Sunday, August 28, 2011

Male Protectiveness

I wrote a comment on Tracy Grant's blog which turned out to be about male protectiveness in romance literature:

But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.

I don’t want to hear Raoul having those thoughts and I was glad to he doesn’t in this scene [Tracy had put up a scene from her next release.] I want him to be so ruthless that it never even occurs to him that he should protect her as it doesn’t seem to here. And yet, I want to know that he loves her as we also hear in this scene.

I don’t think most readers will like Raoul for this, most of them probably won’t even believe he really does love her. But I do. And, at the end of “The Mask of Night” when Charles asks Raoul to stay because his presence makes Melanie happier, I realized that Charles thinks so too.

P.S. I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in “Gaudy Night”. Somewhere in that book, he and Harriet discuss this and that male protectiveness leads women to deceive men in order to be free of it. I think Melanie and Charles get close to having a similar discussion in “The Mask of Night”.

Here's the scene from "Gaudy Night":

[Wimsey]"But if it's only my own risk, I can afford to let it blow. When it comes to other people--"
[Vane]"Your instinct is to clap the women and children under hatches."
"Well," he admitted, deprecatingly, "one can't suppress one's natural instincts altogether; even if one's reason and self-interest are all the other way."
"Peter, it's a shame. Let me introduce you to some nice little woman who adores being protected."
"I should be wasted on her. Besides, she would always be deceiving me, in the kindest manner, for my own good; and that I could not stand. I object to being tactfully managed by somebody who ought to be my equal."

Isn't that insightful? How many romance novels involve the heroine sneaking off from the hero to do something he has expressly requested/demanded/forbidden her to do because it is so dangerous? In the worst ones, she does it because she is TSTL but even in the better and best, when she does it carefully and competently, the hero has "proven his love" by trying to prevent her from doing it. Of course, she deceives him - she's been set up to do so by his protectiveness. And protectiveness is a male romance trope which Dorothy Sayers brilliantly shows can only result in one or both of the partners being patronized.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Secrets of a Lady by Tracy Grant

Time Period and Setting: November 1819. Regency London.

Hero and Heroine: Charles Fraser, 32, Member of Parliament, former spy, bookish intellectual, never a rake. Melanie Lescault Fraser, his wife (I love that they are already married!), 26, bookish intellectual, former French spy, former whore and former actress.

Brief Summary: In their search for their abducted six year old, Melanie is forced to reveal to Charles that she was a French spy when she married him and for the first three years of their marriage. The suspense is whether they retrieve their son and whether Charles can forgive Melanie. They do and he does, for the best of reasons (not just because he loves her.)

Poignant Moments:

1. Charles and Melanie are in a carriage trying to track down the means to retrieve their abducted six year old son. Melanie has just revealed to Charles that she was a French spy when he married her and for the first four years of their marriage.

His hand jerked, wrenching the strap from the carriage wall. "You bloody bitch, don't you dare try to make excuses for yourself."
She sucked in her breath. "What could I possibly say that would excuse what I did?"
"Nothing." And yet even as he spoke, he knew that a part of him would clutch at any excuse she offered, as a drowning man clutches the flimsiest shard of timber. Christ, he was a fool.
2. Oh, there are so many, I'd be copying half the book.


I first read my library's copy of this book under its original title: Daughter of the Game. At least, I tried to read it. The book has a slow, quiet beginning and I almost immediately began skipping and dipping, as I am wont to do. I ran across the poignant moment quoted above and began to cringe. A few more dips into conversation moments between Charles and Melanie and I gave up. Without the context, Charles seemed like that typical alpha-jerk romance hero - cold, mean, and hypocritical. I figured he was going to be redeemed by love at the end and I didn't care. I returned the book to the library and walked away.

Whatever brought me back to try again, I'm very glad that I did. Charles is practically the anti-thesis of what I'd originally thought. He spends most of the book struggling with his conflicting feelings - his love for Melanie, his anger at her betrayal of his trust and belief in her, his shame that, because of Melanie's spying, he has inadvertently betrayed friends and country, his growing recognition that his reasons for marrying her were not the best either. He has to find a way to come to terms with all these emotions or lose the wife and family that mean everything to him.

On the surface, this is a suspense driven romance as the couple race to find the item that the abductor seeks in exchange for their son. As they do, the secrets of their past before they met and when they met are revealed. We see Melanie's guilt, her acceptance that she has lost Charles and her worries that she may lose her children even if they find their son. But this is really Charles' book. It's Charles' world that is turned upside down and he who has to change in order for there to be an HEA.

He wants to find a way to forgive and does better than that, he finds a way to accept. He comes to accept that she did what she had to do, what she wanted to do, what she could only have done and remain true to herself and her beliefs. Forgiveness would mean that he was right and she was wrong, acceptance means that she was also right. Here's the critical statement:

"Look, my darling, I realized I've been looking at this the wrong way round."
"I've been thinking of you as my wife."
"I am your wife, Charles. That's the point."
"But you aren't just my wife.".."You had your own loyalties, your own code before you met me."

Sigh, that puts Charles right up there at the top of my romance heroes list. It's not lust or emotional needing or love. He doesn't "let" her write, or give speeches, or raise orphans or whatever independent activity most Regency romance heroines are saddled with in their HEAs. He just accepts her as who she is, no matter what difficulties it created or will create for him and their marriage.

Ms. Grant writes beautifully, her research is impeccable, and she tells the story through sight, sound, thought and action. The suspense over finding Colin their son will keep even non-romance readers up late at night. I've read and re-read this book many times. I love Charles Fraser as much as I love Lord Peter Wimsey and my romance reading has turned into a continual search for another hero as wonderful as he is.

Introduction and Spoilers

These are going to be reviews of romance novels that I've read and re-read. I re-read because there was something there I liked. This blog is to tease out and share what that was.

But beware...there will always be spoilers ahead!