scandalThe promise of a scandal seemingly sells.  In fact, scandal seems to be one of those publisher buzz words that is used over and over again whether there’s a real scandal in the story or not.

In fact, judging by the number of times the word has blazed across book covers, scandal has been used, abused, and reused, I think almost to death. Amazon lists 276 paperback romances with “scandal” or a version of it (scandalous, etc.) in the title, as well as 27 hardcover and 50 Kindle titles. Worldcat lists 578 romances with the word in the title. And AAR has reviewed five pages with it or variations in the title. So far in 2011, four books with that title have been reviewed using the word in their titles. If the trend continues, this year will be a banner year for scandal.

But how much scandal do most of the stories include? Take Scandal in Scotland by Karen Hawkins which will be published in June of this year. A sailor and an actress, whose protector is trying to hide his homosexuality by providing for her, scramble to get hold of a mysterious antique onyx box. So what’s the scandal? Her having a protector?  Hardly! Weren’t actresses during the Regency supposed to have them? Wasn’t part of a young man’s “wild oats” to be spent hanging around actresses? Having a liaison between a sailor and an actress, under the circumstances, isn’t scandalous at all! But the title indicates there will be one somewhere in the 384 pages.

Many of the novels with scandal in the title involve rakes – often “hardened” rakes. Take Prelude to a Scandal by Delilah Marvelle. Radcliff Morton, the Duke of Bradford, our hero rake, was indeed once caught up in a scandal when he was discovered with his brother’s mistress. Maybe that’s why when he is propositioned by a lady he insists she marry him before he gives her his assistance. But where’s the prelude to the scandal? Not in this book, that’s for sure. Again, it’s a title that has no meaning given the book itself.

So what does scandal really mean? The first definition as given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary doesn’t ever apply to Regency books as far as I know: Discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person; conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another. Discrediting someone’s religion and putting the word scandal in the title of the book are two items scarce as hen’s teeth in romance novels.

More likely we think of scandal as the next few meanings: The loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety (disgrace), or a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it, or maybe malicious or defamatory gossip. But when I think of scandal, I usually think of the final definition: the indignation, chagrin, or bewilderment brought about by a flagrant violation of morality, propriety, or religious opinion.

More and more in books with scandal in the title, however, there seems to be little flagrant violation of morality or propriety even by hardened rakes. This is probably because if the rake is to be the hero, his flagrant violations make it difficult to turn him into a believable love interest. Some authors, like Mary Balogh with Joshua Moore in Slightly Scandalous, are able to turn a hell-raising reprobate into a charming rogue, and finally into husband material. But books with real rakes, reprobates, and rogues rarely have “scandal” in their titles.

Instead, scandal seems to have slid into meaningless territory as far as title words go. It’s used more to catch the reader’s eye than accurately describe any of the book’s contents.

Do you agree? What do you classify as a scandal? Are you ever disappointed if the word is used in the title but the book contains no scandal? Or are you, like me, tired of the word and tired of its misuse?

-Pat Henshaw