My Three Favourite… Romantic Heroes
20th Jun 2011
My image of the Romantic Hero has always been that of a complex character, with secret conflicts hidden beneath a sophisticated and ruthless façade. Their personal code of honour is god to these brooding iconoclasts; loss, suffering and alienation are the price they pay to uphold that honour in true heroic fashion.
The idea of taming of this dominant male thrilled my feminist heart with girlish fantasies. Still does, actually, although I’m no longer a feminist and modern romance heroes are rarely forceful and too often politically correct.
When I started looking for my three favourites, I found I was in love with an alarmingly high number of romantic heroes. After much gnashing of teeth, I whittled my heroes down to Signor Benedick (from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare); Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon (from These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer) and Rehvenge (Lover Avenged from J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series.)
Why Benedick over the gallant knight Sir Launcelot in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur? Why prefer the Duke of Avon over the tormented Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte? And why the mohawked, amethyst-eyed Rehvenge over the coolly handsome Prince Pahndir in Emma Holly’s sizzling erotic romance Demon’s Fire?
At first, Benedick appears as a flirtatious, light-hearted misogynist, unwilling to commit to any woman. Look deeper and you’ll find a man who defies social convention, is willing to sacrifice his career and friendships to defend the honour of his love’s kinswoman.
Unlike the immature and conventional Count Claudio who, not once but twice, instantly doubts his lover Hero’s fidelity on merely a rumour and then devises a particularly cruel and ruthless revenge (denouncing her at the altar in front of the whole community, thereby ensuring her complete and utter ruin), Benedick—who by now has confessed his love for Beatrice, Hero’s cousin— simply asks Beatrice (in Act IV, sc 1):
Benedick: Think you in your soul that Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?
Beatrice: Yeah, as sure as I have a thought or a soul.
Benedick: Enough! I am engaged, I will challenge him.
With one bold statement of intent, Benedick puts his military career, his political alliances with the influential Don Pedro and Count Claudio and his life at risk, for he does what Beatrice as a woman cannot: with only Beatrice’s belief in her cousin’s virtue as his proof, he challenges Claudio to a duel to reclaim Hero’s honour.
In a time when a man’s success depended on his male friendships and his physical prowess, and a woman’s loss of virtue could spell ruination for her whole family, Benedick solidly aligns himself with Beatrice, because he values love and justice over social acceptance and personal ambition.
Oh my. No wonder Benedick is my kind of hero. But, then, so is Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon.
Satanas, as he is known, is a dark and aging hero to Benedick’s youthful exuberance. Over forty years old in the story, Avon has spent the last twenty years coldly and calculatingly planning revenge against the Comte de Saint-Vire.
When he meets the endearing waif Leon (who is really Léonie) he finds the tool he needs for the most thorough vengeance he could wish for. Against the background of the court of Louis XV, complete with its intrigues and excesses, we watch as Avon—immoral seducer and arrant snob—falls under the spell of Léonie’s irrepressible spirit.
Having lived most of his life rejecting established norms and conventions, Avon doesn’t care a jot for her unconventional life, her ferocious temper or her initial lack of social graces.
As she captures his heart, his sinister need for vengeance is no longer cold, but becomes draped in a passionate need to obtain justice for the great wrong done to his effervescent waif. And, not only does he exact his revenge for the tragedy of Leonie’s life, he then really acts the noble hero:
Avon: One day I think you will meet a younger man than I who will make you happy…
Leonie: You do not love me?
Avon: Too—well to marry you…child, you do not know me…many times I have told you I am no hero, but you have not believed me…Infant, you are worthy of a better husband…
Leonie: Ah, bah!
How I love it when a romantic hero is redeemed through the world of love!
That’s probably why, despite his mohawk, tattoos and drug-habit (not to mention his shady underworld connections), Rehvenge is my third favourite romantic hero.
Rehvenge hides his alienation and loneliness behind the trappings and arrogance of blue-blooded wealth. As a Princeps Leahdrye of the Glymera (vampire aristocracy) he has immense power.
But he has a secret which, if discovered, could have him banished from the world forever: he is a half-symphath (a sub-species of vampire with sociopathic tendencies) of royal blood. Thus, he must walk in the world while being intrinsically separate from others, even those he loves.
He does bad things for the right reasons; a symptom of the complex inner struggle he faces between his good (vampire) and evil (symphath) sides. As the product of a rape, he believes he’s unlovable and yet he offers his own love, friendship and loyalty unconditionally.
For centuries, he suffers unspeakable physical and mental torments to protect his mother, half-sister and friend Xhex. And, when he falls in love with innocent and compassionate Elehna, he deliberately destroys her love for him to protect her from his blackmailer:
He didn’t want this to be how he remembered her, but it was the last time he would see her…
Ehlehna’s eyes flipped from the drugs and the cash back to his face. ‘So it’s true? Everything your ex-girlfriend said.’
‘She is my half-sister. And yes. Everything.’
The female he loved took a step back from him, fear bringing her hand out of her pocket and up to her throat…‘Don’t ever contact me again.’
He bowed slightly and choked out, “As you wish.’
Ehlehna’s own love for Rehvenge eventually drives her to rescue him from the symphath colony he’d surrendered to. By doing so, she helps him finally accept who he is and who he is meant to be…a romantic hero worthy of the most erotic fantasies.
Each of these three heroes still gives me goose bumps after multiple readings of their stories. Aristocratic and handsome, strong and dangerous, and ultimately willing to sacrifice their personal needs in the name of love, these men have it all.
They are my three perfect romantic heroes. Who are yours?
Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her independently-published book, Dancing in the Shadows of Love, is available for Kindle from Amazon, and will shortly be available as a print edition. You can read the first chapter here.