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REVIEW: Virgin’s Wedding Night by Sara Craven

Dear Ms. Craven:

037312696401mzzzzzzz.jpgI’ve not read alot of Harlequin Presents but during the eHarlequin 50% off sale, I purchased six of them and yours was the first one I read. I was thinking about your book as I read the debate over Mills & Boon’s books being patriarchal propaganda.

Harriet must marry by her next birthday or her grandfather will sell the family home. Harriet’s grandfather believes that the woman’s place is married and in the home, in part because he is a misogynist and in part because he is still smarting from the wreck that his own daughter turned out to be. Harriet’s mother abandoned Harriet with her grandfather when Harriet was six. Harriet has been atoning for her mother’s sins (and likely her grandfather’s guilt arising out of the poor product of his original upbringing) ever since. Harriet has tried to win her grandfather’s approval by spending her whole life doing the exact opposite of her flighty beautiful mother.

'I'm going to set you a deadline, Harriet. If you're not engaged, or better still married, by your next birthday, I shall contact my lawyers. As my heiress, you'd be vulnerable–"prey to any smooth-talking crook who came along. I intend to see you with a strong man at your side.'

'I don't believe this.' She'd been breathless with shock and anger. 'That kind of thinking belongs in the Ark.'

He'd nodded grimly. 'And everything in the Ark went in two by two–"exactly as nature intended. And if you want this house, you'll do the same.'

In order to pay lipservice to the dictates of her grandfather, Harriet contracts with a young man to be her husband. She will pay him a handsome sum of money and the marriage will be annulled as soon as her grandfather is satisfied. Suddenly the young man tells her that his girlfriend is back in his life and he backs out the contract. Left with no husband material and a ticking clock, she is at her wits end. It doesn’t help that the situation at work has gone from bad to worse.

Harriet works for Flint Audley, her grandfather’s firm. She gets very little respect with most of the office believing that she’s only playing at her job. The misconception about Harriet’s work goals are buttressed by her grandfather’s treatment of her. She’s being ambushed from the inside. Jonathan Audley, the grandson of the firm’s other partner, wants her out of the firm and isn’t against using his charm to coral those in the firm against her; suggesting that she’s only playing at being a member of the firm; that she’s better off in the secretarial pool.

Harriet sees an artist outside her building, she thinks he is smirking at her and has him forcibly removed. In retaliation, the artist leaves an unflattering caricature of her taped to a railing outside the building. Harriet is fair from perfect. She is quick tempered and easily insulted. She goes to his home to confront him and there simply breaks down.

He put the glass down on the floor. 'So,' he said. 'This is more than just a drawing. What has happened to you?'

Neither Harriet, nor Roan, the artist, are very heroic in the beginning. Harriet uses her power indiscriminately and Roan is rude.

'Has anyone told you that you're insolent?' she enquired coldly.

He shrugged. 'And you, Miss Flint, are clearly both devious and determined,' he retorted. 'Let us accept that neither of us is perfect, and move on.'

But Harriet’s prickliness is well understood. Her entire sense of self is lost, tied up in ephemeral things: her job, the house, her grandfather’s approval.

I wished to see for myself what there could be about this place that would make you to risk so much for its possession.' He gestured around him. 'Can this really be all that constitutes happiness for you?'

There were moments of humor such as the biting exchange between Harriet and her attorney:

'Pure safety measure.' Harriet paused. 'But he needs the money too much to make a fuss.'

'Really?' Isobel asked sceptically. 'I reckon he could earn more by renting himself out in the afternoons.'

Harriet is such a well drawn character. She is rebelling against the patriarchal society to the extent that she views submission in the sexual sense as a self betrayal.

He drew her back into his arms once more, whispering her name, compelling her to the trembling awareness of the hardness of him, all that male strength and potency hotly aroused against her thighs, and demanding the access that would consummate their union. Another aspect of the physical reality of intimacy that she could only dread. Because it was another opportunity for self-betrayal.

I despise myself.

At some point, Harriet comes to the realization that her life is completely empty. One might take issue with how she comes to this realization but I don’t think its Roan. It’s everything. Her work, her relationship with her grandfather, her abandonment as a child, her issues of self esteem wrapped up with external issues.

Harriet is very melodramatic but it completely fits her personality. She is her mother’s daughter, only her passion was her work until she had another outlet. The lady doth protest too much fits her perfectly, not because it’s a trite phrase but because that is her personality – to deny her true self which was a passionate woman, just not one who allows her passion to overcome herself.

The fascinating thing was the parallel between Roan’s parentage and their own relationship and when Roan tells Harriet of his father’s mistakes, it is clear that he is trying to allow Harriet the freedom of choice, knowing that forcing her continually will only lead to a life full of sorrow.

Roan, though, is a shadowy figure and thus why he came to “love” her is unfathomable to me. Most of what he sees isn’t lovable because Harriet tends to treat Roan fairly cruelly. It’s admirable, perhaps, her desire to be free (much like Roan’s own desire); perhaps it is the memory of his mother. It’s hard to say and so ultimately while the self discovery and Harriet’s eventual discovery of love is wonderful and emotional, the ultimate hea seems contrived.

To some extent, this book is both a rejection of that idea but also a confirmation of the patriarchal propaganda argument advanced by Julie Brindel. I suppose it is all in your frame of view. I think it is easy for a person like Brindel, to read this book and find that the source of Harriet’s awakening to self, led by a man, is perpetuating the male domination credo. I choose, however, to take from this story that Harriet’s emergence and rejection of the traditional paths set for her and the acknowledgment from her lover and, ultimately, her grandfather, that she had the right to choose her own course is much more in keeping a rejection of paternalism. It was clear that Harriet held the power, both in her relationships with Roan and with her Grandfather. It just took her a while to realize it. B

Best,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. Meriam
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 16:06:47

    Interesting. I finished my own Presents last night and it was god-awful. Like, really bad. As I was reading it I thought, this is precisely what Bindel is talking about. But, of course, it was only one book and I’m going to have to read a few more before I’m qualified to make sweeping generalizations.

    The Virgin’s Wedding Night at least sounds as though it’s trying something different. I read a comment by angel over at teachmentonight that really struck me:

    Bindel’s article made me think that a Romance doesn’t have to be like those horrid twenty M&B books she read to be patriarchal. All it has to do, imo, is be written by someone who’s not actively trying not to be patriarchal. The unexamined assumptions are just going to come through , whether in a “funny” conversation where the hero razzes his male friend for being “like a girl” to show male bonding, which is enforcing the idea that female = weak and less than, or where the hero’s allowed an active sex life, and the heroine must be a virgin to be worthy, or where the hero “tames” the heroine by forcing sex on her… whatever, it’s going to be there to a greater or lesser extent….

    It seems as though Sara Craven is actively challenging some assumptions?

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  2. Jane
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 16:13:53

    I don’t get the sense that the hero is “taming her” but Harriet’s self realization of her own worth as a person is prompted, in part, through allowing herself to be seduced.

    There are definitely scenes of “no means yes” in this book, but the way that Craven described it seemed less forced seduction and more true to Harriet’s idea of sexual submission being part of the patriarchal dominance that she had struggled against all her life.

    Whether Craven intentionally challenges assumptions or whether she was just writing a character with consistency, I can only guess. As I said on your blog, if you don’t mind an “ebook”, I would love to gift this for you.

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  3. Meriam
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 17:33:10

    As I said on your blog, if you don't mind an “ebook”, I would love to gift this for you.

    I would love to receive it. Do you need me to email you?

    ReplyReply

  4. Keishon
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 18:29:36

    The title scared me off – I was thisclose to buying it, but I chickened out. I have my own Harlequin Presents to read. Later.

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  5. Kathleen O'Reilly
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 22:54:30

    Sara Craven writes some of the best stuff for Presents, and no, I don’t know her, nor am I related to her. There’s a real talent for writing all the drama and conflict and fairy-tale worlds in the Presents without coming across as trite, and her stuff always works for me.

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  6. Nancy Mansfield
    Dec 19, 2007 @ 12:53:06

    Haven’t read the Sara Craven book, but the plot sounds very similar to Suzanne Brockman’s Stand-In-Groom, first published in 1997 for Bantam’s Loveswept series. An heiress has to be married by a certain date or risk losing her inheritance according to the terms outlined in her grandfather’s (if I remember correctly) will. Needing the money to save a fledgling business, the heroine taps a friend, who agrees to the marriage and subsequent annulment, meets the love of his life and backs out at the last minute. Enter the hero, who saves the heroine from muggers and subsequently agrees to become the stand-in…attraction follows, sparks fly, etc. and they all live happily ever after. I guess after 10 years everything old becomes new again. The Brockman was quite a fun read. It stayed on my keeper shelf for a long time.

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  7. Meljean
    Jan 13, 2008 @ 16:43:57

    I liked this one, too. Harriet’s character was definitely well-drawn and unusual — but, although I thought Craven did a great job of giving us hints to how Roan felt, the ending (particularly) suffered from never having the “tell me how you fell in love with me” speech. Because we never get his POV, and I really, really wanted to know when it happened. So although Craven did a great job of demonstrating his feelings, there wasn’t so much evidence toward how those feelings began. I mean, it must have been near-instant … but it isn’t until the wedding night that we get a sense that his feelings are deeper.

    And I was really, really uncomfortable with the beginning of the forced seduction, but about halfway through, she obviously got a choice, and from there I was okay with it. (That sounds like something to detract from my overall opinion of it, but that she was able to turn my opinion of that scene around so fully was really amazing.)

    ******HERE THERE BE SPOILERS*******

    And I was dissatisfied with how the declarations were carried out. The first, I could understand, because there had to be an explanation of what Roan had been doing in the background, because we never knew his POV. (And if his POV had been shown, oh man — how wonderfully angsty that would have been. But, given category word count, I don’t think Harriet’s character could have been written so deeply and have had Roan’s plot included, so if something had to be sacrificed, I’m glad it was Roan’s plot.) So I understand how it was the grandfather who did the reveal. The second declaration, though, I was disappointed that it wasn’t made directly to Roan. I needed some payoff *between them* at that point, and having her tell Roan’s father, and then turning to see Roan had overheard, just fell flat for me.

    But those are really small problems that I had in the overall story — I was engaged through it all, had the little angsty heart-jumping moments that I love, never had an eye-rolling moment, and thought the prose was very smooth, with a couple of gems in there.

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  8. Ariani
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 05:24:56

    This is my first time reading Craven’s book. The title interest me to read the book.
    The story is nice , even a bit lame and boring at the beginning, but the story began to get interesting when Roan decided to receive her offer. I was disappointed when Harriet keep rejecting him, what was she thinking?? Doesn’t she realize how lucky she is to have a nice&sweet man like Roan ?
    Well, overall, this book is nice to read and I’m looking forward to this story becoming a movie,I’ll definitely go to the cinema for it!

    ReplyReply

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