In the comments on last week’s Imperial Scandal teaser with Raoul, Jeanne had some interesting comments about how Raoul feels about Mélanie/Suzanne.
“I want to like Raoul even though he is ruthless. It’s his ruthlessness that gives Melanie her independence and her freedom to be “feral”, “fierce” and “reckless.” He never tries to protect her by restraining her actions. He uses her for those qualities seemingly without hesitation.
“But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.”
I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms before, but it’s true that Raoul and Mel/Suzette’s whole relationship is built on shared danger. In fact, there’s a scene in Secrets of a Lady where Charles asks why Raoul didn’t protect her, send her somewhere safe, and Mel says something along the lines of “I didn’t want to safe, I wanted to fight.” I think Mel is inclined to see Raoul as a bit more ruthless than he actually is. It’s Charles in Secrets who sees that Raoul is obviously still in love with her, while Mel’s never been sure Raoul loved her.
Jeanne went on to say, “I don’t want to hear Raoul having those thoughts and I was glad to he doesn’t in this scene. I want him to be so ruthless that it never even occurs to him that he should protect her as it doesn’t seem to here. And yet, I want to know that he loves her as we also hear in this scene.
“I don’t think most readers will like Raoul for this, most of them probably won’t even believe he really does love her. But I do. And, at the end of The Mask of Night when Charles asks Raoul to stay because his presence makes Melanie happier, I realized that Charles thinks so too.
“I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in “Gaudy Night”. Somewhere in that book, he and Harriet discuss this and that male protectiveness leads women to deceive men in order to be free of it. I think Melanie and Charles get close to having a similar discussion in The Mask of Night.”
I think the Peter & Harriet parallel is very apt. Peter certainly has times when clearly wants to protect Harriet, yet in Gaudy Night he understands the importance of her being able to run her own risks. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes struggle with this as well in Laurie King’s books. They have an extraordinarily egalitarian relationship. Yet the scene that ends with them becoming betrothed begins with Holmes hitting Russell over the head and knocking her out so she can’t go with him after the villain. Granted Russell is still recover from being abducted and exposed to heroin at the time. But it becomes part of their marriage negotiations (“I’ll not marry a man I can’t trust at my back.”).
Charles/Malcolm is more definitely inclined to try to protect Mel/Suzette than Raoul is, which she rebels against. Not that he’s overprotective–-she runs a lot of risks at his side from even before they get married. But he slides into what she calls his “Brutus/Hotspur” moments where he tries to protect her or feels guilty because she’s been hurt or put in danger. As she says in Vienna Waltz, “Darling, I knew what you did when I married you. I knew I’d never be able to bear being your wife if it meant sitting on the sidelines or waiting like Penelope to see if you came back alive. If you wanted that sort of wife you shouldn’t have married me, however strong your chivalrous impulses.”
Not that there aren’t moments when Mel/Suzette wants to protect Charles/Malcolm as well. I also think it’s interesting that one of the results of Mel/Suzette marrying Charles/Malcolm is that it puts her in a much safer situation than she’d been in running about Spain. Which I don’t think she considered, but I suspect Raoul did…
Do you equate protectiveness with love? Do you think Raoul loved Mélanie/Suzanne? And does his not trying to protect her make you more or less likely to believe he loves her? What are other literary couples you can think of who struggle with this issue?
I’ve just posed a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline tells Gisèle about her engagement to Geoffrey Blackwell.