Oct 3, 2011

Wedding Night Blues

by Emily May

I was pondering the virgin hero (the hero of my current book lost his virginity years ago, but I'd like to write a virgin hero one day) when I remembered the case of Effie Gray and John Ruskin. John Ruskin was a renowned Victorian art critic and Effie was his bride. John was handsome, Effie was beautiful ... but the marriage was never consummated. In fact, six years after they married, Effie filed a suit of nullity on the grounds of non-consummation.

According to Effie, her husband gave a number of reasons for not consummating the marriage (including dislike of children, religious motivations, and a desire to preserve her beauty) before finally revealing the truth:

"that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person"

 This was confirmed by Ruskin himself during the annulment proceedings:

"It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."

There has been much speculation about what those 'circumstances in her person' were. Menstrual blood, is one suggestion. Body odour is another. A third (and the one I think most likely) is that it was her pubic hair that revolted him.

John Ruskin was an art critic. He had seen countless paintings and sculptures of nude women -- but they were smooth and hairless creatures. If he'd only ever seen naked women in art, then it is entirely conceivable that he'd have been shocked and even disgusted by the sight of a real woman's body.

Poor Effie! Young and beautiful -- and rejected on her wedding night by her husband. Not what she would have been hoping for!

(And spare some pity for poor old Ruskin, who was a victim in this too. How upset he must have been to discover that real women didn't look like the ones he'd spent years admiring on canvas and carved out of marble!)

After six years of sexless marriage, Effie obtained an annulment and went on to marry the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, with whom she had eight children -- so clearly that marriage was consummated!

John Ruskin never married. In fact, his biographers haven't found evidence that he was sexually intimate with anyone. (Again, spare the man some pity.)

It's funny, I can imagine that a Regency heroine might be shocked by her first sight of a naked man, but I've never given much thought to how a Regency hero might react to his first ever sight of a naked woman. It never occurred to me that he'd be so horrified that he'd never have sex! It's safe to say that if I ever do write a virgin hero, he won't be appalled by the sight of his naked lover; on the contrary, he'll be eager to get rid of his virginity!

So, what do you think of virgin heroes??? Have you read any romances with virgin heroes, either historical or contemporary, that you can recommend?


  1. I actually saw a professor at a conference lecture on this very topic. It was called
    "Gothic Honeymoon" and she speculated it might be armpit hair that repulsed him. This was pre disposable razor days after all ;-)
    She said that doing the research was both funny and very sad.
    My favorite virgin hero is Jamie from Outlander ;-) There's a couple other good ones sprinkled about.

  2. Morning, Jill -- you're up early! (Or maybe it's late where you are?) Yes, funny and sad is a good description -- it was a tragedy for both of them, really. Wish I'd heard that lecture; I imagine it was fascinating!

    Jamie from Outlander -- yes, an excellent virgin hero!!

  3. Em, what an interesting post! Something I'd never considered before. Yes, indeed. I can imagine the confusion and tears for poor Effie on her wedding night - and after. Nowadays a man couldn't help but discover early what a real woman looks like - although there are many who strive to look like or be with Barbie dolls - plastic rather than marble.

  4. Hi Robbie . Yes, it's pretty hard to avoid knowing what real men and women look like these days. Poor Effie -- and poor John -- it can't have been a great night for either of them! Totally agree about the plastic Barbies!!

  5. Fascinating post, Emily. But it does beg the question -- why didn't artists include pubic (and armpit) hair in their sculptures and paintings? I mean, they don't present bald women so they obviously had the talent to "do" hair so to speak. I'm glad Effie's story ended happily, but poor John.

    If you're after a scintillating virgin hero, try and get hold of a copy of Susan Napier's SECRET ADMIRER (1992 Harlequin Presents). It's amazingly powerful.

  6. What a sad story about the effects of misinformation. Though, I don't think we're that much better today. I heard somewhere that because of porn (with its hairless women, who've often had plastic surgery), men under a certain age now expect and only ever see hairless women in real life too.

    And it gets worse - the ABC's Hungry Beast did a story in early 2010 on Labiaplasty - apparently this plastic surgery is becoming as common as boob jobs, because women think they need to look like women in men's magazines (and those photos are often photoshopped to get past the censor's rule of no pink bits).

    So are we any better now in letting women look like real women? It's kinda depressing.

  7. Eloisa James had a virgin hero. I think it was When the Duke Returns

  8. I adore a virgin hero! I loved Jamie from Outlander, too. Also the hero (his name escapes me) from Patricia Gaffney's Wild at Heart. Will need to re-read both once revisions are in :)

    Oh, and poor Effie! How devastating, but wonderful that she went on and re-married.

  9. I know I've read some books with a virgin hero but I've been trying to remember them all day and just can't. I think Tara Taylor Quinn had a virgin hero in one of her books ~ Trusting Ryan?

    I can't imagine what it must have been like for Effie. I like these tidbits of history.

  10. I know, Michelle! If they could paint/sculpt hair on people's heads, why not elsewhere? Because it wasn't considered attractive???

    I love Susan Napier's books! Will definitely chase down SECRET ADMIRER. Thank you!

  11. Rachel, I was very happy NOT knowing that! But surely, on the whole, we're doing better than in Victorian times? Or am I being naive in thinking so...?

  12. Thank you, Regency Girl! I shall hunt it down! Eloisa James is a fabulous writer and I'd love to read her take on a virgin hero!

  13. Gaffney's WILD AT HEART. Thanks for the recommendation, Leah -- and I hope you finish the revisions swiftly and easily!

  14. I know, Kaelee, it's hard to imagine. She must have been very nervous anyway, being a virgin and knowing nothing about sex, and then to be repudiated -- must have been devastating! But her marriage with Millais was obviously successful, so she had her wedding night and Happy Ever After. :-D

  15. I don't think I have ever read about a virgin hero, but please do write one. I'm loving the idea.

  16. Hi Marybelle. Yeah, I'm loving the idea, too. It's a premise you can have a lot of fun with!

  17. Great post, Emily! I feel for poor Effie, how hurt and confused she must have been. I'm so glad she went on to marry someone who obviously found her physically attractive.

    I second Michelle's recommendation for Secret Admirer by Susan Napier. And there's Anna Campbell's gorgeous Matthew in Untouched.


  18. Thanks, Sharon, glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for the tip about Untouched. I love Anna's writing, so will definitely hunt Untouched down -- can't wait to make Matthew's acquaintance!

  19. Oh what an interesting story Emily, I love it! I remember reading a brilliant romance where the hero had saved himself for the heroine - it was so beautifully done! (if only I could remember who wrote it!) I'd love to do a virgin hero one day too =)