Debra Dixon here, we have a guest blogger today. She is new to Loveswept and Random House, which we all know are near and dear to my heart. Without further adieu, here is Ruthie Knox.
The Groveling Potential of a Grouchy Hero
By Ruthie Knox
Some of the best-known, most beloved founding texts of the romance genre contain deeply grouchy heroes. Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice—these men were grumpy. They’re arrogant and condescending, short-tempered, even cruel. What’s to love?
Indeed, when I first encountered all of these novels as a teenager, their heroes did nothing for me. I fell hard for Jane Eyre, but Rochester? Meh. I could take him or leave him. Darcy, too, for that matter. Why did it take him so long to come around to Elizabeth’s many charms? Why did he have to be such a jerk?
These days, though, I have a serious soft spot for grouchy heroes, because I appreciate that they have something the voluble, charming fellows lack: excellent groveling potential.
Seriously. Grouchy heroes are so sure of themselves. They are sedulously arrogant, certain of their power and importance, settled in their worldviews. They know beyond a shadow of doubt that the heroine has nothing—nothing—of value to offer them.
The reader knows otherwise.
And thus it becomes a pleasure of the purest, most delicious sort to wait and watch, measuring the precise distance our grouchy hero will have to fall in order to become worthy of the heroine. How far will he have to crawl, gravel biting into his knees, before he deserves this woman he was prideful enough to think beneath him?
For me, the hero’s fall is, in fact, the most enjoyable part of both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. Rochester and Darcy each propose marriage somewhere around the halfway point of their books, but no, no, they’re not done groveling yet. They haven’t fallen far enough or hard enough. Rochester doesn’t deserve his little Janet until he’s been forced to survive fire, scandal, blindness, and her loss. Mr. Darcy remains unworthy of Elizabeth until he’s endured the sting of rejection, become thoroughly embarrassed by his own conduct, and resolved to right all the wrongs he’s done to his beloved and her relations.
This groveling thing—I’m not sure it gets enough attention in conversations about “alpha heroes,” past and present. Critiques of the bodice rippers of the past often suggest that the virginal heroines of such books succumb to the dubious charms of men unworthy of their love, as if the main attraction of the books’ heroes is their ability to do violence, to master the heroine. As if the heroine’s primary role is to swoon and be taken on the gangplanks, and then to be so brainwashed as to like it.
Not so. From the very beginning, romance novels have been about the humbling of arrogant men. Because nothing confirms love’s power to conquer obstacles quite so handily as watching a neat, smart, plain woman of no fortune humble a grouchy, presumptuous, arrogant jackass and turn him into decent husband material.
It’s a tale that never gets old. Which is why we never get tired of telling it.
Ruthie Knox spent her formative years hiding romance novels in her bedroom closet to avoid the merciless teasing of her brothers. After graduating from Grinnell College with an English and history double major, she earned a Ph.D. in modern British history that she’s put to remarkably little use. These days, she writes witty, sexy, smart contemporary romance. Her debut novel, Ride with Me—which features a very grouchy bike mechanic hero—releases from Loveswept on February 13.