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LindaHilton

Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

 

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Currently reading

The Summer Tree
Guy Gavriel Kay
Progress: 10/383 pages
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Nancy MacLean
Progress: 134/574 pages
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance
Northrop Frye
Progress: 43/200 pages
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Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Progress: 73/383 pages
Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (American Popular Culture)
Kay Mussell
Progress: 17/157 pages
The Looking-Glass Portrait
Linda Hilton
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Linda Hilton
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The House of the Spirits
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Window on the Square - Reading progress update: I've read 55%.

Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

Ah, yes, all the classic archetypes.

 

Vulnerable child with secrets.

Obnoxious, spoiled child.

Innocent, impoverished, idealistic young woman.

Handsome, brooding (and married) master of the house.

Fragile, beautiful mistress of the house.

Menacing, jealous housekeeper.

Cheerful servant.

Helpful, encouraging, working-class other man.

The Great Big Huge Mystery of Someone's Death

 

There are even some Precious Possessions that will probably be needlessly destroyed to cause Untold Heartbreak.

 

The 1870s New York City setting is a change from the usual remote mansion, and so far there are no otherworldly aspects, but the rest is so far classic gothic/suspense.

 

I'm reading this in the atmosphere of ongoing Twitter discussions about the importance of accuracy in historical romances.  The current brouhaha is over whether or not sex workers in historical settings are allowed (!) to have Happy Ever After endings with marriage to dukes.  Yes, that's a bit simplified, and of course many of those who are advocating for the rights of courtesans to their HEAs and elevation to the nobility are quite vocal.

 

Was it historically accurate for any sex workers to attain such lofty positions?  Well, if we go back to the Emperor Justinian and his Empress Theodora, there's certainly evidence to support the notion.  So let's look past that particular issue and examine another.

 

Is it necessary, in the framework of Romance with a Capital R, that the female main character find her HEA with a more powerful, more wealthy, more patriarchally normative male rather than a middle- or working-class spouse?

 

If the defense of sex workers as entitled (sic) to HEAs is put forth as challenging the patriarchal norms, how is that challenge sustained if the sex worker can only be liberated by stepping into the patriarchy?

 

This is, of course, illustrated clearly in so many gothic romances, where the heroine is forced into selling her labor -- if not her sexuality -- due to poverty.  She is at the mercy of her almost always older, more powerful, and definitely more wealthy employer.  Jane Eyre is perhaps the prototype or even the archetype, but there are so many, many more just like her, some who emerge as victors in their struggle and some who fail.  From Victor Hugo's Fantine to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, women must obey certain rules that don't apply to men, even though it is only through men that women can achieve happiness of any kind.

 

In 1984, when I attended my first RWA national conference, two of the historical romances that were finalists for what was then the Golden Heart award were books I had read, LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird and Carole Nelson Douglas's Lady Rogue.  Spencer's book, which I had completely and totally enjoyed except for one issue, won.

 

Douglas, who also writes fantasy and mystery, had created characters who didn't end up with quite the traditional HEA, at least for 1984: They didn't marry, and the woman maintained her separate identity and "career."  Looking back, I'm surprised that the book was nominated, let alone a finalist, because it didn't follow precisely the Romance Novel formula.

 

But even Hummingbird bothered me because of that one detail, and Spencer would go on to use that device in at least one other book: There's another man involved, who falls in love with the heroine but she treats him like shit.  In Hummingbird, that man is lowly shoe salesman David (whose last name I can't remember). Abby is in love with the dashing, handsome, wealthy Jesse, but she reluctantly consents to marry David.  When Jesse confronts her with her lack of passion for David and her true passion for him, Abby succumbs.  David is devastated, and Spencer spares no other thought for him.  She did the same thing for the other man in Twice Loved, and that was the point where I gave up on Spencer.

 

In Window on the Square, I can see the same scenario unfolding.  Andrew Beach, the artist-and-tutor, is going to come to a bad end one way or another; Megan Kincaid will no doubt end up with the moody, mysterious Brandon Reid.  What will happen to Brandon's wife Leslie and her over-protective childhood nurse Mrs. Garth is anyone's guess at this point.