The novel was first published in 1989, but was reissued by Zebra in 2004. There's a review by Marilyn at Regency Romance Writers, in which Marilyn tells us that
Oftentimes, it is hard to be objective, particularly when the hero in a novel is such a possessive, arrogant ‘brat’! [...] If it were not for the fact that Jason truly was in love with Maddy you would really despise his arrogant possessiveness that bordered on cruelty. Maddy on the other hand, waffled from sensual passion to guilt over the betrayal she thought she was doing to her father’s memory so that Jason never quite knew where he stood. Suffice it to say, the relationship was complex and the reader will be thoroughly immersed in this stormy battle of the sexes as love will overcome all obstacles [...] it is also quite a sensual read though not for the timid who may be shocked by scenes that could be construed as rape.It's worth noting that the responses at Amazon were mixed. One reviewer felt that
The plot was good and technically it was well written, but I could not stand the characters. The book was first published in 1989 and I guess "acceptable behavior" for a romance novel character has changed greatly over the last 15+ years.However, another reviewer
For example, the hero Deveryn practically rapes Maddie, the heroine, early in the book and then blames the poor girl for his loss of control. She made him "angry." Ha.
I found Deveryn's character to be cruel and gratingly chauvinistic.
found this book to be terribly sexy. It had a lot of the elements that erotic romance novel authors are using so well in their novels. Emma Holly's historicals are similar with more explicit sex scenes. This book was a total fantasy and the alpha male hero was a womanizing, unapologetic jerk, but I still found this to be exciting. The fantasy of having a man want you so powerfully that he can't help himself is very thrilling to some women. Winning a man over stiff competition like the heroine's stepmama is also an exciting fantasy to some women.As Robin commented over at Dear Author,
the key to enjoying forced seduction and rape in Romance as a fantasy lies completely in the idea that either the heroine OR the reader consents to the act. There is a point beyond which only the reader meaningfully or consciously consents, which is what makes it a fantasy for the reader to enjoy, even as the heroine might not.and she clarifies still further that romance novels that include forced seductions/rape of the heroine by the hero do not justify real-life rape, but rather are about
a *fantasy* pure and simple, and detached from anything we would call rape or sexual force or assault in real life. In Romance, either the heroine or the reader consents, and in that consent creates the fantasy construct as acceptable to that particular reader.Here are some extracts from the passage in which Maddie has her first experience of sexual intercourse. Jason is jealous, thinking that Maddie has made an assignation with another man:
With a vicious jerk, he swung her round and pinned her against the door. Though she tried to shrink from the crush of his body as it pressed relentlessly against hers, her spine flattening against the hard, unyielding surface of the door, he would not permit it. His hand caught her hip, dragging her close to the lower half of his body, forcing her to accept the heat of his muscled thighs pressed intimately against hers.After a while he begins to seduce her instead of using so much force and 'Instinctively, she reached for Deveryn, seeking a more intimate joining' (2004: 127) but then
There was never any doubt in her mind that his motive was punitive. There was nothing of the tender lover who had seduced her to willingness in the darkened nave of the church. His lips burned, his hands bruised, and he used his body like a weapon to subdue her. (2004: 124-125)
"Love," he said softly, "forgive me. This will hurt. But only the first time. I'll never hurt you again. I swear it."Furious, Maddie lies and tells him that
The reassuring words were at first unintelligible to Maddie. A moment later, she grasped the full import of their significance. There had never been any doubt in his mind of her innocence. He had used her friendship with Malcolm as a convenient excuse to wreak his will on her. (2004: 128)
"You're not the first, I thought you knew."His first words to her, immediately after this, are ones in which he blames her for what has occurred:
He closed his eyes. Instinctively, she shrank from the violence she could sense as the hard muscles of his body tensed. The explosion was not long in coming. His mouth curled in a cruel line, and with a feral snarl, he ripped through the delicate membrane, sheathing himself fully.
Maddie screamed as that rending pain sliced through her. Though she had achieved her object, though she had punished her willful body and cured it of its sensual addiction, the price was more than she had counted on. [...] She was too spent from everything that had gone before to offer more than a passive resistance. But it was effective. She was deaf to his pleas, immune to the voluptuous caress of his hands, and finally unmoved by his bitter frustration. As he moved upon her, trying to draw a response from her unwilling body, her eyes closed. She concentrated on the pain of the violation she had been forced to endure. It was an effective antidote to passion.
When it was over, he left her abruptly and stalked to the fire. (2004: 128-129)
"How could you do this to me?" [...] He repeated his question, but this time, there was no mistaking the hard anger in his voice.It is undeniable that Jason begins by sexually assaulting Maddie: the words 'he used his body like a weapon to subdue her' are a very clear indication of that. But when this almost-30-year-old, sexually experienced man then begins to seduce a 19-year-old virgin and she taunts him, frightened by her own sexual feelings and furious at what he's done to her so far, the blame for what happens next is somehow placed on Maddie, both by Jason and, implicitly, by Thornton.* Both seem to conclude that Maddie's pain is caused by her decision to reject Jason's seductions and tell him a lie. I, however, read this passage as being about Maddie being assaulted and raped. Maddie's realisation that she can feel pleasure, her horrified response to this, and the way he's treated her, make her tell a lie. It is known that during rape
He had frightened her half to death, forced her against her will, and now had the temerity to put her in the wrong. "I think" she retorted, "you have taken the words out of my mouth. I'm not the one who has anything to apologize for."
"You wanted me to hurt you!"
It was true, of course. She had known when she had uttered those taunting words that he would not be gentle. (2004: 129)
Some women may experience lubrication, arousal, and/or orgasm. This may be confusing and disturbing for the survivor, but in no way means the survivor consented to or enjoyed the assault. (Syracuse R.A.P.E. Center)Under no real-life circumstances could a lie such as Maddie's be construed as a 'provocation' and sufficient justification for rape. Furthermore, given that Maddie knows that Jason will not let her go without taking her virginity, the only way she can keep some control is by denying him the triumph of making her feel pleasure. Her lie does not change the outcome (Jason would not have stopped) but it makes it more painful for her, and, as a result, Jason cannot deny that he has hurt her. Thinking back on the incident, however, Jason resolutely rejects the term 'rape'. A few days later, after he's set in motion plans to marry Maddie (without her knowledge, since she, at this point, is refusing to do so), he feels 'the first genuine easing of the remorse that had laid him by the heels since the night he had taken Maddie's innocence. The word rape flashed into his mind. He vigorously suppressed it, substituting the far more tolerable seduction' (2004: 165, emphasis in the original text).
Some time later, after they've been separated for a month, he enters her room and begins to remove his clothes but Maddie
wasn't about to forget all the man's iniquities in spite of the messages her traitorous body was trying to feed her.I find it difficult to read this as anything other than an example of domestic violence, though I suppose that readers who treat this as fantasy may reach a different conclusion.
"You've got the wrong room [...]."
Her angry tirade broke off abruptly as he reached her in one lithe stride. Strong fingers encircled her throat, squeezing gently.
"You're my wife."
His eyes held hers. She could hear the frightened rush of air from her lungs as her breathing became more difficult. His eyes dropped to her parted lips. She tried to close them, but breathing became intolerable. [...] A cry tore from her lips the second before his mouth covered hers.
His kiss was smothering, cutting off air till she thought her lungs would burst. (2004:250)
Jason is convinced that Maddie should be grateful for his attentions, and he never wavers from this opinion: 'There were dozens of women he could name who would give their eye teeth to be in her position. [...] The word "love" he discarded as far too common-place to describe their condition. This was Fate [...] Maddie was too ignorant to recognize it for what it was' (2004: 241). Somehow, being assaulted, choked and sexually aroused will ensure that Maddie recognises her Fate. Even moments after his rather limited apology for his behaviour: 'I know I've been an abominable husband!' ( 2004: 377) he is still acting violently: 'He had taken her by the shoulders and administered a rough shake as if to bring her to her senses. Maddie was too happy to make the least objection to this lover-like sign of his devotion' (2004: 377-78). If male love is expressed through bullying and the use of physical force, it's not surprising that Maddie should muse, 'I don't think, deep down, I like men very much. But then, as I've said before, liking and love are two different entities' (2004: 362).
It is, however, a positive conclusion if compared to the infanticide and murder which marked the married life of Medea, whose 'famous speech from Euripides's Medea' (2004: 8), which 'begins "Of all things that live and have intelligence, we women are the most wretched species"' (2004: 8), Maddie has been translating on the morning of the day on which the novel opens. [The quotation begins at the bracketed line 230 in this version of the text, and analysis of the speech may be found here.] The foreshadowing is rather clear, as Maddie (whose name recalls that of Medea) will become the ill-treated wife of another Jason.**
Euripides was revolutionary in his retelling of Medea's myth because he was the first one to show that she hadn't killed her children because she was crazy or a barbarian, but because she was extremely distressed and furious at Jason for leaving her to marry a princess. Fueled by a need for revenge, she sends Glauce a poisoned dress and crown that burn her to death. Creon tries to save her by tearing the dress away, but fails, burning alongside his daughter in the process. Medea then kills her two sons, Mermeros and Pheres, knowing it is the best way to hurt Jason. (Wikipedia)Maddie thinks that Medea's 'revenge on the man who wronged her, you must admit, was a trifle excessive' (2004: 8), and although at one point she accuses Jason of being a 'Liar! Adulterer! Cheat! Murderer!' (2004: 338) and her resistance to Jason's treatment of her is expressed through her analysis of the play, it is Jason who is given the last word. When he comes upon Maddie directing the staging of the play, he addresses the girl playing Jason:
Don't ever think to cower before the spleen of any woman, no matter how formidable her cleverness, her courage, or her audacity. For you have that one quality above all others which the impassioned Medea lacks. You personify cool logic, an attribute which, in my experience, is rarely to be found in the female of the species, present company, one hopes, excepted. (2004: 366)As an endorsement of women's mental capacities, it's lacking, and in the context of Jason's behaviour it doesn't seem to describe men very well either.
As mentioned above, Maddie distinguishes between love and liking, and it seems that Thornton considers Maddie and Jason be soul-mates. Such a construct does much to justify the ending, since their relationship is then to be considered one that's right, regardless of the violence, jealousy and emotional turmoil involved. Before Jason meets Maddie he 'disclaim[s] any experience of the phenomenon' of love and therefore 'I declare myself a skeptic and leave it to those who know better to convert me to their dogma' (2004: 34). His mother hands him a copy of Plato's Symposium, directing him in particular to 'what Aristophanes has to say' (2004: 35).*** Having met Maddie, Jason is a sudden convert to this theory:
"He believes that lovers are born joined but that the gods separate them at birth and they wander the earth, lost and lonely, till they find each other again. Only a few fortunate ones ever do. The unlucky ones learn to make do with second best - again and again and again."Maddie too feels something, though she's not precisely sure what:
"That's sheer myth," she retorted.
"So I believed. Until tonight. Now I'm not so sure." (2004: 53)
Was she half in love with this Deveryn? She thought it very possible and she smiled to herself. He was like no other man she had ever known, but then, for a girl of nineteen years, she was singularly lacking in male acquaintances. Not that it mattered. If she had been acquainted with a thousand eligible young gentlemen, she would have instantly recognized that Deveryn was special to her. (2004: 61)By the end of the novel she too accepts that her feelings are the love described by Aristophanes: ' "Aristophanes had the right of it," she said. "We are two halves of an entity. Apart, we're simply not whole. There's no other explanation" (2004: 381).
An important aspect of Jason's love is the possessive urge it brings with it: 'He wondered at the primitive drive throbbing at every pulse in his body, urging him relentlessly to make this woman his. His need to convince her that he was fated to be her mate surprised him as much as it delighted him. He had never thought to commit himself so totally to any woman' (2004: 55). Rape/sexual 'possession' is therefore portrayed as the result of the 'possessive urge' created by 'love'. Rape, then, rather than a violent act of aggression, is set in a context where it can be read as evidence that the hero and heroine are soul mates.
Another aspect of the novel which serves to justify Jason's behaviour is the way it is normalised. The rape is prefigured by a scene in which Jason feels jealous and
He had found her in the arms of another male, and the spectacle had unleashed some dark and sinister emotion, some primeval drive that was not to be denied. With lips, tongue, hands, and body easily breaching her defences, he ground himself into her, branding her as his woman, claiming her as his mate. More than anything, he wanted to tumble her there, in the orchard, and enter her body, possessing her fully, irrevocably binding her to him. That the instinct was purely primitive in nature, he did not doubt. (2004: 105)These 'primitive', 'primeval' instincts, which can lead to 'dark and sinister' emotions, are portrayed as an intrinsic part of masculinity. In this novel, despite the fact that Jason's mother rejects the way in which 'Men [...] throughout history have divided the members of my sex into two distinct classes - good women and the other sort' (2004: 34), Thornton herself seems to agree that there are two sorts of women. She rejects the idea that 'good women' do not enjoy sex, but the dichotomy persists. Fallen Angel contrasts bad women (prostitutes or temptresses such as Maddie's adulterous step-mother, who had an affair with Jason), and 'good women'. The 'good women' may also be sexually active, but their role seems to be to help men, to tame them. Jason's mother describes the men of his family as 'Congenital savages' (2004: 368) and Maddie learns that when her own mother and father had a quarrel early in their marriage
" [...] It was no polite party yer faither put on that night but a drunken orgy. And thae were no ladies o' quality yer mother took her whip tae, but, if ye'll excuse my French, barques o' frailty. [...] Doxies, trollops, Cyprians, every last one o' them," said Janet [...].Thornton does not seem to blame men for this supposedly inherent part of their nature, but rather she gives a man's female soul mate the role of being sufficiently sexually alluring to tame a man and tie him into a sexually committed, monogamous relationship. Unfortunately this seems to support one of the many myths used to justify or explain rapes which occur in non-fictional settings. As noted on the website of Rape Crisis (England and Wales):
Maddie's face was a picture of incredulity. "You're pulling my leg! Papa wasn't that sort of man. I don't believe he would have served Mama such a turn."
Janet answered at her bluntest. "Every man is o' that ilk, given the opportunity. Yer mither was wiser than ye are. She made damn sure that Donald Sinclair was never again presented wi' temptation. [...] She kent that it's the woman who maun make sure that her man keeps tae the straight and narrow" (2004: 359-360)
The myth is that men rape women because they do not have ‘legitimate’ access to women for sex. The idea is grounded on the belief that men have uncontrollable urges that must be satisfied. In fact, men’s sex drives are no more strong than women’s. If it was purely a biological urge, then masturbation would satisfy it. Men rape women to secure power and control.
* The age difference is one of which Jason is very aware at other times, but as he says: 'I don't always treat you as a child. There are some areas where you have a natural competence. With a little tutoring you should do very well' (2004: 158). The sexual innuendo is unmistakable and makes Maddie blush.
** Maddie herself makes the connection: 'Jason and his quest for the golden fleece. Medea's Jason ... Maddie's Jason' (2004: 132).
*** I've discussed the Symposium in some earlier posts, here and here. Jason's explanation differs in many particulars from the original, which can be read in translation here.
- Thornton, Elizabeth, 2004. Fallen Angel (New York: Zebra). Picture of front cover from Amazon.