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Reformed Rakes

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"To what a bad choice is many a worthy woman betrayed, by that false and inconsiderate notion, that a reformed rake makes the best husband!"
Samuel Richardson

"Reformed rakes make the best husbands," was a Stock Phrase in Regency England, commonly found in period romances.

A Reformed Rake is what happens when the heroine of a romance story wants to eat her cake and matrimonially have it too. She ends up with a former womanizer with a penchant for criminal activity who doesn't just accept monogamy but thrives in it. Rakes—men famous for cutting a swathe through the wives and mistresses of the town—not only know how to please a lady and protect her from harm, but they are only waiting for that one special woman who will cause them to reform and turn into the perfect husband and family man. The converse is that any man who didn't sleep around as a bachelor is bad in bed and will be a boring wimp as a husband.

An Undead Horse Trope, it has been mocked and deconstructed since the 1700s and 1800s, is still mocked and deconstructed today, but the played straight version has never fallen out of favor either.

Sub-trope to I Can Change My Beloved and Not Like Other Girls, it's actually often the result of the combination of these two tropes. A very common Relationship Sue plotline.

Compare to All Girls Want Bad Boys, but here the trope is not just that the bad boy is attractive, but that the heroine's love fixes his worst traits, so you can have both that trope and Single Woman Seeks Good Man simultaneously. Also compare Ladykiller in Love, a more realistic take on this issue, and Female Angel, Male Demon for a metaphor of this trope when the two aforementioned characters are in love.


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    Fan Works 
  • In The Berserkers Bride, Dagur is so devoted to his wife that she is the only person he actually listens to, her influence having prevented various acts of murder, violence, and war.

    Films — Animated 
  • Naveen from The Princess and the Frog is a rich prince who claims to have dated thousands of women (and is indeed seen flirting with three in his introductory scene). One Road Trip Romance culminating in marriage with Tiana later, he's a loving husband who helps her start her new restaurant.
  • Tramp from Lady and the Tramp. Falling in love, being adopted into a family, and becoming a father will do that to a dog.

  • It all started in 1740 with Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded where the eponymous character overcomes Mr. B's rakishness with her Incorruptible Pure Pureness. Wildly popular to the point where it alarmed the author, Samuel Richardson: "To what a bad choice is many a worthy woman betrayed, by that false and inconsiderate notion, That a reformed rake makes the best husband!" It also annoyed Henry Fielding, another author of the time, who wrote Shamela as a rather obvious Take That! to the first book. Challenging this dubious trope is not a modern idea.
  • Seth from Wicked Lovely. He has piercings, lives in a train, and has a reputation for getting around... Yet he truly loves Aislinn to the point of sacrificing his mortality to be with her for eternity.
  • There's a romance novel titled Stranger In My Arms that actually deconstructs this trope: The heroine's husband has been presumed dead for years, and she isn't too sad about it because he was unfaithful to her and never seemed to enjoy having sex with her. Then, out of the blue, he comes Back from the Dead, says that he's a changed man, and proceeds to be passionate and devoted to her in a way he never was before. The heroine is pleasantly surprised, but can't shake off the feeling that rakes don't reform that thoroughly, and gets uneasy when her friend uses her husband's changed behavior to justify her staying with her own physically abusive husband in the hope that he'll change eventually. It turns out that the heroine's husband did die all these years ago, and her current "husband" is actually her husband's half-brother who learned about her through diaries her husband left behind and decided to use his impersonation abilities to be the loving husband she never had.
  • In Youth in Sexual Ecstasy, the protagonist after being an expert womanizer, ends up settling down with a more prudish and conservative girl. It is stated that his past sexual experiences still do some harm to the sex with his wife, however, despite this with The Power of Love they are able to overcome them and become Happily Married.
  • Deconstructed in A Dangerous Compromise by Shannon Donnelly, in which the heroine thoroughly believes this trope, and her (decidedly not a rake) love interest decides to pose as a reformed rake to win her over while battling for her affections with an actual rake who has absolutely no intentions of reforming.
  • Howl of Howl's Moving Castle, sort of. His heart was literally missing and Sophie had to reform him by finding it. He's still a snarky, cowardly, overdramatic peacock of a wizard, he just doesn't chase every girl in Ingary anymore.
  • Jane Austen, who inspired a lot of Regency Romance though she didn't exactly write it, liked to Deconstruct the idea that people could reform their spouses, and used the Reformed Rake variant specifically in Mansfield Park. Fanny Price's Abhorrent Admirer Henry Crawford boasts that he will be the first person to ever treat her as well as she deserves, and the narrator agrees in the epilogue that he would have been successful...if he'd only had enough principle to stop trifling with other women's feelings to gratify his vanity. Instead, he is forced to acknowledge that Fanny's harsh evaluation of his character — that he lacks 'constancy' — was completely accurate.
  • Georgette Heyer, the Genre Codifier of the Regency Romance, had a fondness for characters of questionable character. The anti-heroes of These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, Frederica, and Black Sheep, among others, are rakes and libertines (and jerks) until they meet their matches, while Cotillion and Venetia are subversions.
  • Marcus Flutie from the Jessica Darling series is this, which Jessica notes but isn't too happy about — being the first girl who he was willing to change for puts altogether too much pressure on her for her taste, and his extensive sexual history partly skeeves her out, partly makes her feel insecure about her own inexperience.
  • Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms: A story in the universe, as said in "Beauty and the Werewolf": "The Rake's Reward.":
    The poor misunderstood rakehell… the man who was a rogue because he was deep inside he was still a lonely, neglected little boy… the good girl who would redeem him with her love and help him become the gentle man he was meant to be…

    Except, […] that was seldom how the scenario played out, once the rake got what he wanted. The habits of a lifetime are very hard to break, and The Tradition was perfectly happy to perpetuate those habits, so that the The Rake's Reward generally turned into The Sadder but Wider Girl.
  • Parker Pyne Investigates: Pyne recommends that one milquetoast man play this role towards his wife as the only way he'll be interesting to her (he was being blackmailed by a Honey Trap like a chump and stole her jewels to pay them off, Pyne tells him to confess the whole story minus the chump part).
  • A disturbingly large number of women in Agatha Christie novels have this opinion of the otherwise no-good man in their lives (and sometimes said man corrupts them into crime). The usual response is to leave them to their delusions.
  • A number of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories (and even some Sherlock Holmes stories) feature this kind of character (in one case, the wife's positive influence was so great that her widower listens to her exhortations not to fall back into drink on gramophone and says it's the only thing keeping him going).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bridgerton:
    • Simon is a rake by reputation. His potential for this trope is lampshaded in the very first episode. It's shown to be true as he becomes taken with Daphne through their fake courtship.
      Anthony: Even if he were in want of a wife, you would most certainly not have the Duke anywhere near Daphne.
      Violet: I fully subscribe to the belief that reformed rakes make the very best of husbands.
    • Anthony is also something of a rake. His mistress Siena is an open secret. In season 2, he interviews nearly every eligible young woman in town while in search of a wife, but once he sets his eyes on Kate, there's only her.
  • One episode of Castle, "Food To Die For" has a victim that was trying to become this. After he got his foster brother's girlfriend pregnant, she rejected him, telling him that she couldn't rely on a man that slept around. However, he was honestly in love with her, to the point where he planned to quit his promising career as a chef and spent two weeks going to a cafe near her job, trying to get up the nerve to propose to her. Unfortunately, the foster brother found out and killed him.
    • The entire series is this. Castle starts off as a wealthy playboy man child who has been married and divorced twice. His initial interest in Detective Beckett is solely because of her looks and the fact that their work together helps him get over a case of writers block. By season 5 he has matured significantly and proposed to her and by the series finale, it’s revealed they are a happily married couple and family.
  • According to Word of God, Patrick Maitland from Coupling. The final episode of the series showed him awkwardly proposing to his girlfriend Sally, but the scene ended with a stunned Sally babbling an incoherent string of F-Bombs. Some time later, creator Steven Moffat was asked what happened to the characters after the end of the show on a forum. To quote him:
    Steven Moffat: Sally said yes to Patrick, they got married and are very happy... especially as Sally beat Susan to the altar, and finally did something first. Patrick is now a completely devoted husband, who lives in total denial that he was anything other than an upstanding member of the community. Or possibly he's actually forgotten. He doesn't like remembering things because it's a bit like thinking.

  • Subverted in "The Rake's Song" by The Decemberists. The Rake gets married, is apparently reformed, "no more a rake and no more a bachelor"... but then he realizes that sex leads to babies and discovers that the married life really isn't for him. Cue infanticide!

  • Love's Last Shift by Colley Cibber has something of an Unbuilt instance of the trope, appearing in 1696, a time when bawdy Restoration Comedy was changing into something more moralistic. Its central character is a rake who remains completely unreformed despite being married, thus being a lousy husband. His resourceful wife tricks him into reform, making him good. Notably, the trope was then promptly Deconstructed before it had fully formed by rival playwright John Vanbrugh, whose The Relapse (also from 1696) borrows the characters of the previous play and shows the rake relapsing, to his wife’s distress. Funnily enough, The Relapse has remained much more popular and successful than Love's Last Shift.

    Web Original 

Alternative Title(s): Reformed Rake