THE BLOG
11/04/2013 03:14 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

What is a 'Rake' and Why do we Love Them?

The following is a conversation between authors Anne Barton (TO ALL THE RAKES WE'VE LOVED BEFORE and ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED) and Eileen Dreyer (ONCE A RAKE).

What is the definition/ etymology and the characteristics of a "rake" for you?

Eileen: Rake is the shortened version of rakehell, a term popularized by playwrights of the Restoration Period in the seventeenth century (a rather bawdy time, that). It is thought that rakehell is a derivative of the old English rakel, which means rash, as in acting before thinking. And oh, my, those gentlemen did just that, quite enjoying a life of dissipation.

Anne: We could have titled this article "Rakes: They're Not Just Garden Tools," because anyone unfamiliar with the historical romance genre might understandably assume that a rake belongs in the shed, next to a bag of potting soil. But no. I suppose that under the right circumstances a rake might take advantage of a shed, but his natural habitat consists of ballrooms, gaming hells, and--most especially--bed chambers.

Eileen: Wine, women, gambling, sport, whatever struck their fancy.

Anne: A rake is, above all else, charming--and a little dangerous. You'll know him when you meet him. He's the gentleman at the ball whose heavy-lidded gaze holds yours a few seconds too long. (What, you don't go to balls? Me either. Sigh.) He's the life of the party, but still manages to make you feel like you're the only woman in the room. He'll make you laugh...then whisper something naughty in your ear and turn your knees to butter.

Why do you think the romance genre (or you yourself) uses the "rake" persona so often for their hero?

Anne: Rakes make great heroes because they present an irresistible challenge. Some of them gamble, drink, or womanize too much. They have an edge that makes them seem unattainable.

Eileen: When this man, who has so many women to choose from, who can have --and has had--the most beautiful and seductive women, chooses our heroine, she isn't the only one surprised. He is, too. Often, he's completely befuddled, which adds not only to the conflict, but the magic as he comes to learn that our heroine is all he'll never need.

Anne: When they finally find the right woman, they fall hard--and that makes it all the sweeter.

Eileen: And in a novel set during a time when women are expected to marry as virgins before the age of 20, the experience is not just attractive, but important. There's very little really romantic about not only one person but both people fumbling around with no idea how to go on.

Why do romance readers love "rakes"?

Eileen: I think every woman is enchanted by the idea that a man who has the world to choose from, who is known for his exceptional taste and experience, has chosen her. Even better, that of all the women in the world, she's the one who not only satisfies him, but matches him, stride for stride.

Anne: And who wouldn't want to be the woman to bring a sexy, confirmed bachelor to his knees? I think that, deep down, we want to believe that true love can change people for the better.

What's the difference between a rake and other personas found in romance novels (i.e., rouges, scoundrels etc.)?

Eileen: To me, a rake is someone who indulges in the sensual pleasures, but he would not really take advantage. He wouldn't do anything intentionally harmful to another. He's not a criminal, a con man or a predator.

Anne: Rogues and scoundrels are just slightly different twists on the bad boy archetype. They might not have as many ball invitations as our charming rakes, however--I think they would be a bit more on the fringe of polite society.

Eileen: An easy differentiation would be that Cary Grant would play a rake, but Clark Gable would play a rogue, and often a scoundrel.

Are there any modern day "rakes" to whom you could apply this definition?

Anne & Eileen: George Clooney!

Eileen: He is the epitome of the rake. Handsome, suave, smart, witty, a man with friends, a love of the good life and the wherewithal to enjoy it. A man who is hard for a woman to pin down. But every woman would like to try.

Anne: Other modern day rakes might include Bradley Cooper, Prince Harry, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Not that I've given it much thought.