Since I mentioned Beguiling the Beauty in my last post, I thought that now that I’ve read it I should make some comment on it. It will have spoilers, so for everyone out there rushing to buy it or check it out from the library, um, cover your eyes and just say la la la la la and I’ll put asterisks when I’m done. 🙂
There are some interesting characters in this book. The two main characters are Christian, the Duke of Lexington, and Venetia Easterbrook, with supporting characters being both of their families, mostly Venetia’s. Oh, I should note that the time period is late 1800’s, 1896, to be precise. Not a time period in which women made very many choices for themselves. Venetia is renowned for her beauty. She has been married twice and widowed twice by the age of twenty nine. Her first husband was somewhat cruel, accumulated a large amount of debt, and eventually killed himself. Her second husband was a friend of the family’s, much older than her, whom she marries not because she is interested in him, but so he and his male lover can continue their relationship in peace. Venetia’s brother Fitz refers to this when he is talking to Christian near the end of the book as a Marriage blanc, which I had never heard of. It’s a marriage that hasn’t been consummated, and is/was used as a way to help protect someone’s reputation who was homosexual or for some other reason. It also mentioned a lavender marriage, which is specifically a marriage when one partner is homosexual, for the same reason as above. I’d also never heard of that before. So I learned something new. And lost track of my point. There are backstories with Venetia’s family, one sister is seeing a married man, and her brother is in a marriage to a woman he married when she was sixteen because she had money and he/the family needed money. They have been married for eight years and haven’t consummated their marriage either–they set the time when they would “start relations,” and in the meantime her husband carries on affairs with other women, pretty much with his wife’s blessing. She is falling in love with him, but he had to marry her instead of the woman he truly loved and she doesn’t know if he’ll ever love her. That situation was not entirely wrapped up, but the eight year period was over near the end of the book and her husband, Venetia’s brother (I should have said that earlier) isn’t having an affair because of it. Minor subplot that I’m not sure exactly how I feel about.
But back to Christian and Venetia. Venetia is beautiful, but also intelligent, clever, and obsessed with dinosaurs and fossils. So is Christian. Christian fell in love with her at first sight–key word being sight here–and has been for ten years. He gives a lecture where he postulates that beauty in women is inherently a treacherous thing, and gives the circumstances around both of her husband’s deaths, completely unaware she is in the audience. He doesn’t mention her name, and the lecture is at Harvard, so she doesn’t think word will get back to London, but it does. The whole situation makes her miserable, and she considers getting even with him by making him fall in love and then jilting him. She pretends to be a German Baroness on a voyage from America to England, and always wears a hat with a veil so he doesn’t recognize her. They have quite a torrid affair, and they actually do fall in love with each other, because, amazingly, they talk to each other in the midst of all of this. I think this may be the only time I have ever read a romance novel where the relationship is based on something more than great sex. As a present, Christian gives Venetia a slab of stone with dinosaur footprints, which he had brought up from the hold to show her and since she likes it so much decides she would enjoy it more.
Of course, a woman who was at the lecture happens to be at dinner one night and brings up the lecture and the comments he made at the end regarding Venetia, and while Christian deflects the woman and her mother, for Venetia the trip is ruined and she disembarks early. Before she does, Christian asks her to marry him. She turns down his offer. She’s miserable without him, as he is without her. She gets pregnant, which she didn’t think she could, because she didn’t with her first husband, and saw many doctors about it. Despite the fact the whole truth has come out about her double identity and now Venetia and Christian are incapable of having a truthful conversation with each other, Venetia goes to Christian and tells him. He marries her, but they are miserable. Eventually all the truth comes out and they end up happy.
So what are the lessons here? Beauty doesn’t matter, since Christian never saw her face during the whole voyage, for someone to fall in love. Lies snowball. People shouldn’t be intractable and rigid to the point where they don’t believe anything else a person has to say. Don’t fall in love with a woman (or man?) wearing a veiled hat? The veil is sort of blatant symbology–Venetia is un-veiled, and no longer acceptable, but when her beauty is veiled, she is. There’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that she’s not only beautiful, she’s practically the most beautiful, captivating woman in London who has men falling at her feet. I thought those extremes were a bit much. But, without the veil and as soon as Christian and Venetia are back in London, they fall into their old roles again. Venetia’s is even dubbed the “Great Beauty.”
I looked at some of the reviews on Goodreads, and it seemed that they were all over the place–people hated it, people loved it, from one star to five. I think it’s because while it has many typical romance novel qualities, it is different, not so formulaic. How often in books that are strictly romance novels is the heroine intelligent, beautiful, doesn’t care about remarrying–there is actually a pretty funny scene where the two of them, on the ship, discuss the fact she’d gone eight years without sex (in contrast, say to her brother Fitz or even Christian himself, who have their little affairs seemingly on a regular basis) and Venetia says she’s perfectly capable of taking care of her needs arising from arousal herself, and she doesn’t need a man. The veil has it’s advantages for her as well, she can say whatever she’s thinking and not have to worry about repercussions. But what I really did like is the fact that they simply talked to each other, and could once again after the whole identity/being angry at each other stage was over. The way you were talked about in “Society” could bring you up or knock you down, even now, to an extent. The two “truthful gossips” (is that an oxymoron?) agree to not smear Venetia in their social circles, so all that’s settled. They approach Christian, however, not Venetia, and Christian tries to take all the blame of the “scandal” on himself to spare Venetia because he doesn’t want her hurt. Venetia bursts in and completely undoes everything he’s said, which is mostly truth, by what she ways, also mostly truth, but denying the fact he’d been in love with her for ten years so he wouldn’t have to live with that bit of information being circulated about. She even tells them she’s pregnant, and that’s the only reason they’re married at all. I realize those two last bits should be rearranged, but it’s starting to get late and I may stop making sense (a poster I did have on my wall when I was a teenager, even though not a fanatical David Byrne fan).
It’s short, it’s an easy, entertaining read. I don’t quite understand how someone could approach a book entitled Beguiling the Beauty and expect literary fiction that will be read for generations because of its magnificence, then give it one star. It’s entertainment. It’s a person’s own fault if they keep reading a book they don’t like. It took me years to realize I didn’t have to finish a book just because I started it. Truthfully, if I feel that strong a dislike for a book, I simply stop reading it and don’t rate it at all. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean other people won’t. Look at my situation with Game of Thrones. Five times, still can’t get more than a hundred or so pages into it. Yet obviously many, many other people love it. I think I’m going through a repulsion/attraction phase at the moment with it. I don’t know why the books/series keeps coming up–I think it’s because I’m beginning to seriously question the whole issue of all the wars and fighting, and actually found a couple of articles today from Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, one entitled “Game of Thrones as History: It’s Not as Realistic As It Seems–and That’s Good,” and “Game of Thrones as Theory,” with the same subtitle. I haven’t read them yet, I was writing and reading romance novels (OK, only one) but they look interesting. I did see a call for papers for a book on Game of Thrones,” but am not sure if it’s simply adulatory (I was sure that wasn’t really a word but I’m not getting a red squiggly line, unless I’ve confused the computer) or if it is actual literary theory/criticism. Maybe we need (in case people are in need of more pages of material) spin-offs such as “Beguiling the Imp,” “Perplexing Cersei,” or, horrors, “Ravishing Joffrey.” How did I stick to the same family for that? Not a big Lannister fan, I suppose.
When I start to giggle at what I’m writing that’s generally a sign to stop and move slowly away from the keyboard. Only this one’s wireless, and I can take it with me.
And now I look at the back pages of the book and find out there’s another book, Ravishing the Heiress, which is about the whole relationship between Fitz and his wife who had been married eight years and still hadn’t consummated their marriage. And I want to read it. Because I’m curious–there’s just enough information in the first book to make you wonder about them, and then BAM there’s a book on them. It’s madness, I tell you, madness.