Desire and the Rake in Contemporary Historical Romance

  • Sara Razzaq

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This dissertation explores desire for the rake in the contemporary historical romance genre. By locating this figure in the context of its setting and the readerly desires of contemporary audiences, I conclude that the character of the rake always undergoes a transformation, either domesticated by marriage or undergoing some form of maturation. The reformation of the rake can be seen as a model plot in historical romance novels. The rake transformation plot often hinges on a particular narrative moment. The dissertation draws on the work of O’Connoll, Mackie, Cooper and Shorts in this area, but is novel in its focus on transformation. It asks what the key components are that create this figure along with key influences that propel the rake’s behaviour in these novels. It examines the performance of rakishness, and the ways in which ‘unknowability’ helps to ensnare female characters as it offers the possibility of a) peeling back the psychological layers of the character to find the man beneath and b) reforming the rake character. Each chapter focuses predominantly on one novel from this genre: When He Was Wicked (2004) by Julia Quinn, Devil in Winter (2006) by Lisa Kleypas and Almost Heaven (1990) by Judith McNaught. The dissertation demonstrates that this genre is a rich storehouse of information about gendered cultural desire, figurations of desirable masculinity, and the centring of male experience even in fiction understood as having a female audience.
Date of Award16 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJodie Matthews (Main Supervisor) & Sarah Falcus (Co-Supervisor)

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