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wllAnother serendipitous find from the laundry room, Wicked Loving Liesis a classic bodice ripper. From 1976, by Rosemary Rogers, this historical is almost 500 pages, covers a span of several years, and is over the top in every respect.

We meet young Marisa in a Spanish convent, where she awaits the arrival of the man her father wanted her to marry.  Hating him on sight, she flees, and ends up being mistaken for a gypsy prostitute by Spanish nobles slumming at a street party. When one man fondles her, she retaliates by stealing his wallet, which only confirms her reputation. He is a privateer, and takes her back to his ship to collect what he believes he has already paid for. This of course leads to the cliche scene where the woman assumed to be a prostitute is raped, only to have her attacker learn that she was a virgin.

Dominic, her attacker, is mortified and blames her for deceiving him. He regrets the evening, telling a friend that booze and a bad mood were to blame. He arranges to return her to “her people” with generous compensation, but with the aid of an elderly crew member she returns to the ship, to stowaway and travel to her relatives in France. Dominic discovers her, and the week they spend together is both brutal and awkward. She escapes on arrival, hoping to never see him again, and he seems happy to be rid of her.

Marisa lives among plotting French aristocrats, is forced into marriage with Dominic and promptly abandoned, settles in England among depraved English aristocrats, has an affair, is captured by pirates and taken to the middle east, becomes the favorite of an eastern prince, has and loses a child, is rescued and becomes Napoleon’s mistress, heads for North America to claim her inheritance, is sold into slavery, and so on.

There is a great deal of sexual violence, some of it from her one time husband. It becomes something she simply endures, at one point shrugging and saying “What’s one more rape?” I found myself wondering why I enjoyed this book and accepted the happy ending, when I wouldn’t even continue reading Surrender to Desire after one rape scene. There are differences. In Surrender to Desire, the rapist was her husband-to-be, who saw his act as taking his property and beginning his proper subjugation of his bride. Here, the initial rape was by a drunken and depressed man who thought she was a thieving prostitute, and he tried to make what he thought were suitable amends. The narrative context, and the reality of women’s lives two hundred years ago, commented on by several characters, seems to make sexual violence appropriate.

Wicked Loving Lies is like a gritter and more realistic Gothic. In those, the heroine’s virtue is constantly in peril, but always saved at the last minute. Here, sometimes the rescue is too late, and sometimes it does not come as all. Though the continuing sexual violence is troubling, the author is to some extent exploring the darker corners of human nature – greed and lust. These are places I generally don’t like to go in my reading. I’m old enough to know how bad people can be, even myself.  I like to read to see the good in people. And yet if an author can shock me with a disturbing sexual act that both illuminates and completely changes my opinion of a character, I’m impressed.

I’m less impressed with the actual writing. There are inconsistencies, repetitions, and the odd section that seems more like notes than finished product. Like any ripping yarn, it’s best not to question the details and just ride along.

Marisa is a strong character who gets stronger over the course of the story as she endures much abuse.  At the outset she is like a Disney heroine, headstrong and naive. By the end, she is calmly planning assignations and assassinations to achieve her desires, though family wealth and connections help. Dominic starts as a strong and unsympathetic character, but the slow revealing of his background and circumstances makes him more sympathetic to the reader as it becomes apparent to the characters that there might someday be affection and trust between them. There is a more or less happily ever after ending, but it is lot of hard work to get there, and it’s clear who is the dominant partner at the end.

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