It’s getting harder to do these recaps, as this book horrifies me more and more. I expected it to be bad. I didn’t expect it to be heartbreaking.
So. Johanna Lindsey’s A Pirate’s Love. Previous chapter. Tristan terrorized and abused Bettina, then made her sleep in bed with him after he sexually assaulted her.
Chapter ten opens with Bettina waking up, hoping it’s all been a nightmare, but of course it isn’t. There’s this interesting bit where she thinks about Tristan:
It was all true. She was actually on a pirate ship. She was actually at the mercy of a man she knew nothing about, a man who enjoyed having her in his power. And he did enjoy it. She had seen it in his eyes, heard it in his tone of voice. He was a man who cared only about his own desires, and nothing about her feelings.
That is the perfect description of the mindset of a rapist right there and it’s backed up by everything we’ve seen from Tristan’s point of view. He’s not some inhuman monster, nor is he overwhelmed with lust. Tristan is simply a person who enjoys having her in his power and doesn’t care about her feelings. (Check out the list of characteristics on page seven. The “instrumental” violence and psychological weapons are spot-on for Tristan’s behavior.)
You’d think Lindsey had studied this with sociologists and psychologists to perfectly capture the way a rapist functions, but the field hadn’t advanced this far in the late ’70s. I know I’ve made jokes about Bettina’s Mary Sue qualities, but Johanna Lindsey truly is an incredibly talented author and even in the midst of this rape-a-riffic garbage and this early in her career, that comes through. She knows how people operate. She knows how they think and act.
And yet her hero is the very realistically portrayed rapist.
Bettina goes digging around through Tristan’s things to find some clothing she can wear (she settles on a shirt of his) and then searches for a needle and thread to fix her ruined dress. She’s interrupted by Madeleine’s arrival and a really stupid question.
“Are you all right, Bettina?” Madeleine asked. “I was so worried that the capitaine might do you harm.”
“He didn’t beat me, as you can see,” Bettina answered, feeling her temper rise once again. “This Tristan exacts his revenge in a much more subtle way.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you do!”
You tell her, Bettina. She’s been harmed plenty. It just hasn’t left any wounds that Madeleine can see. Vying for the position of Most Hated Character Ever, Madeleine expresses relief that Bettina has been threatened with a whip into submission, because this means she won’t be physically injured so long as she obeys.
Madeleine tries to soothe Bettina’s (justified) rage in the most offensive way possible.
Madeleine sighed. “I wish your first time with a man could have been happier. But the damage is done, Bettina. The scars of the mind will eventually heal and be forgotten. But scars on your body would be there forever to remind you of this unpleasant experience.”
“Unpleasant! You are too kind,” Bettina declared.”Terror-filled or nightmarish, yes, but unpleasant—this could hardly be called just an unpleasant experience.”
“But that is all it is, an experience that you are going through. It will all be over soon, and then you will marry the comte, and—”
They eat and Madeleine reveals that she’s been given the temporary position of cook on the ship. Jules gave up his cabin for her and all these murderous, rape-y pirates are just so very nice, provided you’re an older woman who gives them absolutely everything they want with a smile. Madeleine tries to talk Bettina into developing Stockholm Syndrome to make the whole trip more pleasant, but Bettina isn’t having any of it. We also get a bit of background on Jules and Tristan:
“Don’t you see, Bettina? Given the same circumstances, you or I would have reacted the same way. Jules thought you had killed his friend. He told me last night that Tristan is like a son to him, or more like a brother, for they are only ten years apart in age. Tristan lost his parents when he was but a boy, and Jules took him in and raised him. They have been together ever since. They are close, very close. Would you not have acted the same way as Jules if you thought someone you cared for had been killed?”
Bettina acknowledges that she might, but isn’t ready to forgive any of these pirates. She still wants revenge when she’s freed as well, and Madeleine is just so confused by all this anger about being kidnapped, raped, and mentally abused.
“Bettina, what is the matter with you? You usually accept a situation when it is inevitable. Why don’t you try to make the best of it? It will not be for very long.”
Yeah, just make the best of being raped.
During this conversation it’s revealed that as far as Madeleine could tell, the crew of the Windsong were all left alive. Bettina closed her eyes and didn’t want to see the carnage, but Madeleine is fairly certain even the wounded were merely unconscious and not dead. And, obviously, this totally absolves the pirates for their crime, right? Injuring someone until they’re unconscious–in a time when a papercut could be lethal thanks to the lack of antibiotics–is a really minor thing.
Madeleine tries once again to get Bettina around to her way of thinking.
“Accept the truth that men rule this world and we women have no say. It would be much easier for you if you did. Just as you had to obey your papa’s orders at home, now you must obey this Tristan. And when you marry, you must obey the comte. Men have a way of punishing us women when we do not comply with their wishes.”
I think it’s important to pause here and remind ourselves that Madeleine is also a victim. She’s been kidnapped and terrorized as well. What the pirates want from her (to cook and deal with Bettina) are things she doesn’t mind doing, but she doesn’t have any agency of her own. The entire sexist system that she’s describing as holding Bettina captive is doing the same thing to her, except she doesn’t even have the protection of wealth and social standing that Bettina has.
Whenever there’s oppression, some members of marginalized groups will make the bargain Madeleine has. With no hope of escape, they submit and tell themselves it’s for the best. They help support the system that’s abusing them and hold themselves up as an example to those who would resist. Madeleine is irritating as hell and also complicit in the abuse of Bettina, but she’s still a victim. She’s doing the best she can for her own survival and she believes that the same tactics that have worked for her will help protect Bettina as well.
Will they? Will Bettina find safety by bargaining away her own agency? Is that how she gets her “happy ending” with Tristan?
Madeleine gives Bettina a needle and thread to repair her torn dress, then tells her that the ship is in the port of Tortola. Bettina’s thoughts are immediately of escape, but Madeleine tells her it won’t work because they’re too far out, the longboats have been taken to shore, and Tristan is still on the ship, so trying to swim to safety won’t end well.
One more chapter for this week coming tomorrow. Woo.