by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2004, 1990 reissue)
Signet, $7.50, ISBN 0-451-20851-X
There is a very nice romance in Dearly Beloved, but it is marred by the author truly botching up the concepts of forgiveness and redemption to the point that this story comes off instead like a tasteless apologia for the hero's brutal actions towards the heroine at the start of the story.
Diana Lindsay is only fifteen when this hard-on-her-luck young lady is forced to marry the much older Gervase Brandelin thanks to the actions of her unstable innkeeper father that forces those two to caught in a compromising position. The first problem I have with this book is Gervase reluctantly marrying Diana out of honor - or so he claims - and then raping her brutally before leaving her behind like some rubbish he's thrown at the curb. Why don't someone sit me down and explain to me slowly about that honor thing, because I don't get what honor has anything to do with this situation.
Diana nearly dies while giving birth to an epileptic child. Years later, she decides to become a courtesan. How lucky that the first man whose eye she catches is her own husband's, thus sparing her of the true grittiness of her career choice. She decides to weave some form of revenge by letting Gervase (who doesn't recognize her) woo her, only to fall in love with him in the process.
Diana and Gervase's mistress-protector relationship is very nicely done and so romantic at places that I actually forget about the unsavory beginning of their relationship. That is, until the truth is revealed and the author ruins the story for me again. The problem here is that Diana is already half-way to forgiving Gervase when she has her child, with her reasoning that a reprehensible man wouldn't give her such a beautiful baby in the first place. This reasoning is bizarre and unrealistic, considering that the child is a result of rape but Diana has nothing but love and more love for her baby. But what causes me to see red is when after the author reveals Gervase's many, many reasons for his antics, Diana not only forgives him willingly (then again, she has been working really hard to find reasons to forgive him throughout the story) but actually says to the effect that she will not regret any moment in the "courtship" because everything has turned out for the best!
If just once - just once - does Diana acknowledge that Gervase is in the wrong, if just once does she lash out at him the fury she claims to feel instead of acting like some patron saint of magnanimous forgiveness, I may find this book palatable. As it is, Ms Putney seems to be instead suggesting that Gervase's actions should be forgiven because he has reasons to validate his actions towards Diana, which is ridiculous in my opinion. Will you forgive a rapist because he has a bad mother, epilepsy, and some wartime trauma, and oh, he buys you pretty dresses and expensive trinkets? No, let me rephrase that - would you find it plausible that, in this book, Diana will actually be attracted to Gervase when she sees him again in London at her courtesan debut?
I don't think Ms Putney actually intends to spread that nonsensical message around in her story, but by sugarcoating Gervase's actions by romanticizing his unsavory past to the reader, as if one's past can be used as an excuse to justify one's actions, and by going overboard with Diana's Peace, Love, and Understanding dipstick behavior, she ends up inadvertently doing just that. I don't think this is one story where total forgiveness will work with me. I'd rather have both characters admit that he had wronged her dearly but they would start again. There's no easy solution to this, I'd agree, but that's the problem: Ms Putney chooses to pretend that there is an easy solution to this mess, by having Diana easily forgiving him and hence "redeeming" him. That's why this story is so unsatisfying. It's too much of an unrealistic Pollyanna fairytale.
Dearly Beloved has a fabulous romance lost somewhere in the mess of inept psychobabbles and botched-up character study that mar its pages.
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