Today I woke up full of hatred. I’ve had a migraine for days now. My stomach, too, has been upset for days. All food sounds disgusting, yet being a responsible adult I still have to cook meals. The year 2015–when I started these recaps–was a bunch of bullshit and this year has been even worse, full of death and loss and constant stress. I have no internal organs left at this point: I am but a thin, quivering skin barely containing boundless rage.
Therefore it’s obviously the perfect day to try to get back into these recaps, right? My seething need to punch everything forever would interfere with trying to be productive in pleasant ways, while right now my hatred of this book and perhaps the very concept of writing ideas down in the first place probably won’t inhibit me from ranting about how awful it is.
In case you’re just finding these recaps, A Pirate’s Love is a historical romance novel by Johanna Lindsey written in the late ’70s. I’m a huge fan of Lindsey’s, but this book suffers from the awfulness of its era. Recaps start here.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE AND MIND GAMES AND GENERAL ABUSE
When last we left Tristan and Bettina all of this stuff happened and I made empty promises about continuing to recap regularly. Chapter fifteen begins with Bettina working on her new dress (exciting!) and Tristan brings her a silver comb from the hold, which her nursemaid said she’d need. He asks if she’s satisfied now.
“Satisfied? I did not ask you for the material, Capitaine. You offered it. I merely suggested that you do the same for my servant. I have thanked you for this already—I will not do so again. As for the comb, it is indeed beautiful, but I had a comb, Tristan. It was not as nice as this one, and only made of wood, but I cherished it because it was a gift from my mama. The comb is needed, but it does not replace my own.”
“Would you have me go back to recover your trunks?” Tristan asked sarcastically.
He sighed, for he should have known what her answer would be.
MAN. What an unreasonable bitch. You kidnap her, you rape her, and then she’s not happy when you give her extravagant gifts to replace her own belongings. Tristan as a fictional human being is repulsive, but then I think about the fact that a woman wrote this and women read it and loved it. They made it a bestseller. Did they read this part and roll their eyes at how unreasonable Bettina was? Did their hearts flutter as they thought how they would appreciate Tristan properly? Was the appeal of the book that the reader could sit there and think, “I would do Stockholm syndrome better than this skank!”?
I fear it was. Damnit.
She makes fun of Tristan for being too scared to go to battle over her lost belongings and he insists he’s not a coward and has never run from a battle. She counters with:
“No, it is only women you are afraid to fight.”
“Fighting you would gain you nothing, Bettina. Though you think you would do me damage, you would not. I don’t want to hurt you in the struggle, that is all.”
What a chivalrous piece of shit right here.
Bettina’s response makes my black little heart swell with love, however:
“But I would love to hurt you, Tristan—to see you in pain for what you have done to me.”
Yessssss. Give me a book that’s nothing but Bettina going around torturing rapist pirate “heroes.” I would buy that in hardcover.
Sadly–and I think I’ve pointed this out before–some of the criticism you’ll find for this book in reviews on Amazon and GoodReads is that Bettina is a “brat” and “whines.” I suspect this kind of internalized misogyny is exactly what was going through the heads of readers when it first came out. The reader was not supposed to be transported into sapphic ecstasy at the thought of murdering Tristan. She was supposed to be frustrated at this obstacle to their love. The fact people are still complaining and calling this badass young woman a “brat” shows that we’ve got a long way to go in defeating that internalized misogyny.
Back in the book, Bettina doesn’t antagonize Tristan further. When he asks about her change in attitude, she gently assured him she still hates him. (❤ Bettina + Hate 4Ever ❤). He wants to see her Mood Ring eyes, but she’s busy sewing so he can’t see them clearly.
Tristan invites her for a walk, which she declines if he plans on kissing her. She says she’d like to walk alone and he forbids it, saying they’ll go to bed now instead. As a delaying tactic, she says she won’t go to bed until he shaves off his beard. He’s offended and refuses.
“Would you have me resist you over such a trifling matter?” Bettina asked, mockery in her soft voice. “Why won’t you do this small thing for me?”
“I like my face the way it is!”
“Well, I do not!” she snapped.
My sneaky hate spiral of this morning is rapidly weakening, overcome with my rapturous love for Bettina and her hatred for Tristan. I, too, hate Tristan’s face, Bettina. I’m right here with you, baby.
She taunts him some more and calls him a coward again. He gets upset and they argue further, but Bettina remains firm in her resolve. Tristan gets worried that she’ll call his bluff and his inability to beat her will be revealed, so runs off to shave his beard and prove what a big, strong man he is.
When he comes back, Bettina is struck by how handsome and young he looks without the beard. She dismisses the thought with how much she hates him, though, and informs him she won’t be following his orders. He does not own her and is not her husband (ugh), so she will not obey him. And then…and then oh god, this happens:
Bettina took a step backward and looked at him oddly, as if she were thinking of an answer to his question. And then, unexpectedly, she swung her arm side-ways and cracked her closed fist against his cheek, knocking him off balance.
Tristan’s first impulse was to strike back, and he raised his hand, but stopped when he met her cold defiance. She stood there without flinching, rubbing her throbbing fist with her other hand and waiting for him to strike her. When he didn’t, she laughed bitterly.
They argue some more and Tristan is a smug dick some more, but he admits he isn’t going to hit her or whip her. He says she can fight him, that’s her right, but she should just lay back and enjoy it because he’s going to rape her regardless. Once again, this is totally explicit about what it is:
“You still need not fight me, Bettina,” Tristan said, breaking into her murderous thoughts. “The damage has been done, and you could gain nothing but frustration.”
“I would gain satisfaction!” Bettina faced him again, prepared for battle.
“Then it is to be rape?”
“It has always been rape!” she snapped.
These bits where the book–and Bettina specifically–makes it so explicit that this is rape and it’s not okay are fascinating to me. Obviously, Johanna Lindsey recognized even while writing it that rape was an awful thing. She recognized that what Tristan was doing–acts that are often romanticized in other books even today–was rape. And yet he must be the hero. This must be how a romance of this era goes. Bettina must come to love her rapist, without any of the flowery protections from the true horror of that story that so many other books offer.
And let there be no doubt, this is not a romanticization of the relationship between a rapist and his victim. After a struggle, Tristan ties Bettina’s wrists to the bed and tears off her clothes. In another book, this might be played for a sexy “seduction.” Not in this one:
He entered her cruelly and raped her body with his anger.
This is not about sex. This is not about sensuality. It’s an act of violence.
The chapter ends with Bettina crying herself to sleep and Tristan being troubled by the fact that he’s a rapist piece of shit. Poor baby. He ends up leaving the cabin, unable to sleep.
And once again, I’m torn here. Because so much of this is genuinely good writing if you take it as a horror story instead of a romance. It is amazingly well-written hate-porn. Yet it’s a romance novel.