This is a short chapter, so I’m going to take a second to talk about what it is that’s appealing about this story. I had some theories before I started my re-read, but now I think I’m well enough into it that I can figure it out. Remember, as bad as some of this looks to modern eyes, I unironically loved this as a kid. This book was a bestseller when it first came out. People liked this book.
When it comes to discussions of a problematic fictional relationship, things usually tend to break down badly. You’ve got the fans who are feeling defensive and attacked and then you’ve got people who are flabbergasted and horrified and then there’s just the regular mainstream “lol mommy porn” misogyny.
The truth is, there’s not actually that much difference between this book and many other alpha-hole stories. Lots of paranormal books are still relying on the same relationship dynamic here. Though rape is explicit in this story, it’s not a rape fantasy. It is a love fantasy. Reading books like this when I was younger, I didn’t thrill at the idea of being captured and tortured. I sobbed along with Bettina, because I felt like she did. I already felt hurt and trapped, fundamentally unlovable. The abuse of the story was essential, because that was catharsis. I wanted it to be terrible, because I wanted the heroine to hurt so I could hurt with her and yet know that it was going to be all right in the end.
The fantasy element was that even if I was hurt and made to feel terrible about myself I wouldn’t be abandoned. The one doing the hurting wasn’t going to push me away. They were going to stick around and, magically, change. They’d figure out how to love me and everything would be all right. Was Tristan an ideal partner? Definitely not. But he fit well into a particular category that had already been made in my head. Most of us create these categories when we’re still kids–I must have been ten when I began reading this and already it was there–based on our relationships with our parents, guardians, older siblings, etc. Later in life, we often seek out relationships that match what we already know.
I can only speak for me and the people who’ve told me what they find appealing about stories like this. Other people likely have different motivations and feelings. But what I found amongst my friends and myself was that we knew that the Tristans of Romanceland were terrible. We didn’t want a book with a non-terrible hero, because we needed that catharsis and that hope that things would get better. We needed to know that he was awful because he was orphaned as a child, or abused, or a woman had done him wrong, and not because he was a cruel, abusive person himself. (When in reality, abusers may well have suffered and that doesn’t make their abuse of their victims any less real.)
And after getting older and having my heart broken spectacularly, I realized something. If somebody makes you feel unlovable, that has no bearing on your worth. That’s not a relationship to try to fix. This is the time to laugh and take care of yourself. If there’s something in your life that needs fixing, do it, but don’t waste your time on a relationship that’s clearly better off over.
I also found the book Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliott really useful. If you need help getting over the Tristans in your life, give it a try.
Now on to another recap of A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey, a historical romance novel first published in 1978. I hope you’re not as traumatized by it all as I am.
When last we left Bettina, I don’t even know. Horrible stuff, probably. Don’t make me read it again.
Chapter twelve starts us off with Bettina laying in Tristan’s bed in the dark, counting off the minutes. After he assaulted her and she was so awful by crying at him, he had to go outside to tend to his precious injured feelings.
She wants him to come back and go to sleep so she knows exactly where he is when she makes her escape. I imagine this refusal to just give in and embrace the Stockholm syndrome is one reason why some reviewers hate this character. She makes it uncomfortable. She makes it impossible for you to forget how horrible all of this is. And this is why I love Bettina and she and I are going to run off together and found l’île de Lesbos Nouvelles.
Well after midnight Tristan comes back and stumbles into bed, dropping an arm over her like a dead weight. He stinks of alcohol. Sexy.
Bettina carefully lifted his arm off her, then quickly scooted to the end of the bed, rather than risk crawling over him. She went straight to Tristan’s chest of clothes and took out the two articles she had laid on top of the others.
She had decided earlier that she would have to wear-his clothes, for her velvet dress would be too heavy and cumbersome to swim in. She had picked out the darkest colors he had, so it would be less easy to see her.
I really like this. She knows she’ll have to wear his things and already chose dark clothes, so she won’t be visible in the night. She braids her hair and tucks the braid down the back of the shirt, then covers the top of her head with a hat, so not even her blonde hair will give her away.
And this is all a great way of showing the reader how clever the heroine is instead of just telling us, which is why I’m so depressed about how I think this goes. If my memory from reading this as a kid is accurate, she’s going to immediately get threatened with rape instead of rescue when she gets to the island and Tristan will have to save her and then she’ll be shamed for being such a dumb woman because obviously you should pick the rapist you know over any other possible situation.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not that bad.
Bettina sneaks off the ship and swims to the island like the badass she is. The music from a tavern catches her attention and she doesn’t see anyone on the streets, so she heads there looking for help. She worries that some of Tristan’s men might be inside–an insightful concern–but there’s nowhere else that looks to have activity at the moment. Waiting for day would be smarter and give her more options, but she’s worried about Madeleine and so takes the calculated risk.
She goes up to the first men she sees and asks them for help. This happens:
“Monsieur,” she ventured, but not one of the men looked up at her. “Monsieur, I seek a gendarme.”
“Speak English, will ye?” one of them said. He glanced at her, and then his eyes opened wide. “Blimy! Will ye look at that!”
The other two men looked at her with greedy eyes, and Bettina looked down at herself. She gasped when she saw that the thin, wet shirt clung tightly to her breasts and was nearly transparent. She quickly pulled the material away from her skin, but it was too late, for at least half a dozen men had already seen the clear outline of her perfectly formed breasts.
“What’s yer price, wench? I’ll pay it, no matter what,” one man said.
Okay, this? This is genuinely bad writing here. We’ve been shown how clever Bettina is. We’ve been shown her purposefully picking out dark clothes. This is a woman who’s normally covered by about five layers of clothing. Now she’s in a shirt light enough to be translucent when wet? Modesty didn’t occur to her when she made the shocking decision to wear men’s clothing in public? Bullshit. Bull. Fucking. Shit. This is Lindsey being lazy and it’s disappointing. She’s a better writer than this.
The barkeep gets angry at Bettina for causing a fight between the men and yells at her. She runs away and finds a uniformed guard, but the barkeep runs up and demand she be arrested and charged for the damages to the tavern from dudes fighting because they saw some boobs. No, seriously. Not even joking. This is what happens. She says she’s trying to escape from pirates and the barkeep and the guard laugh heartily over this obvious lie.
She’s arrested and told she’ll be sold into indentured servitude to pay for the damages to the tavern. Unlike the idiotic shirt thing, this is actually plausible and historically accurate. There’s nothing about her to indicate she’s a woman of status. She’s on British territory, speaking with a French accent, dressed strangely, and…well, a woman. No one has any reason to believe her. The cruelty that could be shown to poor, foreign women would have sufficed here without the stupid “her boobs started a bar fight” scene. That was poor characterization for Bettina based on everything we’ve seen of her and a fairly ridiculous reaction on the part of the men, too. If they got into tavern destroying fights every time a pretty sex worker walked up to them, they wouldn’t be allowed in those taverns any more.
The chapter ends with Bettina crying herself to sleep in her cell, blaming Tristan for the situation she’s in. He’s certainly the main reason her life is a giant pile of shit, but this specific situation is due to xenophobia, classism and patriarchy as well. Ignoring that shirt thing, I’d say Bettina’s biggest fault is being naive and thinking that the respect and deference she’s received in the past as a wealthy white woman in her native country is how all women are treated. It’s not. Perhaps she might realize that now.
I’ll have chapter thirteen up tomorrow. It looks like it opens with a flashback or dream.