No, Eileen the furious. Eileen the outraged. Eileen the greatly disappointed.
Before I tell you why, let me preface it by giving you a bit of my history. I worked in trauma nursing for sixteen years. We were the catchment hospital for familial abuse, so I took care of endless numbers of women caught in a terrifying spiral of violence, abuse and degradation because they’d been taught that they were worthless, powerless and lucky to have the man who was crippling her and her children. So I have absolutely no objectivity about the subject. I know what an abuser looks like what he(statistically) sounds like and what the cost of his abuse is.
One of the things I’ve been proudest of in romance is that as a genre, we have persistently communicated the message that women have power, that women deserve to be loved, to be respected, and to have their needs and wishes fulfilled in a healthy relationship. Yes, especially in the early years, the message has occasionally been much darker. And I”ll tell you something, and I’m not being flippant. I used to stand in bookstores and watch to see who bought the kind of books that taught women that all they deserved was pain and punishment. That this was the definition of love. Universally, the women who picked up these books walked across to the self-help aisle and bought books on how to deal with abusive mates.
It makes perfect sense. If they’ve already been taught that this is all they deserve, this is the message they’re reinforce in their romance books. Thankfully, those books were mostly weeded out. And while I can intellectually appreciate the “Taming the Beast” message of the old rape fantasies, I”m afraid that the women reading them for reinforcement, told me that the message they got was that if they just hung around long enough, their abuser would be redeemed by the love of a good woman. Usually what I saw was those good women on slabs in the morgue.
And now, the spectre of the abusive hero has reared its unspeakably ugly head again. I’m not talking about the old “he forced her when he first knew her but learned his lesson through pain and work” books. I’m talking about a book that is an abuser’s lexicon. And worst of all, it came out from Avon. I guess I expected better of them. The author is new. She’s very talented. Which is even more unsettling, because she does provoke emotion. It’s called Claiming the Courtesan. What I’d call it is “Punishing the Helpless.”
I read about fifty pages, and thought, ‘no, it can’t really be this bad.” I checked in with All About Romance, whose reviewers I respect. I found out that it was far worse than I’d thought. The hero, a duke, has the most notorious mistress in London. She leaves. He refuses to allow that, insanely furious that she has the nerve to leave him(even though she’s fulfilled her contract). He stalks her(and doesn’t raise really comfortable images), kidnaps her and terrorizes her. He doesn’t simply continually rape her, he forces home the message that she’s worthless.
“You still don’t understand, do you, Verity? And I’ve always considered you to be a very clever little poppet. You have no power. You have no rights. You belong to me. This isn’t London. This is a forgotten little corner of a feudal domain. And I am its lord. There is nowhere to run. There’s no one to help you. If I want you–and we both know that I do–I take you.”
In St. Louis, we have a law that allows police who respond to domestic abuse situations to judge the real abuser by language alone, because the language of an abuser is classic and universal. What you just read would have had that man arrested and indicted. There could not be more classic abuse language.
I’m afraid, as Sandy Coleman said on All About Romance, that somebody’s going to call this unfortunate work as ‘edgy and cutting edge’. Not at all. It yanks us right back to the years when women were powerless and only good for subservience and obedience. And if it’s all the same to you, we’ve worked too damn hard to climb out of that pit to go back there. Especially the thousands of women who risked their lives to save themselves and their children from the kind of situation this book glorifies. On behalf of my genre, I apologize to them all.