Trope Anatomy 101

Trope Anatomy 101: Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him – I Kicked His Jerk Ass to the Curb

This month on Trope Anatomy 101, Carlie St. George examines the Sexy Douchecanoe trope.

Trope Anatomy 101

Trope Anatomy 101 is a monthly column in which familiar tropes, particularly in speculative fiction and pop culture, are broken down and discussed by new regular contributor and author Carlie St. George. For her inaugural column, Carlie tackles one prickly topic:

Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him–I Kicked His Jerk Ass to the Curb


Congratulations, everyone. If you are reading this, you have survived another Valentine’s Day. I’m proud of you all.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that romance, as a genre, has never been my thing. Action is my thing. Horror is my thing. Mysteries and magic: definitely my thing. But when it comes to stories, I’ve never been a hearts and flowers and multiple orgasms kind of girl. I’ll take a good blaster at my side any day, and all that.

Recently, though, I’ve started to wonder why that is, especially after reading Sunil Patel’s fantastic post last year about overcoming an internalized disdain for romance novels. I thought to myself, “Self, it’s not that you hate all romance. There are some rom-coms you enjoy, admittedly, few and far between, but still. You ship certain couples on TV like whoa, and if you really can’t stand to read a love story, then how have you read gyzym’s DomesticVerse, like, 87 times? What’s keeping you from checking out actual romance novels?”

I’ve considered it, and I think I keep coming across two stumbling blocks:

  1. Sex scenes rarely do much for me.
  2. Hunks are jerks.

It’s unfortunate that I generally find sex scenes boring, but if I’m engaged enough in the characters and their relationship, I can get past it, like, that’s not a deal breaker. No, it’s the latter point that really trips me up, and the one I want to discuss today: the ongoing problem of the Sexy Douchecanoe.

The Sexy Douchecanoe isn’t an official trope, as such; at least, it’s not one that I often find people analyzing, subverting, and/or railing against. It is one, however, that I run into constantly because, while they’re often unfairly associated with strapping, half-dressed men on paperback covers, Sexy Douchecanoes actually pop up in every medium and every genre. The first time I remember coming across one, I was maybe 20 and reading Naked in Death by JD Robb. At the time, I’d been interested in giving romance a go, but as I hadn’t read much of the genre, I wasn’t entirely sure where to start. I figured the best plan was to pick a romance that was also a murder mystery set in the future.

And maybe that plan would have been successful, if I hadn’t hated the love interest with the power of a thousand suns.

Naked in Death

Roarke is Irish and gorgeous and a billionaire, so obviously, he has some qualities working in his favor. Unfortunately, I was less enamored by the way he continuously decides things on Eve’s behalf. If Eve says she doesn’t want to eat, Roarke assures her that she does. If Eve decides she wants to go home, Roarke refuses to take her there. If Eve says no to handcuffs during sex, Roarke will see the hidden desire in her eyes and handcuff her anyways, because Roarke is always right about what Eve really wants, and maybe safe words hadn’t yet been invented in the 90’s?

At one point, Roarke also breaks into Eve’s apartment and waits for her in the dark like a total creeper. He then has the gall to be offended when Eve checks to make sure he hasn’t looked at or otherwise tampered with her criminal files. And have I mentioned that, at the time of this B&E, Roarke is also a murder suspect?

I did not want Eve to end up with this man. I did not want anyone to end up with this man, but I especially didn’t want our strong and capable female protagonist to literally be carried into the happy ending by a big, strapping stalker. And that right there is my big problem with this type of character: if I don’t want our couple to get together at the end of the book, the romance has utterly failed for me.

Of course, tastes vary. You may find one hero appealing, and I may find him a garbage fire of a human being, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much; certainly, one instance does not a trope make. Which is why we’ll now be heading back to gothic romance to discuss the most classic version of the Sexy Douchecanoe: the Byronic hero.

Jane Eyre

Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre might be the most quintessential example of this. (Well, him or Heathcliff, anyway, but I’m happy to say I’ve never seen nor read any version of Wuthering Heights, for I suspect I would not survive the endeavor with full sanity intact.) Rochester is rich and arrogant and moody as hell, and he has peculiar ideas on how to court a woman, including disguising himself as a gypsy to try and uncover Jane’s secret feelings towards him, while also attempting to incite jealousy by lying to Jane about his supposed engagement with Blanche Ingram. He’s very secretive, too, as people tend to be when they’ve indefinitely imprisoned their mad wives upstairs in the attic.

Reading Jane Eyre wasn’t actually a tortuous affair, mostly because I rather liked Jane and, to my surprise, found that she displayed a surprising amount of power and agency in their relationship, despite the inequality of their social positions. (It also helps that Rochester is not quite as terrible to Jane on a day-to-day basis as some of the other men I’ll discuss today.) Yet I was still quite happy to see that, despite loving him, Jane leaves Mr. Rochester after finding out about Bertha, showing a welcome amount of self-respect that, unfortunately, goes by the wayside when she returns to our brooding hero at the end of the story. Rather conveniently, poor Bertha has died in Jane’s absence; meanwhile, according to every analysis I’ve ever read, Rochester is wholly redeemed of his faults and deeds when, during a fire, he loses his sight and one hand saving his servants’ lives, something that might mean more to me if his servants had been the people he’d wronged in the first place. Rochester does absolutely nothing to atone to Jane for how he treated her, and thus I find myself completely unmoved by their supposedly happy ending. He has done nothing to deserve her love, loyalty, or care.

But Mr. Rochester has nothing on our next Sexy Douchecanoe: Maxim de Winter of Rebecca.


Rebecca and Jane Eyre share a very similar premise, but Rebecca, by far, is the darker of the two novels. In many ways, it’s less of a traditional romance than an exploration of insecurity, jealousy, and codependence. Still, it appears that we are genuinely supposed to root for Maxim and our protagonist, the second Mrs. de Winter, which is unfortunate because their relationship is excruciating to read, as Maxim is the kind of temperamental, insensitive, patronizing jerk who thinks, “No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool,” is an acceptable way to propose marriage. He also refuses to consider a big, church wedding because he’s already had one before, and never mind the fact that his young fiancée, who’s never been married, clearly wants one. And this is all before we find out that (spoilers) Maxim murdered his first wife, Rebecca.

It turns out that’s okay, though, because Rebecca was really, really mean.

This novel was definitely a challenge to read, what with the way I had to keep taking breaks to hit my head against a desk as the second Mrs. de Winter trembles and quavers and continuously obsesses over whether her husband is still in love with his dead wife. I understand that Maxim saved our unnamed narrator from a lousy living situation with her former employer and all, but her complete lack of self-esteem and refusal to stand up for herself is just maddening. Still, you’d like to think if something will clue you into the fact that your husband doesn’t deserve you, it’s finding out that he shot and killed his first wife.

But of course this is not the case because Rebecca was, by her murderer’s account, a secretly terrible person who goaded Maxim into shooting her. And the problem is not just that his new wife forgives him; it’s that she’s not even particularly concerned about it, as all she really takes from this revelation is joy that Maxim isn’t still in love with Rebecca. And, incredibly, we’re meant to sympathize with Maxim as well; we’re supposed to be relieved when Rebecca’s death is ruled as a suicide instead of a murder, and our happy couple can move on together. Thank God Mrs. Danvers burns down Manderely; it’s the only part of that ending I actually consider happy.

Fortunately, not every Sexy Douchecanoe is as truly terrible as Maxim de Winter. Unfortunately, Sexy Douchecanoes are not limited to the gothic romances of years long past. We can find them in novels that came out as recently as 2015. For instance, let’s discuss Sarkan from Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.


The premise of this novel is that once every ten years, a wizard known as the Dragon (AKA, Sarkan) takes one young woman from a village as payment for protecting the people from the evil, magical Wood. The good news is that he actually has legitimate, if secret, reasons to take these women, and also that he never once tries to force himself on or otherwise coerce them into sex. Unfortunately, our protagonist, Agnieszka (or Nieshka), doesn’t know any of that. She is in a horribly vulnerable position, as she’s been taken away from everyone she’s ever known and loved and has no way to know what the Dragon will do to her.

And Sarkan certainly doesn’t help matters any by acting like a complete tool for the majority of the novel. He repeatedly insults her intelligence, abilities, and appearance. He forces her to alter the way she dresses so that she will better fit into his tower of beautiful things. He does not initially explain anything as he teaches her magic: not how it works, not what the side effects are, not even why he’s doing it, and of course is not at all concerned that his lessons leave her feeling physically ill and exhausted; if anything, her misery is an inconvenience for him. He also completely unnecessarily manhandles her the first night when she accidentally runs into him while looking for the kitchen.

None of this behavior is particularly romantic, or even remotely acceptable, but the final straw for me comes when a visiting prince attempts to rape Nieshka, and Nieshka, defending herself, nearly kills him. Sarkan’s immediate response upon discovering this is, “You idiot, what have you done now?”

To be fair, this is a serious situation: Sarkan first has to save the prince’s life, and then has to alter his memory to keep him from executing Nieshka. But it’s an undeniably terrible reaction to finding a woman who’s just been attacked, a reaction that’s quickly compounded on the very next page: “’And now you’re going to blubber, I suppose,” the Dragon said over my head. “What were you thinking? Why did you put yourself into that ludicrous dress if you didn’t want to seduce him?’”

Nope. That’s it. I’m done.

It doesn’t matter that Nieshka is only in the “ludicrous dress” because the prince tried to tear her other, less sexy dress off her. It wouldn’t matter if Nieshka had been walking around in period-piece lingerie; that’s victim-blaming bullshit, the kind of thing you usually hear as an excuse coming from the rapist’s mouth, not from your lead romantic hero. At this point, I knew Sarkan would need an incredible redemption story to excuse (or at least forgive) his atrocious behavior, but like Jane Eyre, Uprooted doesn’t really provide one, just a brief, mildly tragic backstory that, presumably, is meant to show how his character has become bitter over time. Sarkan never really apologizes for his needless cruelty, never does anything that indicates any real regret for his actions. Nieshka repeatedly calls him out on what he’s done, which is great, but his response is to invariably sulk off into another room, then return a few days later like nothing ever happened. Their love story is all forgiveness without apology, absolution without penance.

And that’s another big problem with the Sexy Douchecanoe: I don’t believe we’re taught to expect these guys to reform or repent. Their rude, controlling, and/or sexist behavior seems to be considered acceptable, maybe even desirable, either because that’s not who they really are “on the inside,” or because it’s the woman’s fault that they act this way in the first place. Switch mediums and genres, for a moment, and take Grey’s Anatomy: in second season, Meredith confronts Derek about how he constantly watches her with Bedroom Eyes, despite the fact that she’s trying to move on since Derek left her for the wife that he conveniently forgot to mention. (In an earlier episode, he also tried to slut shame Meredith for moving on, in case you needed more evidence that McDreamy is actually a creep.) Derek, with gross, angry intensity, responds:

“Do you think I want to look at you? That I wouldn’t rather be looking at my wife? I’m married! I have responsibilities! She doesn’t drive me crazy. She doesn’t make it impossible for me to feel normal. She doesn’t make me sick to my stomach thinking about my veterinarian touching her with his hands! Oh man, I would give anything not to be looking at you!”

This immediately leads to the two getting it on in the exam room, and I get it: tempers run high, it’s supposed to be passionate, etc. And for a lot of people, it was, just like how many readers found Roarke, Rochester, Maxim, and Sarkan swoon-worthy instead of awful. But when I watched this episode, I didn’t see a steamy scene between two ex-lovers; I saw a petulant man whining about the poor choices he alone was responsible for making. I saw a man entirely blaming his jealousy and lust on a woman who did nothing to incite them but exist. And I found that I didn’t want Meredith to take Derek back, not our young, sex-positive protagonist who had awesomely told her jerk ex-boyfriend that he didn’t get to call her a whore. It no longer mattered that McDreamy had great hair and a charming love for ferryboats. He didn’t deserve her.

But we’re expected to ship them anyway because, you know, passion.

And passion is the same reason we’re supposed to ship another couple from ShondaLand: Olivia and Fitz on Scandal. Honestly, if I’d been willing to re-watch the series on Netflix, this entire column probably could have been about Olivia’s love affair with the temperamental, possessive President Fitzgerald Grant. One memorable episode (“Hunting Season,” but probably better known as Treegate) has him using his Secret Service officers to fetch her against her will, all so he can yell in her face and jealously interrogate her about sleeping with an ex before pushing her up against a tree and fervently kissing her. (He also super aggressively changes her footwear, like he’s auditioning to be the most off-putting version of Cinderella’s prince ever.) And this, this is supposed to be our OTP. Sure, Olivia eventually pushes him off and yells at him in this particular scene, but it doesn’t take long for the two to get back together so that their vicious cycle can start again.

But this is the thing: I don’t think passion alone makes for a particularly great love story, nor do I think that the Sexy Douchecanoe is an entirely harmless trope. On one hand, at least for the older novels, you’re supposed to take the time period into account, which is, quite frankly, sometimes easier said than done. And obviously personal preference comes into play when it comes to what kind of characters you find sexy. I’m definitely uncomfortable with the thought of policing other people’s preferences.

On the other hand, girls are already taught to accept a lot of crappy behavior from boys as though it’s both normal and complimentary, like, he teases you, bullies you, pulls your hair? Don’t worry, that just means he likes you. Aren’t you flattered, little girl?

Well, no. Not really. My scalp hurts, and I’m crying now, and what exactly are you telling me here? Boys are entirely incapable of being kind to girls they like? If girls want boys to like them, they have to accept this kind of behavior? And if girls don’t accept this behavior, what? They will never find a boy? Their expectations, their standards, are just too high?

I can’t see how the Sexy Douchecanoe is much more than an adult, masculine, and probably shirtless version of this bully, whose jealous, controlling, and/or downright abusive behavior toward women is often blamed on the women themselves, behavior that comes with little, if any, actual consequence and is easily excused by all. Phoebe Salzman-Cohen’s review of Uprooted agrees that the Dragon is “impossible to like at first,” but found the love story convincing, despite the fact that Sarkan’s basic nature never changes. “Agnieszka doesn’t wish him into someone different,” Salzman-Cohen writes, “and he, likewise, loves her for the very clumsiness that he finds intolerable.” Which is a point I agree with in general–sometimes, you have to accept and love your partner for their flaws–but has disturbing ramifications when applied to unhealthy relationships. It’s true that Agnieszka is clumsy and not particularly well-dressed, but Sarkan is consistently, needlessly cruel to her. These are not equatable flaws.

Meanwhile, one recap of Scandal’s infamous Treegate scene insists that it is “painful, exhausting, and fucking sexy as hell,” and that Olivia and Fitz’s agony is what makes their relationship “beyond real.” Fitz is the only one in the wrong here, the only one lashing out, but our sympathy is supposed to go to him as well as Olivia because he wouldn’t try to hurt her if he didn’t love her so much.


And Dear Author’s review for Naked in Death argues that Roarke is “somewhat less of a dickbasket than a lot of the other alpha heroes” and that he’s “nowhere near as controlling as this character often is.” But the fact that I believe this reviewer is almost certainly right doesn’t mean that I have to accept a narrative where women are successfully seduced by not-entirely-dickbaskets.

I don’t accept that this is just what love looks like. My standards are too high for that. I do expect a more compelling love story. And I bet those stories are out there, in both the romance genre and otherwise; after all, in Sunil Patel’s post that I linked to earlier, he lists a number of reasons that he’ll continue to read romance novels, the very first of which is complex and relatable characters, and–while this is a presumption on my part–I assume that he’s not talking about Sexy Douchecanoes and the Heroines who Settle For Them. Those are the stories I want to find, in every genre and medium, ones where couples are good for each other, good to each other; stories with couples I can actually root for. They can make mistakes, but those mistakes should be resolved, not hand-waved away. They can fight, but forgiveness shouldn’t only come in the version of sweaty make-up sex. By all means, include the sweaty make-up sex, but also include the honest conversation, the talking problems out, the actual, legitimate apologies and making up for what you’ve done.

And if the hot, broody hero is just too tortured and jealous and passionate to engage in any of that, then it doesn’t matter if he likes ferryboats or is the President of the United States; it doesn’t matter if he has a castle or speaks with a sexy Irish accent. Dump him, ladies. Dump him now because you can do and deserve so much better.

And because, sometimes, love absolutely means saying you’re sorry.


  • Olivia Waite
    February 18, 2016 at 12:53 am

    In romance circles, the Sexy Douchecanoe is referred to as an alphahole (alpha male + asshole). Hopefully this term makes it easier to sift out the romances you don’t want from the ones you do. Trust me, plenty of romance readers/authors hate this trope as much as you do! (Fitz is THE WORST.) Courtney Milan’s a great place to start.

  • Larissa
    February 18, 2016 at 1:19 am

    I love this! I thoroughly enjoyed Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights AND Rebecca as a teenager and haven’t read them since. I fear I shall never read them again as, of course, once you see it …

    The sum up of how little girls are taught that little boys being mean to them is something to be proud of really struck home. I’ve been saying that for years. It doesn’t make any sense to me either.

    Anyway, thank you.

  • And Today, In Trope Anatomy 101 . . . | My Geek Blasphemy
    February 18, 2016 at 8:09 am

    […] If you’d like to know what Sexy Douchecanoes are and/or read about my aversion to them, please click here. […]

  • Lori
    February 18, 2016 at 8:34 am

    I absolutely agree. There are too many Sexy Douchecanoes in literature. But I’ll argue that Heathcliff is NOT a romantic hero. Anyone who has actually read Wuthering Heights will know that both Heathcliff and Cathy are narcissists who just tear each other apart. Nothing romantic about it at all. It’s also an excellent book, so don’t be put off by the fact that some readers completely miss the point that Heathcliff and Cathy are awful people who probably deserve each other but they are too self-centered and stupid to use their words. So sometimes it’s not actually the author’s intent to show a romantic and good hero but readers misinterpret it.

    As for Rochester, I have a soft spot for him. Yes, he treats Jane horribly but he is very humbled at the end. I don’t think he’s irredeemable, although the ending doesn’t really give us a chance to really see how redeemed he is. I think we’re left with Jane’s judgement. As an aside, if you have not read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (essentially a Jane Eyre fanfiction about Bertha Mason-Rochester) you should. It does make Rochester look even more like a douchecanoe in some ways, but even though you never really get his perspective it does actually lend some additional insight into what he might have been going through during Jane Eyre. Plus Bertha isn’t exactly a reliable narrator. It’s a fascinating read, though.

    I second Olivia’s recommendation of Courtney Milan. Read The Duchess War; it’s exactly what you’re looking for.

  • Isobel
    February 18, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Not a single work cited is a genre romance. You’ve got a thriller, (w/SF elements), a couple of gothics, a fantasy novel, and a political soap. So basically you’ve outlined that the alphole exists across genres and is a wider cultural phenomenon.

  • AWhite
    February 18, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I can’t comment on the TV shows as I don’t really watch TV, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to attack those older romance novels since they were written in a different time with different mindsets.

    I do agree that alpha heroes are obnoxious and tend to make *any* novel unreadable (I don’t really differentiate between alpha and alphahole. To me, they’re the same man and I don’t like him.)

    There are a number of good beta hero romances, or romances with men who are believably real, complex, and human (Again, I find the alpha male as written in most novels to be over-the-top in terms of maleness and really rather laughable.) I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Milan’s wallpaper historicals, as someone has above, but for strong leading male characters who are sympathetic and realistic in a convincing historical setting, you might try Cecilia Grant or Rose Lerner. There are a few other authors I can’t recall off-hand, but I’m sure if you asked on twitter, you’d get plenty of recommendations.

    Don’t give up! Usually the more obscure authors are writing the more believable males, since an awful lot of readers seem to prefer the male heroes who treat the women like crap.

  • Tiffany
    February 18, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Dammit book smugglers. Haven’t we had enough romance shaming this month?

    First Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights… not romance. They are Gothic novels, and while they have strong romantic elements, they are not romance.
    Second, Scandal, also not a romance, that’s a Drama with strong romantic elements. You probably should have talked to some romance authors, reviewers, or readers about what the genre actually means.
    Third, did you know that not all romance has sex scenes? Fade to black and shutting the bedroom door are a thing. So are swords, guns, blasters, lazers, magic, and beta heros. There are also alpha heroes who aren’t abusive assholes. In Sarah Maclean’s What a Wallflower Wants the hero is protective and confident, and his main concern is seeing that the heroine gets what she wants in life. Many readers consider A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold to be a romance, and while Miles is often overbearing, can you really call him an alphahole? In Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series Adam is actually a bit on the alphahole side, but he enjoys when Mercy stands up to him. Her other shifter series Alpha and Omega has stronger romantic elements and Charles, the hero’s protective qualities are balanced with his vulnerability. These are just a few books I could pull out of my memory, so perhaps you shouldn’t dismiss an genre, based on some books that are not actually in a genre.

  • Lozza
    February 18, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Yeah, I’m going to agree with Tiffany on this one. I’m disappointed in The Book Smugglers for posting this- one of the things I usually love about you guys is your nuanced looks at genres and books that are often dismissed by big sectors of the population. As far as I can tell from the text, this is another case of someone who doesn’t actually read genre romance dumping on genre romance. The essay is set up from the very beginning to discuss specifically romance- as as genre- but then the examples are all over the genre spectrum and it’s arguable whether more than one or two of them are romance at all (for example, while there is a romance in Uprooted, I’d argue that you could remove it from the narrative completely without much changing the story as a whole, which pretty much means that while it’s a story with a romantic storyline, it’s sure not a genre romance).
    I do think there’s thoughtful critique to be had about behaviors that we’ll accept from a hero but not a heroine, or about behaviors that are actually unhealthy or toxic embedded within relationships that are ostensibly presented in narratives as healthy and desirable- and I think those critiques happen regularly within the romance community!- but this essay is not it.
    Low hanging fruit, y’all.

  • Emily
    February 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Maybe this would have worked better as a deconstruction of a trope that pervades literature & TV shows instead of an indictment of an entire genre.

  • Evaine
    February 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I would hope that if one is going to intelligently dissect a genre trope, one should have an idea of what that trope, and indeed the genre, actually consists, instead of trying to sound hip and clever.

    Another hope dashed.

  • Jane
    February 18, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    You know, it’s perfectly fine to not like a genre and not write a condescending and uninformed thinkpiece about your preferences.

    And if you were genuinely interested in exploring romance novels, maybe you could have asked romance readers and writers for recommendations? There are hundreds of romances without explicit sexytimes or douchecanoes.

  • Ros
    February 18, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    1. Plenty of romance novels don’t have sex scenes.

    2. Plenty of romance novels don’t have heroes like this.

    You should try reading some; they’re great.

  • Evelyn Chirson
    February 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I admit at first I didn’t want to read this article because I saw it linked by a tweet saying something uncomplimentary about Uprooted. I loved Uprooted (I loved the romance parts of Uprooted especially and bought it precisely because The Book Smugglers praised the sex scene), so I thought – not for me. Then the whole unpleasant thing started so I was curious and returned 😉

    And… I think for me the worst part was this:
    “The Sexy Douchecanoe isn’t an official trope, as such; at least, it’s not one that I often find people analyzing, subverting, and/or railing against. ”

    Because, were it not pre-emptively phrased as an opinion, it would simply be factually incorrect. Replace “I” with “one” and — it’s just not true. All the examples of not subverting come from non-romance media (although arguably both Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy go some way towards subverting – I mean, I hate Fitz more than most but judging by last episode(s) we are supposed to see his flaws and to disagree with his treatment of Olivia in particular and women in general?) and most of the romance I’ve read (or watched! Poldark!) does a terrific job of deconstructing, .

    The essay is somewhat chaotic in making its point about what is and isn’t romance and certainly the trope deserves the criticism (as much as I can enjoy it at times, I loved the Dragon in Uprooted as a romance protagonist, flaws and all) but actually romance is one of the genres that do some of the best job doing that! Thankfully.

    (And outside of romance per se – anything by Kate Elliott.)

  • Foz Meadows
    February 18, 2016 at 1:33 pm


    I am, however, staring agog at the commenters above, complaining that this is an “attack” on the romance genre. Like. Did you even read the essay? There are four people here complaining that the works cited in evidence “aren’t even romance”, when the ENTIRE POINT here is that the trope is omnipresent across genres. To quote the essay:

    “The Sexy Douchecanoe isn’t an official trope, as such; at least, it’s not one that I often find people analyzing, subverting, and/or railing against. It is one, however, that I run into constantly because, while they’re often unfairly associated with strapping, half-dressed men on paperback covers, Sexy Douchecanoes actually pop up in every medium and every genre.”

    EVERY MEDIUM AND EVERY GENRE. This is said UP FRONT, which is… maybe why the examples DELIBERATELY come from every medium and genre? Like, I hate to break this to you, but the romance *genre* doesn’t have a monopoly on romance *tropes*, because romance – to reiterate the exact point of this essay – happens EVERYWHERE.

    The complaint here seems to be that St George is attacking the romance genre by simultaneously failing to talk about it, as though she’s confused as to which genres these works belong and is misattributing them in order to make her point. Which, no: she’s saying that toxic tropes that excuse appalling male behaviour are heralded as romantic in EVERY genre, and that this is an actual problem.

    I find it kind of telling about the accuracy of this complaint that none of the critical commeters have disputed any of her examples. The only objection seems to be that “no, it’s really THIS genre!”, as though that’s somehow relevant. Someone’s even referring to such accurate criticism as “low-hanging fruit”, as though this is a viable defence of such widepsread toxicity, and not a damning indictment of it.

    I mean, goddamn. The fact that romance, as a genre, cops a bunch of unfair criticism doesn’t mean there isn’t also relevant criticism to be made of it, y’know?

  • Thea
    February 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Hey everyone, thanks for the comments and suggestions for non-sexy-douchecanoe/alphahole reads!

    To address the comments that state this essay is an attack against romance as a genre–we (Ana, Carlie, and myself) respectfully disagree. This is an opinion article that discusses a trope that is present in ALL media and genres, not just romance (as Carlie says in her post and cites in her examples). As editors, we definitely didn’t read this as an attack against romance–a genre we love and started reading/blogging about! That said, intent and impact are two very different things and often don’t align, and we sincerely apologize for coming off that way–in no way was this meant to be shaming, condescending, dismissive, or ill-informed. And we never, ever want anyone to feel that way.

    So, to the last comment @Jane–you make an excellent point re: recs. We would love to offer a counter-point to this opinion and ask for recommendations, or even a guest post should someone be willing? Please let us know.

  • Rudy
    February 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    It’s been argued that Rochester’s blinding etc. are (a) just punishment for his arrogance and (b) a way of giving Jane dominion in their relationship. He is stripped of his alpha-ness.

    And Heathcliff is not a romantic hero. Period. Anyone who thinks so hasn’t read the book and/or has been unduly influenced by film/TV adaptations (which, among other things, tend to omit most if not all of the second half of the book).

  • willaful
    February 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    And yet the point of the essay, stated at the beginning of it, is that this across-genres trope is why the author of the piece specifically avoids the romance genre. How is that not an unjustified attack?

  • Olivia Waite
    February 18, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Here’s the thing, though — in romance we’re analyzing, subverting, and railing against this particular trope ALL THE TIME. We’re talking about Rochester, Fitz, and when heroes don’t grovel sufficiently, and abusive relationship dynamics presented as ideals, ALL THE TIME. I’ve lost count of how many essays on this very topic I’ve written myself, much less read by others in the genre — and in related books too (someone mentioned Miles Vorkosigan earlier, which: a thousand times yes). These discussions are super-easy to uncover with even a cursory search.

    Presenting your ignorance of the conversation as a gap in the conversation makes many of us feel silenced and erased.

  • jillheather
    February 18, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    The post was set up as “I don’t like the genre romance, but I will try these specific romances and see how I like them”, oh no they use this trope. To start off saying “I don’t like romance because hunks are jerks and I don’t like sex scenes” is misinformed on both counts. There is romance without sex scenes, though sometimes it’s hard to find it without other gross stuff. And there are lots of romances where the hunks aren’t jerks.

    So then we go from “here’s why I don’t like romance at all” (not that you need a reason; there are genres I just don’t like and can’t explain why), because of these terrible tropes, so I’m just going to talk about the tropes instead of looking at where romance as a genre rejects or subverts these (damaging) tropes — in fact, I am going to state outright that it isn’t a trope and no one talks about it/subverts it. This is just plain false.

    People aren’t arguing about the trope because everyone acknowledges it exists, whether or not they agree with each specific example. (I agree with Uprooted, disagree with caveats for the Brontes and de Maurier, don’t know the others.)

    There would have been perfectly fine introductions to the piece, which ended ok though is not actually at a 101 level, but the first 10 or so paragraphs here poisoned the well.

  • jjmcgaffey
    February 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    For pure romance with non-alphahole heroes, try Lois Faye Dyer or Justine Davis. Not all their books, but the vast majority, have solid, complex heroes and heroines; and most of them are the pair overcoming external obstacles (some of which are internalized – LFD’s Sunday Kind of Love is a man helping a previously abused woman shake off her ex, mentally and physically). Jean Johnson, too – the most alpha of her heroes is paired with an equally alpha heroine. Twice, actually. She’s fantasy romance rather than straight category, though – for those to whom that’s important.

  • Sherwood Smith
    February 18, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Like the violent douchecanoe hasn’t been sexy for male writers and audience going clear back to the Iliad and the Odyssey?

  • Jayce
    February 18, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    You lose me when you complain about a “non-trope” of the romance genre, using it as one of the two reasons you don’t read romance books, then cite non-romance books to support your claim, then say it’s not against the genre, but against the “non-trope.” You lose me further when you make it MY responsibility to point you to the numerous books inside the genre that are the antithesis of the “non-trope,” as opposed to doing the research BEFORE telling everyone how you don’t read the romance genre and then cite non-romance examples. If anything, you should be able to say that you still find the “non-trope” an issue in many books [cite], but if you’re looking for an excellent example of the opposite, which were a joy to read, check out [cite]. That shouldn’t be my job.

  • Kim
    February 18, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    A few comments have chastised those of us upset with this article, saying that we didn’t read it all, or we didn’t read it properly (romance readers do actually read with some comprehension). However, I see that after the author’s greeting, she starts by discussing romance novels, and the romance genre (and her disdain for them) for the first two paragraphs. Then she launches into her dismissal of all romance by discussing all things that are not, in fact, romance. It’s the same old same old…. it’s fashionable to dump on romance, and I honestly think that blogs and websites are purposely doing it to up their clicks. I’m over it. The continued desire of non-romance readers to express their opinions about romance with misinformation, and disdain, is just exhausting.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t things to be criticized. How about romance readers and bloggers, those who actually have a horse in this race and READ ROMANCE, be the ones to proffer intelligent, informed thoughts and opinions. I can’t imagine that a blog like this would allow someone to write a long, weird opinion piece about why science fiction/fantasy has “stupid tropes and I just can’t lower myself to read them”. If a romance reader wrote a think piece about something problematic in romance novels, it would likely include actual romance novel examples… it would exhibit actual knowledge of the genre. I might not agree with it, but I would know that it was an informed opinion. Not so much with this piece.

    I’m sure that someone here is going to argue that I’m just not getting it, but I am… oh boy do I get it! I can also tell you that it’s not just all of us silly romance readers/authors being too sensitive. I get so much from romance, I really love the whole genre. It has brought so much enjoyment to my life, and, as far as I can see, hurts no one. Why are we constantly being told it’s dumb, unrealistic, nonfeminist, unhealthy? How does the romance genre damage anyone who doesn’t read it? I get it… all the other genres are totally brilliant, completely realistic, super feminist and good for you.

    Rant over, and now I have another blog to add to my list of outlets that don’t respect all reading choices.

  • Janine Ballard
    February 18, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    @Kim: “I can’t imagine that a blog like this would allow someone to write a long, weird opinion piece about why science fiction/fantasy has ‘stupid tropes and I just can’t lower myself to read them’.”

    Agreed. This piece basically boils down to “I won’t read romance because I stereotype it.”

  • Liz Joyce
    February 18, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I love romance novels. As in every genre, there are great books, middling books and crap books. But one thing I cannot abide is someone telling me that because I read a certain type of book, I am going to act in a certain way. If a book I read has, for example, an asshole hero, I will not therefore seek out an asshole to date and/or marry. Or to be friends with. Women readers deserve more credit. I can’t ever recall reading an article that warned of the danger of the tropes in Louis L’Amour novels, that men would begin ditching their chosen careers to become cowboys. Why should it be any different for a genre that is primarily written by and for women? I like books about building solid relationships, about the importance of communication, about a woman finding and building her place in her world (historical or contemporary) and achieving her goals. I have found scores of such books in the romance genre.

  • Tessa Dare
    February 18, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Dear Booksmugglers,

    If you’re finding the romance community’s response to this post surprising, maybe I can explain it a bit by noting that this comes on the heels of a similar post on another website less than a week ago, and THAT post came on the heels of… oh, approximately eleventy billion similar thinkpieces that purport to be about problems in “romance novels” but never seem to cite a romance novel.

    It’s frustrating. It’s fatiguing. More than anything, it’s familiar. Dismissing women’s writing without reading it first is, unfortunately, a well-established trope all its own. Anyone who isn’t a romance author might not be aware that “Reasons Romance is Terrible/Damaging Even Though I Haven’t Read Any Published in the Last 15 Years” is pretty much a regular thing for us, and for Valentine’s-related reasons, it seems to be at least a weekly thing in February. But that oft-hit nerve is especially raw this time of year.

    All that said…
    Moving on to engage the primary substance of the post, which seems to be about a trope that extends far beyond romance:

    The Douchey/Alpha hero trope (since I write historicals, I’m fond of the term Dukebags) is definitely a topic worth discussing, and one Romanceland discusses frequently amongst ourselves. I get that it’s a trope that wouldn’t appeal to every reader, but for me and apparently many romance readers, it’s total catnip.

    I grew up on Rochester and Darcy, and I found those books incredibly compelling. Not because I loved the heroes’ jerktastic behavior, but because the heroes had their jerktastic asses HANDED to them by young women (Jane, Elizabeth) who possessed zero power or agency other than what they asserted from their inner selves. That’s why this trope spoke, and continues to speak, to me – it’s the idea that a woman can come face to face with Patriarchy Personified and, within 300-or-so pages, bring him to his knees. I do not read the trope as “Sexy Douchecanoes and the Women Who Settle For Them,” but as “Sexy Douchecanoes and the Women Who Utterly Lay Them Waste.”

    I am not saying this is every romance reader’s reading of the trope. It’s just mine. And that is not to argue it’s wholly unproblematic. I have read as many romances where I found it to be executed distastefully as I have ones where it added to my enjoyment. There are many, many romances that do not use this trope at all. Also, it in no way describes my own real or ideal relationships. It’s a trope I enjoy reading, without apology, and with full awareness that I’m reading fiction.

    TLDR: To me, the overarching reason the extreme alpha hero persists in Romance is to embody the adage, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” The more alpha the hero, the greater the heroine’s (or other hero’s) triumph. Or to borrow the language of this post… The more douchey the canoe, the more satisfying when it goes down.


  • Tiffany
    February 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    I am 100% stealing the term Dukebags

  • Jorrie Spencer
    February 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    I read the essay. It opens with four references to the romance genre or romance novel, framing this essay as something about the romance novel or romance genre. Yes, there’s a one reference to across mediums and across genres, but that doesn’t carry the same weight given the repeat focus on romance in the intro. Namely:

    1. …romance, as a genre, has never been my thing…
    2. …overcoming an internalized disdain for romance novels.
    3. What’s keeping you from checking out actual romance novels?
    4. At the time, I’d been interested in giving romance a go, but as I hadn’t read much of the genre…

    We then segue into a bunch of non-romance novels, with descriptions that at least suggest they are romances, starting with “a romance that was also a murder mystery set in the future”. We move on to Jane Eyre which is described as a “gothic romance”. Then go to Rebecca, that is “less of a traditional romance”.

    (Well, no. Rebecca is not a romance in any sense of the word and we’re not supposed “to root for Maxim and our protagonist”. In my opinion, that is a complete misread of the book where we come, via the unnamed and unreliable narrator, to regard Maxim with horror. But I digress.)

    Beyond that, if somehow the author only meant to refer to romance in some kind of broader, less-genre-like meaning when discussing the books, it sure doesn’t come across. Frankly can’t come across that way with this kind of initial framing. This piece was edited and curated, so it’s not just on the author.

  • Debora
    February 18, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    My impression of this piece is just another “expert” who doesn’t even LIKE romance novels telling us what’s wrong with romance novels. I love them. And there are so many to choose from you can find what ever you are looking for. No need to bash writers of romance or readers. I read romance because they usually make me happy, make me laugh, make me smile. Sometimes cry. Women are strong, heroic, smart, brave, ……. We all like and dislike all kinds of things. It makes us different, not stupid, or vapid, or uninteresting. Kick Roarke? Please. Kick him my way. He is attractive and badass and the opposite of a jerk. I don’t even know what the point of this article was except to once again make romance authors and readers feel stupid? I really don’t know. I am not good with words or expressing my thoughts I wish I were. I don’t need anyone telling me why I read what I read. Long story short, you could have saved a whole bunch of words by just saying “Hey, I think I’m too good/smart to read romance but let me try to relate to ya’ll that do read it.” Anyway, my opinion.

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  • Liv
    February 18, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    The author’s criticism of the “douchecanoe” trope and it’s cultural pervasiveness is valid. I half wanted her to take on Twilight because it fit so well. However, framing her argument as a critique of the romance genre, intentional or not, shows a distinctive level of ignorance regarding the largest selling genre in publishing.

  • Mely
    February 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Hey, Carlie,

    Other people have already covered most of my issues with the piece, so I’ll just recommend a few romance novels which meet the criteria of:

    1) No douchecanoe heroes
    2) No explicit sex

    Georgette Heyer does have a lot of domineering heroes whom I can’t stand, but a lot of her romances feature much more mild-mannered heroes. One of my favorites is Cotillion, where the hero and heroine are best friends who inadvertently fall in love while indulging in their shared passion for clothes shopping.

    Carla Kelly almost never does alphahole heroes and her earlier books tend to be kissing-only or fade-to-black. Some of my favorites are The Lady’s Companion, about the aforesaid lady’s companion and a bailiff, and The Wedding Journey, about an army surgeon and his wife during the Napoleonic Wars.

    Loretta Chase’s The Devil’s Delilah is about a rogue’s dashing daughter and her gentle-natured scholarly suitor. Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is my favorite ever deconstruction of the douchecanoe trope, and hilarious to boot, but it does have explicit sex.

    Since you mention gyzym’s fanfiction, I’m assuming that explicit sex isn’t a dealbreaker, it’s just not an enticement. So a few recommendations that only meet criteria #1:

    Meljean Brook’s Riveted is set in a steampunk alternate history where the Mongols used nanotech to take over Europe. The hero’s a disabled vulcanologist and the heroine’s an airship engineer from a lesbian feminist separatist utopia.

    You can probably judge from Sunil’s reviews which of Courtney Milan’s romances have heroes you’ll like or dislike, but I’d particularly recommend Trade Me and The Countess Conspiracy.

    Jennifer Crusie’s trademark is classic screwball comedy plotting and dialogue. My favorites are Anyone But You, Faking It, and Trust Me on This.

    Laura Kinsale’s Seize the Fire is about the princess of a Ruritania country and a cowardly soldier with PTSD. There are also some nice bits with penguins.

    Rose Lerner’s Regencies are all wonderful, but my particular favorites are Sweet Disorder, about the depressed and disabled son of a political family who courts a writer of moral tales — but only for her vote; and Listen to the Moon, about a marriage of convenience between a butler and a maid.

    This is a pretty limited selection — these are all heterosexual romances, and most of the writers (and characters) are white — but at least it’s a place to start.

  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    February 18, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I’m just going to leave this here: “Man change thyself: Hero versus heroine development in Harlequin romance novels.”

    One of the points it makes: Yes, the douchebag tends to *change* which is probably part of the appeal. That study would indicate the opposite of the statement made by the author of the Trope piece (“I don’t believe we’re taught to expect these guys to reform or repent.”).

    Whether this is good or bad is another discussion since it would imply men have a capacity for redemption/change which may not be afforded to women, though that would require another study comparing “douche” heroines.

    My two cents.

  • nerdbird
    February 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Well, I really don’t know where to start.

    I can’t speak for all the books the author has “analyzed” in the article since I haven’t actually read them, but as for Jane Eyre, I simpy have to point out that she obviously doesn’t remember the plot. First of all, Rochester saved his servants from the fire, but he lost his eyesight and left hand when he returned to the house to save his lunatic wife who was standing on the roof (and jumped before he managed to save her). The point to his injuries IS penance for his wrongdoings, or sins, but also the fact that he DID willingly risk his life to save the life of a person he hates, a person he wronged (he kept her in the attics, even though he did spare her the horrors of a mental assylum ) and therefore showed that he can be selfless. He wasn’t essentially a bad or an evil person, we do see it in his treatment of Bertha; even though it seems shoking to keep one’s wife closed off in the attics, as I said before, he did treat her better than mental patients were treated at the time. He was selfish, and he regreted a lot of things he did. He was bitter and desperate, he felt himself to be a great sinner and in Jane he saw purity and integrity. He thougt he could redeem himself through her, he did want to use her and her love to become a better man, and he selfishly demanded of her to sacrifice her belifes for his ‘redemption’. But the point of the novel, as it is essentialy a Bildungsroman, is character growth. We see growth in Jane more clearely, since the story is told from her perspective, but we can also see it in Rochester. Because, after Jane leaves him, he doesn’t continue his life as he had lived it up to that point, he decides to try and live up to his standards of a good man and he admits to himself that most of his miseries are his own fault. When Jane comes back, he is overjoyed, but mostly because he can stop thinking she is dead somewhere (and blaming himself for making her run away). He doesn’t want her to sacriface herself for him, he asks her multiple times if she is certain she wants to marry him, unlike the time when he tried wholehartedly to convince her to sacrifice her beliefes and, ultimately, herself, for his comfort.
    To conclude, Rochester isn’t a perfect man at the end of the book, but he isn’t the same arrogant and selfish man he was before he loved Jane. He gave Jane a chance to grow and to blossom, he listened to her, he treated her as his intellectual equal, even though he was, admittedly, moody, selfish and deceiving before Jane ran away. But even those of his actions that were, for the lack of a better word, douchy, contributed to Jane’s growth and evolvent.

    I guess I have a lot to say when it comes to one of my all time favourites, this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but the simplified and stereoptyped analysis in the article, as well as the simplification and stereotyping of romance novels in general, is a big problem for almost all female authors, whose work is mostly mockingly labeld ‘romance’. Why is it that romance is generally mocked, while thrillers, horrors, fantasy or mysteries are considerd valid reading material? What is so different about it?

  • Rudy
    February 18, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Also. That’s a very superficial reading of Rebecca. The relationship between Maxim de Winter and the narrator is NOT presented as a romance, nor are they presented as “hero” and “heroine.”

  • MD
    February 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    There is definitely a problem with a trope where overbearing, abusive behaviour is presented as evidence of love? Absolutely. It’s all over popular culture, and this is part of the rape culture we are living in. I think this is important to acknowledge and discuss. And yes, it is present in all the books mentioned. One could argue about whether the redemption is possible, but yes, those characters behave badly and we have to be careful not to take such tropes uncritically.

    But I don’t think this article really presents a view of “tropes across popular culture”. It could – if it dropped all references to Romance as a genre. Because, if it happens everywhere in the popular culture, then it makes sense to cite popular books and tv shows — across genres, or without assigning them to a specific genre. It’s the starting passage about “I don’t like Romance, and here’s why” that makes it all sound like a criticism of romance as a genre rather than an exploration of this trope in popular fiction.

  • Kaetrin
    February 18, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Okay, I’ll bite. I haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or Rebecca. They are, I believe, mischaracterised as romance here. The other two books mentioned; Naked in Death and Uprooted, I have read and I loved them both. So, bias fully disclosed and all that.

    Re Uprooted: I’d argue that Dragon is not an alphahole/douchecanoe. (I’d also argue that it is not a genre romance but a SFF book with strong romantic elements) but in any event, I think the book actually *subverted* the trope the poster suggests it perpetuates. The douchecanoe in the book is the Prince who attempts to rape the heroine. He’s the bright shiny one who initially looks like he might be the hero. But he’s not the hero. And even here, I’d also argue that the author made his character more nuanced than just “sexy douchecanoe”, when considering the broader context of the book. So I think Uprooted as an example doesn’t work to make the case proposed here.

    As for Naked in Death, I disagree with the poster’s representation of that too (as I disagreed with AJH’s review at Dear Author. We had a robust discussion about it.). I do think that’s a genre romance. It meets the criteria of the genre. I’d classify it as romantic suspense (ie romance genre) with futuristic elements*. I don’t think it is fair to classify Roarke as a douchecanoe (I’d say at all, but in any event) without considering the wider context of the book and the other characters in it. The heroine, Eve Dallas, is as alpha as Roarke is and there are many times she could be considered to act as a bit of a douchecanoe as well. They spar with each other (figuratively and literally) over the course of the book (and the series). Where a character starts in a book is one thing, what is also important, is the growth and changes which are evidenced of the course of the story. It is obvious, particularly within the first 3 books in the series, but even in the only the first, that both characters compromise, grow and change as a result of their interactions. Of the two of them, there is, I’d argue, more of Roarke conforming to Eve’s needs than vice versa. So, yeah, on the only two books mentioned that I’ve read, the only two books which I can speak with any authority about, as a romance reader who has actually read widely in the genre, I’m taking issue with the content of the post. We can agree to disagree if you like but there’s an argument to be made; it’s not black and white.

    The post isn’t about “trope 101”. There’s no discussion about the purpose of it, how it is used, why people might like it, how and when it is subverted. Those are the things I’d expect to see in an essay purporting to deconstruct a trope. Here, we have a poster who admits she dislikes romance, is not widely read in the genre (further evidenced by mischaracterising as romance at least 3 of the 5 books mentioned) and then to make her case that this is a trope used ubiquitously in fiction *everywhere*, she uses *only* (what she thinks are) romance novels. So, yes, it reads to me like the other 1,000 romance-bagging clickbait articles I’ve read which give the genre no respect. I’m disappointed. I expected better.

    (*I think the first three books of the In Death series can be read as genre romance. The other books are police procedurals/crime thrillers with romantic elements in a futuristic setting IMO.)

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  • Jami Gold
    February 18, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    I’m genuinely confused by the premise of this post. If–as its defenders say–it’s not meant to bash romance (after all, it doesn’t include any examples of *actual* romance books), then why does it “call out” the romance genre at all?

    If this is truly just about calling out the alpha-hole trope (one I’ve also railed on many times, and I have the blog posts to prove it) across media and genres, why the focus and framing on romance as this trope being a reason to avoid the genre?

    Instead, this reads to me as someone who feels like she should try romance, but rather than asking for recommendations of books that avoid tropes she dislikes (a valid perspective–all romance readers do this), she decided to see if she could handle the “romantic elements” of non-romance books. Um… How is that any different from analyzing the alpha Iron Man character to see if you’d like romances?

    Here, let’s translate this “framing” to a different genre so the defenders can see just how ridiculous this sounds…

    Hypothetical reader: “People I respect are saying that I should read science fiction, but I don’t know. I mean, I don’t like astronomy. But I want to try. Really, I do. So to see if I could handle a scifi story, I decided to read books with scenes in them where people lie on the grass (hoods of cars would be okay too) to look up at the night sky. But no, I didn’t like those scenes–all those stars!–so I’m going to continue thinking that scifi is not for me.”

    The original poster *is* right to the extent that this trope exists and can be problematic–in all genres. But as romance is the biggest genre, I’d bet a reader could find more romance stories *without* an alpha-hole character than they could find mystery or thriller or suspense or scifi (or whatever) stories without an alpha-hole character. They exist if someone wants to find them.

    Signed, a contemporary fantasy romance/paranormal romance author who writes stories with gun battles, gorings, dragon fights, magic, heroines who punch the hero when he disrespects her boundaries–and no alpha-holes or Sexy Douchecanoes allowed. 😉

  • Ms. M
    February 18, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    I think most of the other readers addressed this fully, but just in case I’m wrong:

    1. Sexy Douchecanoe/Byronic “Hero” is certainly a trope; in addition to the readers of Romanceland dubbing them ‘alphaholes,’ they show up on TVTropes.

    2. What was so appealing about the actual inaugural column about Mary Sues was that it gave examples of characters that did and did not qualify as the trope, providing explanations and defenses. I don’t see that sort of analysis here. Please bring it back!

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  • Chrysoula
    February 19, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Huh. The comments on this are extremely… energetic. So I thought I’d just drop a note to say I read this article and interpreted as, I think, intended: a set of examples about how this character trope shows up everywhere. If anything, I read it as a defense of romance. Thus the majority of the comments confused me.

    (I read, write and enjoy romances. I am vehemently supportive of women’s entertainment.)

  • Adam-Troy Castro
    February 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    An excellent piece, though one mitigating factor with REBECCA in particular is that if you read the prose, leading into and leaving the story, De Maurier makes it pretty damn clear that the marriage is pretty passion-less; they are two people living with a horror between them, and she does not think that this is a good thing.

  • Adam-Troy Castro
    February 19, 2016 at 10:48 am

    In short, REBECCA is not supposed to be a triumphant romance. It is a very dark novel in which, even after the “happy ending,” you are supposed to know that the heroine has been subtly destroyed. It is very self-aware on that score.

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  • WS
    February 20, 2016 at 12:49 am

    As someone who has edited romance books in the recent past for a couple publishers, much of this is true.

    And it is unfortunate.

    But I have had more than one publisher state about a story WITH a ‘douchecanoe’ male lead, in a series of such by the same author…. She sells. She’s a best seller. She makes us money.

    Stories with overbearing, extremely jealous men – even in stories with paranormal aspects, where it’s impossible for either partner to look elsewhere. Still extreme jealousy for so much as talking to another man. These books exist. And they sell.

    And no, I won’t name names or book titles. So if anyone wants to discount my post because I won’t, go ahead.

  • Kaetrin
    February 20, 2016 at 1:00 am

    Of course they exist. I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise. They exist in all media and fiction, across all genres. And yes, they sell. No doubt there’s a reason for that. As regards this post, what would have been interesting is a discussion of *why* alphaholes are so popular and the various ways the trope can and has been subverted, across *all the genres*, rather than just waling on (books perceived by the poster as) romance.

  • Jami Gold
    February 20, 2016 at 1:27 am


    I was flat out told by a mega-bestselling author and romance scholar that paranormal romance *REQUIRES* an alphahole hero. *sigh* I promptly ignored that advice. LOL!

    Breaking cliches includes not boxing in our characters with these tropes. 😉

  • Jenny
    February 20, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    I think the problem here is just sloppy thinking.

    She starts with the fact that she doesn’t read romance (which is good to know, stating bias beforehand) and gives the reasons: she doesn’t like sex scenes and hunks are jerks. Very clear thesis with two supporting points. The problem there is that from the beginning, she’s stereotyping romances since not all romances have sex scenes and not all romances have Byronic/Alpha/jerk heroes.

    Then she gives the Byronic/Alpha hero a cute name. Not sure why since it doesn’t help her argument in the least, but it does fit with the underlying idea here that all romances are dumb.

    Then for some reason, she talks about Wuthering Heights, which is not a romance, and Jane Eyre, which can be stretched to fit the genre but is generally not referred to as romance novel.

    At this point, I have no idea what the point of this essay is except clearly, she’s not a fan of the Byronic hero. Also clear: she hasn’t read widely in romance which means she’s making a sweeping generalization about a genre that publishes thousands (no exaggeration) of books a year based on two modern romances and a TV show. She can absolutely talk about why she hates the Byronic heroes in the books she reads, but then she has to say something new, something illuminating, instead of “Boy, some of these guys are assholes.” Yeah. We know. What have you got to say that’s worth reading because this stuff has been said before, many times.

    Since this comes at the end of the essay, I think it’s this:
    “I don’t accept that this is just what love looks like. My standards are too high for that.”

    That seems to imply that she thinks romance novels are there to set standards for what love looks like. Where the hell she got that idea is beyond me, but it does set up a convenient straw man for her knock down, while she’s flaunting her high standards. And then she ends with a Love Story quote, which pretty much makes the whole essay an extended cliche about a genre she doesn’t understand.

    This is the first essay I’ve ever read here. It won’t be the last because, unlike the author, I don’t judge a group of things on a small sample. But I will say that if she’d handed this to me as a Freshman Comp assignment, it’d be bleeding red ink with a note at the bottom telling her to find a thesis and rewrite, ending with “You can do better.”

  • » I blame Lord Byron
    February 21, 2016 at 8:36 am

    […] Now here’s a comparison I didn’t come up with, but probably should have. The Byronic hero as Sexy Douchecanoe: […]

  • MD
    February 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Here is an example of a good article on this same trope

    You may agree or disagree in places – I certainly did – but this is how a well written article on this topic looks like, from someone who can pick up examples from both romance and more general popular culture.

  • Week ending 28th February 2016 – Luna Harlow's house of pulp
    February 28, 2016 at 4:05 am

    […] has been talking about Trope Anatomy 101: Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him – I Kicked His Jerk Ass to the Curb at The Book Smugglers and Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction by Ilona Andrews.My […]

  • Uprooted (2015) av Naomi Novik | Drömmarnas berg -SF, Fantasy och Skräck
    February 28, 2016 at 6:45 am

    […] Kanske var det bara jag som i vanlig ordning inte förstod mig på människor? Men sen läste jag en text i The Book Smugglers om dryga romanshjältar där Uprooted används som ett exempel och vågade erkänna för mig själv […]

  • Megan
    March 5, 2016 at 1:22 am

    YES! This is exactly my problem with most romances, and it’s why Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books. When Elizabeth tells Darcy he’s a jerk, he thinks about it and realizes that, yeah, he’s been a prick. So he tries to change.

    Good, that victim blaming stuff really gets under my skin. You have to wonder how an author thought that was a good idea. What’s more tragic is the possibility that the author didn’t see that as victim blaming. Or didn’t think it was serious enough for the blamed person to leave and never return.

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  • Loose-leaf Links for February 2016 | Earl Grey Editing
    June 10, 2016 at 7:01 am

    […] Booksmugglers were running a new column called Trope Anatomy 101. This month’s column on the Alpha Male/Alphahole trope had the romance community up in arms. While I’m not a fan of this particular trope, the […]

  • Alpha, Alphaholes and Assholes in Romance - The Romance MFA
    February 12, 2018 at 9:06 am

    […] willing to wait until chapter ten or thirty to see if the author will write a satisfactory Grovel. Carlie St. George, writing on The Book Smugglers blog about the alphahole trope in books and television, […]

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