Monthly Archives: April 2013

Cut the Crap – Honesty in Romance

My mistress‘ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare is  without doubt my favourite of his sonnets. I know he wrote it satirically, hoping to do nothing more than mock the predictable passions of courtly love that were being spouted with regularity, however, I actually think there is something lovely about it. Most girls are very much aware that their eyes aren’t really bluer than sapphires, that silk is softer than their hair, and that their lips aren’t really like roses. It all sounds very pretty to hear, but it seems to lack anything remotely genuine or personal – it’s the sort of thing a guy could say to any girl, any where. It might make us feel lovely for a few minutes, but it hasn’t got any lasting value – they’re just pretty words. But this, acknowledging her faults, listing the many aspects of nature that she can’t measure up to, and then accepting her and his love for her – it’s real. It’s him saying he knows exactly who she is, and that he loves her for that. It’s a love that can be counted on because it is based on really people, not imagery and poetry. As Mark Darcy said to Bridget Jones ‘I like you. Just the way you are.’ Having previously described her as smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish, and dressing like her mother, we know that he is aware that ‘just the way she is is’ far from perfect. But he loves her anyway.

I think that given the choice, most girls would choose someone who saw them, saw their faults, the cracks, the missing pieces and parts that make-up won’t cover, and loved them anyway, than to have someone who waxed lyrical about their beauty, but couldn’t accept their faults and weaknesses. Being loved for exactly who you are most certainly trumps being told nice words about beauty.

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Sense and Sensibility – I don’t know why I love it!

But I do. It is actually one of my favourite Austen novels, I just have no idea why I like it so much. If any kind readers could reply with why they like it – that would be helpful!

First, it is, as with most of Jane Austen’s work, beautifully written, and the setting, description, depth of characters, and the little mishaps and terrible misunderstandings are as entertaining as usual. I absolutely adore Colonel Brandon, and my favourite ever Jane Austen character, Mr Palmer, a refreshing dousing of sarcasm and dry wit really makes the book.

But in truth, there are three main men in this book. Mr Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, and Mr John Willoughby. Edward is completely crazy for Elinor, the older Dashwood sister, while Brandon and Willoughby are both smitten with Marianne,  Elinor’s younger sister. Throughout the whole book, I had my fingers crossed for Ferrars and Brandon, loved to hate Willoughby, and had a stupid smile on my face for two hours after the happy ending. However, I could not actually pinpoint why I liked any of these men.

First, Edward Ferrars. He comes up good in the end, but throughout the novel he really does come across and some kind of Mama’s boy ninny. He seems unable to stand up to those around him, while it is perfectly clear that he is in love with Elinor Dashwood, he doesn’t seem to have the strength to go for it, until right at the end.

Colonel Brandon. Now, he is an absolute sweetie, but also a complete and utter cradle snatcher. He falls totally and helplessly in love with sixteen/seventeen year old Marianne Dashwood. He is thirty five. Now, I know love knows no bounds, age is just a number etc, but thirty five and sixteen seems a little steep. However, it does seem he is at least noble and honest in his feelings, he’s not just looking for a young bit of stuff.

John Willoughby. Now he really captures Marianne’s attention, while she considers Colonel Brandon incapable of loving, or even inspiring love in others. Willoughby is however, charming, well versed in Shakespeare, and a cold hearted gold digger. He leaves Marianne high and dry in order to pursue an heiress. Tool.

So those are the men behind one of the greatest romantic novels of all time. They hardly seem a thrilling bunch, but maybe it proves that nobody is looking for perfect, they are looking for truth. And maybe it just shows that Jane Austen was an awesome writer who could make guys like that work.

P.s. Here’s a picture of Hugh Laurie as Mr Palmer.

hugh laurie sense and sensibility

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Deflowered Is Not Devalued

It is a standard character fixture in every historical romance novel – the hero is a rake, cad, and bounder, and the heroine is a virgin. At her most scandalous, she may have kissed a guy or two. Harking back to the era and the context, this is an entirely natural characteristic of females, as to have sex before marriage would have left them ruined, compromised, possibly even disowned and in a convent. Therefore the stereotype of women being pure while men gallivant around town spreading their seed is entirely justified in historical romance.

However, contemporary romance novels, set in a time with supposed gender equality and women’s liberation, also follow the virgin/man whore plot line to and alarming extent. And what I want to know is, why? It is 2013, and most girls of college student age are sexually active. I’m not saying they’re sluts, I’m not saying they sleep around, but as a society we apparently accept that physical intimacy in a relationship is one of the most important aspects of any healthy relationship. There are obviously the girl-talk discussions over when it’s OK to go to bed with the guy you’re dating, and the best answer is usually when it feels right. I’m not saying women should bulldoze forward and prove their sexual equality by pouncing on every guy who looks interested, what I’m saying is that there is no shame, or character flaw, for not being a virgin in your late teens or early twenties.

And yet, so many books seem keen to push the point. Their amazing, beautiful, funny, passionate heroines, make it to adulthood without ever being remotely interested in anyone, then only have sex with the guy they are completely in love with, who, in the epilogue, they are usually married to.

Fifty Shades of Grey showed a twenty one year old Ana Steele, who is described as beautiful, lovely, and is quite clearly kinky as hell, but had never done more than ‘make out’ with a guy before. The same in Beautiful Disaster – girls swoon over Travis Maddox, who ‘bags’ anything with long legs and boobs on his couch, but he falls for virginal Abby Abernathy. In Fate Interrupted, twenty eight year old Evy had only ever been with her fiance. And then there are the girls who go the other way – the heroines in Bared to You and the Blackstone affair used sex when they were younger to try to deal with what they were going through, and now have very different attitudes.

It seems to me that the gender roles in some of the most celebrated contemporary romance novels are far outdated. A woman can be classy, choosy, and completely in control of her sex life without being a virgin. The same as a man can be sexy, rich and powerful, without living on a diet of one night stands. I had hoped that in this modern day era, while it is a fact that men can get away with more than women, there was in fact some sexual equality, and that women could have healthy sex lives without being looked down upon. It appears I was wrong.

Obviously losing your virginity is a big deal, and shouldn’t be given to just anyone. But it is also true that a girl doesn’t have to be a virgin to be innocent and guileless. Come on guys, we all know that women no longer “lie back and think of England” – it is not scandalous for a girl to enjoy sex, and have more than one sexual partner before she meets Mr Right.

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Book Review – Walking Disaster (Beautiful #2) Jamie McGuire

15745950O. M. Jizzle. I can wholeheartedly assure you that I am not normally one for bandwagons, particularly when it comes to jumping on them. Nor I am into controlling, possessive, overbearing, needy, emotionally stunted, violent, selfish foul mouthed guys. But I am enthusiastically making the exception. First – I do hope you have read number one of this series, as this book does not work well as a stand alone, it is absolutely only to be read to compliment Beautiful Disaster, also by Jamie McGuire. While, like many novels, Beautiful Disaster is written from the female point of view, Walking Disaster tells exactly the same story, but simply from the point of view of Travis Maddox, rather than from his love, Abby Abernathy. There are obviously certain scenes missing, and certain added, and it’s great to see what was going on with both of the characters, and in both of their heads. And be prepared for the messed up space that is the inside of the tattooed, toned, piece of man beef that is Travis Maddox.

First – have tissues for the prologue. Prepare for three year old Travis, scared and confused, saying goodbye to his dying mother, who makes him promise to find someone he loves and fight too keep her.

“One of these days you’re going to fall in love, son. Don’t settle for just anyone. Choose the girl that doesn’t come easy; the one you have to fight for, and then never stop fighting. Never”

And thus his persistence in pursuing Abby the moment he realises she’s the one his Mum was talking about is explained. He’s not perfect – but not in the usual way. There are so many ‘imperfect’ heroes who have seriously screwed up pasts, but they all tend to be tightly controlled, successful and messed up way down inside, where they struggle to love and trust. refreshingly, hearing Travis’ account, it becomes clear he is the exact opposite. His feelings about his family and Abby come easily, he adores her and has no problems admitting it and showing it. His cracks appear externally – he can’t control his temper, he swears and curses, he picks up women and drinks to deal with his emotions. He is ridiculously needy – but as such a big, tough, guy  in every other way, he kind of gets away with the borderline obsession he has with Abby. He self – deprecates, which usually really annoys me – but it’s in a perfect balance to his cocky nature. And rather than moaning about not being good enough – he tries to make himself good enough. His point of view of Abby ranges from an ‘angel’ to a ‘cranky bitch’ – he’s funny and it works. But, another warning – to get this book, and why abby says and does the things she does, you really have to read Beautiful Disaster first. To understand why she helps her dad, how she feels about gambling, how she feels during their 30 day stay together after she loses a bet – you need to read it from her perspective. Without doing so, she may come across as a little cold and heartless in this book.

What I admire is that their vices are so bad-ass and cool. There’s no simpering, cup cake baking, or anything remotely wussy – she’s a hardened poker player and he illegally fights for money. They both have that element of excitement, danger, and fearlessness. Though this may make them less relateable, and more far-fetched, it makes the fantasy world you drift into a really cool place to be. You pretty much want to spice up your life after reading.

The epilogue is original, and something I definitely didn’t see coming – I am so sick of an epilogue being the birth of a baby. I shan’t spoil it, but it’s not that.

It’s a book that makes an old cynic such as myself, think about how I view guys, and maybe don’t look deep enough under the surface. then I sigh, and remember that, unfortunately, he is nothing more than words on a page. But they are really great words.

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Hunchback of Notre Dame – Template for the 3 Classic Leading Men?

notre damePlease do not confuse this as a review of the lovely Disney film. Amazing as it is, this is a review of the book, and if you have not read the book, and would like to live in the blissful world of poor friend-zoned Quasimodo, approving of the love of Esmeralda and Phoebus and rejoicing in the death of Frollo – read no further. Carry on in the joy of ignorance and happy endings.

There is the villain – Frollo. Every novel needs a good villain! And in this case, the villain is under the guise of a priest, the classic, twist of evil in the form of goodness. The respectable man nobody suspects is the most rotten. Although it is not classic for a priest to be in love with a woman, motives of jealousy, and particularly power are the motives behind around ninety percent of literature villains.

Then, the lusty lover. Phoebus, the guy the girl swoons over, the original Vronsky, he is all handsome, uniform, and sweet nothings. He says what Esmeralda wants to hear, all the while planning to marry fourteen year old Fleur de Lys. he does nothing to stop her execution, and had no plans to ever be true to her.But he looks, on the outside, like the dream guy, gorgeous and respectable, and declaring his love for the girl. Where, in actual reality, he is a lust pig, who wants no more than sex.

The unlikely hero. Quasimodo. Deaf, deformed, and half blind, he is, admittedly, less likely than most. But he is the one, overall, that truly cares for and tries to protect our girl. And when he fails, he, quite beautifully, in a weird morbid way, simply lays down, puts his arms around her, and dies right there holding her as he never did in life.

The sore fact is, these three characters have become templates for so many modern tales, that they are almost tired. We all love the underdog, and it is now predictable that the heroine will go for the unassuming, unlikely man, over the flashy, handsome, obvious type. And the villain is always the guy you’d least suspect. The neighbour, the wife, the teacher, or in this case the priest. One of the main reasons I’d recommend this book is that the original is always the best – and it’s good to trace roots. Reading this, it’s not only a powerful and intricately written story, but it’s also a glimpse at the history of fiction. This is one of the places where it all began.

I love this book, but be warned, it is the same guy who wrote Les Mis. Expect no happy endings, as the only two decent and innocent characters in the book are the two who die. Evil does triumph. But the journey is beautiful.

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Less is More….Or Do Some Like It Hot???

marilynSex is everywhere, and I don’t even mean explicit, society ruining raunchy porn. Casual references, innuendos, even the M&S lingerie adverts are pretty hot stuff, and appear on TV and the sides of buses without so much as raising an eyebrow. Serious novels contain sex, though often not as a large part of the plot, so surely any romance readers would be expecting to become more than slightly hot under the colour. Let’s be honest, a lot of best selling contemporary romances are based on sex – from Fifty Shades, to Bared to You, to almost every Danielle Steele ever written – without the sex, there would be very little going on, and even less connecting to characters. Good old fashioned bodice rippers generally pivot around sex, the ‘ruination’ of a girl, or the scandal of lust being common plot features. I’m not one of those ‘nowadays the world is terrible’ people – look at Baudelaire‘s Fleurs du Mal, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, even Tess of the d’Urbervilles has that barnyard scene where she licks cream off the fingers of Angel Clare. Saucy and suggestive, oioi.

So, I do believe it can be forgiven to expect a little sex from a modern romance. Obviously, some are better than others, some are cringey, and some are almost non existent. I recently read two of the books from the Brides of Bath series, where there was little plot, and very little sex to go with it. There was literally no saving grace to the novels. I mean, yes I’m sick of contemporary romances involving rich men, young girls, and  damaged pasts. I’m sick of contemporary romances that rely on tired old tactics of ‘being caught in a compromising position’ and ‘accidentally falling in love with one’s own husband.’ But, with a little spice, these books can sometimes be at least a little enjoyable. I’m not some sex crazed loon – if a book has a great plot, I absolutely would not recommend adding sex just for the sake of it. But, when seeking escapism, a flighty bippity bop romance, there’s a requirement to get the blood pounding just a bit. If I want less, I’d read Austen, or my all time favourite, Elizabeth Gaskell. Less is great in a novel that has an awesome plot, contextual restraints, and sparring characters actually conversing. But in the whirl of romantic novels that have plots that are little more than fluff…..it’s necessary up turn up the heat!

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Pride and Prejudice to Black and Blue – The Evolution of Desire

fiftyshades jane-austen-pride-and-prejudice-book-cover-i14

Mr Darcy. Though he never dives in the pond and emerges all wet in the book, you can be forgiven for picturing him so. Christian Grey. The modern symbol of naughty sex. These characters are, as far as I can tell, universally recognisable, and it seems, almost every woman‘s type. Yet they, and the stories they come from, are so different it is staggering – so what can possibly be appealing about both to almost all woman of almost every generation?

The differences are innumerable, yet I shall try to list the few that seem the most important. As this year is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, there are some obvious contextual differences. But what matters is that modern women still find old Fitzwilliam appealing, a veritable paragon amongst men. At no point during the Jane Austen novel do the characters have any physical contact. They dance, yet it should be expected that Lizzie would be wearing gloves. The sparks in their relationship fly from the converstaions, striking on the iron of eachothers’ will. Their relationship is clearly tracked, as they do have conversations and interactions, they see and hear each other in public and private. And they dislike eachother.

Let’s compare this now to E. L. James‘ novella. The characters meet, are attracted to one another, and dive straight in to sex, which it would appear, Mr Grey is extremely proficient at. This is hot, but it does definitely lack the depth, the passion – yes, passion can be more than sex – of the Bennett/Darcy relationship. The literal tongue lashings are aplenty, and yes their relationship has its difficulties, but in the end, they are a sure thing. There is absolutely no ‘will they, won’t they suspense’ and in truth, I am yet to know if Ana and Christian would actually like each other outside of the bedroom – they don’t seem to spend much time elsewhere.

The heroines. Ah the heroines. Although, I confess, my interest tends to be piqued more by the guy in the story, if the heroine is some sort of ninny, I lose interest. Enter, Anastasia Steele. I mean seriously. What. A. Drip. She lacks the wit, the intelligence, the humour and the mettle of Lizzie. And Christian is happy with that, as he seeks a submissive partner. Darcy, however, chooses a challenge. The difference is laudable, and the question is quite simple ladies – would you rather be seen as a challenge, or easily tamed? Do you respect a man who wants a woman he has power over, or one whom he sees as his equal? Well, for those Darcy and Grey fans out there, it would appear you want both.

Now let’s be honest. When Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, women had little power, little education, and were praised for the most trivial accomplishments, scorned for pursuing anything challenging. So Lizzie broke through the barriers as a fiery, proud woman. Now, women have careers, have education, make their own decisions and call the shots – so we read novels about men who swoop in and take over. Could it just be that we want whatever we don’t have? That by desiring Darcy, we want the power, strength and pride that women were denied for so long – but by desiring Grey and his whips and chains, we want to revert back to the previous role, relinquish the power we gained and be taken care of? Women are no longer property that can be legally battered (though it obviously still happens), so we read novels about girls who consent to it? Society has evolved, and it would appear, so has desire. Though whether that desire is actually a devolution of women’s rights remains questionable.

P.S. I’m team Darcy.

P.P.S Here’s a picture of Colin Firth

pride-and-prejudice

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