The Lover Scorned

libby Recently, I reread Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March. It’s a book I’ve read with great pleasure before; this time I was particularly struck by the way the relationship between the poet Catullus and society lady Clodia is portrayed. He loves her with all his heart and writes great poems to her and about her; she sometimes admits him as her lover and spends time with him before jilting him again in favor of a rival. The novel leaves no doubt that Clodia is cruel and capricious; however, at this reading, I suddenly felt that I understood her right to jilt him, and her urge to do so. In spite of the undoubted depth of Catullus’ feelings, it is quite clear that Clodia does not feel as deeply for him. Yes, she might have treated him with far less cruelty, as Caesar points out to her, in ending the affair. But for the first time, my reaction as a reader was sympathy with her desire to regain her autonomy in the face of Catullus’s overwhelming love and of his general wonderfulness.

There are very few romances with a heroine refusing a suitor who feels an overwhelming passion for her. It sometimes seems as if the idea that a woman might just not be into a certain man who loves her with great and enduring passion is a no-no for romance. If there is such a man, he is made a creep who abducts the heroine to finally possess her, and so to the reader it’s perfectly understandable why she refuses him. His apparent or yet-hidden creepiness justifies her rejecting his passionate love. In the other possible scenario, there is an old buddy of the heroine’s who has loved her for ages but never let on. He is ususally a beta male and soon eclipsed by the hero. But how many romances are there in which the heroine refuses a deeply loving, passionate, fascinating man for just not loving him back?

The idea that in novels passionate love must be returned is not new. In Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline; or The Orphan of the Castle, first published in 1788, the heroine is wooed by her cousin Lord Delamere. He is rather like Georgette Heyer’s Vidal: charming, spoilt, a sportsman and wild young man about town. Emmeline partly refuses Delamere’s advances because his father, her uncle, disapproves of the union, but does so even more because although she likes Delamere well enough, that emotion is sisterly, and she feels she will never love him like a wife should. In modern terms, she just isn’t into him. She later meets the likeable, but far less charismatic Godolphin, and falls for him without hesitation. Contemporary readers of the novel like Walter Scott were unhappy that Emmeline chose whom they felt was the wrong man.

Among modern romances, a striking example of a heroine refusing a passionate, fascinating suitor in favor of a much plainer character can be found in Carla Kelly’s Libby’s London Merchant. (Warning: spoilers ahead! Read the rest of this paragraph at your own risk! ) Sent on a rather ridiculous errand by his cousin, Nez, who is actually a duke, disguises himself as a merchant and travels to the countryside, where he encounters the delightful Libby. Nez, besides being a duke, is handsome, charming, rich, arrogant, haunted since the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, and an alcoholic. First-class romance hero material, you’d think. He is also very likeable, even if he needs to be taken down a peg or two. When I first the novel for the first time, I fully saw him as the hero. So when a rival suitor turns up, Dr. Anthony Cook, who is a country doctor and has loved Libby from afar for ages, I was quite prepared to feel sorry for him when eventually he lost out – after all, characters like Anthony never get the girl. Imagine my delighted and utter surprise when matters did not turn out as I expected. I adore Anthony as a hero, and Libby’s London Merchant is still one of my favorite Carla Kelly romances (in which I’m not alone – see AAR’s Favorite Books by Favorite Authors poll, where the novel ranks third). Nez, by the way, does get his own book. But the fact remains that he is a truly fascinating character and fulfils more or less all requirements for romance hero, yet Libby rejects him.

I can think of very few romances with a similar scenario. In Georgette Heyer’s The Black Moth, the real hero is almost overshadowed by the charismatic villain, who turns up again as hero of These Old Shades. Come to think of it, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park must be listed here, as its heroine Fanny refuses the far more dashing Henry Crawford because she loves her rather staid cousin Edmund.

Can you think of other romances in which the heroine, instead of falling in love with the charismatic/millionaire/alpha male lead, chooses a very nice, but not that thrilling hero? Do you like this scenario? Or does romance, for you, mean that the heroine needs to find her HEA with Mr. Larger-than-Life?

-Rike Horstmann

30 thoughts on “The Lover Scorned

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  5. Lynn Spencer said: “In some books it makes sense for the heroine to resist the obvious choice in favor of someone who just offers something no other person does. Still, I often end up feeling sad for the one rejected. When I read the Gardella Vampire books, I completely agreed that the heroine and the man she eventually wound up with belonged together, but the other possible hero was an interesting possibility, too. I hope we get more Gardella books someday!”

    This series actually had 3 potential heroes, one of whom the heroine actually married in the first book. He was not, in the end, the hero of the series — he didn’t even make it to the second book. When I finished the first book I realized I should have been able to foretell his fate, because if he had continued, it would have been a much shorter series. However, I liked him a lot and hated what happened to him, so much that I couldn’t continue the series.

  6. Thanks so much, Rike! It’s lovely to find people who read the Anthea Malcolm books after all these years. Please thank your father too. When we wrote “”Philippa” we deliberately tried to create two guys who were more “typical” heroes and the have the heroine end up with the more atypical choice who was nevertheless her soulmate.

  7. Tracy,

    I enjoyed The Courting of Philippa a lot! Goodness, it’s been ages since I read that! A big reason why I liked the Anthea Malcolm regencies so much is that there was often something so very unexpected about the plots. My father, who reads all my Regencies, thought so, too. This is a good occasion to let you know!

  8. This discussion is touching on so many fascinating points. Rike, I too find it more interesting and the happy ending more believable when both the hero and heroine have interests beyond each other, and I love characters with causes. (Perhaps because both my parents were very committed to their work and social justice, but were also very committed to each other and to me). But JMM, I totally agree, any sanctimonious character loses my sympathy, and a character so involved in his/her cause that he/she ignores the needs of beloved/children can be frustrating (I actually gave the hero in my book “Rightfully His” a father like that, a reformist clerbyman who was so busy saving the world his son was a bit neglected and also never felt he could live up to this father).

    Going back to Rike’s original question, has anyone seen the movie/play “The Rainmaker”? (The movie has Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn). In the end the heroine choses the more beta sheriff over the more charismatic “rainmaker” conman because she knows she and the sheriff have more in common.

    One of my favorite movies, “The Philadelphia Story” has a triangle that involves two guys neither of whom are demonized. I’m sure where I’d put Mike and Dexter on the alpha/beta scale, but both are interesting, sympathetic guys.

    Also, in my mom’s and my second Anthea Malcolm Regency, “The Courting of Philippa,” the heroine has to choose between a rakish aristocrat, a self-made barrister, and an acerbic, reform-minded writer. Both the aristocrat and the barrister are more obviously alpha than the writer (I don’t think I even knew the terms alpha and beta when we wrote this book), but she chooses the writer, because he’s the one she loves and the one with whom she has the most in common. Neither the aristocrat nor the barrister are bad guys-in fact, the barrister gets is HEA in the next book.

  9. Ok, I despise Rhett Butler. I don’t like Ashley, either; he was selfish to hold onto Scarlett instead of telling her, “Look. I’m not the man you think I am. Melanie loves me for who I am, not for who she thinks I am.”

    But I loathe Rhett. He lies, he cheats on Scarlett, he’s never honest with her about his feelings until it’s too late. He’s constantly telling her he loves her, then pulling back – “Ha! You didn’t really think I meant it, did you?”

    I wanted her to toss them both off a high cliff.

  10. To answer the original question, no, I can’t think of any romance I’ve read in which the heroine chooses the beta hero simply because she has no depth of feeling for the alpha guy. There always has to be a reason behind the choice, like the alpha guy wasn’t really so nice, he had an ulterior motive for courting her, he cheated on her so she turned to the beta guy, etc.

    It would take great skill for an author to be able to pull this off, as most of us are going to be impacted more by the larger than life hero. Think of “Gone with the Wind” – the book, not the movie! Scarlett and Ashley didn’t even think alike and were completely unsuited for each other, but what if they had been soul mates? Would anyone even bother to finish that book? Rhett is very strong personality, one who didn’t even have that many scenes in GWTW, but what reader wouldn’t have wanted Scarlett to end up with him?

  11. It’s all in the writing, I guess. A-Hs (I think you know what this means) come in all kinds of packages.

    I think we’ve gotten off topic on this one – partly my fault! There’s a pretty good discussion of “bad boys” in the next topic.

    “It sometimes seems as if the idea that a woman might just not be into a certain man who loves her with great and enduring passion is a no-no for romance. If there is such a man, he is made a creep who abducts the heroine to finally possess her, and so to the reader it’s perfectly understandable why she refuses him. His apparent or yet-hidden creepiness justifies her rejecting his passionate love.”

    This is true. Triangles with TWO decent choices are rare. It can’t be that the heroine just doesn’t LOVE the guy enough. There has to be an explanation for her breaking this poor guy’s heart. There is definitely a tendency in RL and fiction to blame a woman if she doesn’t love the nice guy. A “But he’s so GOOD! Why don’t you want him! You OWE him!” vibe I’ve gotten in my own life.

    “In the other possible scenario, there is an old buddy of the heroine’s who has loved her for ages but never let on. He is ususally a beta male and soon eclipsed by the hero. But how many romances are there in which the heroine refuses a deeply loving, passionate, fascinating man for just not loving him back?”

    Not many. I can’t blame the heroine for turning down a guy who NEVER makes a move. As I said, it comes off to me as passive-aggressive, particularly when the guy waits until the girl is interested in someone ELSE who actually *makes a move* before doing anything. (“Win a Date With Tad Hamilton”, anyone?) The fact is, you snooze, you lose.

    Unfortunately, in romances, the guy who waits around for years scowling at the heroine (because he loves her! But can’t tell her!) often turns out to be the hero when the New Guy who actually treats her nicely turns out to be a sociopath. Then the heroine is blamed for not knowing that Scowling Guy loved her all along.

  12. JMM: I
    As for Winter Rose… wouldn’t a thief be considered a bad boy, at least outwardly?

    Yes! Guess what I was trying to say (and didn’t) is that surfaces aren’ t what make up good or bad boys for me. That is the luxury we have in books that we don’t often have in life — we can truly look beneath the surface and see who is good. In “Winter Rose” the thief had done a lot to show the heroine his good side, that’s what irked. She deliberately kept making bad decisions for bad reasons. Boy was that book ever a chore to finish — and I had loved the first book so much!

    maggie b.

  13. I don’t mind a hero with a “cause”. What I mind is when he is so devoted to his Good Works you know the heroine will suffer. Some guys come off as willing to throw their woman into a volcano for their Glorious Work.

    As for Winter Rose… wouldn’t a thief be considered a bad boy, at least outwardly?

  14. JMM: Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – Good Guy Heroes are written as men who are so dedicated to saving the world the relationship with the heroine is neglected.
    I read a catagory romance recently in which the hero runs a shelter for runaway teens. A good guy, right? Well, the good guy hero starts out insulting the heroine (a cop and single mother) by implying that she’s selfish when she says she can’t volunteer at his shelter. He calls her a bad mother for having a dangerous job. He tells her she’s not the kind of woman he wants as a mother figure for his niece. He thinks she’s not a good person because she turns down his job offer to work in the shelter and take care of the kids to keep her “unwomanly” job.
    This hero might have been a “Good Guy”, but I didn’t find him romantic in the least.

    I think the above would be more an example of a poorly written hero than “good” guy hero. A sanctimonious shelter worker falls lower on my ladder of good than many people. Then again, I don’t think any profession, whether it be doctor, cop, lawyer, social worker, or homeless shelter worker entitles you to be labeled good or bad. It’s more actions and attitudes that matter.

    In the truly horrible book “The Winter Rose” by Jennifer Donnelly the TSTL heroine married a guy who looked good on the outside (reformist politician, son a fine family, childhood friend) but who turned out to be a murderer, cheater and political liar. She choose him over a thief who truly was helping the poor, didn’t kill the innocent and actually liked kissing babies just cause they were beautiful. (It all works out in the end but I could have save hundreds of pages if she had just done what she should!) The wonder of books is that they have a surety we don’t in real life. In real life, we can’t look into people’s hearts but in books we can. So to me the good boy is the one with the good heart, not the one with the best outward behavior. When the heroine has a choice between a sunny natured, good hearted, generous regular joe and chooses the surly, former biker gang member, ridden by demons of his past “bad” boy — that’s when I wonder what on earth is wrong with her.

    maggie b.

  15. This discussion has gone in a very interesting direction!

    Allyson, Little Women/Good Wives is an excellent example of what I mean. Laurie is immensely likeable, and when I was younger (and more romantic), like you, I couldn’t understand Jo rejecting him. And I absolutely agree with you about this scenario happening a lot in real life. Perhaps this is why I enjoy it so much in fiction, too.

    Maria F, Cotillion is not quite what I had in mind. While Freddy is the perfect unexpected hero, Jack actually turns out to be very selfish, even nasty at times, which later in the books makes him decidedly unheroic. One ends the book pitying the woman who will have to deal with him in the future.

    All who don’t like a hero with a cause because that takes part of his attention from the heroine – I actually like heroes who have something else to live for besides the heroine. In fact, I most decidedly prefer them to those who just breathe and live for the heroine. I find them claustrophobic, bordering on creepy. For me, a believable HEA encompasses a hero and heroine who are part of the world around them, who have social circles and causes of their own. The vision of h/h shut up together in his stately home and gazing lovingly at each other all day does not constitute a happy ending for me, even if they have hot sex all night. Honestly, who’d really want to have a partner whose all attention was fixed on her? Wouldn’t that be incredibly exhausting after about fortnight?

    One thing the beta hero who has loved the heroine from afar for a while might be is shy. Or he might think her so wonderful that he couldn’t imagine she might fall for an ordinary guy him (like it was said above), or she might have made her preference for another may clear, and he might have respected her too much to pester her – until circumstances change, and he feels he has to act. I think any of these scenarios can be worked so the hero does not come across as weak or only lukewarmly interested, but as considerate or shy.

  16. Thanks, JMM, I think I see what you mean now. Victor Lazlo versus Rick Blaine in a way. Although it’s clear Victor’s stayed behind and risked his life (and therefore his cause) in the past when Ilsa was sick. I love the scene between Rick and Victor where Victor says, “I know you’re in love with a woman. We happen to be in love with the same woman.” It’s clear there that Victor’s a lot less passionless than one might have thought.

    One of the things I love about “Casablanca” is that both men are sympathetic. I think it shows how fascinating and emotionally fraught romantic triangles can be. It’s also one of the reasons I don’t necessarily need a love story to have a happy ending to be satisfying.

  17. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – Good Guy Heroes are written as men who are so dedicated to saving the world the relationship with the heroine is neglected.

    I read a catagory romance recently in which the hero runs a shelter for runaway teens. A good guy, right? Well, the good guy hero starts out insulting the heroine (a cop and single mother) by implying that she’s selfish when she says she can’t volunteer at his shelter. He calls her a bad mother for having a dangerous job. He tells her she’s not the kind of woman he wants as a mother figure for his niece. He thinks she’s not a good person because she turns down his job offer to work in the shelter and take care of the kids to keep her “unwomanly” job.

    This hero might have been a “Good Guy”, but I didn’t find him romantic in the least.

  18. Thanks, JMM. I think we probably do all have different definitions of “bad boys” (and “bad girls” and “good guys”, etc…). I love a lot of bad boy heroes–I haven’t read all the ones on your list, but Reggie is a fabulous hero. I also love Damerel in “Venetia.” And both Damere and Venetia are totally committed to their heroines by the end of the story. I also agree that sometimes good guys can seem bland next to to bad boys (not always though for me–sometimes bad boys leave me wanting to say “oh, grow up” while good guys seem refreshingly mature). But what I’m still a bit confused about is the idea that with a bad boy it would necessarily be clearer that the heroine is his first priority. I’m not sure I see that. (But then I also like heroes with causes–for me it’s a definite plus).

  19. I think the problem is we each have our own idea of what a “bad boy” is. For the record, I don’t want the heroine to be with a villain – but perhaps my idea of a villain is different from other readers.

    Personally, I love Charles. He’s an INTERESTING Good Guy. Besides, Raoul was all about the cause.

    Favorite “bad boys” of mine.
    Edward Cullen, Twilight (Enough said)
    Gideon, The Fireflower (He starts out a jerk, but he gives up a lot to have the heroine)
    Shane, Agnes and the Hitman (Sure, he’s a killer – but the heroine learns to appreciate his skill set after he dispatches the hitMEN sent to get rid of her)
    Reggie, The Rake (Love a guy with a sense of humor – he can laugh at himself)

    Tom/Joey, A History of Violence (Damn, those sex scenes! Vigo!)
    Mr. Grey, Secretary (A very romantic movie once you get past the OMG, they’re into BSDM. Or is it BDSM?)
    Martin, Grosse Point Blank (Ok, maybe going a bit too far there)

  20. I think you’re absolutely right, Maggie. Charles, like many shy heroes, doesn’t think he would get the girl because he puts her on a pedestal. In Charles’s case there’s definitely also an element of not thinking he’d make a good husband and having a poor opinion of marriage in general (thanks to his parents). He thinks Mélanie deserves someone who can make a better emotional commitment than he can, so he wouldn’t have proposed to her if she hadn’t been in a desperate situation.

    I’m interested in JMM’s take, because I think she likes the ending of “Secrets of a Lady/Daughter of the Game” (JMM?), but going by her comments she might have liked it better if Mel had ended up with Raoul.

  21. Tracy Grant: I don’t think Charles is passive aggressive, but he admits he never would have proposed to her if her apparent plight hadn’t pushed him into it.

    As the author you would be the one in the know ;-p but I always think of that as the shy, quiet guy thinking he could never have the girl but then something brings her to his level (like Melanie’s plight) and he takes the shot once he thinks he has it. It’s hard to explain but I think of them not being so much insecure or down on themselves as much as placing the heroine on such a pedestal that they feel unworthy of someone quite that awesome.

    Just my .02 of course!

    maggie b.

  22. I’m intrigued too, JMM. I think the most authentic bad boy I’ve ever written is Val in “Beneath a Silent Moon” (not a hero), but I can’t imagine a woman ever coming first with him even if he did fall in love. Val is always going to come first with Val.

    Mélanie ends up with the quieter Charles rather than the more charismatic Raoul. I don’t think Charles is passive aggressive, but he admits he never would have proposed to her if her apparent plight hadn’t pushed him into it.

  23. JMM your comment

    JMM: One good thing about the Bad Boy (the REAL BB, not the whiny ‘my mommy didn’t love me’ imitations) is that you KNOW the heroine is his first priority.

    intrigued me. Could you expound a bit? I tend to think of the real bad boy as being almost a villain. Clearly you are thinking of another definition ;-) Please share.

    maggie b.

  24. Ooops. Pushed the button too soon. I did want to say, it’s rare to find a book in which a GOOD person is rejected by the hero/heroine in favor of the equally good heroine/hero. Usually the Other Person is demonized somehow.

    I think it’s because readers don’t want to see the hero/heroine break a nice person’s heart.

    I don’t think the Hero needs to be “larger than life” to be a hero. I think he needs to be someone the heroine could be happy with. The problem is, too often the “quiet hero” is passive-aggressive – content to admire the heroine from afar until she gets together with someone who will actually show some interest in her.

    IIRC, Tony was in love with Libby for a while before Nez came along, but never had the guts to make a move because he was being a Dutiful Son. I want a hero who WANTS the heroine and isn’t afraid to show it.

  25. I finished Libby’s London Merchant feeling vaguely depressed.

    I do love Carla Kelly, but sometimes her heroes are impossibly noble. I don’t mean that they are too good to be real – I mean they are often too good to be romance hero material.

    When I close a book, I want to believe that the hero & heroine will be happy together. I always felt that Libby’s feelings for the doctor were more admiration than love, and she would be shortchanged because his first devotion is to Mankind rather than her.

    One good thing about the Bad Boy (the REAL BB, not the whiny ‘my mommy didn’t love me’ imitations) is that you KNOW the heroine is his first priority.

  26. Cotillion is another Heyer book in which the heroine, Kitty, chooses the less obviously heroic man.

  27. This post made me think of ‘Little Women’. Jo rejects Laurie, who has loved her since they were kids, because her feelings for him were not romantic in nature (maybe; there is some debate on this.) When I first read this book I was SO MAD! at Jo for doing this, but now am more of the ‘if you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it’ mindset.

    Also. The idea of a woman who rejects a man even though he isn’t a kidnapper and loves her a lot being nasty to do it isn’t just fictional. I’ve seen this sort of thing come up in real life. If a man loves a woman and she doesn’t care for him back, there’s often a response of ‘Well, why not? He’s a great guy!’ As though she owes him love back based on his lack of criminal behaviour and personal hygiene standards.

    With regards to men both real and fictional, there’s a response of ‘How could she not see what she’s missing out on?’ element. Even though someone being perfect on paper doesn’t mean anything, really.

  28. In some books it makes sense for the heroine to resist the obvious choice in favor of someone who just offers something no other person does. Still, I often end up feeling sad for the one rejected. When I read the Gardella Vampire books, I completely agreed that the heroine and the man she eventually wound up with belonged together, but the other possible hero was an interesting possibility, too. I hope we get more Gardella books someday!

  29. I thoroughly sympathized with Libby in “LLM”. I thought Nez made it pretty clear that he would always be aware of the difference in their stations and I could understand why she fell for the generous and gentle Dr. Cook. Nez’s book also unites him with the perfect woman for him –I think Nez was forever fated to be aware of people’s stations (in the back of his mind, he made a very conscious effort in “One Good Turn” not to be this way) and Liria being equal (technically above) him made it easier for his whole self to love her (probably doesn’t make any sense anywhere but in my head, lol.)

    In “Mansfield Park” I could only think that Edmund and Fanny would be happy together, judging the world around them in quiet unity. I was grateful they wouldn’t be spreading their self-righteous sanctimonious attitude on to others.

    I do like the heroine finding a quiet hero. I just want to be convinced she loves her hero, that she is choosing the best hero for her. In “Simple Jess” the heroine Althea chose someone most would not — she had a good looking, alpha type after her but she chose Jess, who was mentally slow, a beta who is kind and loving. I understood why and how and that made it a really great book.

    maggie b.

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