REVIEW: Virgin’s Wedding Night by Sara Craven
Dear Ms. Craven:
I’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