In January, Yale University becomes the first school in the Ivies to offer a course on romance fiction, when bestselling romance authors/Yale alumnae Cara Elliott and Lauren Willig teach the seminar they created, “Reading the Regency Romance.” The pair says they’ll spend some time in the class examining changing attitudes toward sexuality and heroism in a variety of authors of Regencies from over a 30-year period.
’Round these parts – least when I’m doing the posting – it may seem as though heroism and sexuality in romance fiction come in one size: big-in-all-ways alpha male. Yet occasionally, a guy who isn’t imposing, dangerously rakish, or even particularly impressive looking strikes a heroic pose through quiet, yet consistent growth, by vanquishing inner dragons knights in shinier armor don’t possess/cop to, or perhaps simply by meeting his heroine’s lowest expectations.
Sir Gerald Stapleton is exactly this type of “beta” male, a most improbably appealing hero, and one of many compelling reasons to grab Mary Balogh’s marvelous reissue, “A Precious Jewel,” a unique and intensely emotional novel sweetened by humor and frank, often poignant sensuality.
Like many men of the ton, Stapleton seeks sexual fulfillment among the demimonde. A creature of habit, his liaisons are unemotional and businesslike when he regularly visits a popular, high-class brothel featuring demireps as stringently instructed in elocution as they are in taking responsibility for their clients’ pleasure – and their own reproductive and emotional health.
When a change in schedules finds Stapleton using Priss, a fresh-faced and remarkably lady-like courtesan, the 29-year old confirmed bachelor is confounded by his need to see only her frequently, and within weeks looks to keep her to himself by making her his mistress.
For a young woman in Priscilla Wentworth’s harrowing position, becoming a mistress after only four months as a whore is something to celebrate. That the man offering his protection is the one she’s become emotionally attached to feeds into the dangerous fantasies of love and commitment she’s concocted during their sessions.
Yet even though Priscilla’s life changed so dramatically that selling her body became honorable work, she still possesses intellect, education and a fairly indomitable spirit. These things are what most gnaw at Stapleton’s sometimes frustratingly sluggish mind as he struggles to reconcile the woman he’s desperate only to see as “property,” with the warm, accomplished lady of worth he’s opening up to at a dreadfully alarming pace.
Yes, Sir Gerald Stapleton is a conflicted man, and the most insurmountable obstacle between him and a life-altering relationship with Priscilla is Sir Gerald Stapleton. His vacillation leaves Priscilla without many choices, yet when Society would have her fall on her sword, she wields it instead for the sake of the honor she never relinquished – and the love she deserves.
How do you feel about the beta hero? How can a prostitute heroine who accepts/makes the best of her limited choices be heroic – or is she always archaic? What are some of your favorite Mary Balogh novels/why?