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The Post in which I Get Tired of Happy Endings June 18, 2010

It appears! The RDJ .gif I was going to use in the Title and Rank post!

Okay. I have to admit.

I see the pattern, duh.

But I’m really sick of the constant happy family ending.

As you probably guessed – Jem is a family man at heart, raising his daughter Little Father – sorry, Eugenia on his own. In fact, she gets her own little subplot where she is bit by a rat and suffers from rat-bite fever.

Shock and awe that this is another chance for Jem and Harriet (now known to Jem and Eugenia as a woman) to bond. Over a child.

Okay. That’s fine. So Harriet, in marrying Jem, becomes Eugenie’s mother. Saw that from the beginning.

But the epilogue?

“‘Where do you suppose this baby came from?’ he said wonderingly.

‘The usual places.’ He loved her laugh.

‘But we were married for years without children. And then Colin, and now -‘

‘I didn’t think I could.’

Under his hand was just the smallest flutter of life. ‘I never used to cry, not a single damp eye, before I met you,’ he said accusingly.

She kissed him until he didn’t feel sentimental anymore, just hungry. But he didn’t want to wear Harriet out, so he didn’t follow that kiss to its natural conclusion.” p.365

Yep. They have their own baby and another is on the way.

Curb my enthusiasm.

But this doesn’t make sense. We’ve learned that this novel takes place in the 1780s right? And at the start, Harriet is twenty-seven. Jem is thirty. Eugenia is eight. In the epilogue, Eugenia is in her teens (she’s come out) so that means that Harriet has to be somewhere in her mid thirties.

And it’s 1780. I don’t know – I feel like the author is playing with fire here. Especially since Eugenie almost dies of rat-bite fever – sickness was easy to come by. To give birth in her thirties seems a little troublesome – but then again – maybe not so much. I guess we can just chalk that up to the masculine side of Harriet.

But I’m going to speak plainly here. I did not want this book to end with a happy family. Marriage? Sure. Family unit? Sure. But a new baby and another on the way?

Simply: I felt that Harriet’s masculinity was taken away. She had this great side to her for over three hundred pages then all of a sudden … she’s a mother and pregnant. She still has her streak of independence, of course (we hear about her riding from Jem as well as her wearing breaches when she rides), but I just felt that in this moment, Harriet was de-masculinized.

I won’t even comment on Jem getting teary. We’ve seen in pretty much every novel before this that the men get this sentimental streak in them by the end of the novel so it isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s part of the formula. I don’t even think I’d bring my gender argument into this part because it’s so hackneyed that his ‘weepiness’ was just expected.

Happy family, remember?

So – my question: is there a book out there that ends with the protagonists going off on a new adventure rather than settling?

Is there something else to look forward to?

Sure, for the first few books, the ending was satisfying but now … now, I want something different. You can always change aspects of the formula  – but the structure of it remains. Can’t adventure be substituted for ‘happy family?’

I don’t mean that I expected Harriet and Jem to explore the world – they didn’t seem the type – but what about the characters like Breanne and Caedmon from Viking in Love who seem to be?

So – until I find that – my reactions to the family-endings of these novels is going to be something like Ned’s:

Yeah ... no.

I was going to used a bummed Ron and Hermione (from PS even!) but I miss Pushing Daisies and I don’t want to think about how principle photography finished on Harry Potter a few days ago.

I still remember where I was when I first saw Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint in a picture together – I was at my friend Sandy’s house using the computer – the picture took forever to load and the background was a the usual logo in tile effect. I remember how excited we were. And that was so many years ago …

End of an era … my childhood is really dying next year with the last film (though, it really did probably end with the final book – I’m giving it one last stretch).

Anyway – enough about HP.

Next week book looks … well … it looks interesting in an interesting way.

Have a great weekend!

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

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

 

A Gender (not Ginger) Post

After the disappointment that was my earlier post on rank and title (I’m still reeling – it was really good but then I told myself … well, after a few more books it will be better so maybe it was WordPress telling you to hold off on that for now – at least you got the general ideas I was trying to word), I’ve decided to do the gender post tonight because … well, I just feel like being a little academic at the moment.

I know you're hardly as shocked as this AVPM .gif - but look at that boss poster!

Seriously, if you’ve never watched A Very Potter Musical on Youtube, click the .gif above and you’ll be taken to it. I have it on my iPhone – yeah, it’s ‘totally awesome.’

But – anyway. Gender. (And you totally know I just went and watched a part of AVPM).

It’s strange I’ve never really addressed this in the beginning. I guess I thought it was pretty straight forward. It wasn’t until Duchess by Night that I felt like I finally had meat to work with concerning gender.

Harriet is fantastically androgynous – I say fantastically because it really is well … fantastic because it’s different. Under the guise of self-depreciation, we have a woman that can play herself off as a male and even think that she looks better as a male.

“‘[Harriet] need offer no proof of her courage,’ Villiers said. ‘Please recall that she just carried a goose into the ballroom while wearing a nightgown. One doubts Saint George exhibited such steel while setting out to fight the dragon. Yet I am not certain …’ His eyes rested thoughtfully on her chest.

Raising her chin, Harriet reached insider her voluminous sleeves and pulled out a rolled woolen stocking. And another. A third and fourth.

Then she flattened the fabric against her chest. ‘I think,’ she said coolly, ‘that I shall look very well as a man.’

‘Indeed,’ Villiers said. ‘The idea has possibilities.’ p.31

“Actually, her legs looked shapely and strong. The truth was that while Harriet always felt smothered in women’s clothing, she was starting to think that she looked just right in breeches. Her body was a kind built for endurance, with muscles in her legs that came from the way she walked for miles after breakfast.” p.58

“The odd thing is, Harriet, that you do look masculine. I mean that you look perfectly feminine and delectable in a gown, but there’s something, oh, out-doors-ish about you at the moment. I really wouldn’t guess that you were a woman in a man’s costume. I wonder if I could get away with it.” p.59

“And he [Harriet] didn’t look too sissy in a riding jacket. He looked delicate in some lights, but he had a good strong chin. The real problem was his eyes. What man had eyes of burned velvet brown?” p.105

“‘No back talk from you, young Harry,” he said. ‘What is your name, by the way?’

‘Harriet.’

She saw the name settle in his mind, grow into a smile. ‘I like it,’ he said.

‘I like Harry better.’ p.219-220

Harriet even talks about having her own wardrobe altered by Villier’s tailor to take on this new side of her. In a way, Harriet is embracing this masculine side of her. In fact, I felt odd when, at the end, she appears with her hair done up and a dress on.

“Harriet was exquisite as a woman. Her hair was piled on her head, all the curls tamed. In a gown she was even more sensual than in breeches. Now she didn’t have a cravat under her chin, but a gown that plunged in front to show her creamy skin, her small waist … her gown’s billowing skirts made [Jem] long to tip her over, uncover her secrets.” p.349

Let’s even take a look at the name – look how easily Harriet turns into Harry. Even Jem’s name is a somewhat effeminate form of Justinian. So what’s happening here?

Lit f-ing theory time.

Let’s bring in Cixous – poststructuralist feminist theory, okay?

Briefly, in my lit theory course, we wrestled with one of her essays. We were told to read it as we’d read a piece of literature rather than theory and that was helpful – but what it came down to was: there is this sort of voice where females embrace their masculinity and males are afraid to embrace their femininity – you need to embrace both sides though to be a sort of whole being (I’m doing this from memory – if I’m wrong – jump in and correct me).

Anyway – you can see this in Duchess by Night. Harriet is fully ready to embrace this side of herself. But, as one suspects, Jem is not eager to accept he may have feelings for his own sex – a passion for it, a feminine feeling for argument’s sake.

Remember his comment on her velvet brown eyes above?

“Jem ground his teeth. Cope practically coo’ed his little retort.

He should go upstairs right now and tell Villiers that there was no way he could turn a moon-calf into a bull. But Cope was walking up the stairs And the odd thing was that Jem actually liked him.” p.105

“Jem snorted, but, on the other hand, he didn’t want to be alone with Cope. God forbid he should find himself in another discussion of hair color. Not that it was Cope’s fault exactly, but he just seemed to bring out a side of Jem that – that –

Didn’t exist.” p.109

Unlike Jem, Harriet doesn’t mind being alone with women or even chatting to them – she thinks twice, of course, but is able to carry her masculine side out just fine – telling a girl, when they are alone, that she is a eunuch. Harriet isn’t as afraid as Jem to ‘play’ with that side – yes, she’s apprehensive – but she goes further than him.

Jem only becomes comfortable around Harriet when he knows she is a female. The reader, in a moment of dramatic irony if you didn’t catch the Latin bit (when she doesn’t understand Villier’s conversation with Jem in Latin, Jem confirms in his mind that she’s a girl – he reveals this to her during sex), is surprised when during a fencing lesson where Jem is treating her like Harry, he begins to strip her with his sword (wow, that could be a total metaphor, but I won’t go there) and taunt her in a language he really would never have used if she was male and he was attracted to her/him.

It’s Jem being cocky – but revealing his insecurity.

“‘Women are so boring,’ he said softly, his thumb rubbing the line of her jaw. She jerked her head away. ‘I had no idea how arousing it was to fence with someone … with you. It made up my mind. I never thought I was that sort of man, but for you, with you, I’m going into new territory.’

‘Not with me,’ she said though [sic] clenched teeth. ‘I’m not interested.’

‘No!’ she spat.” p.216

After stringing her along, Jem does reveal that he knows her secret. But look at how cocky he suddenly is above. Would he really embrace that side of himself, if Harriet wasn’t a woman?

Yes, this is also the sex post – but the sex is just normal in this text. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in the others. What I really wanted to focus on though was the role gender played.

It’s interesting to note – I spoke of carnivalesque I believe in my ginger post … or maybe the post that was lost (wiki it if so) and in the end things do go back to normal. Harriet resumes her role as does Jem (though, of course, they marry) – but some strange gender balance is restored.

Harriet becomes a mother.

Jem the proud father.

And his daughter Eugenia now at the age to be courted.

But for a couple hundred pages, we get to see this strange play of gender and sex – and it was interesting – it’s something I could really only hope to find when reading these books. Not to demean them or anything – this book was rich pickings for things to talk about – and none of them completely negative … well, until we get to the family bit.

Yeah! word count is at 1383 – finally, I feel accomplished.

WOOT!

Now for a …

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Reference

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

 

Rank and Title and Why They’re Important June 17, 2010

Irrelevant .gif is irrelevant …

Found this yesterday and there was no real context to use it in so ... here it is anyway.

Okay. Rank and Title. Obviously we’re dealing with a ‘Duchess’ (duh) but we’ve also dealt with Viking princesses and other women who hold positions that are above their male counterpart. It doesn’t all rest in the strict definitions of ‘rank’ and ‘title,’ but also in what they have.

What the hell do I mean?

First – the title of ‘Virgin’

In …

Okay – WordPress just completely lost my post after this point. Needless to say – I’m sort of pissed, but here are my main points that I did make in over 1000 words in less than 300 words:

1. ‘Virginity’ and ‘Inexperience’ are titles that the women use as power

2. They also use their rank (duchess, princess, etc.) to move around easier and have a bit of power over the men. As you can see – not all guys take this well. Caedmon is pretty much forced into marrying Breanne (even though he loves her) and Jem freaks out when he finds out that Harriet is a duchess.

“‘You lied to me. I thought you were the widow of a farmer -‘ He spat the word. ‘-and all along you were merely playing with the hoi polloi. Amusing yourself with me.'” p.326

3. Harriet is a little different because she is looking for pleasure – and she is not an actual virgin (but she is inexperienced) – she falls in love with Jem as he falls in love with her. But she does give him her ‘inexperience’ that is expressed like virginity:

“‘Let me put it this way,’ he said. ‘If you’re not a virgin, Harry, you sure as hell haven’t had much experience kissing.'” p.219

So – different sorts of power winning over the male protagonist – but all have to do with some sort of inexperience. Whether that’s attractive is moot – what is important is the power that the title of virgin has.

4. There was some RDJ up in this post but you can thank WordPress for screwing that up. I’ll save the .gif for another post.

And I’m not being lazy by not retyping everything – this is a subject I plan to revisit in books to come so I can go more in depth then. I would do this one over but I have proofing to do and my blog is the last thing I want to fall behind.

Such a good post too … now to go grumble in the corner …

Here’s a PALATE CLEANSER anyway – CLICK ME.

Reference

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

 

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.

 

We’re totally not going to talk about how awful the Tonys were … June 14, 2010

If I started talking about last night – aka Tony Night – I would fly into a tangent that would never end. To sum it up: Worst. Tonys. Ever.

But moving on – Eloisa James’ Duchess By Night.

The one with just the girl on the cover.

The girl that’s a blonde.

La de da de da …

la de da de da ...

I read Duchess by Night just this afternoon (since last night I was occupied … but we aren’t talking about that) and decided, what the heck, I’d read it in a day. And I will say that, by far, I think this is the best one of the bunch. Not for snark or anything like that – it was actually not too bad of a book.

It, of course, followed the usual structure and there are a lot of things I want to talk about – gender, specifically – but just in terms of storytelling, James surprised me. I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘surprised’ as if I expect these books to always be lazily written – but James really does surpass her predecessors in this blog by miles.

So – why?

First of all, there was no real secondary plot that pretended to be the plot. There was no random chapters or random breakaways to remind you: oh yeah and this is what’s happening here – don’t forget about that because it’s the reason ‘a’ and ‘b’ meet. If there was a secondary plot, I suppose you could say it belonged to the character Isidore, but it was so simple that it only served as set up and not really consequential to the rest of the story.

Secondly, you actually gave a damn about the secondary characters. Now, while I had a hard time with the male protagonist’s daughter Euegina (think Little Father Time but crazy happy and obsessed with math), I liked hearing from the other characters. They weren’t fodder. In fact, I found myself liking the character Villiers (the friend of the female protagonist – Harriet). One of my marginal notes reads “He’s too good for her.” I liked his dry wit – and his lack of over sentimentality (is that proper grammar? Whatever – I’m still reeling from … you know).

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this book gave me a lot to think about. Not just about structure or hair color – no, I felt almost like this book had a little more depth. It played with gender and gender roles – and, this taking place in the 1780s, you can tell that the author was invested in the period (down to the books her characters were reading). The period wasn’t just this backdrop to throw two attractive people against – it was interactive. And the secondary characters added to that. Also, I know I’ve spoken about the idea of position and rank in these novels and this text is no different – in fact, that is the main point the novel revolves around: gender and rank.

But I have to say – the male protagonist’s name – Justinian Strange? Yeah … no. And his nick name?

Jem (I kid you not)

Obviously – ‘Jem’ was a bit of a downside. And obviously no novel is perfect – this novel had it’s flaws. But I couldn’t deny that it was well written.

The narrative was steady – it moved nicely in and out of third person limited and free indirect discourse without the use of annoying italics at the start of paragraphs. There were rarely anachronisms in the narrative either – once and a while something would seem out of place, but otherwise it was consistent. It was something I appreciated. It didn’t seem self-indulgent as some of these novels *coughIfHesWildcough* have seemed *coughVikinginLovecough*.

It’s also important to note that this novel is also in a series like A Highlander’s Homecoming and If He’s Wild. There are more “duchess” books by James and – as with the other series novels, you get a preview of the next book at the end. And, surprisingly, I would be almost interested in reading it.

Shock. Awe. I know.

I’m going to make a note of it though, honestly. Why? Because I really haven’t explored the idea of the ‘series’ yet beyond canon. And why not explore it with a writer I happen to like? Plus, what James sort of craftily did was interweave the next story with this one – but very subtly (saving that for the sexy sex post). Also something I appreciated.

Oh sorry ... rage left over from last night ...

Anyway – I think this James’ novel will be interesting to take apart compared with the others because I think it’s one that brings to the front a lot that I have spent too much time on like gender itself (which is actually surprising) and I think I want to look more at independence in terms of power and rank – how that’s all connected.

See what a week off does?

It really refreshes the whole brain.

So – Yay! I’m back! And it’s time for …

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

(you’re a soulless person if you didn’t find that episode moving … just saying … (obviously this pertains to the PALATE CLEANSER)).

Reference

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