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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 are what happens when the heroine of a romance story wants to eat her cake and matrimonially have it toobecause, of course, former bad boys make the best husbands. This is a common Regency Romance trope. When it applies, any man who didn't sleep around as a bachelor is supposedly going to be a boring wimp as a husband at best, if not an outright villain. Conversely, men famous for cutting a swathe through the wives and mistresses of the town not only knows how to please a woman and protect her from harm, he is only waiting for that one special woman who will cause him to reform and cleave to her with unwavering fidelity as the perfect family man.


Never is it mentioned that there's a risk of disease from his antics, nor does he ever have any bastard children that he has to pay attention to, nor does anyone ever point out that real reformed rakes had a tendency to turn into gigantic prudes. He never backslides even when he is revisited years later in other books. Compare to All Girls Want Bad Boys, but here the trope is not just that the bad boy is attractive, but that all he needs is love to fix everything wrong with him, so you can have both that trope and Single Woman Seeks Good Man simultaneously.

May be the core of Fan Fictions written by teenage girls when they don't want their self-insert Relationship Sues to become a Love Martyr.

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.


Related to Draco in Leather Pants.


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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.


  • Ladies and gentlemen, a book list, called "Reformed Rakes Make The Best Husbands".
  • Then there's Siren Publishing, an outfit that publishes "spicy" romances, including a line of novels under the imprint Reformed Rakes.
  • It all started in 1740 with Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded where the eponymous character overcomes Mr. B's rakishness with her Mary Sue-like perfection of virtue. 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.
  • Youth in Sexual Ecstasy arguably could be a reconstruction of this, 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 inspires 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, Devils 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.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: So very averted in this Anne Brontë novel.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • "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 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."

  • Deconstructed 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


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