In praise of dark, tortured heroes!
With my new Regency novella The Pirate’s Kiss in the US shops now and available from Amazon, this seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the appeal of the outlaw hero – and to browse some pictures of men in costume at the same time! (Yes, I make no excuse!)
What is it about the bad boy hero that is so appealing? Whether they are rakes, outlaws or dark, tortured heroes, there is something irresistible about the idea of redeeming the bad boy. Georgette Heyer started the whole thing for me with the Marquis of Vidal in Devil’s Cub, and my current favourites are heroes such as Kylemore in Anna Campbell’s fabulous book Courting the Courtesan, and Sebastian in Christine Wells’s Scandal’s Daughter. Mad, bad and dangerous to know, these Byronic characters are just asking for a good woman to bring out the best in them.
In fact Byron had a lot to do with promoting the cult of the pirate as hero. His poem The Corsair was published in the summer of 1814 and was immediately interpreted as a smouldering, piratical self-portrait. “In combination with a fetching self-portrait…sporting an exotic headscarf and cutlass, it added yet another fantasy persona to spin around his celebrity status,” Judith Mackrell wrote in the Guardian newspaper earlier this year.
10 000 copies of his poem were sold on the day of publication. I’m sure we would all give a lot for his sales figures! Byron modelled his story on tales of Barbary pirates who sailed the Mediterranean and Aegean kidnapping men and women to sell as slaves. He idealised his hero, Conrad, as “a man of loneliness and mystery.” In effect his poem was a wildly fantasised gloss on the brutal reality of pirating but it appealed because he portrayed the pirate as a celebration of liberty, completely free and daring to live their lives on their own terms.
Maybe the type of woman that appeals to the bad boy is the kind that isn't really trying to change him, just to love him? And maybe the dark hero still possesses all the qualities a hero must have – the integrity, the loyalty and the honour – even if he is sometimes a hero against his will!