I had a very fun weekend with two great nights at the theater which got me thinking more about my “Fallen” Heorines blog from last week. Friday night, I saw a play called “Sex” written by Mae West and first performed in 1926 (the original production was a smash hit despite being closed down at one point as “obscene”). The plot of “Sex” had a number of things in common with “La Rondine.” Like Magda in “La Rondine” Margy, the heroine of “Sex,” has supported herself by selling her favors. Like Magda, Margy falls in a love with a naive young man who thinks she is innocence personified. Like Magda, Margy ultimately decides she has to tell her young lover to truth about her past. And like Magda, Margy returns to a former lover. But unlike Magda, who goes back to the banker who has been her protector, Margy marries a former lover who knows about her past, sees her for who she, and loves her. A much more optimistic ending.
Tonight I saw a play called “Lovers & Executions”, a modern adaptation by John Strand of a 17th century play by Montfleurry, a contemporary of Molière. The hero (or at least one of the central characters–a lot of his behavior was decidedly unheroic) becomes convinced his wife, Julie, has been unfaithful and leaves her to die on a desert island. Three years later, Bernard, thinking he is a widower, is courting a young heiress. Julie, who managed to survive, returns disguised as a man and courts the same girl as part of her masquerade, while seeking explanations and revenge. The play, a comedy with decidedly dark undercurrents, deals a great deal with lies and betrayal and whether or not love can survive when trust has been shattered.
Confronting a spouse’s past and mending broken trust are both themes I deal with in “The Mask of Night”, the third Charles and Mélanie book which has not yet been published. Thinking about the book after I saw both plays, I realized I hadn’t yet posted a teaser from “The Mask of Night”. This seemed a good time to post a scene where Charles and Mélanie deal with some of the issues raised by both plays and that I discussed in last week’s blog.
Charles woke with a thick head, a dry mouth, and eyes that refused to focus. Difficult sometimes to tell lack of sleep from a hangover. His wife was curled against him with one leg thrown over his knees and an arm draped across his chest, though he had a distinct memory of not making love to her the night before. It had been important, though he couldn’t remember why just yet. Oh, yes. The papers in Carfax House. His meeting with Carfax. Mélanie’s attempt to distract or placate him.
Or perhaps to find escape. He brushed his fingers over the hair spilling across his shoulder. Sometimes-especially in the weeks since Colin’s abduction–she would make love to him with a passion that sought oblivion in intensity. She would use fingers and lips and teeth with expert skill, dragging him with her into dark places that were as dangerous as they were seductive. To meet passion with passion was no difficulty, but afterwards as he held her in his arms, grateful that she was finally asleep, he would wonder if she wouldn’t have preferred to go to bed with some anonymous stranger and was only making do with the husband she loved as a poor substitute.
A shadowy image of Julien St. Juste as he might have been in life hovered before his eyes. A dark room filled with books and trunks of Spanish leather. Glasses of cognac. Mélanie in a peacock blue gown. A torn ribbon tossed onto the coverlet or discarded on the floor beside satin slippers and a lacey chemise.
He shut his mind to the images and found himself seeing Raoul O’Roarke in their place.
Mélanie pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at him with eyes blinking awake. “Do you remember how many guests we ended up with last night?”
“Six.” Charles forced his attention to the present. “No, five. Trenor and Miss Simcox arrived, but Simon went home.”
“I didn’t mean to sleep so late.” She pushed back the covers, letting in a draught of cold air, and reached for her dressing gown. Her dark hair tumbled over her creamy shoulders and the curve of her back.
She must have been aware of his gaze on her, because she turned, half wrapped in green silk and foaming white lace. A selkie emerging from the sea to mate with a mortal. “Charles—“
For a moment he thought she meant to let it drop. Then she said. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t wonder sometimes.”
“Other men I’ve known. In the crudest sense of the word.”
Her gaze held scars that would never heal. He wanted to pull her to him, sweeping aside her words and his qualms. But that wasn’t any sort of solution. “I’ve said it before, Mel. I don’t care how many other men you’ve slept with. But what we’ve always had between us—even at the beginning, when neither of us dared think of anything more—was honesty. At least that’s what I thought.”
“Until I told you the truth.”
“We had pleasure, mutually exchanged. That was honest. It may have been the one honest thing in our marriage.”
“It wasn’t anything of the sort. It was one more game. I don’t like being used, least of all in my bed.”
“The woman I took to bed on our wedding night—the woman who hadn’t known anything but violence—that wasn’t you. Not the sum total of you.”
“Not the sum total, no. But it wasn’t all pretense. You can’t think—I’m not that good, Charles. That is—oh, devil take it, I am. But I’ve never needed to pretend with you.”
He stared into her eyes, shutting his mind to a host of memories. “That doesn’t change the general principle.”
“What happened between us was never the same as—”
“As what you did with Julien St. Juste? Oh, but it was, mo chridh. It’s not making love, it’s using sex to distract me. Or yourself. Or both of us. Sometimes I think you prefer it that way.”
“It can’t always be sublime communion, Charles. Not for me. It’s been too many other things. A tool. A weapon. A defense. An escape.” She pulled her dressing gown tight about her. “I told you once that my acting abilities deserted me in the bedchamber. That was true when I was in the brothel. I was too young to put on more than a crude show. But later– Sometimes it was sordid. Sometimes it was mechanical. But sometimes—slipping into a fictional skin, making love to someone for the night, knowing it’s just that night. There’s no freedom quite like it.”
She got to her feet. “More honesty, perhaps, than you wanted. I’ll make sure someone’s organized breakfast.”
This week addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter from Charles long before he learned the truth about Mélanie and began to confront any of the issues in the scene above.
I’ve been blogging for half a year now (hard to believe!). It’s a fascinating world. In addition to blogging on my own site and now on the History Hoydens, I do a fair amount of web surfing of other blogs (which of course counts as work :-). I’ve come across a number of wonderful blogs by writers of historical fiction and about historical novels including Reading the Past, Romancing the Highlander, Cate’s Journal and Book Reviews, Christina Croft, Risky Regencies, and The Lost Fort. Blogging and visiting and commenting on other blogs is time consuming but also wonderfullly fun, and I get great ideas for my books from thinking of blog topics and exploring my characters through the Fraser Correspondence. I’m already thinking of topics for the next six months…