I was a bit flummoxed to read a post on columnist, Michelle Buonfiglio’s blog today.
there is a scene that could be read by the uninitiated romance fiction reader as flat-out rape.
That is the line from the post entitled “You Know She Wanted It”.
The post itself is about controversial debut book by Anna Campbell, Claiming the Courtesan, whose story from Avon lacks both a virgin and a widow. Robin is offering up a guest review this afternoon which captures the deep psychological underpinnings of a complicated and uncomfortable romance between a man just on the grip of insanity and a woman trying to regain hers.
In Claiming the Courtesan, there is a scene in which the hero forces himself on the heroine.
His brows contracted, and fool that she was, she read sorrow rather than fury in his face. “Well, if I must take you as a thief, then I shall be a thief.”
He pushed her legs apart, moved between them and thrust inside her.
There is no romance, no joy in this act. It is the only way that Justin believes that he can dominate Verity and in his feverish mind, make her his again. That is rape. No ifs, ands, but fors, or nors about it. That Campbell is able to redeem Justin; to make us believe in his HEA with Verity is a credit to Campbell’s skill with the pen.
One of the questions asked at the end of the blog post is
What kind of learning curve did you have to experience before you understood the nuances of historical romance?
The implication in this question is that if you’ve read sufficient romances, you would understand that rape is done out of love and that the heroine asked for it.
Was it historically accurate for Justin to behave in such a manner? Absolutely. It would also be accurate to say that Justin’s sexual conquest of Verity in that instance was not about sexual pleasuure, but the need to gain power over her to bind her to him. Rape is all about power. It was an act of physical dominance in the 1800s just as it is today. The psychological underpinnings of rape likely have not changed in centuries.
There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having the rape fantasy or even the forced seduction fantasy but with a fantasy, the underlying acknowledgment is that you want it. In fact, it is quite brave to embrace such an idea that physical domination in an unacceptable way can be titillating to a reader. I.e., reading a forced seduction scene can be compelling to the reader without the reader justifying the characters’ actions.
What I find most offensive is the idea that regular romance fiction readers will understand that this is not rape. That regular romance readers are so innured to the idea of men in romances taking their pleasure without regard for the other party that the protests are really masquerading as acquiescence.
You know she wanted it? No, I really don’t know that. I think the author was quite clear that Verity did not. To argue that she did actually reduces the power of the story. It’s a dark story and a complicated one.
Let’s not sugar coat it. Anna Campbell’s hero rapes the heroine. There are no nuances that suggest it is not rape. Whether Campbell redeems Justin to a readers’ satisfaction is up to each individual reader. But romance readers are not so blind, are we, to repellant behavior that we actually excuse it to make it palatable?