Archive | October 2020

RRR: Marriage by Decree

Can a man really be forced into marriage? This is a key question posed in Marriage by Decree, the Signet Regency Romance by Ellen Fitzgerald. Published in 1988 and part of Signet’s Romantic Interludes, this is only one of a few that Fitzgerald wrote for Signet. The story wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t find it to be a keeper, as the magic just wasn’t there.

Back to the question: Can a man, or a woman, for that matter, be forced into marriage? Certainly in some cultures, yes. In the Britain of the Regency Era, though, it was a lot easier for a man to escape an unwanted marriage than a woman. They simply had more resources, especially legal ones, to avoid it. However, this isn’t really what the author refers to in the story. What she’s talking about is the nature of manhood, primarily man’s purposeful pursuance of romance. Basically, it works like this: The man pursues, the women succumb. Don’t believe me as now women are so liberated? Women, try chasing and winning a man who doesn’t want you. Time and time again, you will find it just doesn’t work, but with the tables reversed, women often give in and/or are won over and it all works splendidly. And that is actually very romantic.

In Marriage by Decree, two people are decreed by royalty, aka, the government, to get married. Scandal being the reason. Alice Osborne, our heroine, is an American this time, and not too fond of the British due to the Revolutionary War and its following skirmishes and battles. Alice’s father, Charles, is more optimistic about improving relations between the two countries, and has agreed to be a diplomat to London at the request of the President, who in 1815 would have been James Madison. As they travel by ship to England, Alice is openly scornful of anyone on the ship who looks as if they might be a British soldier.

Deep down, though, Alice is a good soul, and during a storm on the sea, saves one of those soldiers from being washed overboard. This part I thought could have used more description. Help came too quickly, though the way some women can scream, would definitely garner immediate attention. At any rate, despite holding him fast and screaming, Alice doesn’t do much, it’s one of the sailors who gets the solider below deck. Despite that fact, tall, dark, and handsome Robert Saint-Aubyn is overwhelmed with gratitude for the pretty red-headed eighteen-year-old. The lesson, here, ladies is to assist handsome men when they are in dire need as they will be extremely grateful and will perhaps even want to marry you.

Despite what would normally be a turning point for someone, Alice is still scornful of Robert, though attracted. Definitely attracted. Sadly, he already has a fiancee, something Alice’s friend Phoebe bemoans, as she has been instantly smitten. When they arrive in England, Alice and Phoebe part ways, as Phoebe’s going to live in Scotland. The Osbornes settle in London and Alice is able to meet Richard’s fiancee, Janet. At first, Janet seems quite helpful to the women who saved her fiancee’s life, but the “help” soon grates on Alice, who as an American is used to more freedom.

Janet sends a harridan of a woman to be a companion to Alice, but the woman proves to be overly strict, causing Alice to react poorly, leaving the house secretively to meet men she barely knows, much to her father’s horror. Of course he responds by making her prison even tighter around her. It is not without reason that Alice should have a chaperone everywhere she goes, the streets of London aren’t always safe, men do have sinister motives, and young women are very naive. However, Alice is more naive than most, and that grated on me during the story. She is so loathing of Britain in the beginning, yet how quickly a handsome stranger persuades her throw caution to the winds.

Soon Alice finds herself in truly dire straights. The handsome fiend, a womanizer named Lord Winston, helps her escape her house in the dead of night and take her hours away to the whorehouse of a French emigre. Alice’s stupidity doesn’t end there: She allows the Lord to ply her with enough alcohol to make her drunk and lead her upstairs to “rest.”

In comes our hero, Robert, who has not forgotten Alice and keeps talking about her life-saving heroics to Janet, who is obviously quite jealous by this time. Turns out Lord Winston is a friend of Janet’s and they have both plotted together to ruin Alice. Winston will sleep with Alice and leave her, allowing her to fall out of all good society. When Robert hears of this he goes into knight errant mode and immediately takes off to rescue Alice, with barely a thought for Janet in the process. After the rescue, the pair find it slow-going to get back to London and have to stop at an inn at which there is only one room left. When Robert drops her at home, the servants hear him speaking of their adventures and scandal ensues. So much so that the Prince Regent himself, a friend of Robert’s, decrees that Robert and Alice must marry even though they did not sleep together. Janet leaves Robert and he caves, agreeing to marry Alice.

At first it seems as if the two may make the best of things with this unwanted marriage, but after arriving at Robert’s estate called The Towers (Wives and Daughters! So have to read that again), he takes off for days, deserting his new bride. Alice despairs, thinking she will never find happiness with a man who was forced to marry her. But her servant wisely says that no man can truly be forced into marriage. On some level, Robert did in fact want to marry her. Robert himself struggles with this reality. He finds himself needing some time to get over Janet, who has stupidly eloped with Lord Winston, but when he returns is resolute, and also horrified to find that Alice has been riding out with Tim, one of the stable hands–not romantically, of course, but servants will talk. He is at once afraid that all women are like Janet, but soon finds that Alice wants to be true to him, it’s just that she needs some help.

Here’s a lesson for the men: It’s not logical and if they try, women can fight against the mentality, but if a women doesn’t have some kind of connection with her man for a few days, she may become anxious. This is entirely due to the nature of women. We want to please men and we want reassurance we are accepted. If we don’t think we’re accepted, we may determine to find out how to get accepted, to be pleasing, change our clothes, or hair, even behavior. We really are very anxious to please. A women who doesn’t hear from her partner in a few days will be much, much more anxious than a man will. A man will logically think she’s just busy. A woman will illogically think there must be something wrong. Men in relationships, help yourselves out here: Don’t leave your woman hanging for too long. Connect with her as much as you can and reassure her that she is the one you want. Yeah, it’s annoying, but it will save you so much time and energy in the long run.

This illogical anxiety is Alice’s state of mind and she just doesn’t have the maturity to realize it for what it is. Her servant helps her the most by telling her that Robert wouldn’t have married her if he hadn’t wanted to do it. Neither prince or country could make him. Robert comes back and proves that this is true. He soundly beds his wife and makes her incandescently happy.

The last half of the story I didn’t find super interesting. The villainess Janet rises again, being as she’s one of those people who think if they aren’t happy, no one should be happy, and it just gets over the top, what with Alice getting kidnapped by an angry ex-soldier and held hostage. It was just too, too much, although the contemplating of the mood between America and Britain at the time I did find interesting. It’s not something we think a lot about today. Not a bad story, not bad writing, but forgettable. Nothing really stood out about it to me, except the intriguing question from above.

We are in different times today, and in many countries it’s not likely one would be forced into marriage. I think it likely few of either sex today would allow themselves to be forced into a marriage they didn’t want. Men sometimes say that women trap them into marriage by getting pregnant, but I think it’s just something they say to avoid the fact it was their choice to sleep with the woman and also their choice to marry her. It’s takes both a man and a woman to make a baby. It just does, and it’s silly to blame another person for choices one freely makes. So, can a man be forced into marriage? Can a woman? Do babies force marriage? It is a true kindness and goodness to a child if his parents are married, but our current society doesn’t make it mandatory. I think the answer is that no, neither sex is forced, not these days. If they get married, it’s because on some level they want to either be married to that person, or to just be married.

One more thing for women: Women’s anxiety over her man. It’s a thing, we do have this, but if you are married to a good man, or even a bad one, remember that he chose to do it. He chose you instead of all the others out there. There should be some security in that. And often if he’s not in touch or not around much, he truly is busy. He’s dealing with work or projects he has to get done. Men, I would like to say the reverse is true, but it’s not a great sign if your woman is not in touch with you. Working women are in fact forced into single focus man mode while on the job, so that’s an exception there, but otherwise it’s generally not in the nature of a woman to stay disconnected from you. We crave those connections constantly.

Alright, and that’s my Regency Romance advice for today! What do you think? Do you think that’s true about men and women or am I just spinning yarns of worlds here? Too many romances going to my head, perhaps?

Up next week, a review of Missing: The Other Side, a ghostly tale perfect for Halloween.

Melting Me Softly: Age Is Just a Number

Rom-Coms can really be so fun. I enjoyed watching this one, though I think it was a tad slow to binge watch. Melting Me Softly stars the ever handsome Ji Chang Wook (The K2), and Won Jin A. The plot is science fiction, but the genre is definitely romantic comedy. Ji really impressed me this time with his acting–he’s definitely getting better over time, and he had great chemistry with Won, who’s a petite firecracker with a really cool, low voice. She reminds me a bit of So Ye Ji from Lawless Lawyer and Save Me.

Melting Me Softly is about cryogenics. Ji plays Ma Dong Chan, a top-of-his-game production director, who in 1999 decides to do an experiment in freezing people for his hit show. Won plays Go Mi Ran, a college student who works part-time doing crazy stunts for the same show. Mi Ran agrees to be frozen with Dong Chan for a total of two hours, and the production assistants will get it all on camera. Due to a mishap, the two end up being frozen not for two hours, but for twenty years!

I really enjoyed watching this despite the often slow pace. It was so fun to revisit the 90s and many parts were funny, with both over-the-top scene chewing and deadpan humor. Some of the jokes were quick one-liners I almost missed. It was hilarious watching the leads wake up in 2019 and encounter their friends and relatives, now all twenty years older.

At the beginning, Dong Chan is 32 and Mi Ran, 24, so when they end up in 2019 they are technically 52 and 44. Much fun is made of this, as both the leads and people around them decide to treat them as their past age or their technical age, depending on the circumstances. Many of the supporting characters are just as they were in 1999, just a bit grayer and wrinklier, but some have become even more outlandish. Some of the best comedy comes from this, and the four standouts were: Lim Won Hee (You’re All Surrounded) as Dong Chan’s subordinate, who still sports longish hair and bites his nails; Jeon Su Kyeong (Devilish Charm) as Dong Chan’s now alcoholic younger sister; Kim Won Hae, who is a Kdrama staple, as Dong Chan’s younger brother (Kim also plays their dad, who in 2019 has passed away. Dong Chan keeps mistaking his younger, now older brother for his dad); and, finally, Shim Hyung Tak (My Sassy Girl), who plays Mi Ran’s weirdo ex-boyfriend who still has a thing for her twenty years later. Shim chomped the scenery five times over and gave that crazy character his own solar system.

This show stuck pretty close to rom-com territory. There’s a couple of cartoonish villains, but not a lot of action as a whole. Most of the plot centered around relationships, which was a way to use the jump in time well. To heat up the romance, the bane of being frozen is that the leads’ body temperatures need to stay at 31.7 degrees Celsius or about 89 degrees Fahrenheit. The “steamiest” scene is a cold shower makeout session, and much of the last half of the show is spent with the doctors and scientists trying to figure out how the two can live and love normally. Good foreshadowing for the ending, and I give the writer props for working it in so well. We know it’s coming, we know it’s coming, and then it happens.

The best part of the show is that it reinforces the idea that age is just a number. Dong Chan is still given respect even though he looks 32 not 52, and Mi Ran considers herself 24 or 44 depending on her mood, and no one much cares because she looks young and beautiful. The friends and relatives they knew in 1999 still have the same hearts and essential cores in 2019, and it’s cool to see that the siblings who are all now technically older still need their older brother or sister. Vitality and goodness of heart as being more important than age is constantly reinforced, as well as the idea that no matter how old you are, you can always improve and change for the better. This is also a great show for those who are thinking being frozen would be a good thing. Living out one’s life in real time is something that one can’t get back, should one choose to skip it by getting frozen. The twenty years missed still hang over the couple, and I think their share in that sorrow is really what pulls the two together into a romance. No one else on earth knows what they are going through.

My next Kdrama review will be a weird one: Missing: The Other Side. It’s a creepy, supernatural one, so I’m not sure I’ll make through the whole thing, but we’ll see. One episode in, and it’s intriguing simply because I have no idea what’s going on. Look for that review in a few weeks.

Fall Reading List: 2020

With the cooling weather, fall is a great time to curl up with a hot drink and a book. Okay, who am I fooling, I do that all the time, no matter the season. Here are some of the books I plan to read this fall.

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. Sadly, I didn’t get to read this classic this summer, so fall it will be. It’s one of my favorite reads and a great adventure story.

Partners of the Heart by Vivien T. Thomas. My mom has been bugging me to read this book for a few years, now, and finally I’m getting around to it. It’s about cardiac surgery and the two men who pioneered the program at Johns Hopkins University.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Nothing like a du Maurier story, but add time travel and I’m sold!

Marriage by Decree by Ellen Fitzgerald. I am still wading through the tacky Regency romances. In this one, the heroine is American.

Restaurant to Another World, Book 1 by Junpei Inuzuka. Sometimes I do peruse the Manga shelves at my local bookstore. This one sounds promising and is also written as an actual novel. The chapter titles are all food dishes, so I will make sure to have snacks near me when reading it.

The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester. This is a second read for me, and tells the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be. It’s one of those books that many would find boring, but I find fascinating and have wanted to read it again for some time.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. A retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, a German fairy tale in the Grimm collection. I really like modern versions of fairy tales, especially if they are done well. One of my favorites is Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce, a retelling of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.

Heart of India series by Linda Chaikin. Starting with the book Silk, as a teenager I could not put this series down. It’s got romance and adventure galore and is set in the late 1700s. Somehow this series avoided being cookie cutter Christian fiction, an amazing feat in its own right.

This isn’t a full list, as I’ll likely pick up some Sherlock Holmes or Poe–’tis the season, after all. And always, always, am I finding new stories to read every day.

Those D’Urbervilles: A Review of Tess of the…

Thomas Hardy just may be my new favorite writer. Somehow I missed reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles in school and am sorely sorry I did. What a crazy, wonderful book. There’s much to love and hate about the story and that’s kind of why I like it–Great literature often produces polarizing views and opinions.

Because Hardy is writing in a time of more censor in art and entertainment, the scenes regarding the rape were unclear to me. Not that I wanted to read violence or anything, it’s just he wrote it in a way that even Tess herself didn’t understand she was raped. But Hardy makes it very clear she doesn’t like Alex D’Urberville, especially in the last part of the story. More spoilers ahead.

Tess is a sad, sad story, but it’s not a boring sad story: It ends with a cathartic, pathetic climax of both horror and ecstasy. I do not like the story itself, nor many of the characters, but it reminded me of another much hailed horrible story: The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald. Both of these books are somewhat the horrors of their times on display, written in gorgeous prose. Most of the enjoyment is in the writing itself, but as with Gatsby, there’s much to learn from Tess about the times in which she lived.

Again, we come to the problem of a woman in being young and beautiful. Here, my sympathy is roused, as Tess faces not only a rapist who impregnates her, but who, after encountering her later on continues stalking and pursuing her. Because she is poor and her husband who could have helped her has abandoned her, she has little defense against him. The story is intended to show how hypocritical society is towards young women who have been wronged in this way. The rape part aside for a brief moment, even still today a woman that sleeps around is reviled, where a man that does the same is often lifted up as having many conquests. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, but it has largely to do with the differences between the sexes, and there are many.

This is shown a bit in the story: Tess and three of her friends all are in love with Angel, our almost hero. One gets the impression that at least her friends would have all been perfectly happy to be in a harem with Angel. Maybe they think it would be better than nothing. Tess herself seems genuinely sad for them that they don’t get the desire of their heart. They also are genuinely happy that Angel chooses her. This is may be a bit of a fantastical view of women from a man’s point of view, but it is true that at least some women don’t seem to mind sharing a man. Men seem far less likely to agree to share their woman with another man, and a man who would, would automatically go down a few notches in a woman’s perspective of him.

I think the dichotomy between the sexes comes largely due to the fact that men are and should be the pursuers when it comes to romance. It just doesn’t work out when the woman is the one doing the pursuing, and that is the implication that comes to mind when we hear of a women having many sexual partners.

However, this is not our dear, beautiful Tess! In this story, Tess is an innocent teenager who has been raped. Society should have compassion on her; sadly, in those times, it often did not. Hardy doesn’t really show society’s rejection of Tess in full force. He shows it through one man: Angel Clare. Like his name, Angel is a fanciful head-in-the-clouds kind of person. He doesn’t take the religion of his parents seriously, has the luxury of being well off enough to have time to think and dabble in farming, considering making it his occupation. Being able to study, think, and write is really a form of wealth all on its own. Tess is quite a thinker herself, but she has to do it while doing physical labor or while making treks of miles and miles across Wessex, Hardy’s fictional English county.

Angel Clare is essentially modern society at the time, throwing off religion and taking up fanciful views of the people who work the land. He is a man who imagines himself to be very liberal minded, but when it comes down to it, it is the Christian love and forgiveness that would have served him far better than any liberal attitudes. Not that Tess really has anything to forgive. It was so, so hard to read the chapter when they finally got married and on their wedding night she still hadn’t told him that she wasn’t a virgin, when lo and behold, he suddenly brings up the topic. Angel, too, is no virgin, having had a fling one night. He is anxious that Tess would forgive him for this and her soul soars because she, too, has a similar sin to confess, and is thrilled thinking they will both forgive each other and that will be the end of the matter.

But as will people who profess to be tolerant, often one finds they are not. So it is with Angel. He rejects her almost instantly. Does he understand she’s been raped? Does society understand this about the incident? Tess’s mother certainly does, but she seems to be the only one. Tess is so in love with Angel, that she agrees to be a martyr, to take whatever punishment he meets out. Hardy says she would have been far better to act more the emotional women, to beg and plead at his feet, as then he would have been won over and relented. Hardy is referring to the fact that men are moved by women’s genuine tears; and to their credit, they so often are. We love that about men. Hardy also states that Angel’s father who is a preacher and very religious is far more full of forgiveness than the irreligious son. It is true that society so often promotes the judgmental church, that it forgets the church is also and much more so about forgiveness and love, and being able to start over no matter what–all things are possible with God.

Tess’s behavior in willingly letting Angel walk all over here is pathetic, but it comes from an unstable mind: It is unclear in the book until the end that Tess understands that what Alex did to her was wrong, though she is afraid of him and talks about doing him harm if he keeps showing up in her life. It is also clear that Angel’s rejection is merely a picture of society’s rejection of her. At this time Tess would be perfectly happy to die at Angel’s hand as punishment for her sin. This foreshadows her death at the hand of society for another, worse, sin. Tess really has no outlet for sharing her sorrows, for the guilt of the rape is placed on herself, i.e., she never should have put herself in that vulnerable position. While it’s true that sometimes young women don’t use common sense in dress and behavior that encourages unwanted attention, I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for a man raping them. Even Alex continually says it’s her fault for being so attractive! Is this belief genuine, from Alex, from society, and from Angel? It seems to me a good way not to deal with the actual problem: Alex D’urberville is a dangerous predator who should be tried and charged.

Happily, Angel eventually wakes up from his stupidity, realizing a year or more later that he does love Tess and does forgive her. Sadly, there still is little self-reflection on his own sin. Aside from his confession on their wedding night–a confession in which there was no question in his mind that Tess would forgive him–he thinks little of it. What hypocrites we humans are: We commit the same sin (though I wouldn’t call it a sin on Tess’s part) and ignore it in ourselves, yet see it as unforgivable in other people.

Angel and Tess are reunited for a few good nights of passion, but this comes at a cost: Tess murders Alex D’Urberville. Because Angel takes so long coming back to her, and she and her family are so down on their luck, Tess becomes prey once again for Alex. Although he is loathsome, when someone wants to step in and provide for you and your family that are on the brink homelessness and starvation, that’s hard to turn down. She also believes his lies that her husband will never come back to her, and it is those lies that actually cause her to stab Alex.

The story ends rather epically in the early morning as Tess and Angel are fleeing cross country. They happen upon Stonehenge and decide to rest there, only to be surrounded by the police. As before, Tess is only too happy to be taken away to be tried and executed for her sin. I think Hardy is making it very difficult for society at the time to swallow such a thing as the criminal so eager to be brought to justice. The implication in this is that even in committing murder, Tess did nothing wrong. Again, Christian love, forgiveness, and understanding from the beginning would have been far better, as would have justice against the true villain, Alex, but then we wouldn’t have a story.

For a time, Hardy has Alex himself reform and take up religion, but it is only a sham, for the moment he sees Tess again, he drops God like a hot potato, and picks up his sin of wrongfully pursuing her once again. Alex justifies this by claiming to love her and also to want to take care of her and provide for her, but it’s pretty clear all he’s going by is lust.

What the significance is with the D’Urberville family history in the story, I’m still not sure. Tess is Tess Durbeyfeld, and her family was at one time the powerful D’Urberville tribe, of which her very distant cousin, Alex, is one of the last. The family estates and cemetery plots appear to be all over the county. Tess’s father is a drunken lout, who has no real keening for work. He’s a dreamer and when he finds out that his family was rich long, long ago, he fancies that somehow riches will find his family again, as if by magic. He and his wife send their eldest daughter, Tess, out in search of the leftover D’Urbervilles, putting her in Alex’s way, and there the story begins. So far has the family fallen, that their last remaining heir is a rapist, and Tess’s branch of the family poverty stricken. It’s all great, great stuff, especially Angel’s profession not to care for lofty families, but then being impressed that Tess is a D’Urberville. Maybe the significance is, again, just the ironies involved, or Angel’s inconsistency. It’s easy to forget that he, too, is very young–maybe 25?

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the wonderful writing, and will definitely be reading it again at some point. I take it back what I said about good looking people: It can be a curse for them, just as much as ugly looks can be a kind of curse for others. The good news is that we don’t have to live our lives based on such shallow things. We can choose to rise above them, and with God’s help, succeed. This love and charity Hardy showed best between Tess and her friends. They were only too happy for each other’s success in romance, held no grudges against each other, and continued being friends and giving genuine help, despite their unfortunate fixation on Angel Clare. As for this idea that only women are held accountable when it comes to sex, it’s hard to deny that even today, this is still somewhat true. It may be largely due to the fact that women alone can get pregnant, a nine-month visibility of the sin. Happily today, rape is considered wrong and not the women’s fault, though that’s muddied a bit by some women falsely accusing men of the crime and the feminist push to perceive all men as rapists.

Again, we don’t have to live this way. All women are not harlots trying to trap men and all men are not rapists trying to abuse women. I for one would be happy to see the movements of the sexual revolution and feminism die the agonizing deaths they well deserve. Both philosophies are a stain on humanity and have caused so much grief, sorrow, and torment, especially for women. Nowadays, some men have been so estranged from women that they will gleefully talk about sleeping with them whenever they feel like it, but never about protecting, providing, or loving them. With glee, these men joke about lonely cat ladies, while they eagerly pile on wealth for themselves and themselves alone. Many women do the same, neither caring for or nurturing the men they sleep with, and only wanting their money, quickly divorcing them for the alimony at the first chance they get. Both attitudes keep the cycle of war between the sexes spinning at an impressive rate. How did we get here?

I say, again, we don’t have to live this way. We can choose to marry, to settle down, to have children and family, to have lives full of love and meaning. We can rise above past hurts and still love and care for the opposite sex. Even if for some reason we can’t marry or can’t have kids, we can support those who can, and encourage their prosperity. Families, not single, selfish, lonely people, are the true building blocks of a thriving society. Tess clearly shows that all of Angel’s lofty ideas are but nought if he has not love and charity. This, for me, was the true lesson of the story.