Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

Ginger Post: Part 4 June 16, 2010

"Vincent and the Doctor"

Okay – I’m totally shilling right now, but I sort of did that in my last post as well. Even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan like myself – try to watch “Vincent and the Doctor” – it’s written by the same writer as Love Actually and, though the monster is really rubbish, it completely worth it for everything else in the episode.

So why totally promote that episode in this post? Gingers!

As I’ve mentioned about a million times by now, in Duchess by Night we are confronted with a blonde – or as Sarah said I say it ‘blooooonnnnndddeee’ (see vlog). I have absolutely nothing against blondes, for the record.

I’m not Stephenie Meyer.

Anyway, Harriet the heroine or rather the ‘Duchess of Berrow’ isn’t so much described as blonde but as so:

“‘What about your hair?’ Isidore asked. ‘If you cut your hair now, you’ll enver be able to wear it high again.’

Harriet smiled. ‘I don’t wear it high now.’ She gestured toward her modest arrangement of curls and puffs. ‘Most of this was added by my maid this morning. My own hair barely reaches my shoulders.’

‘Very clever,’ Jemma said. ‘I keep meaning to try a hair piece.’

‘I doubt you could do it successfully,’ Harriet said. ‘Your hair is such a beautiful gold color. But mine is dull brown, and it’s easy to match.’

‘Your hair is not dull!’

Harriet shrugged. ‘Who would know, what with the hot iron and crimping and powdering? I shall positively relish being male if it means I could stop trying to straighten my hair.'” p.41-42

Did the cover lie to us? Her hair is mousy brown?

But … but the cover!

It's not perfect quality, but, even if you look it up online, the girl on the cover is blonde

Okay – let’s just check out how her hair is described in the rest of the book – after all, that was Harriet speaking. Harriet is self-depreciating – what calling herself a ‘dumpy widow’ and whatnot (but that’ll be addressed in the sexy sex post).

And before I jump into the quote, Harriet is disguising herself as a male named Mr. Cope (which will be addressed in the gender post I’m going to make later this week – I know – it seems like I’m skipping things but if I started talking about gender this post would never end – easier to take it all clump by clump). So – quote:

“There was only one word for Mr. Cope: adorable. He had curly brown hair, pulled into a simple pigtail at his neck, with just a dusting of powder.” p.51

And that’s a mix of the narrator with Jem – but mostly the narrator, I’d venture to say. So: Harriet is a brunette. Then why on the cover is she blonde?

But more importantly: how is she different from the other heroines?

First question: I have no idea. Creative license? The old adage ‘Blondes have more fun?’ I’m not really that sure. Your guess is as good as mine. For all we know, the cover could have just been chosen and slapped on – after all, Harriet is never actually in a dress like that until the very last chapters when she isn’t pretending to be male.

And to back up to If He’s Wild remember how the guy on the cover was shirtless? But the character inside was anything but ‘wild’ like that?

I’ve never really dwelled on covers for a long period of time, but I think this is a moment to do so. Obviously, there’s that other old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover.’

Does that apply to romance novels? Bodice Rippers? Fabio covers?

It just might. If I think of how I picked out the novels for this blog, a lot had to do with the covers. I remember picking out If He’s Wild because there was only a man on the cover. I picked out Duchess by Night because there was only a woman, and she was blonde (on the cover). The book I have for next week was also picked out based on the cover.

But I’m writing a blog. I’m obviously picking these out with that on my mind.

But what about the casual reader? The fan of the genre? Obviously, the summary has something to do with it. It would be silly to say not. But the cover has to mean something. How sensual is the cover? What does the cover tell us?

Do we still care about the cover once we start reading the book?

These questions just kept popping up as I read – if she’s brunette, why not make her a brunette on the cover? I’ve seen other books with brown haired girls on the cover that were just as ‘sexual’ – so why make this one blonde?

Is it just a simple gaffe? Or are we even supposed to care?

I have none of the answers to these questions – but they’re worth thinking about.

Next question: Why not a ginger?

Harriet is an odd heroine. Why is she odd, now you’re asking. She’s independent, as usual. She has a high rank – a rank that’s actually above Jem like some of the other heroines – so, she has power (a power that she actually puts to use in her duchy’s court).

But Harriet has to dress as a male to get into the party at Lord Strange. She needs to be disguised. As I mentioned before, Harriet is also self-depreciating. Some of the other characters have had qualms with themselves – but none perhaps more than Harriet. She basks in the freedom of being a man – she doesn’t feel as ‘beautiful’ as a girl.

There a question of confidence about Harriet. She’s not out helping birth sheep or killing an abusive brother-in-law. But she is taking a risk dressing as a man – but she feels more confident in that state. While those two previous heroines were doing ‘men’s work’ while obviously women – Harriet must ‘become’ a man to do so.

I’m not saying hair color alone decided this. In fact, I think that’s far from the case – James (the author, if you’ve forgotten) is an obvious fan of Shakespeare (if you look at the other titles by her, some of them are twists on Shakespeare). And this woman dressing as male is very Shakespeare – and also very Restoration (thinking Aphra Behn’s The Rover). My profs would probably murder me if I didn’t use the word carnivalesque here.

And it is carnivalesque. At Jem’s, social order is upset. A Duchess is pretending to be a male youth but order is restored by the end (when Jem comes to her at her duchy – but the way, on a personal note – I hate the word ‘duchy’). Yay.

I don’t think hair color at all has anything to do with this dressing up – but it is funny to see how the books I read keep putting redheads as these fiery, passionate girls in power while other hair colors are either protected by an uncle or dressed up as a male. It’s probably just some sort of strange pattern – I’m almost hoping the next book upsets it.

But wait! There is a ginger in this book – and guess what? She’s fiery and sexual! Ah!!

“‘Come on.’ He strode off, and she followed, to find herself bowing before the young shepherdess a moment later. She had strawberry red hair and breasts that burst from her costume. In fact, she was just the kind of woman who normally made Harriet feel miserably inconspicuous.” p.77

Oy. The constant digs at the gingers – even when they’re completely inconsequential to the plot. Like the last book – the main villain’s friend is … drumroll … ginger! So – when not the main character – we gingers really get the shaft, don’t we?

But … to quote “Vincent and the Doctor” (because I’ve been waiting to for about two weeks!):

The Ultimate Ginge ... brighter than Sunflowers ...

Yeah – I know some of you are wanting to kill me now. I’M STILL NOT OVER THE EPISODE!

Anyway. Some day this week will be a double post. Yesterday I was busy helping my aunt with her classroom and also proofing my mss (the mss THAT NEVER ENDS!) so I got a little distracted. But I’ll be back on course.

A bit of bad news? I am probably getting ill. My ears have been funky for the past few days and today I woke up congested and extremely achy (I actually brought my duvet down instead of just a blanket). I’m crossing my fingers it’s just sinuses – but I’m going to take it easy today and not double post – but expect a double post sometime this week … think of it as … a surprise. Woot.

Oh and …

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

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