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review 2017-10-07 17:37
Review: London Calling (Mirabelle Bevan Mystery #2) by Sara Sheridan
London Calling - Sara Sheridan

 

I really enjoyed book one in the series, so I settled into the world of 1952 Brighton and Mirabelle's social circle pretty quickly, like I was rejoining a group of friends. This installment deals with more people from Mirabelle's time in the British Secret Service and with Vesta's childhood pals.  I actually liked this book better than the last, which was also good. The friendship between Mirabelle and Vesta has deepened since their first investigation (about a year in the timeline of the series). The plot was revealed as a jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces there and the ladies having to just put them in order. Forewarning: Brits in 1952 were not as PC as we are today and so a few racial and religious slurs are said by characters (not the main characters) in rather a casual way in the dialogue. For each time, Mirabelle acknowledges the slur then verbally reads said characters the riot act. Still those slurs are there.

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review 2017-06-23 18:32
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

The book was handed to me as a follow up from a quick discussion with a colleague. I decided to read it straightaway as I don’t like borrowing books from someone and keeping them for a long time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect: the title is ambiguous and the hype around the time of its release was quite substantial. All I knew is that it was by Harper Lee, the author of the famous To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t even read the blurb for the book. So, for some reason I was expecting another court room drama based on racial tensions of the American South. My advice: read the blurb.

 

Despite not reading the blurb, I was able to immerse into the book quickly enough. If you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird it won’t play to your disadvantage as this novel can stand alone on its own feet. The writing is not complex, but intelligent enough to engage the reader. The theme of the book is politically charged – I can understand why it would not be printed back in the 1950s. It is set in the 1950s and feels more autobiographical, personal rather just another novel about the history of segregation in the South. The novel is threaded with Jean Louise’s reminiscence about her childhood. These memories where everything for her as a child was black and white, right and wrong serve as juxtaposition to the her adult world where nothing is black and white and some things may seem wrong, but motives might be right. 

 

A quick overview: Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is now twenty six years old and live in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on her usual annual visit, but this time something is off. She secretly follows her father and her friend to a Citizens’ Council where one of the guests is permitted to give a racist speech. Shaken up that her father did not do anything to stop this man, Jean Louise is devastated. As she looks around her, she begins to notice increased sympathy with these kind of sentiments. She finds herself on the road of self-discovery and making a hard decision: to either stick to what she believes and leave her family or stay with her family and submit to the growing feeling of the place.

 

The novel does not answer any questions, but presents the day-to-day tensions and decisions that many American citizens had to live with in the 1950s. I would say that it is even relevant now. I found that the author’s call in this book is to reason. That reason will prevail above all. For me the book was summarised on page 270, “But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-27 01:23
Lord Johnnie -- part 4 -- Finale!

As always, be warned that here be spoilers!

 

Although I started last night's home stretch on page 247, the main issue that this section covers has to reference a quote from page 200 that I intentionally did not mention in part 3.

 

Lord Johnnie was published in 1949.  I read it for the first time in 1961 or 1962.  Kathleen E. Woodwiss's The Flame and the Flower that sparked the boom in paperback original historical romances was published in 1972.  Janice Radway's study of romance novel readers, Reading the Romance, was published in 1984.  The collection of essays by romance novelists titled Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz was published in 1992.  A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis was published in 2003.

 

The assumption is taken for granted -- and yes, it is -- that the sexy historical romance novels of the 1970s themselves evolved from a tradition of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice through the domestic novels of the late nineteenth century to the early Mills & Boon/Harlequin romances and the paperback gothic romances of the 1960s.  

 

Because, after all, the books read each other themselves and then went on to write themselves; the women writers -- and the writers of romance novels since 1972 have been predominantly women -- were, like, not really there.

 

But we were!  And we wrote the books, pulled the stories and the characters from our own experiences, including our experiences as readers and watchers of movies.

 

In her book Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels, Rachel Brownstein acknowledges a truth that too many of the analysts either consciously ignored or never bothered to learn: The Flame and the Flower was less a direct descendant of Pride and Prejudice and Little Women than it was the child of a woman who had probably watched Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and read Samuel Shellabarger's Lord Vanity.  Brownstein writes:

 

My brother is two years younger than I, and at the time I was doing the complete works of Frank Yerby he was reading everything about Napoleon.  You can interpret that in one of several ways: (1) he was marching on Moscow while I was being raped; or (2) he was the scruffy little Corsican while I was a half-breed beauty; or (3) he was the emperor while I was victim and vanquisher in succession, or even both at once.

 

We read, and then we wrote.  And it wasn't as if there weren't other women writers between Bronte and Woodiwiss.  Why is it that writers like Margaret Mitchell, Kathleen Winsor, Catherine Gaskin, Daphne du Maurier are just kind of ignored as potential influences?  Romance, adventure, excitement, action, and even history were all part and parcel of fiction written by women throughout the years preceding those early paperback blockbusters that followed The Flame and the Flower.

 

But we also read the books written by, for, and about men.  Men like Leslie Turner White and Lord Johnnie.

 

In the early 1990s I belonged to an informal group of romance writers who congregated on America Online via an email group.  The members included a few major names and a lot of unknowns (like me).  Among others were Brenda Hiatt, Alexis Harrington, Constance Walker, Rebecca Brandewyne, Kasey Michaels.  Brandewyne had exchanged letters with Frank Yerby before his death in 1991; Kasey Michaels and I laughed about the book club editions we had read clandestinely as teenagers, books that we remembered and that had shaped our writing style even from that young age.

 

Could we have been the only ones?  I sincerely doubt it.

 

But here's the thing that seems most important as a take-away from that reading history:

 

The romance part was as important to the guys as it was to the girls.

 

Oh, sure, when we got a little older and we started reading the James Bond books -- and we did read them -- there wasn't as much romance.  We read Peyton Place, too, and Candy and all the other juicy forbidden books of the 1960s.  But the foundational thread that ran through the book club books like Lord Johnnie was that love and romance mattered for everyone, without embarrassment, without shame, without giggles and snickers and blushes.  And if it mattered for the fictional characters, could it matter any less for their real-life writers and readers?

 

Which brings me back to page 200 of Lord Johnnie.

 

. . . "And heed this -- I'm not going to give you up!"

 

"But dear God -- why?"

 

"Because I love you!"  The words astonished him quite as much as they did her, for when she looked up in amazement, he grinned ruefully.

 

"'Pon my honor, that slipped out, my lady!" he confessed. "Though I've never spoken it before, it's true enough."

 

She wrung her hands.  "Love?  What does a knave like you know of love?"

 

"Very little, Leanna.  I had always imagined it to be a pleasing headiness, like rare champagne, rather than the gnawing emptiness that has ruined sleep and haunted my waking hours.  Yet unlike normal hunger, no substitute seems to appease it.  Rather than starve longer, I risked my neck to follow you to New York.  I'm not leaving it without you."

 

Pretty powerful stuff for a young teenager with dreams of being a writer.  Pretty powerful stuff coming from the hero rather than the heroine!

 

And now, back to the action, keeping in mind that Johnnie has made this confession; Leanna has not.

 

So Johnnie ends up kidnapping Leanna and taking her aboard the Able Lady.  Leanna is not happy, and she lets Johnnie know she's not.  Therefore, of course, neither is he.  But the arc of Johnnie's transformation from independent, reckless, and careless rogue to whatever he turns out to be is showing how his innate decency now has an opportunity -- before, he was merely trying to survive in a shockingly cruel world -- to develop and even flourish.  He has confessed his love, and acted shamefully upon it, but by page 251, he has his regrets.

 

He spread his hands in resignation.  "I regret it now," he confessed.  "Yet though the act itself was vicious, the impulse was sincere.  Aye.  Ridiculous as it may sound now -- I had hoped to win you."

 

"God in Heaven!" she cried.  "Your overweening temerity is insufferable!  A filthy felon and a pirate --"

 

Johnnie stiffened in anger.  "My crimes were no obstacle to our marriage, I might remind you -- wife!"

 

"Must you continually bring that up?"

 

"I must, since they are so closely allied."  He chuckled bitterly.  "In the romances I have read, the wooing precedes the wedding.  I can understand the advantages now.  But look -- let us not bicker.  'Tis agreed we both erred sadly.  Do you accept my offer?"

 

His offer is to give her some cash and ship her, one way or another, back to New York, once again rid of him . . . forever.  The course of true love being what it is, such a neat resolution proves impossible.  The Able Lady encounters a French warship, the Beausejour, and in the ensuing battle, though Johnnie's crew is victorious, his ship is damaged beyond salvage.  He takes possession of the enemy vessel, unaware that amongst its passengers is a royal courier with secret dispatches.

 

Once again, Johnnie is faced with a dilemma.  He can save himself and his crew or he can take risks to deliver the dispatches to the authorities back in New York, thus warning the British forces of an impending attack by the French.  The risks are great, and without guarantees of success.  The authorities in New York are the very officials he scammed and outwitted in his escape when he kidnapped Leanna.  Her fiancee has leveled charges of abduction against him.  He's sailing under forged letters of marque.  He has lost the Able Lady, which belonged to the Duchess of Tallentyre; the only thing he has with which to repay her is the captured French brigantine.  And of course there's Leanna, who is more friendly with his crew members than with him.

 

Remember back on page 60 when Leanna confessed that wealth was her objective, for the security it could give a woman without other resources?  Johnnie had made his own confession to her earlier (p. 46-47).  He saw wealth as the means, not the end.

 

His bitterness overflowed.  "All right -- I'll be honest.  I'll tell you something I never spoke aloud before, because, until you walked into Newgate, it was nothing but a vain, silly, hopeless wish."  He talked rapidly, as if trying to keep ahead of the restraint of reason  "I have always wanted to be a gentleman!  I've hated sordidness and poverty, hated coarseness and vulgarity.  Then, miraculously, you came into that hell-hole and married me.  In that I saw the hand of Providence.  I would have been a fool to have thrown the opportunity away."

 

He saw her eyes widen, and then to his surprise she laughed.

 

"Merciful heaven!" she cried.  "Did you expect to move in here with me?"

 

"May I remind you I have moved in!"

 

She drew a hand across her eyes, as if to wipe away a vision.  She had difficulty keeping her voice steady.

 

"Johnnie, you are a man of some intelligence.  You should realize that marrying me does not of itself make you a gentleman.  Good Lord, gentlemen are born!"

 

His features darkened under a flood of color, as he recalled Moll Coppinger's denunciation:  Gent'men don't come out o' Whitefriars an' Newgate, as 'e'll soon fin' out!

 

 

"You asked me what I wanted," he said, scowling.

Are the French dispatches his last chance perhaps at achieving his goal?  Will turning them over to the military in New York, even if he ends up hanging for all his past crimes, grant him some respect at the end, give him the legacy of a gentleman's honor?

 

He has little choice.  His prize vessel is being tailed by two other French ships, their captains unaware that the Beausejour is no longer under the command of its French captain.  Johnnie's only hope is to lead them back into British territory and engage the English fleet.  If he survives that, and can turn over the dispatches before the English hang him, and convince them that the French directives are legitimate plans to attack New York, he might stand a chance.  Not necessarily to save his own neck, but at least to save Leanna, the stalwart Rodney Yew, and his crew.

 

Once again, he puts into motion a plan, carefully thought out and even more carefully executed.  The French are defeated, but a last second complication lands Johnnie and his crew in prison, destined all to hang for his crimes.

 

He had left England known only as Johnnie the Rogue, outlaw and thief, the nameless bastard who aped his betters and had impossible dreams.  As a mutineer, he adopted the name Bloodsmythe to match the commission of the man he had defeated.  In New York, he purchased forged documents under the name Captain John Scarlett.  Thinking that he has at least partially redeemed himself, he walks into the last noose under his father's honorable name of Ballantyne.  A gentleman's name.

 

Things couldn't look worse, but of course that's not the way the romances end.  And remember, Johnnie has read them, too!  Did he read Tom Jones, the tale of a bastard with roguish ways but a good and honest heart?  Perhaps he did, and like the foundling Tom, Johnnie wins out in the end.  His old misdeeds are forgiven, Sir Clarence drops the charges against him for kidnapping Leanna, the governor grants him a captain's commission, and even the highly respected Rodney Yew has agreed to serve under him.

 

And he has, at long last, won Leanna's heart.

 

She went down on her knees before him.  "You said some wonderful things in your delirium, Johnnie -- about loving me.  Can you say them again in your right mind?"

 

He touched her cheek tenderly.  "I'm not in my right mind now, sweetheart, but I'll try."

 

Somewhere in the distance the noon gun thundered, but John Ballantyne did not hear it.

 

Johnnie is redeemed through his own actions, is granted his wish, and they all live happily ever after.

 

Why wouldn't I love a book like that?

 

But again, looking specifically at the character of Leanna, through a feminist lens and comparing her to the heroines of those post-Flame and Flower historicals, she never gives up her agency.  Happy ending and all, she's not the main character but she's much more than a trophy.  She takes the initial action to marry a condemned felon to get out of the debts she admits she incurred.  She admits to prior sexual experience without shame.  She maintains her determination to marry for financial security rather than hold out for unattainable love and romance.  She also attempts to guarantee that Johnnie keep his promise to leave her alone forever, but her attempt backfires and nullifies his end of the bargain.  She heads off to New York.  After the kidnapping, she makes a life for herself on the ship, a life that leaves out any interaction with Johnnie.  And in the end she makes up her own mind about her future.  She has the choice to stick with her plan to marry Sir Clarence Laughton; she chooses to stay with Johnnie.

 

I didn't want to be disappointed by this book, and I wasn't.  In this reading, I found details I had forgotten or never took note of, and they only served to increase my respect for the construction of an almost perfect romance.

 

Only "almost"?  Well, since I can't make Lord Johnnie come to life. . . .

 

 

 

 

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-25 21:11
Lord Johnnie -- part 3

Don't forget:  spoilers abound!

 

Lord Johnnie and his crew of would-be pirates are now on their way to New York.  I had hoped to finish the book last night, but by midnight had only reached page 246.  Realizing I couldn't finish and still get a decent night's sleep, I reached for the bookmark.

 

But it was a satisfying read, and I knew I'd finish in one more session.

 

Because I knew the story well enough after all these years, I was looking for the extra, deeper elements, and there were three of them in this section.

 

The first was the character arc of Johnnie himself.

 

In striking contrast to the character of Connie Goodwin in Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Johnnie behaves exactly as one would expect him to: sometimes impulsively but always with a clear awareness of what he's doing and why, and always in a way that makes sense to the reader.  He knows the risks he takes, knows the potential outcomes.  He even knows when he does things that are slightly out of his own character.

 

He is also very much aware of the changes in his behavior and his attitudes as he takes on new responsibilities.  All his life he had only been responsible for himself; he never trusted or relied on anyone else.  Even when plotting his escape from hanging and his companions were essential, he knew they could not be completely trusted.  After the escape, when he has gone to Leanna's home, he confesses to her that he has never been able to trust anyone.

 

Nor has he ever let himself become responsible for anyone else, requiring that someone else trust him.  That changes when he and Ames are taken by the press gang: It's his fault the old man, who had sailed with his father, has been forced into service.  It changes even more then the crew mutinies and Johnnie becomes captain, because now he is responsible for all of them.  When faced with opportunities to save himself and let the rest fend for themselves, he consciously chooses not to.

 

Part of his growth can be understood as his reaction to people around him, people who do things he has never experienced before.  In his own dog-eat-dog existence, the idea that others would come to his assistance is totally foreign.  When Mrs. Bloodsmythe comes to his rescue in a most amusing way, he's slightly astonished, but certainly grateful.

 

And that's the second of the three incidents in this part of the book that stand out.

 

The Eagle is boarded by a Lt. Ayers from another English ship, the Tiger.  Ayers is suspicious that a much younger man is claiming to be Capt. Bloodsmythe, because he had met the captain and his wife at a social event in England.  When Mrs. Bloodsmythe comes on deck, links her arm through Johnnie's, and claims him as her husband, Ayers is thrown off course (pun intended).  The captain's widow explains that the older man she was with in London was in fact her husband's cousin and scolds the lieutenant. (p. 166)

 

"Why, Lieutenant Ayers -- I'm furious with you!  Did you think that fat old walrus was my husband  For shame!"

 

Ayers reacted as if he wished the deck would suddenly give way beneath him.  "No, no, my lady!  Only --"

 

"You did! You really did!"

 

"Forgive me!" pleaded Ayers confusedly.  "I really must be getting back."  He scribbled furiously across a paper and shoved it toward Johnnie.  "There's your clearance, Captain.  I acted hastily."

 

After Ayers leaves the ship and returns to his own, Johnnie confronts the widow over her performance.

 

"By my troth, madame, you amaze me!"

 

"I fear you underestimated me, sir."

 

"Aye, I fear I did.  I'm indebted --"

 

She stiffened her spine.  "You're indebted for nothing!" she cut him off.  "The debt was mine.  If it is paid, then I am relieved. for I don't wish to be obligated to you further!"  With that she swept out of the cabin.

 

She has, in a sense, mirrored much of Johnnie's own experience, in which he thinks he's been independent, but in fact there are always others around who have their parts to play.

 

What's surprising, however, is that Johnnie doesn't question her sense of indebtedness, nor her ability to have cancelled the debt.  She was Bloodsmythe's victim, but he did not strip her of her humanity or her agency.  Neither did author White.

 

Thus saved from discovery, Johnnie captains the crew to New York, where he faces another potential mutiny when they learn they're not going to the tropical islands.  In order to dispose of the ship and acquire another better suited to his plans, he soon learns there is only one person in the burgeoning city of some sixteen thousand souls  who can help him.  One person controls the trade in ships, some directly and some indirectly, but there is no route to buying a vessel but through the hands of Reggie, the Duchess of Tallentyre.

 

She's a more than a little scandalous businesswoman in her fifties, and as it turns out she has just the ship Johnnie needs, the Able Lady.  She also knows everyone who is anyone in the city and has connections to everyone else.

 

It never occurred to me, back in 1961 or '62, to question that a woman would control the shipping trade in colonial New York.  Almost exactly two hundred years after the story's setting, women faced all kinds of obstacles in their everyday lies that I also wasn't aware of.  The inability of a married woman to get credit in her own name, for example. 

 

The women in the popular culture of my time weren't like the Duchess of Tallentyre.  Laura Petrie, Harriet Nelson, Donna Stone, and Lucy Ricardo were not assertive and strong like Reggie.  If they managed their families -- and their men -- it was more through manipulation than partnership or independent agency.  In contrast to wife and mother Laura Petrie, Sally Rogers was less the successful working woman and more the frustrated husband-hunter, because wife-and motherhood were the desired ends.

 

But I had abandoned television for the world of books, so I was much more impressed, even subconsciously, by someone like the Duchess than by Laura Petrie.  Women, even imaginary women created in a man's mind in 1949, could do things.

 

Of course, since Reggie knows everyone, Johnnie can't resist asking her about Leanna, whom he knows left Portsmouth the same time as he, headed also for New York.  Well, Reggie doesn't know her, but she knows how to find out. 

 

The reunion of husband and reluctant wife doesn't go well, and it is complicated further by revelations of Johnnie's true identity.  Another of his risky plans, made this time with the assistance of the Duchess of Tallentyre and unwitting collusion of Lord Chauncey Eden, the Governor of New York, results in his springing his crew from prison and escaping New York harbor in the Able Lady just a cannonball's breadth ahead of the pursuing English.  But the more complex his life becomes, the more easily it's further complicated by the actions of others over whom he has no control -- and that includes himself.

 

Having found Leanna again he's determined not to lose her again, so he kidnaps her on the justification that she is, after all, his lawful wife.  But once aboard the Able Lady, he also discovers he is once more saddled with the competent but just a little to righteous Lt. Rodney Yew.  Though his scheme to release the crew included freedom for Yew, the lieutenant himself didn't trust Johnnie.  (p. 245)

 

"Be good enough to explain why you did not go ashore when I so ordered?"

 

"I considered it an ill-timed jest," Yew snapped.

 

Johnnie's smile was cold.  "Jest, eh?"  Then he detailed exactly what had happened between  the Governor and himself relative to Yew.  "Does that still strike you as a jest, Mr. Yew?" he concluded.

 

Yew stared at him incredulously.  "By the powers, sir, I owe you an apology!"

 

"That doesn't better your plight," Johnnie said dryly.

 

To his amazement, Rodney Yew laughed, albeit a trifle bitterly.

 

"Aye, true enough.  'Twould seem the jest was one of Fate's.  Yet, I think you'll grant I cannot be censured for not anticipating such magnanimity from a man of your reputation, sir!"

 

Johnnie had to grin.  "In a word -- you didn't expect fairness from the Devil?"

 

Yew shrugged.  "I repeat what I said once before, sir.  You pass all understanding."

 

 

With a loyal crew, a sleek ship, and a fair wind, Johnnie should have it made.  Leanna is in her cabin, probably not too happy, but he's confident she'll come 'round. 

 

He just doesn't know there are 62 more pages. . .

 

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text 2017-05-24 21:16
Lord Johnnie -- part 2

This is an analysis, not an advertisement, so some of the spoilers might not be hidden.  Be warned, therefore, if you haven't read the book!

 

I reached page 157 last night at midnight, so both the time and the 100 pages read seemed an appropriate stopping point.

 

To pick up where we left off, Johnnie's "other plans" included escape from Tyburn and his own hanging.  After an exciting chase through the filthy streets of 1760 London, he is once again safe and sound in the depths of the Whitefriars slum, surrounded by his outlaw friends.  He resolves, however, to quit England altogether.  He has the substantial spoils of a stagecoach robbery as his seed money to begin a new life.

 

He bids farewell to the grasping Moll Coppinger, but can't resist following up on the information he snagged from the pocket of his highborn "wife," Leanna Somerset.  Needless to say, she is more than a bit surprised to see him alive; his failure to die on the gallows has left her with all her debts and with a husband she doesn't want! 

 

Nonetheless she agrees to spend a single night with Johnnie, on his promise to depart and never trouble her again.

 

During the course of their romantic evening and the following morning, both Leanna and Johnnie divulge some of their personal history to each other.  Johnnie claims to be the bastard son of a Scottish sea captain who died at sea and an English lady-in-waiting to the French court who died in childbirth.  Orphaned and illegitimate, he was raised by apparently unforgiving relatives who at least gave him an education.  The bastard son of nobility is a common theme in popular literature, so this was no great surprise.  (See The Bastard Hero in the Novel, by Margaret B. Goscilo.)

 

I clearly remembered Johnnie's background from all my previous readings, but I had forgotten Leanna's.  Given my interest in how the female characters were portrayed, I was actually a bit surprised by the history, though it wasn't much,  L. T. White had provided.

 

Johnnie confronts Leanna with his awareness that she isn't a virgin and she's not ashamed to admit it. 

(spoiler show)

She's also pragmatic and determined not to be a victim of circumstances.

 

"Love does not enter into the question of marriage for a woman of my position," she said recklessly.  "Once upon a time, I had ideals and romantic dreams, but that's over.  I've got to have security, and that means wealth.  Love has nothing to do with it.  My parents died leaving me nothing but a good name -- not much of a dowry in these competitive times.  I'm twenty-three now, and Sir Clarence is my last chance.  I'm going to get him regardless of obstacles."

 

But in this discussion of backgrounds, Leanna asks Johnnie if he ever tried to find out any more about his parents, especially about his father who was reportedly lost at sea.  He admits he never did.

 

And so they part after their wedding night, vowing never to see each other again.  Well, you can imagine how well that works out.

 

After another brief but disastrous encounter with Moll Coppinger, Johnnie sets out for Portsmouth, where he books passage on a ship bound for Spain.  He uses the time before his ship sails to ask around the bustling seaport city for anyone who might remember the man he believed was his father.  He meets an old seaman who in fact served under the captain and learns much about his own heritage.

 

Unfortunately, the now scorned and jealous Moll is still on the scene, and this time she exacts a terrible revenge:  Johnnie and the old sailor Ames fall into the hands of a press gang.  They're delivered to The Eagle, where another seaman, Irishman Ben Bottle, joins them on the "wallowin' ol' sea bitch."  Her captain is a Charles Laughton-esque tyrant named Bloodsmythe. Several chapters of the hellish life at sea follow.

 

Again, however, there's a surprising element: Captain Bloodsmythe's wife.  She's obviously a victim of the same kind of horrible abuse the captain doles out to the crew.  Old Bloody, as he's referred to, forces her to watch as a crew member is flogged, and Johnnie can tell the situation is not at all normal.  But of course there's nothing he can do, at least at the moment.

 

At the age of 13 or 14, I knew very little about what we'd call domestic violence.  I certainly recognized the wrongness of the abuse Bloodsmythe inflicted upon his wife.  But at the time I read this book the first time, I had no context for her response, which is another reason Lord Johnnie goes into My Personal Canon.

 

In the fine tradition of ships with savage captains, The Eagle's crew mutinies, led by none other than Lord Johnnie.  After a brief duel, Johnnie defeats the odious Bloodsmythe and literally throws him overboard.  The wife runs to the rail and, thinking she is going to follow her husband, Johnnie goes after her.  But she doesn't jump; she just watches until her husband's body disappears in the ship's wake.

 

Later, when Johnnie goes to her cabin to apologize, she expresses in no uncertain terms her loathing for the man she was married to and is finally freed from.  Her detailed description of his sexual abuse -- written by a man in the late 1940s -- brought to mind the lack of such detail in Barbara Michaels's Ammie, Come Home -- written by a woman in the 1960s.

 

On this current re-read of Lord Johnnie I didn't remember the brief mention of Leanna Somerset's sexual history from my first reading or even from any subsequent one, but Mrs. Bloodsmythe's was always clear in my mind.  It had made that much of an impression with me way more than 50 years ago.

 

So Johnnie is settling into his new role as captain, well aware of the risks he has taken and is taking.  He is a mutineer, though not yet a pirate.  Though most of the crew is with him, there are a few who are not.  He's not entirely comfortable with the burden of responsibility that comes with his captaincy, but Old Ames, who served under his father, reminds him often enough that the mantle comes naturally.

 

Two conundrums faced him as I glanced at the clock and saw it was nearing midnight.  He needs to keep the crew's only skilled navigator on board, but Lt. Rodney Yew is a loyal Englishman who wants no part of mutiny and has requested to be put ashore at the first possible opportunity.  On the other hand, Mrs. Bloodsmythe has refused to leave the ship; she has neither family nor friends in England and has no desire to return there.

 

Though many of the mutineers want to head for the Indies, where they hope to trade the ungainly Eagle and her cargo of military supplies for a more pirate-y vessel, Johnnie strikes a deal with the stubborn but honorable Rodney Yew:  He'll take the ship and her cargo to New York to the benefit of the English troops stationed there, in exchange for Yew's navigational services.  It's not what Johnnie wants to do, and it's not what his crew wants, but it's a necessity.

 

I reached for a bookmark and closed the book.  In the few minutes of wakefulness after turning out the light, I thought about the three women thus far introduced and how their sexuality was handled (bad pun) in the context of male authorship and expected male readership.  This is Johnnie's story, not Leanna's, not Mrs. Bloodsmythe's, yet there is a distinctly non-salacious acceptance of the women's sexuality that doesn't diminish Johnnie's underlying respect for them as human beings with agency.

 

In the early 1990s, when the whole internet thing and chat groups and email discussions were a pretty new phenomenon, I learned that I wasn't the only writer of historical romances who had grown up with these Dollar Book Club swashbucklers.  We women who had read Yerby and Schoonover and Westcott absorbed the stories and the characters that our fathers had read -- and perhaps our mothers, too! -- but they seemed to have been left out of the equation.  Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers and Rebecca Brandewyne were supposedly the inheritors of the feminine tradition of Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth and Marie Corelli and Ann Radcliffe.

 

We weren't.  Most of us had never read the Victorian and early 20th century writers of women's fiction.  But we had read Sabatini and Shellabarger.  We had seen the movies.  We knew what we were doing.

 

So did Lord Johnnie.  And Leanna.  And Mrs. Bloodsmythe.

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