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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 2017-05-26 19:54
DNF at 6%
[ [ [ A Vision of Lucy (Rocky Creek Romance #03) [ A VISION OF LUCY (ROCKY CREEK ROMANCE #03) ] By Brownley, Margaret ( Author )Jun-28-2011 Paperback - Margaret Brownley

It's very early in the book to DNF, but the beginning was too far-fetched and well inane for me to be interested in picking it up again. Sucks because I really liked the previous book in the series and had high hopes for this one being good as well. Off to the donation pile.

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text 2017-05-26 18:55
Friday Reads - Summer Holiday Weekend Part I
After the Storm: A Kate Burkholder Novel - Linda Castillo
Her Last Breath - Linda Castillo
Among the Wicked: A Kate Burkholder Novel - Linda Castillo
Death by Tiara (A Jaine Austen Mystery) - Laura Levine
Egg Drop Dead - Laura Childs
Purl Up and Die (A Knitting Mystery) - Maggie Sefton
Nothing but Trouble - Susan May Warren
Diary of an Accidental Wallflower - Jennifer McQuiston

I feel like it has been a long time since I did a Friday Reads post. I hope all my fellow US'ians have a safe holiday weekend. I hope my British neighbors have a safe bank holiday weekend. We got caught in a heat wave (in the 80s come afternoon time) so I broke out the kiddie pool; forecast states we have one more beautiful summer day, then the rain and lower temps are coming by the end of the weekend. I am spending most of my weekend with books and a long walk in the Thetford Forest with the family before the rain comes.

 

Here is what I hope to read over the weekend/the final week in May.

 

1. After the Storm by Linda Castillo

2. Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo 

3. Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo

      I picked these three books from the library. They're from the Kate Burkholder series (Amish police procedurals). I've wanted to try this series for a while now. These books are from later in the series.

 

4. Death by Tiara by Laura Levine

5. Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs

6. Purl Up and Die by Maggie Sefton

        Another bunch from the library, this time in really cute cozy mystery flavor. The first is from the Jaine Austen series, and the name of the series was enough for me to take it off the shelf. I tried one book from Laura Childs before (from that tea shop mystery series) and DNF'ed it, so I don't have much expectation for this one (from the Cackleberry Club series). The last one's titled just made me laugh.

 

7. Nothing But Trouble by Susan May Warren

           Borrowed this one from OverDrive because I kept getting recommended it (OD has the first three books in the series). I'm at the 62% mark and really liking it; PJ is not one of those perfect model of a Christian, but she is a Christian with good intentions and a good heart. The writing is different from a lot of Christian fiction without being profane. I am looking forward to book two and three.

 

8. Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuinston

          My BL-opoly pick which makes it a priority. New to me author, but I loved the interviews she did for the Smart Podcast, Trashy Books podcast - she talked about her work at the CDC in general and her work in Africa dealing with Ebola outbreak specifically....along with her weekend job writing historical romances.

 

 

 

 

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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 23:23
Booklikes-opoly (Turn #10)
Diary of an Accidental Wallflower - Jennifer McQuiston

So far my May plays in the game are few and far between. But I hope to finish at least one more book for BL-opoly before June 1st.

 

 

Previous turn (May 13th): New Orleans Square 21; I read Learning to Swim (Troy Chance #1) by Sara J. Henry; 296 pages, $3.00 to the bank. Current bank total: $48.00.

 

May 24th Roll: 7 (6+1)

New Square: Free Parking! Rolled an eight (even) so I was sent to the Electric Company (a MC working in STEM occupations or author name spells out Tesla).  I choose Diary of an Accidental Wallflower (Seduction Diaries #1) by Jennifer McQuiston. The hero is a doctor, so going with STEM occupation. 334 NOOK pages for a possible $4.00 to the bank.

 

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