Seductive Villains

Nicola here! First of all, apologies for the fact that there are no photos on this blog post. All my power and communications have been knocked out by Storm St Jude so I am posting this up using my iPhone, with thanks to the patron saint of computer geeks!

Yesterday saw the publication of ONE NIGHT WITH THE LAIRD, book 2 in my Scottish Brides trilogy. ONE NIGHT WITH THE LAIRD is Mairi and Jack’s story. They have already met in the first book in the series and I think it is fair to say that they disliked one another thoroughly. Jack thought Mairi was rich, beautiful and spoiled. Mairi thought that Jack was a handsome charmer who was all talk and no
substance. Both were right in some ways but they had a lot to learn about themselves and about each other.

 ONE NIGHT WITH THE LAIRD is also a book that bristles with villains. There were three at the last count. It’s no secret that I enjoy writing a good villain and that evil in a story fascinates me almost as much as the development of the relationship between the hero and the heroine.

 I was thinking about villains particularly this week because with the “re-imagining” of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope as part of the Austen Project there has been a lot of discussion about the character of John Willoughby. Willoughby, like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park is a man whose moral compass has gone awry. He is a cad (which I know is slightly too modern a word for Jane Austen but it does sum him up rather well). And yet there is about him that tantalising hint that he is not all bad; under other circumstances there is the chance that he could have been a villain redeemed. It’s like that moment in Star Wars when Luke give Darth Vader the chance to turn his back on the dark side and Vader hesitates before giving himself up completely to evil.

This particularly interests me as I did a talk at a literary festival last week on the real life inspiration for John Willoughby, William, 7th Baron Craven. There is a strong suggestion that Jane Austen, who was linked to the Craven family through ties of marriage and friendship, modelled Willoughby on the extravagant and rakish Lord Craven. This is not the only time that Jane Austen used a member of the Craven family as the inspiration for a wicked character; there is also the suggestion that she based Lady Susan Vernon on another Craven relative. However, Jane herself did say that all her characters were composites: “I am too proud of my gentlemen to admit that they are only Mr A or Colonel B.” I think that most writers take elements of people they have met and pick and choose which qualities to use.

All this led me to wonder, though – Is a villain a necessary part of a story? Probably not but I love the complexity that a villain can bring to a book. Honorary Word Wench Elizabeth Hawksley, a big fan of villains, commented:

“A strong villain needs to have his own aims and objectives. I find a villain really useful. He can be a catalyst for change: exposing the heroine’s weakest point, for example, thus giving her the opportunity to learn things or move on. He can also challenge the hero who can stand up to him and
come good. Villains bring danger. But beware: villains can seduce the author and infiltrate any emotional vacuum. They can be dangerously attractive.”

In ONE NIGHT WITH THE LAIRD all the villains in their different ways bring danger to the heroine and a challenge to the hero because Jack, the hero, simply does not see himself as a protector. Jack is pretty bad himself, rakish and ruthlessly unsentimental. He does not want to be cast in a protector’s role and seeing him struggle with it and change as he accepts it, was part of the fun of writing him.

As for seductive villains, well, I think they need that element of uncertainty about them, the chance that they might come good. Pure evil isn’t that fascinating. It’s too one-dimensional. But villains who are nuanced, who have depth and motivation for their behaviour, who can even be a little bit sympathetic or poignant, can be very compelling. Tom Bradshaw, who featured in a number of books in my Scandalous Ladies of the Ton Series, was the most nuanced villain I ever wrote. Tom was usually doing something illegal, immoral or just plain bad. Blackmail, attempted murder, nothing was too low for Tom to stoop to it. He was eventually redeemed not so much by the love of a good woman but by the need to make himself more worthy of that love and in Lady Emma’s Disgrace he finally got his own HEA.

Do you have a favourite seductive villain from a film or a book? Or a favourite scene where there is a face-off between the villain and the hero? I’m offering a copy of One Night with the Laird to a commenter between now and midnight Thursday.