The Cultural Gutter

the cult in your pop culture

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Nice Guys, Sewers, And Other Relics Of The Past

Chris Szego
Posted October 4, 2012

I’ve been on a bit of a historical binge recently: testing some new authors, re-reading old favourites.  This trip down the historical record lane is due largely to author Sherry Thomas.  More to the point, to her recent novel Ravishing the Heiress.

No one was more surprised that me.  First, I usually have a marked preference for contemporary stories.  Second, (no doubt influenced by the first), I’ve had occasionally difficulty connecting with Thomas’ work in the past.  This is not a criticism:  I certainly like her stories and style to have read everything novel she’s written.  But I never quite reached the reader’s high.  Which, in case you’re wondering, that’s the feeling that makes you want to A) read it again immediately, B) stop strangers in the street to tell them how good it was, C) be all sad and mopey that it’s over.

Guess what?  I hit that high with Ravishing the Heiress.  It’s the second in Thomas’ new ‘Fitzhugh’ trilogy.  The first in the series is Beguiling the Beauty, in which we are introduced to Venetia Easterbrook, nee Fitzhugh, who is quite possibly the most beautiful woman in England.  While travelling, Venetia is publicly insulted by Christian de Montfort, the Duke of Lexington.  Out of revenge, and in disguise, she sets out to seduce him. Naturally, they fall in love.

I enjoyed that book:  I have a fondness for the inherent absurdity of disguises, and thought Thomas did a thoughtful and thorough job of the inevitably painful discovery scene.  As a bonus, the first book  introduces Millie, Venetia’s quiet, sensible sister-in-law.  Ravishing is Millie’s book, and it is a very different kind of story.  Because the love story is between Millie and her husband who, as the book begins, have already been married for eight years.

It was a classic marriage of convenience:  his title, her money.  It wasn’t an unusual arrangement back then.  In fact, Millie had expected to marry the previous Earl, who was more than twice her age.  Fitz, as the new Earl is called, is nineteen.  He is also desperately in love with someone else.  But he knows how badly his tenants and his lands need the money Millie will bring.  That there is, in fact, no other way to save them.

For her part, Millie recognizes that Fitz is a man in pain.   She tells him that she, too, is in love with someone, and that they could both use time to heal.  She suggests they look at their marriage as a sort of business deal, and take a period of time to get to know one another before they decide to be intimate in any way, say six years  Fitz ups it to eight.  As Venetia’s story ends, Millie and Fitz  have been married for just about eight years.

And then the woman Fitz loved so passionately at nineteen returns to London.

Ravishing could have gone wrong in so many ways, but Thomas doesn’t let it.  Chapters from the past are interspersed with chapters from the present, revealing the growing relationship between Fitz and Millie.  Together they claim his anscestral lands, weather the deaths of her parents, and take over her father’s business.  Working together, the two of them build a neglected and crumbling estate into something both beautiful and powerful.  As a metaphor for their relationship, it’s spot on:  readers watch two responsible, polite, innately good people build something magnificent.   Of course we, at least, know that something is more than just a house.

Throughout, Millie and Fitz treat each other with honesty and respect.  Though there’s one thing Millie has never revealed:  the name of the man she loved back when they married.  Because for her, it was Fitz all along.  She knew at their wedding that  he was not ready for her feelings.  And now, eight years later, just as their marriage is supposed to truly begin, she fears she might lose him for good.

Unrequited love, within the context of a marriage.   It could have seemed ridiculous.  But in Thomas’ talented hands, it is deft and complex (note to other writers: ‘complex’ is not just shorthand for ‘bad things happen':  it means layered, complicated, and made up of many contradictory things).  Fitz is decent, and hardworking, and considers his wife his best friend.  He is considerate and caring, a truly nice guy, which is kind of a rarity in the marriage of convenience situation.  We know this, we watched it unfold.  So we cheer when we see him finally realize that she is also a passionate, desirable woman.

I loved the book: the story, the characters, the prose.  I loved how gracefully Thomas tied everything together.  And I can’t wait to read the third book in the series, Tempting the Bride, about Fitz’s twin sister Helena.  So what, you’re asking, do sewers have to do with anything?

As I said, Thomas inspired me to read more historicals.  I tried a couple new authors, but had some trouble finding a good fit.  So I went back to some of my favourites: Lisa Kleypas; Joanna Bourne; Eloisa James.  Re-reading James’ When The Duke Returns crystalized a thought for me:  I have zero desire to experience what it was like in the past.

This is, of course, true for many reasons.   I like being considered a person, legally, spiritually, and economically.  As a woman, wasn’t an option even as recently as a hundred years ago.  Being able to vote, go to university, actually own what is mine –including my body — these are all rights that I will never give up.  But When The Duke Returns draws attention to one of the greatest gifts of the modern age:  proper indoor plumbing.

Without going in to too much detail about the story, suffice it to say that the book paints a graphic picture of what happens when someone tries to build sewer pipers out of cheap materials.  Shit happens, literally.  Even though I was only reading words on a page, James’s descriptions were eloquent enough to make my eyes water.  Ick,ick, ick!  Strangely enough, I’ve recently read two other books that deal with sewers, particualarly London’s sewers:  Dodger, by  the inimitable Terry Pratchett, and Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch.  The former is set in Dickensian London, the latter today, but both offer pointed reminders that what we build needs to last.   Even if it’s a sewer.

 ~~~

Chris Szego wants the carrion lickers who stole her computer to know that dire fates involving raw sewage await them.  She would also like to thank James, who stepped into the breach.

 

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “Nice Guys, Sewers, And Other Relics Of The Past”

  1. Nice Guys, Sewers, & Other Relics of the Past | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    October 19th, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    […] FULL ARTICLE This entry was posted in Literature. Bookmark the permalink. ← Satan’s School For Ghouls: Devil Story […]

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Zack and Steve go through and review Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module S-1: The Tomb Of Horrors at WTF, D&D?!…so you don’t have to.

    “Steve: Most of the opening paragraph is a warning about difficulty. ‘You’ll never find the demi-lich’s secret chamber’ and the tomb is fraught with “terrible traps, poison gases, and magical protections.” It’s telling you not to play the adventure.

    Zack: Not just in that part. In the DM’s notes section at the start, Gygax explicitly warns Dungeon Masters that if your players enjoy killing monsters they will be unhappy with the adventure.

    Steve: ‘This module is only for parties that enjoy dying immediately and repeatedly.’ Oh, man, we’re not going to play though this thing are we?”

    ~

    Dr. Nerdlove takes a brief break from helping the nerd get the girl to address something that’s been bugging him. “Pardon me while I go off on a bit of a media criticism/ rant here. So I’ve been enjoying the *hell* out of The Flash lately except for one thing: Iris Allen. Her character is screen death; every time she’s around, everything comes to a screeching halt.

    The problem is: it’s not her fault, it’s the writers. Rather like Laurel Lance in the first two seasons of Arrow, she has Lois Lane syndrome. Her (like Laurel and Lois) entire character arc is based around being ignorant of events that literally everyone else in her life is aware of.”

    ~

    Get your own copy of the Satanic Temple’s The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities!

    ~

    At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about Dr. Doom: “Comics are so often seen as the province of white geeky nerds. But, more broadly, comics are  the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks. It’s really no mistake that we saw ourselves in Doom, Magneto or Rogue.”

    ~

    Actor Ken Takakura has died. Takakura starred in films such as Brutal Tales of Chivalry (1965); Red Peony Gambler (1968); Miyamoto Musashi: Duel at Ichijoji (1955) and Miyamoto Musashi: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956); as well as in co-productions like The Yakuza (1974); The Bullet Train (1975); Black Rain (1989) and Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles (2005).  The Japan Times, The South China Morning Post and The AV Club have obituaries. Japan Subculture has an interview with Takakura. Here Takakura sings the theme to Abhashiri Prison (1965)

    ~

    Producer, writer and director Glen A. Larson has died. Larson was responsible for creating tv series such as Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I, Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Quincy M.E., The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and Buck Rogers In The 25Th Century, about which the Gutter’s own Keith wrote here. The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter and The AV Club have obituaries. Watch Larson’s interview from 2010 at “Battlestar Galactica: The Exhibition”.

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: