A rake is defined as a man habituated to immoral conduct. Rakes are frequently stock characters in novels. Often a rake is a man who wastes his (usually inherited) fortune on wine, women and song, incurring lavish debts in the process. The rake is also frequently a cad: a man who seduces a young woman and impregnates her before leaving, often to her social or financial ruin. To call the character a rake calls attention to his promiscuity and wild spending of money; to call the character a cad implies a callous seducer who coldly breaks his victim's heart. These men are also known as heels. A bounder is an 'ill-bred, unscrupulous man', the social inferior of the cad. During the English Restoration period (1660–1688), the word was used in a glamorous sense: the Restoration rake is a carefree, witty, sexually irresistible aristocrat typified by Charles II's courtiers, the Earl of Rochester and the Earl of Dorset, who combined riotous living with intellectual pursuits and patronage of the arts. The Restoration rake is celebrated in the Restoration comedy of the 1660s and 1670s. After the reign of Charles II, and especially after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the cultural perception of the rake took a dive into squalor. The rake became the butt of moralistic tales in which his typical fate was debtor's prison, venereal disease, or, in the case of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, insanity in Bedlam.
The rake is often portrayed as a heavy drinker or gambler. An earlier form of the word was rake-hell, a form reshaped by folk etymology to mean someone who stokes the fires of Hell, making them hotter. The actual etymology of the word is from the Old Norse reikall, meaning "vagrant" or "wanderer"; this was borrowed into Middle English as rakel (possibly via Dutch rekel, meaning "scoundrel").
Well known fictional rakes and cads include:
- Dorimant, the hero of The Man of Mode by George Etherege, based upon the historical Earl of Rochester mentioned below and above
- Compeyson, the man who jilted Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Alec d'Urberville, Tess's seducer in Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
- Rodolphe Boulanger, Madame Bovary's principal lover
- Harry Paget Flashman, chief character of a series of novels by George MacDonald Fraser
- Don Juan
- Mollie Flannigan
- Dorian Gray
- Tom Rakewell, the protagonist of William Hogarth's series of paintings, A Rake's Progress
- The Prodigal Son, one of Jesus' parables
- The Vicomte de Valmont, the consummate seducer of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses
- Rupert of Hentzau
- Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in his persona as Liam of Galway, before he was made into a vampire
- Caledon Hockley, Rose DeWitt Bukater's fiance in Titanic
- George Wickham, of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
- Pechorin, the anti-hero of A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
- Harry Horner, from The Country Wife by William Wycherly
- Dmitri Karamazov sensualist elder brother of Doestyevsky's Brothers Karmazov
Historical figures who have informed the stock character include:
The stock character of the rake can be contrasted with some others. The town drunk is frequently intoxicated, and impoverished by heavy drinking, but here the focus is on the character's alcoholic state rather than on sexual excess; the town drunk is typically older than the rake.