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Not a Ladies' Man

A cicisbeo - hero material!

It's always fun when writing a hero to decide his characteristics - for all my top ten essentials on what he needs to have, the variation beyond these is enormous. As it should be, men not being all the same, but this time I have found inspiration for not one but two heroes in the same picture above: a portrait of the cicisbeo.

The cicisbeo was a courtly lover, and particularly popular in Venice high society, but he was not expected to be a physical lover at all. Charming, handsome and skilled, cicisbeos were there to squire their chosen lady, flatter her, adore her openly, and basically act as a chaste boost to her ego at all times. Not that this was entirely altruistic; in exchange, a cicisbeo won status because the lady was higher ranked than he was, entry into exclusive gatherings, and often, money. Meanwhile, the lady's husband smiled upon the arrangement - not to do so was to be laughed at for a coward, although unsurprisingly preferred cicisbeos were homosexual. This went double for cicisbeos like Lord Byron - yes, that Lord Byron - who took on the role for an Italian contessa then dropped the chaste bit. In every way, Byron was a ladies' man, but for the average cicisbeo, how long did this last? What happened when they got too old or lost their looks? What if they genuinely fell in love? What if being a ladies' man, let alone a professional ladies' man little better than a courtesan, meant that nobody believed them sincere?

One hero, all set. But on the other...we have all heard the jokes about the British being uptight, and in particular the English. The English are the worst of the lot. Then again, for a very long time, the English nobility and gentry were taught to be uptight and repressed. In this the gentry suffered more. It was not uncommon for a gentleman's son, sent to boarding school at seven, barely to speak to women because he barely saw any. Boys often did not know each other's Christian names because the school never used them. Lord Kitchener, the British Army commander, was the embodiment of this repressed world: he couldn't speak to a woman if he tried. He hardly ever saw them, didn't socialise with them, had never been taught to please or understand them, and in his case, wasn't interested. In others, however, this upbringing meant that perfectly charming young men weren't ladies' men because their whole upbringing had been designed to make them as manly as possible, devoid of the cicisbeo's skills. When they did leave the masculine world of school, university or the Army, they were hopelessly ill-equipped to dazzle women when they wanted to.

Two heroes. All set. And currently growing on the page, two heroines to match them, as imperfectly perfect as they are.

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