Alphas In Marriage

Candy’s column on forced sex between heroes and heroines made me think of two males in romances I’ve read, and why the unwilling sex depicted within didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

My secret love of Coulter’s Midsummer Magic knows no limit, nor shame. I love the heroine, mostly because in the end, she wins. But I also never come close to hating the hero, even though his behavior on the surface would and could logically lead to some seething anger on behalf of the heroine.

The hero, Hawk, has to marry Frances or one of her sisters, and because she disguises her fiery personality (because you can’t be Scottish if you don’t have (a) red hair and (b) a fiery personality to match, och och och) behind a wonderfully awful dowdy costume, he marries her. His life won’t have to change much – he’ll dump her dumpy ass in the country, head on back to London, boink his mistress, go to parties, and head north every so often so that he can head north up her passage and beget an heir.

This is where the oft-discussed “cream” to ease that passage north comes in. He forces Frances several times despite her clear refusal, and has to use cream to smooth his way. And, you know, it’s a tough call for me to declare that he’s 100% wrong because they’re married, and in historical context, sex was part of the marital deal. While spousal rape is a crime in a lot of countries now, it sure as shit wasn’t then.

Yes, no means no and it sucks that she’s in that position, but hey, he doesn’t want to be married to her any more than she wants to be wedded to him. And yeah, yeah, he couldn’t see through her disguise to see the hawt sexy fiery redheaded Scottish vixen of awesomeness that she is, and eventually Frances wins him over with her true self. Likewise Frances rested purely on her initial reaction to Hawk and discovered later that they have a great deal in common, not the least of which is a big stormcloud of sexual attraction. But is he wrong to expect sexual intercourse now that they’re married? Is he absolutely in the wrong because she said no and he went ahead anyway?

Consider Sophia Nash’s A Dangerous Beauty. In the very beginning of the story, the heroine, Rosamunde, is ruined and marries a horrible, beastly slimy man who emotionally abuses her and treats her with lifelong recriminations for ruining herself. I won’t go into the full resolution because that would spoil the ending, but my biggest problem was the depiction of the first husband as the slimiest, most awful bastard known to earth rested at its apex on the fact that… he wanted sex from his wife.

When Rosamunde finally reveals how horrible her husband was – and he was a right slimeball, no mistake about it – I was with her in deepest empathy all through the parts where he controlled her, punished her, emotionally abused her and made her feel like crap every day of her life with him. But when Rosamunde related the details of his footsteps pausing outside his door, knowing that he was going to come into her room for conjugal relations, I had to say, “Ok, but….”

In historical romance, somehow in my brain there’s a forced sex loophole within the marriage of the characters. Yes, it sucks when your slimeball of a husband wants to boink you, and it’s even worse that he takes enjoyment out of the fact that you clearly, clearly hate it, but those are the historical facts of the time – there was an understood expectation of conjugal rights. Even now, spousal rape isn’t a crime in a whole list of countries. Even in the US, 33 of 50 states regard spousal rape as a lesser crime. So yeah, it sucks, and I’m horribly sorry for the heroine and I appreciate the trauma that results from having a wanking bastard of a husband force sex purely because he knows she hates it. But that’s unfortunately the deal. Rosamunde had a lot more ground to stand on when listing the details of her awful first husband when she related his emotional abuse.

A lot of the defining moments of creating the alpha hero, particularly in historical romances, rest on his attitude and approach to sex, most certainly with the heroine. Alpha heroes most frequently think with their little alphas, and the degree to which they do so often determines how redeemable they are by the ending – if there is a fully happy ending. As Candy pointed out, sometimes these alphas are such complete idiots that they really don’t reach restoration by the end.

But when the alpha hero – or even the abusive villain, in the case of Nash’s book – is demanding or forcing sex within a marriage to a heroine, I have a harder time categorically dismissing him as Teh Most Ebil Alpha Ever. It’s not entirely historically inaccurate, and because of that fact I have room to empathize with the hero in that situation, even if only a little bit. And for me, that tiny bit of empathy keeps that particular alpha from being unredeemable.


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. joanna says:

    Funnily enough, the alpha man post got me reaching for one of my all-time-favourite romances last night just to see if I could still bear the hero.  It’s a 1970s Mills & Boon/ Harlequin by Charlotte Lamb called Dark Dominion.  It’s got an alpha hero who forces sex on the heroine (his wife) to the extent of leaving bruises on her.  So, not even a historical (unless you count the 1970s as a historical period)

    I found that – yes, I still loved the book and could still empathise with the hero.  In fact, I think he is still one of my favourite heroes of all time.  This is because, the author just does such an amazing job of making you understand why the hero behaves as he does; making you see how much he hates himself for his behaviour and, ultimately, redeeming him.

    (Also I love this book because the heroine is seriously considering an affair with another man – a fact that she discusses with the hero.  Cue line that you would never now see in a Harlequin romance: “I want you both”. )

    Thinking about this book made me realise that the one type of alpha hero I really can’t stand is the perfect one – you know, the one that can do everything brilliantly and stands around benignly watching the heroine muck everything until she realises how fabulous he is (the Mr Knightly type).  I prefer ‘em flawed.  BUT they have to realise they are flawed and they have to change.  And they have to SHOW they’ve changed with their actions (a la Darcy) not just by saying Um, Sorry in the last few pages.

    I think that’s my criteria.

    And I guess it’s implicit in all of the above that I can deal with the forced sex thing if it’s intelligently written and takes place within a relationship (rather than being an early encounter between the hero/heroine – that just doesn’t work for me).

  2. Kassiana says:

    Say what you will about what makes a marriage a marriage…historically and even today IIRC, never having sex in your marriage can get it annulled. I don’t find it unreasonable for someone getting married to expect to have sex with her/his spouse.

  3. Najida says:

    I need to think about this one.  I know I stopped reading anything by COulter because of her HRR (High Rape Ratio) in her books.  I can’t remember the last one I read, but I do remember feeling I needed a shower afterwards.

    Same with To Have and To Hold.  I hate that book!  I threw sent it to Goodwill feeling guilty. 

    I believe in changes in characters, but characters don’t change.  Maybe I know to much, but for someone to change really horribly bad behavior, they have to have a crisis or hit a wall—pretty much a near death experience or a Road to Damascus moment.  The reason for the change has got to be profound enough to cause the person to change in realizing the horror of past acts. 

    They just can’t suddenly go “Oh!  Rape is bad!  I feel bad for having done it!  I won’t do it anymore!” 

    It never ever ever happens that way in RL, and I can’t buy into it, even in an historical setting.

  4. Interesting.  The second one you describe bothers me more than the first, and I think the key difference is his attitude.  Expecting sex within marriage, especially in a historical context, is one thing, but when he’s enjoying the fact that she doesn’t enjoy it, then it’s crossed the line (for me) into emotional sadism.  And that, I’m not cool with.

  5. Najida says:

    You just described the mind of a criminal rapist.  They WANT the victim scared, upset, hating what’s happening. 

    OR, they twist in their minds that she is enjoying it, but not admitting it to herself.

    Either attitude or behavior in a book is instant Squick and in the trash.  These guys belong in prison, not books.

  6. snarkhunter says:

    I…don’t know.

    I take your point, Sarah. I really do. And you’re right. Sex is part of marriage, and a woman who married a man in any time should be aware that she will be expected to have sex with him in the bargain. It is, legally speaking, part of what seals a marriage, as Kassiana has pointed out.

    But. But…historically, a lot of things didn’t count as rape. Even now, a prostitute gets raped, and I bet most people are like, “Well, she is a hooker. Why didn’t she just give it to him?” It does not make it any less rape that she is required to perform.

    You could argue, I suppose, that a woman gave consent by marrying the man—and I would actually agree to that point.  (Which is why forced marriage makes me sick to my stomach—if she’s forced into it, then there is never any consent, and she’s being raped.)

    I’m just dreadfully uncomfortable with the idea that spousal rape is okay because it was legal and because sex is part of marriage. I can agree that the hero in the first book is probably not entirely vile…but in the second case, I read the forced “conjugal relations” as part and parcel of his abuse.

    After all, a lot of things were perfectly legal and even expected in marriages in the past—including physical abuse and male infidelity, and I think if we saw a hero doing either of those things, we’d be completely unsympathetic.

    To make a totally dramatic and probably unfair comparison…slave owners were also totally within their rights to demand sex from their slaves. Women who were slaves had no choice but to agree—no matter what. But would we find it romantic or redeemable if the hero kept having sex with a slave (let’s make it his friend’s slave, who was loaned to him as a birthday gift, since we wouldn’t be able to find a slave-owning hero attractive, I’m sure) against her will? Even though she has no right to refuse?

    Obviously, it’s a totally unfair comparison (I do not want to diminish the real horror of slavery in this comparison)—but in this ONE instance ONLY, married white women and black women in the nineteenth century had something in common. Neither could refuse the sexual advances of the men who legally owned them.

  7. snarkhunter says:

    And I just realized my comparison breaks down b/c a slave does not consent to slavery, but a woman, again, consents to marriage. Usually. So, feel free to ignore and/or flame me. :/

  8. SB Sarah says:

    I’m just dreadfully uncomfortable with the idea that spousal rape is okay because it was legal and because sex is part of marriage.

    I’m not saying spousal rape is OK. I’m saying that in context, when it’s the hero expecting/demanding/forcing the sex, I don’t always want to kill him outright for doing what he’s doing because it’s understandable.

    With the villainous first husband, his enjoyment of her pain and horror is certainly part of the abuse. But Rosamunde, the way I read it, seemed upset that he wanted sex,  and I wanted to say to her, “Oh, honey, you agreed to marry the slimeball. That’s unfortunately part of the deal.”

  9. Najida says:

    You are right, that especially in an historical setting, a woman consented to marriage and knew that sex was required. 

    Granted though, she didn’t’ have much choice in some settings, it was either marry a or b, or go to a convent, or be thrown out of the house, or starve or whatever.

    So often, the marriage was based on a primal survival and not a whole lot of choice.  And sex was, well part of the deal.  So the sex may have been an endurance issue (“I think I’ll paint the ceiling beige”) versus rape.

  10. Scotsie says:

    Coulter has a few other late 80s/early 90s novels that have incidents with spousal rape.  The Sherbrooke Bride was one of the first romance novels I ever read and I remember being shocked to the core that the hero kidnaps his own wife and rapes her. 

    A later Coulter novel that I recently re-read, Night Fire, has a completely different take on spousal rape.  The heroine is brutally abused (physically, sexually and emotionally) by her first husband.  When the hero shows up, he bumbles along at first, trying to figure out why the heroine’s so prickly and skittish of being around him.  Once all is revealed (of course during a scene of extreme illness when it’s unlikely the heroine will survive – blah blah blah), he tries to enable her move beyond her past.  However, his methods at times really irked me, so it made me wonder: is outright spousal rape more effective than a man playing on his wife’s insecurities to help her “grow” as a person?  I don’t know …

  11. Scotsie says:

    I mean “more effective” in terms of moving the plot, or offering a hurdle for the hero and heroine to get over.

  12. Leslie says:

    … I think what irks me is something more along the lines of when historical heroines, spawned from the creative brains of modern-day women, think and act like modern-day women.  That is:  are somehow imbued with an anachronistic feminist understanding that even they they’re married, this is rape, and rape is bad.  It’s too easy—wouldn’t it be more realistic, and create a more complex heroine, if she, with all her red-headed fiery wit, came to that understanding/dealt with it in a unique way realistic to the time period?

    I think this also brings up the interesting question of what we feel we should and should not get off on—during my senior women’s studies seminar in college, we read a passage from a textbook about feminist perspectives on sexuality that used a really kinky passage from an old Norman Mailer book as a means of demonstrating “rapacious” sexuality, a woman being coerced into sex by a chainsmoking Alpha male who calls her a slut and tells her to introduce a candlestick into her hoo.  The author of the article’s intention was for you, the educated pro-woman progressive thinker, to immediately recognize it as a mysogyny because A) the coersion and B) it was written by Mailer.
      And all of us sat there pretty quiet, until finally a friend of mine said—uh, I thought it was pretty hot, actually.  And one by one we all agreed, thus sparking a discussion of how we step into dangerous territory when we accept tabboos and regulations on what we can and cannot get off on.

  13. Teddy Pig says:

    Merchant & Ivory’s Maurice had similar issues gay romance wise. I mean who in their right mind would spend years hanging around with Hugh Grant, playing Clive, putting up with all that internalized shame and emotional abuse for a platonic “love that dare not speak it’s name”?

    I just sat there through the whole thing watching the infrequent kissing and wondering why Maurice did not make a booty call down at the local gym he spent so much time at. There were guys there i am sure that would have given him a quicky.

    Sometimes historical romance seems to have been written in a bubble that has no relation to the world I live in or even what I know of the time period.

  14. Jen says:


    Catherine Coulter’s “Midsummer Magic” is my ultimate example of the wallbanger. I have never felt more hatred for a romance novel before or since that book, and I have not picked up a Coulter novel since. To me, the hero’s behavior is so over-the-top, so cruel, so abusive that there’s no redeeming him. IIRC (and I did try to block the book out of my head, so I might be misremembering), the hero only starts using the cream after his father yells at him for hurting Frances so badly that the bed is bloody. Yuck yuck yuck. The only thing that could have redeemed the story for me would have been if Frances had left the “hero” either for his father or for his nice secretary. But to turn around and fall in love with the rapist? Did I mention yuck? I hate this book so much that it’s driven me out of lurkdom!

    And yet so many people love it and I just don’t understand!

    On the other hand, I agree that I do have a higher tolerance for unacceptable behavior when I find it in an historical. Jamie beats Claire in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander,” and while that totally put off one of my friends, I was able to mentally justify it as historically accurate.

  15. I think the heroine’s reason for refusal is also an issue.  I have little sympathy for a heroine who marries the rich duke to save her family and then locks the bedroom door every night because she despises her new husband.  Lady, he didn’t marry you just for the right to support you and your assorted impoverished relatives.

    Now, if said heroine routinely submits to sex and then at some point is ill, or not in the mood or whatever and the hero won’t take no for an answer – THAT would be a deal breaker for me.  Yes, sex is expected in a marriage.  But there are limits, is all I’m saying.  The hero who expects his wife to lift her skirts whenever, where ever, just because he is the man and it’s her wifely duty, and woe betide her if she refuses. . .yuck.  I immediately lose any sympathy and any faith he can be redeemed.

  16. Chris S. says:

    Leslie:  totally agree with you on the historical accuracy part of things.  In pretty much all historical settings (especially those involving A) farming or B) fortunes) it was just understood that marriage = sex.  Women were expected to produce a kid, or preferably two.  Everyone involved knew it.  Depending on the status of the woman, she wasn’t necessarily expected to enjoy sex anyway. So I’m agree Sarah on not being quite as bothered by forced sex within a marriage as I am otherwise. 

    Of course all the above depends on the definition of ‘forced’.  Outright brutality doesn’t cut it.

  17. Francois says:

    “I think the heroine’s reason for refusal is also an issue.  I have little sympathy for a heroine who marries the rich duke to save her family and then locks the bedroom door every night because she despises her new husband.” (Melanie Hayden)

    An example of the unlocked bedroom door is Heyer’s “A Civil Contract” where couple marry with no romance but presumably have sex (Heyer doesn’t go into that, though the heroine becomes pregnant so you can guess!) and fall in love by the end. Not really rape I would have thought, since the characters are so matter of fact about their marriage and the lack of passion at the start but make an effort to be “normal”.

    It all depends on the circumstances, morality at the time, morality now. No wonder we all like different books! Its all Fiction, so I give authors leeway to tell an interesting story whether I personally would like to be in that situation or not.

  18. sleeky says:

    You know, I was already vaguely disappointed that the Catherine Coulter book I’m reading right now (_The Duke_) is so tame and now I’m really diasappointed! 😉

    Some historical writers write an expectation into their books that marriage is only for heirs and the husband will “leave the wife alone” and go to a mistress after awhile. How does that fit into this scenario?

  19. Emily says:

    The only book I’ve read with spousal rape was Olivia O’Neil’s Imperial Nights, and even then the heroine gives in, grudgingly, to her marital duties. I was more squicked out by the fact that she was in love with her stepbrother.

  20. And all of us sat there pretty quiet, until finally a friend of mine said—uh, I thought it was pretty hot, actually.  And one by one we all agreed, thus sparking a discussion of how we step into dangerous territory when we accept tabboos and regulations on what we can and cannot get off on.

    I can’t help myself from stating the obvious here, which is that “dangerous territory” can occur both in the direction of freedom of speech and in the direction of restriction of speech where taboo issues are concerned, and just because something turns people on doesn’t automatically make it right (just as something isn’t automatically wrong because it makes a particular individual uncomfortable).

    Presumably, though, the textbook wasn’t arguing for the suppression of Mailer’s work, since it was reproducing it?

    For me the reaction you and your friends had raises the question of why some people enjoy descriptions of “rapacious” sex (or rapist alpha heroes) and others don’t, but I’m not sure it’s a question that could be answered easily. It’s also interesting that every single one of you felt the same way. It makes me wonder if there was either something you all had in common which lead to you have exactly the same reactions to the material (because presumably there are people who would not have had those reactions).

    And does peer pressure (in either direction) and/or what’s felt to be the norm, also play a part in people’s reactions to this sort of material? To get back to Sarah’s post, at a time when marital rape wasn’t recognised as a crime, that presumably affected the attitudes of both the husband and wife in the circumstances. And when rape was more prevalent in romance novels did that normalise it for readers and, in a sense, make them feel they’d been given permission to find it “hot”. Or did it actually encourage them to find something “hot” which some of them might have initially found distasteful? Again,there were probably a variety of different responses, both to historical marital rape and from readers of rape in romances.

  21. I have a degree in history, so while I agree with the accuracy of what Sarah is saying, I still have to say I do NOT want to read about it in my romance novels. Flog me if you wish, but romance has a lot to do with fantasy (because not all Scottish women are fiery redheads, right?) and spousal rape is SOOOO not my fantasy. Bad, alpha male. BAD!

  22. Leslie says:

    Laura Vivanco:

    I should have mentioned that this was a class of six women, all women’s studies majors, representing the gamut of sexual orientations and backgrounds, etc.  And every one with a pretty big mouth.  It was a safe environment to talk about sex—this discussion was specifically about feminist writings on sexual desire, and whether having sexual fantasies based on some kind of power differential (the Alpha-heroes, for instance, or anything by Ayn Rand) signifies that your sexual fantasies are based more on “male desires” than your own—that your finding a non-consenual sex scenario in the least bit appealing is symptomatic of a “colonized mind.”

    What was really intersting to me there was a) how each student answered the question of whether or not we were “bad feminists” for finding some pleasure in the Mailer scenario (overwhelmingly the answer was “fuck, no”), and b), questioning whether or not my sexual curriculum vitae has in fact been influenced by misogyny/societal expectations at large—and I would say that on the whole if we drink the water, we absorb the chlorine.  It’s unavoidable.  Which brings me to c), what do we do (or not do) with that?

  23. Teddy Pig says:

    I am with Crystal in the historical accuracy is great, but this is fiction damn it!

    But can I hit to off topic button again here?…

    “marital rape wasn’t recognized as a crime”

    You know, I recently read The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp. They have found a letter from Billy Greene, who coached Lincoln in grammar, writing glowingly while describing his wonderful thighs. They also note that Lincoln had a body guard during his years in the White House that slept with him when his wife was out of town.

    The rest of the god damned book rested on trying to view Lincoln’s behavior while president in regards to him possibly being gay. LOL!

    I was amazed that an obviously “somewhat” intelligent person who spent the time writing a book about this would not have at the very least attempted to view their findings through the cultural framework of the period. I personally would have added in all the evidence that Lincoln had mistresses too besides his rocky marriage.

    My point is that unless you are talking about contemporary material you should be careful in using our post Kinsey Reports sexual morality point of view and try to leverage that evolved thinking in an attempt to understanding historical relationships even as recent as 200 years ago.

    Calling Abraham Lincoln gay because he may have had sexual contact with male friends while they shared a bed back in their time is as silly and narrow minded as having an intelligent discussion about marital rape in regards to a whole culture that existed “way back when” and who were all raised with no understanding of such things as marital rape.

    In their time a woman betraying the God given rights of such a “sacred vow” might be seen as the selfish, evil and most likely a nasty villain.

    Sorry I just wanted to point that out.

  24. Kassiana says:

    Just to ensure that things remain clear, my comment above in no way endorses any kind of rape.

    In fiction, I don’t mind forced-type scenarios at all…as long as the woman’s enjoying herself. When she stops, that’s when I stop, too.

    Midsummer Magic…first half was almost unbearable. Second half was … interesting. Personally, I prefer Calypso Magic, which had far less abuse and a nice spanking scene.

  25. DS says:

    I’ve started to post this a couple of times but I simply cannot remember what happened in what specific books, but I think I’ll give it a stab.

    Roberta Gellis has managed to take wife beating, forced marriage and marital rape and make them palatable within the historical context by the manner in which the heroine reacts to the circumstances.

    One of her books Masque of Gold—I remember this one—had the heroine married by her father to an old man who had wealth and power in the merchant community of London—she was maybe 19, he might have been 50’s or 60’s.  While the section with the marriage does not last very long, Gellis manages to convey that the heroine decided she was lucky because he was not unkind to her and set out to make him a good wife (12th century). 

    In another, the heroine is in the complete control of a sadistic monster, who marries her to a traumatized and maimed young man—part of a thoroughly dastardly plot.  Again the marriage does not last long but the heroine realizes that her best effort is to try to make the marriage work, which means having sex with him in order to legitimate the union.

    Then there was the time that her heroine, who is already married to the hero, considers whether she should or should not have sex with King John in order to secure some protection for her lands (I think) when her husband was off fighting—probably as John’s vassal.  She rationally examines it from the angle of whether it would be a benefit or a detriment—and John is not an attractive proposition in this book.

    Any way in each of these cases the woman acted in her own best interest rather than simply being acted upon. (Zomg, teh Sex—cannot has teh Sex.)  While her books are historicals with romantic content rather than romances, her resilient heroines make them a pleasure for me to read.

  26. whether having sexual fantasies based on some kind of power differential (the Alpha-heroes, for instance, or anything by Ayn Rand) signifies that your sexual fantasies are based more on “male desires” than your own

    Leslie, I would have had a problem with the way that discussion was framed too, because of the binary opposition that’s being set up between “male desires” and “female desires,” as though all men must be the same (and into power/domination) and all women must be the same (and into equality (or submission?)) and that that’s how it should be and otherwise there’s something “colonized” about the person.

    As you say, “on the whole if we drink the water, we absorb the chlorine.  It’s unavoidable”, but clearly people do respond differently to the water with chlorine, and even if we all stopped drinking it/had never drunk it, and our responses were different to the ones we have now, I very much doubt that all women would end up having identical responses.

  27. Stephanie Doyle says:

    >>>That is:  are somehow imbued with an anachronistic feminist understanding that even they they’re married, this is rape, and rape is bad. >>>>

    I see your point here – but don’t you think they still felt… ewwwhh.

    These women knew they had to get married. They knew sex was a requirement. I don’t think they shouted “rape” but it had to suck in those cases where there was no physical attraction or the husband was a perve or abusive. 

    It was Clan of Cave Bear where Ayla (???sp) knows she’s got to get down on the ground but feels a sense of wrongness about it. Rape is the word we use to define that feeling.

    I didn’t have a problem with Hawk. And I think the poster who said it’s the man’s attitude toward the wife that makes the difference. He didn’t really take pleasure… well extra pleasure… from it. Get in, get out, get her pregnant. In his mind that’s what married sex was. And I felt it was more genuine than many other historicals where the heroine goes from virgin to sex goddess in one scene.

    I actually have more of an issue with CC’s next rape in that series when Lyon rapes his wife because he sees another woman cheating on her husband.

    I loved that hero and had to really get over what he’d done even after Diana (wife) forgave him.

  28. For me, it’s all about the portrayal of marital rape (forced sex with no enjoyment on the part of the victim.)  I will never, ever find marital rape sexy, and it irritates me mightily when authors try to spin it that way.  Rape is not about being sexy.  Rape is about power, and if it shows up in a historical in that context I have absolutely no problem with it.  Men believed they had the right to take sex from their wife, and it was unpleasant and awful but it was a fact of life.  No issue with that.  But when an author writes a rape scene like a love scene, it turns my stomach.

  29. Stephanie Doyle says:

    >>>>But when an author writes a rape scene like a love scene, it turns my stomach>>>>

    See I don’t know how you do that? If it’s rape – meaning she doesn’t want it – how can it possibly be sexy?

    In my experience any time “rape” was used – there was always the intent that it was supposed to be bad, tense, punishment… whatever.

    There are those times where the hero convinces the herione otherwise… but to me that crosses over into forced seduction.

    I think that’s where the Flame and Flower falls. Did he ultimately convince her she wanted it…no not really. But I don’t know that I ever saw that scene as “sexy”. Their “sex” scene came out that end of the story.

    But I think once she’s into it –  it ceases to be rape. Doesn’t it?

    Wow that’s probably a very slippery slope.

  30. I’m glad DS brought up Roberta Gellis, because one of the things I liked most about her books was how she made you feel the characters were historically authentic compared to other Romance heroines. 

    One Gellis heroine was walking at night and was terrified of demons and other assorted evils.  She wasn’t a wuss, this was part of her medieval worldview.  Another heroine had a scene where she lovingly delouses her husband after he returns from traveling.

    Gellis’ heroines would accept it as a matter of course that their husbands were entitled to “demand their rights”, just as the husband might feel free to make those demands, but it was always handled in an intelligent and true to the story fashion for a medieval setting.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    the one type of alpha hero I really can’t stand is the perfect one – you know, the one that can do everything brilliantly and stands around benignly watching the heroine muck everything until she realises how fabulous he is (the Mr Knightly type).  I prefer ‘em flawed.  BUT they have to realise they are flawed and they have to change.  And they have to SHOW they’ve changed with their actions (a la Darcy) not just by saying Um, Sorry in the last few pages

    I agree.  It’s great to have heros like Capt. Wentworth who can look up, halfway through, and go “Oh, huh.  I was blaming you for ruining my life, but now I realize that I was just in a grouchy mood and pissed-off that you dumped me nearly a decade ago, even though you thought that you were doing the right thing.”

    Alright, bad example, but I totally agree with you.  Likewise, I don’t like “perfect” heriones (Mary Sues).  Everyone needs to have emotional growth, or the story isn’t good.

    The talk of spousal rape reminds me of a few classica examples.  One is “Gone With the Wind,” and the whole “swirling darkness” scene.  Basically, a lot of femenists hate it because, though it doesn’t show the actual event, it shows Rhett literally carrying Scarlett off to bed, while she protests and tells him that he’s drunk; the next scene is Scarlett, in the morning, glad that what happened happened.  Most people assume that it really was concentual, after the charcters wandered off the page, but we don’t know.

    It’s one of the biggest sticking points that I have with GWTW.  The other is the condonement of racism, but both really need to be looked at through the historical perspective, as said.  Society is shocked when they find out that Rhett and Scarlett have seperate bedrooms—a wife should sleep with her husband, whether she wants to or not.  No one is shocked that Scarlett’s family owns a huge platation with hundreds of abused slaves—what, you expect white people to pick their own cotton?  In THOSE shoes?

    I think that spousal rape is forgivable if the husband honestly has no idea that he’s raping.  Yes, it’s hard to believe that anyone could be that clueless, but some authors can pull it off.  What makes spousal rape really, REALLY wrong is when the husband* knows that his wife is miserable, and continues to act, either for his own pleasure or to cause his wife MORE pain (for example, Niamh’s husband in “Son of the Shadows;” his emotional and physical abuse scar her for the rest of her life, though she recovers a little bit before her death in the next book).

    Have any of you ever read a scene where a husband raped his wife in order to punish her (okay, this one bugs me THE MOST), even if he didn’t enjoy it himself?  There is something a bit like this in “The Notorious Mrs Winston,” but the husband can’t go through with it (not because it’s fucking wrong, but just because he’s a perv, and she’s not a small child).

    Another classic example (remember when I was rambling about GWTW?) is King Arthur’s bith.  Arthurian legands are constantly being retold and reworked, over the years, so there are a lot of different versions of Arthur’s conception—probably more than there are variations on spelling the character’s names.

    Generally it is said that Arthur’s mother was the beautiful Igraine, and in love with her husband, Duke Gorlois.  King Uthur decided that Igraine was pretty hot, and told her to sleep with him.  She refused, and ran away to tell her husband.  He decided that maybe it wasn’t such a smart idea for them to be staying in Uthur’s castle.

    They sneak home, in the middle of the night, and when Uthur finds out, he declares war on the duke.  Gorlois is eventually killed in battle, and Merlin enchants Uthur to look like the dead man.  News of Glorlois’ death won’t reach Irgaine until the next morning, so she assumes that the dude who looks exactly like her husband is, in fact, her husband.  She doesn’t give concent, but only because she doesn’t know that she’s about to conceive the once and future king with a complete stranger.  I suppose that this is some of the “getting the herione into bed with trickery” mentioned above.

    I think that some of the differnt version arise from how incomprehensable it is to modern folk that a man could order a woman to sleep with him, just because she’s his social inferior, and that a woman would marry a man who killed her husband and raped her, even though she would have protection for herself and her children only through having a husband.  In most versions of the story, Igraine and Gorlois have two to seven daughters, and Irgaine is already pregnant with Arthur when she remarries.  There is no way that she’s going to let eight kids die, just to prove a point.  If she didn’t concent to marriage, Uthur would just force her into it.

    Think of all the arranged marriages, some made when the bride and groom were infants.  They never gave concent.  Maybe they weren’t even old enough to talk, let alone comprehend what was going on.  But concent would never need to be made later, because they were married.

    *I can’t actually remember any female—>male rapes, in literature.  No one writes them, not because they don’t happen, but because male rape is thought by so many people to be a urban myth.  The man didn’t consent, but he could have overpowered to woman (unless he’s comatose, a la Candle and Lire), and anyway, look down—see?  He’s enjoying it.

    PS: If you read all this, you are a saint.  If you didn’t, I’m basically just agreeing with everyone else that rape is bad.

  32. I share some similar thoughts on historical accuracy issue.  I think that’s all well and good, but I don’t read the novels for historical accuracy.

    Many, many women in the past did not enjoy sex, often because of the restrictions around sex which disallowed men or women to understand women’s bodies well.  And women in the past put up with a lot in marriage that they wouldn’t today.  My gr. grandmother, a mother of 12 children, told my mother, when asked why she just didn’t say no, “You didn’t say no…not then.”

    I don’t want to read a book about a heroine who is timid and lives within a historically accurate model.  Then that would be no fun…for me or the heroine.

  33. Elizabeth says:

    These women knew they had to get married. They knew sex was a requirement. I don’t think they shouted “rape” but it had to suck in those cases where there was no physical attraction or the husband was a perve or abusive.

    They say that Victorian sex ed was just a mother’s warning to her daughter: “Lie back and think of England.”

  34. Elizabeth—I do remember a female->male rape scene.  Don’t remember the author or the title, so perhaps the bitchery will chime in:

    It was a medieval where a young wife with the aid of her men-at-arms captures a knight returning home from the wars.  She ties him to a bed and each night arouses him against his will so he can impregnate her, allowing her to deliver an heir to her impotent (or dead?) husband’s estate.

    He eventually escapes and kidnaps her for revenge, but I can’t remember the name of it.

    It wasn’t a keeper, but I remembered that bit.

  35. Rosemary says:

    I can’t actually remember any female—>male rapes, in literature.

    Well, it’s not literature, but in one Johanna Lindsey book the heroine ties down the hero and de-virginizes herself on him, getting pregnant at the same time.  It was some convoluted old-man-husband-dies-on-top-of-her-and-she-needs-to-get-pregnant-so-she-can-keep-the-castle-so-her-maid-kidnaps-some-random-dude-for-her-to-rape plot.

    Sure, the hero ends up kidnapping her and tying her to the bed to rape her, but we aren’t talking about that part.

  36. Rosemary says:

    I can’t remember the title, but I’m talking about the same one as Darlene.

  37. Elizabeth says:

    Huh.  Now I need to find those books.  (That book?  Could they possibly be the same one?)

    I’m quite impressed by the kidnapping maid.  Your book sounds interesting, too, Darlene, but I wonder why the herione bothered kidnapping a stranger, if she already had men-at-arms lying around?  Perhaps they weren’t cute enough.

    It’s nice to know that there are books about female—>male rape.  (I don’t mean that rape is nice; it is in all ways evil.  But it’s nice to know that it is not a completely male-character-dominated literary convention, especially since most of the books that we’re talking about were written by women.  With the exception of “Maurice,” which was written by E M Forrestor, IIRC).


  38. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, okay, now I’ve read your second post, Rosemary!  One book, got it.  And now I really need to find it.

  39. lurker says:

    The Lindsay book is “Prisioner of my Desire”

    Jo Berverley’s Forbidden has an experienced heroine getting the sleeping virgin hero erect and mounting him.  He winds up enjoying it, but it is a rape.

  40. Rosemary says:

    From what I remember, (and I have obviously forgotten some parts) when her husband was young, he was some monstrously huge viking-style blonde, and the men-at-arms who she trusted enough to let in on the kidnapping were not the same size or coloring.

    The hero was a monstrously huge viking-style blond.

    Man, that book would have been an awesome Guess That Lonely Heart.

Comments are closed.

By posting a comment, you consent to have your personally identifiable information collected and used in accordance with our privacy policy.

↑ Back to Top