Scarlett Peckham




Today my Quest to Read the 100 Swooniest Romance Novels brings us to THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE by Jennifer Ashley. 

Reading this book left me pleased for two reasons:

  1. It has an unconventional hero.
  2. It depicts the pleasures of honest sexual communication.

Lord Ian Mackenzie, the hero, is neuroatypical. In the parlance of his age — the book is set in late-Victorian England — he is "mad". In the parlance of our age, Ms. Ashley has said that he has Aspergers.

I will not be the first to praise Ms. Ashley for giving us a hero who has real vulnerabilities that cannot be healed by falling in love. So instead let me spend my time praising something else:

Ian's particular brand of dirty talk.

Ian has trouble processing the nuances of others people’s emotions, but over time he has learned how to adapt his behavior to the neurotypical world. He explains to the heroine, Beth, that he does not understand jokes, cannot easily parse vocal cues and is incapable of lying. He is therefore direct and literal in his verbal communication. 

Including, marvelously, about sex.

There is never any coyness around Ian’s desire. When he wants to have sex with Beth he states that he would like to have sex with her. (Actually, what he states is: I wish to kiss your cunny. Ian!) When he wants to know if Beth is wet — yes, that kind of wet — he asks her. And because he has explained to Beth that he needs her to be direct with him to avoid misunderstandings, she, despite her Victorian sensibilities, responds in kind. Yes, she answers honestly, if you must know I am quite, quite damp.

This amounts to a style of dirty talk that is at times hilarious, at times excruciatingly awkward, and at times really hot. It also creates a degree of frankness about sex that you do not always see between lovers in historical romance novels. Or, now that I think about it, in popular culture in general. 

We teach young people — especially girls — that they should own their pleasure, say what they do and do not want from their partners, and expect their partners to listen. But often depictions of sex in popular culture model a form of seduction in which everyone is supposed to be able to read each others' minds. And the impossibility of reading another person's mind is where we often get into trouble in real life. 

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie gives us a portrait of a woman awakening to the pleasure of saying out loud what she wants.

So returning to the original question that inspired this journey through the romances of yore: what do our romance novels give us?

In this book, the answer is a window into the fun there is to be had in using your words.

Next week I am on to Slightly Married by Mary Balogh.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite dirty-talking romance? Or an unconventional hero you particularly admire?