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When we first meet Charles Lowden, Marquess of Granville, he is self-involved, bitter and crass. Because he is the hero of Blind Fortune, even as we are treated to the worst of his nature, we fully expect one or both of two things: that underneath such a disgusting demeanor hides a heart of gold and/or that the heroine will bring about a positive change to make him worthy of her.
I am not a great fan of the ‘bad boy turned good’ plot point. The author asks the reader to indulge the ridiculous whims of the hero in anticipation of a happy ending with a chastened husband. I always wonder why he had to be so distasteful at the outset. Here, though, Chas is not a ‘rake’ and is in fact quite unaffected by the lures of the ton; his bad nature manifests through supercilious and snide comments, many of which flow steadily within the first three chapters of Blind Fortune.
Of his prospective bride:
“In June, he and Juliana could marry at St George’s...That would give him two months to plant a child in her before sailing off to assess the Jamaican properties...”
Of the bride’s family:
“Ashford and his lady are bang up to the mark but that mousy daughter, Leticia...Plain brown hair and eyes. What if Juliana whelps the same?”
Somewhere around chapter four I’d had enough of the Marquess of Granville, but I read on. Not only due to my obligation as reviewer, but because of Lady Fortuna Morley, our heroine. Blind since birth, she has been accompanied by her mousy cousin Letty since her teens. I’ve read several romance books with blind heroes and heroines and for only one of them was the condition permanent and for that one case, it had come in adulthood. Waugh’s depiction of Forti’s life was a revelation to me. Lacking any preachy undertones, and beyond describing the obvious physical constraints of a person without sight, she brought alive, amongst many others, the issues of dependence on the goodwill of others, resignation to the routine of life and the blessing – or curse – of the occasional emotional myopia experienced in those whose eyes are literally closed off to the censure of others. In one of the many scenes that stayed with me between the two main characters, Charles tells Fortuna: “How fortunate that you never have to look someone in the eye while delivering your version of the truth.”
And so I return to Charles. Despite my decision to be unforgiving to the shortcomings of his nature and not accept them as my due simply because I was reading a romance; somehow, somewhere, while he began to charm Fortuna, he did the same to me. ‘Charm’ is perhaps a deceptive word because he did not turn into a smooth-tongued Lothario in one page. In truth, even at the very end, he didn’t make it to that stage, but the road in between, still full of his many frank, harsh words, also contained some of the best dialogue between hero and heroine that I have ever read. Dialogue bursting with intelligence and witticism with an aim beyond simply being that one last riposte.
Fortuna, thanks to an attentive orator in Letty, is very well-read and they both wish for female independence as espoused by the bluestocking of the time, Mary Wollstonecraft. They go so far as to declare that they do not wish to enter the slavery and prostitution ring that is marriage. However, it is clear to the reader, Charles, and possibly (on a subconscious level) to the two women themselves, that though they agree on a certain level with the just and fair ideals of Wollstonecraft, they chose their particular path as a defensive strategy, and not based on pure idealism. Homely-looking Letty has no problems being companion to Fortuna for the rest of her life because she cannot imagine anyone ever offering her their hand in marriage. Fortuna views her blindness in much the same way her cousin views her looks. Their as yet unrealized dreams of independence (living together on their own) tempered by their understanding of the reality of their situation as spinsters who are soon to be helpmates to aging parents, tugged at the emotions of this twenty-first century woman. Despite the years that separated us, I connected strongly with that state of limbo brought on by vivid, though seemingly hopeless dreams.
Though sympathetic to her position, I felt frustrated with Forti’s selfishness, especially as it concerned Letty. For Fortuna to have her cottage and her liberty, it is as if she must wrest that very independence away from her cousin. But Charles has already fallen in love with Fortuna and longs to give her what she yearns for and more. To that end, he’d already introduced certain things to her life to aid in her independence that were more romantic than any bouquet of red roses could ever hope to be. I will not say that despite the Charles of the beginning, I very much enjoyed Blind Fortune. It would be more accurate to say that it is because of the Charles of the beginning that I enjoyed Blind Fortune as much as I did. Imagine me liking a bad boy gone good! What next, virgin widows?
After all my long-winded babbling, why no DIK status? Well, Waugh could have delivered a more nuanced touch to Fortuna’s petulant cousin and almost-bride of Charles, Juliana. Why do all these beautiful debutantes have to shallow and spoiled? In addition, I felt as if the happy ending of Letty and her husband Richard was unnecessarily dampened just so that we could see how very lucky and perfect Fortuna and Charles were for each other. The last few pages as well were excessively sweet and at total odds to the frankness of the rest of the novel. Even though Charles was by then my new homeboy, I wanted to gag.
I’m hoping for a better constructed ending to Waugh’s next novel because certainly, I’ll be reading it.
-- Abi Bishop
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