The Courtly Lover and The Libertine

Happy New Year! You guys better enjoy it because we’re all going to die when 2012 hits. Or this May, according to some groups. Just in case we do all perish, be sure to read some good books this year.

In my last review I mentioned my addiction to books dealing with wicked rakes. It’s a little more than that: if a character is a flirt, a playboy or a casanova…I eat it up. I’m not into womanizers or overgrown frat boys. The character I like  is less Barney Stinson/Joey Tribbiani and more Sir Percy meets The Goblin King.

I tend to encounter two sub-categories of this archetype: the gentler, often (but not always) humorous Courtly Lover and his dark cousin, the Libertine. These two share a love of women and know how to woo them (though the heroine usually has more resistance than their other conquests). Where they differ is in how sordid their love lives are and how much they skirt into villainish territory.

The Courtly Lover

When I think of the Courtly Lover I think of Howl (the book version by Diana Wynne Jones, not the movie version. The movie is awesome but Miyazaki changed a lot of stuff.) Howl has a reputation for devouring the hearts of young ladies and being a generally wicked wizard. We meet him and realise that he doesn’t eat hearts but he does fall in love with many women, capturing their hearts in quite a different way. He has the possibility to become a bad wizard and the heroine Sophie spends a lot of time whipping him into shape and making sure he doesn’t end up on the wrong path.

So we have a man often very concerned with his dress and appearance (Howl FREAKS when his hair is accidentally turned orange) with a bad reputation often not explicitly detailed (we rarely see the other women the Courtly Lover is conquesting or if we do, the interactions are rarely lewd). He is often an object of scorn or humor, his foolish facade often masking a man of sharp intellect, deep emotions or both. When he’s in contemporary fiction, The Courtly Lover is a smooth-talking man with a past but once he hooks into the heroine, he’s after her and wants her for the rest of the book. (Nora Roberts has the best of these guys.)

I think I see The Courtly Lover more often in YA fiction than in Adult Romance. And I think I see this character more often in anime and video games than books, though I’d love to see him thrive in literature. I’m fascinated by characters who hide their true selves and I prefer the masks of foppery or cheerfulness over the gloomy, emotionless ones (I like those too >>.) The Courtly Lover provides the mixture of self-confidence, humor and hidden depths that makes me smile.

Examples of The Courtly Lover (in books and other media)

Sloan O’Reilly from The Calhouns: A Man for Amanda by Nora Roberts

Tucker Longstreet from Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts

Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Zelos from Tales of Symphonia

Cesar from Princess Debut

The Libertine

The Libertine is a lot like the Courtly Lover: handsome, often well-groomed, witty, bad reputation. Except the Libertine isn’t just misunderstood or mostly censored. His conquests can range from a tryst with a current lover at the beginning to participating in an orgy. The Libertine is the character unashamed of his sexual desires and  eager to bring out the heroine’s sensual side. Like Dain from Lord of Scoundrels or Lazarus from Wicked Intentions there’s a complex person beneath all the purring lust.

Why do I love these seducers so much? Probably because the authors do them so well that I’m lulled in with the heroine. When a character is written so well his charisma pours off the page, you feel it. And when it’s not as well-written? I’m not going to deny that I like the bad boys. Redeemable ones but still, they’re fun in media whether they’re a villain or a hero, whether the writing is good or bad.

And along with the confidence and hidden depths that the Libertine shares with The Courtly Lover, I like seeing the hero meet that one special person and that’s it. That one person sticks in their mind where countless women have not. It makes for a good love story, no matter how many times I see it.

Not all Libertines are good guys. As a lil’ chitlin, I always liked the stories where the Hero and the Heroine loved each other but oh no! The  Villain wants the Heroine too! And often kidnaps her! And maybe a love potion is involved! (I think I enacted this scene enough times with stuffed animals and Barbies that one of my companions refused to play dolls with me anymore because that was the only plotline I wanted to do. Oh childhood.)

Anyway, I like the seductive villains too, whether they’re potentially good or evil through and through. I realize I often make a big deal over when heroes do something stupid/bad/wrong so why would I like the evillest people in the book? Well these seductive libertine villains know exactly what they are and what they are doing. They don’t do something douchey and then have no one call them out for it and have everyone laud them as a hero. Do what you want but at least own what you do. (End mini-rant).

Examples of The Libertine

Lazarus Huntington from Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

Irial from Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Paul Slater from The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

Francis Rohan from Ruthless by Anne Stuart

Lord Byron from Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

Vicomte de Valmont from Dangerous Liaisions by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Richard Lovelace from Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

Jareth from The Labyrinth

I realise the Libertine has a lot more examples than the Courtly Lover. I have to say I love them equally but I definitely see more of the latter in books (hence my supplementing the Courtly Lover list with video game characters). If there are some Courtly Lovers you know of, let me know. I would love to read them.


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