If Sophie were a friend of mine, I'd cheer her on. I'd agree when she says that cheating bastards don't change. But Sophie isn't a friend of mine. She's the heroine of a romance novel and the cheating jerk, Bannalt, really has reformed.
As the book went on I found myself liking Bannalt more and more but Sophie - who clung to her entirely reasonable doubts - less and less. She wanted proof that Bannalt would never cheat on her, but both in the novel and in reality, such proof is impossible to obtain.
At the end of the novel, I mostly felt sad. I wondered if Sophie had been damaged beyond repair. I suspected that her fears and suspicions would return with every small provocation. I didn't think her marriage would be a happy one.
I found myself thinking of Elizabeth Hoyt's The Serpent Prince, one of my favorite romances of all time. The hero, Simon, has been a tomcat in the past. One reason why his romance with the heroine, Lucy, feels so powerful and unique is that while all the world steps in to warn Lucy about Simon, she never doubts him. Simon never doubts himself. They just know.
Of course, in real life I'd probably have warned Lucy, too, and I'd probably think she was naive for having such unshakeable faith in a previously inconstant man.
I know the lessons from Romancelandia often don't carry over to the real world, but something about Scandal is puzzling me. As though Carolyn Jewel stepped forward and said, "Hmm, let's dig a little deeper, let's think about this in a more serious way," and then she came up with the exact wrong conclusion. Or maybe the exact right one. I really can't tell.