After reading all the commentary about A Well Pleasured Lady, as well as the Rifs on Political Correctness, Sharon Curtis (one-half of the writing partnership of Sharon and Tom Curtis aka Laura London), Sharon wrote me the following:
The dialogue about Christina Dodd's novel, A Well Pleasured Lady, reminded me how active a partnership exists between author and reader.
An author brings to a novel her individual imagination, sense of time and place, quest for social justice, and values.
A reader brings to a novel her individual imagination, sense of time and place, quest for social justice, and values.
The same novel must exist in a different form in the mind of everyone who reads it because it is received each time uniquely, individually.
Why is the fictional depiction of forced sexual contact offensive to some women and, in certain fictional contexts, emotionally involving to others? The drama and mystery of the human imagination is astounding and complex. How can anyone judge, evaluate or invade anything so intimate, so subtle? Surely adults have sole proprietorship over the excursions of their mind.
At the same time, it does seem to me as though those of us who write about the sexuality of women have an obligation to consider the issues we raise as we do this. Rape is such a serious issue for women that we are right to be concerned about its presence in fiction. What is the interaction between our fantasy life and our political consciousness? Each author will explore this question from the depths of their own integrity. I find I can not absolve myself of moral responsibility for what I write just by saying it is fictional.
In most of the novels I've worked on, rape never became an issue. It wouldn't have been in character for most of my male protagonists. However, when I worked on a historical romance set aboard a pirate ship, the case was otherwise. I considered the male protagonist's character at the time he met the heroine and wondered if this man was capable of forcing himself on her. Studying who he was, I reluctantly decided that this was not an impossibility. He was a man trying to divorce himself from emotion and convention. So many people had tried to manipulate or control him that developing trust in anyone was a slow and graceless process for him. He was neither soft, nor gentle, and he desired the heroine. He was used to living entirely by his own rules. In the context of story and character and era and setting, he was capable of a lot. I spent time considering the hero, trying to see into his heart.
One of the things I love so much about romantic fiction is its woman to woman communication. In some ways, it has become a wonderful mass forum for a dialogue about sexuality, one that women have never had before. By and large, women write romantic fiction, women edit romantic fiction, women read romantic fiction. I have to smile inwardly then as I recognize the irony of this: the issue of rape in my pirate novel was resolved by a male perspective. I work with a male co-author who won't work on a novel in which the hero rapes the heroine. My co-author says he would never again be able to find the hero sympathetic nor would he consider a book to end happily with the heroine in a lifelong relationship with a man who had raped her. The amount of remorse the hero felt afterwards is irrelevant to him.
My co-author says he doesn't consider it believable that a man would use force to consummate a relationship with a woman he loves. No matter how mad/jealous/impassioned a man becomes, no matter when he lived, unless he is completely depraved, at some point her unwillingness will prevent him from carrying through with rape because it would involve such brutal physical force or intimidation.
I said, "I think the heroine will slowly awaken a gentleness in the hero and when he begins to see her as a human being, he will begin to see himself as one also. But what about before that?"
He said, "If the hero rapes the heroine, he's not the hero anymore, he's the villain."
I said, "Well, on a pirate ship, who will stop him?"
And he said, "I will."
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