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Whitney, My Love (#99 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)

Judith McNaught

An AAR Top 100 Romance

originally published on September 10, 1999

 

I’ve always liked Whitney, My Love. But recently, it has become a very guilty pleasure – kind of like buying a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and eating it in one sitting. In the years that I have been on line, I have seen it discussed countless times, and it comes up every so often on AAR’s own message boards. Usually the comments are very mixed. Some people love it and consider it a classic, others just can’t see what all the fuss is about. A recent poster to the board mentioned that she liked several other books by McNaught but really didn’t care for Whitney. Several others replied that they didn’t like the book either. When I read their posts, I started to wonder why I liked it! After all, I agreed with many of their statements. Clayton is, in fact, an arrogant jerk. Whitney is indeed childish. The book is rife with stupid misunderstandings. In the original version of the book, Clayton hits Whitney with a riding crop to punish her, and even rapes her later on.

Since many of these aspects of Whitney are things I complain about in other books, I started to wonder if I was talking out of both sides of my mouth. Did I even remember the book correctly? After all, I had only read the book in its entirety once, though I frequently glance at my favorite scenes. So when I approached the new edition of the book, I decided to analyze it in a much more systematic way; I wanted to find out if I still liked Whitney in spite of its flaws, or perhaps even because of them.

I came away feeling that yes, Clayton is an arrogant jerk (who does some really stupid things) and Whitney is definitely a childish hoyden (who does equally stupid things). So who wants to read the love story of an arrogant jerk and a childish hoyden who continually misunderstand each other? As it turns out – me. Here’s why:

When you look up ” hoyden” in the dictionary, you almost expect to see Whitney’s picture. She’s spunky, impulsive, and mouthy. She’s rude and immature, especially at the beginning of the book. However, McNaught explores Whitney’s character with all its ramifications. Lots of heroines are spunky, but their personality is only taken so far. McNaught takes Whitney all the way, and then some. The riding crop scene is a perfect example. Though it is changed in the second edition, it starts out the same way: Whitney throws a riding crop, intending to hit Clayton. Instead she hits and injures a horse who happens to display very aggressive behavior when he even looks at a riding crop. There are no two ways about it – it’s a stupid thing to do, and Whitney realizes it immediately. Whitney goes on to do many other stupid things, but she repeats the pattern of learning from her mistakes. By the end of the book she is less of a girl, and more of a grown-up.

Similarly, Clayton’s arrogance is taken to its logical extreme, and he is much slower to learn than Whitney. Twice he leaps to incredibly silly conclusions about her, and in both cases his actions are disastrous. First he believes the malicious gossip of a woman who hates Whitney, and rapes Whitney as a result. Then after they are reconciled and happily married he finds a note Whitney wrote during their estrangement. The note seems to provide damning evidence that Whitney was pregnant with another man’s child when she came to profess her love for him. Does anyone besides me wonder why Whitney didn’t throw that stupid note in the fire instead of saving it? Did she think she might need it later? Anyway, this time Clayton’s assumptions about Whitney’s character are all the more reprehensible, because he has been married to her for months and should really know better. Whitney forgives him, but many readers find that they can’t be so generous.

Even the first time I read through this final misunderstanding, I was pretty impatient. This second time through I still wanted to shake Clayton and scream, “Come on, you idiot!” But annoying as the characters’ actions get, they always ring true. McNaught makes them seem human, with all the stupidity and wonder this implies. The first time, and this time, I was willing to go along for the ride. A powerful scene like the following goes a long way toward explaining why so many people enjoy Whitney and Clayton’s love story and find the attraction between them so compelling:

Swearing savagely, he grabbed her arms and started to pull them down from his neck. “Clayton, don’t!” she cried out brokenly, locking her fingers tightly behind his nape. “Oh please, please don’t!” Tears slipped down her cheeks as she ignored his painful grip on her arm and kissed this angry unyielding man, this powerful, dynamic man, who had endured her hostility and outbursts with patience and humor….until now, when she had hurt him.

His hands went to her waist to shove her away, but Whitney pressed closer. Timidly, she touched her tongue to his lips, hoping he would like it if she kissed him that way. He went rigid. Every muscle in his body drew taut, hardening against her. Her tongue slid between his barely parted lips, encountered his, recoiled in wild alarm – and then crept back for more sweet, forbidden touch. An her world exploded with the violence of his response.

Clayton is a sophisticated worldly man courting a woman who has spirit, but is in many ways still a girl. To me, lovers like these are reminiscent of some of my other favorites, including Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s Emma and her Mr. Knightley. Oddly enough, all these lovers are victims of stupid misunderstandings themselves.

So even if you enjoy Whitney as I do, is the new version worth your time? In my opinion, yes. Both the riding crop scene and the rape scene are changed in significant ways that make them more palatable. The longer ending is a little more debatable. Much of it presents information about Clayton’s brother Stephen, kind of as a lead in to his book, Until You. These scenes are illuminating but more necessary to Stephen’s story than Whitney’s and Clay’s. However, there is a positively delightful ending scene which recalls the characters from A Kingdom of Dreams. This poignant scene adds much to the ending, and fans of Whitney, My Love in its original form will not want to miss it.

In the end, many reactions to books are emotional rather than logical. Either Whitney and Clayton captivate you and excite your imagination, or they don’t. I don’t think Whitney, My Love is a perfect book, but then neither is Jane Eyre. Just as current romances have too many Big Misunderstandings, nineteenth century ones are rife with Astounding and Unlikely Coincidences. But what are a few misunderstandings or coincidences between two people who love each other so passionately? Especially since in the end, love conquers all. If you’ve been afraid to try Whitney, My Love, I encourage you to do so. You too may be captivated by the childish hoyden who becomes a woman, and the proud, stubborn man who loves her. And if you’re not entranced by them, perhaps you can relate more to the characters from McNaught’s Perfect, which is the book I don’t get!

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Blythe Smith


Grade :     B


Sensuality :      Warm


Book Type :     


Review Tags :      |


12 Comments

  1. Dabney Grinnan
    Dabney Grinnan June 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I’ve never read this book in either version. It’s interesting to think about the idea that, with ebooks, authors can keep changing the story to make it more palatable to modern readers. I’m not sure I’m thrilled about that.

  2. Caz Owens
    Caz Owens June 23, 2017 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    I’ve read the original version – some time ago now – but not the newer one. Like Dabney, I’m on the fence about authors changing their stories to make them more palatable to a modern audience. I can see both sides of the argument, but these older books are products of their time, just as the characters are, and I don’t like to think of an author feeling pressured into making changes to a story they felt was the story they wanted to tell at the time of publication.

    • CarolineAAR June 23, 2017 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      Although I wouldn’t assume all stories are what the authors wanted to tell. Publisher and market pressure may have dictated content.

  3. Blackjack
    Blackjack June 23, 2017 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Not sure the comparison between Jane Eyre and Whitney, My Love are very helpful or persuasive at all. Jane Eyre is not a genre romance novel and the book is about so much more than lover misunderstandings. Whitney seems to be almost exclusively about lover misunderstandings more than anything else, and the domination of the heroine seems pretty typically for romances from the period. I recall that Unit You, one of the other Westmoreland saga books, features nearly as violent and abusive behavior from the hero. I remember reading both when I was younger and feeling shocked even then that this was how McNaught represents heroic behavior.

    I don’t like when authors try to “fix” problems and modernize them. I’ve never read one that felt successful and in the case of Whitney, the problems are so intrinsic to the story.

    • AlwaysReading June 24, 2017 at 11:07 am - Reply

      I agree completely with Black Jack that Jane Eyre and Whitney, My Love are worlds apart. To draw a comparison between the two, is to ignore the complexity of the themes in Jane Eyre, and the heroine’s journey in discovering herself. I read Whitney, My Love when I was much younger and while I certainly enjoyed some passages in the book and the chemistry between Clayton and Whitney, I remember being left feeling uncomfortable and upset with the way Clayton treated Whitney. Fans of the book have to reconcile themselves to the fact that they love a book in which the hero stalks the heroine constantly, and flat out rapes and abuses, when he thinks that she squandered her attention on other men before he even met her. I found it unforgivable how even after they got married and were purportedly deeply in love, he is still incapable of trusting her. I don’t think the fact that the book was written in the 80s is enough to justify the author romanticizing the hero’s abusive conduct.

  4. WandaSue June 23, 2017 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    I read Whitney My Love when it first came out in the 1980’s, and hated it then. The writing was amateurish, I thought, and Whitney was immature and silly. Clayton was a complete jerk. And it was too long, I found no redeeming quality in it. Recently, when I saw it was at a good price on Amazon, I downloaded it and decided to give it another go.

    Nope. Nope. Nope. It remains even more unreadable to me 30 years on …

  5. Jenna Harper
    Jenna Harper June 23, 2017 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    I’ve got copies of both the original and PC versions of WML. I remember loving it when it first came out, but that was back in the heydey of the Bodice Ripper and it never occurred to me that some of this stuff was actually quite dysfunctional. I think if I were to go back and read it now (either version) it would end up being a DNF because I’ve lost all tolerance for Big Misunderstandings, obnoxious heroines and heroes who refuse to listen.

    As far as writers have the ability to go back and change stuff, I’m fundamentally against it. I mean, if they can constantly work on a book, how do you know you’ve ever read the final version? I do get the desire to go back and tweak and/or fix minor mistakes. But when it comes to changing significant story elements – adding/removing scenes, changing characters or plot points, etc. – then I say at the very least they need to make it clear that the latest version is not the original. Perhaps it would even be incumbent upon them to provide anyone who purchased an e-version to receive an updated copy if they so desire.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 24, 2017 at 8:35 am - Reply

      Jenna, the last part of your response is what troubles me, too. I imagine all creators of all sorts of media would love to go on tinkering with their work forever; I think that’s the nature of the beast. But there comes a point when something has to be finished. Not that it’s a particularly apt analogy, but would we want Leonardo da Vinci to go back and make changes to the Mona Lisa because people wanted to her to smile a bit more?!

  6. Keira Soleore
    Keira Soleore June 24, 2017 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Like Jenna above, I’m against authors changing their original work in an attempt to modernize it, add in fixes per reader comments, etc. It is dishonest to readers of the original work and to new readers alike — you just never know which version of the story you’re going to get stuck with.

    It would be a copyright nightmare for the author, too. Why would you want multiple drafts of your story floating around?

    If an author is unhappy with their decades-old work, then they can write a new story on that same premise with fresh characters, fresh plotting, and a fresh perspective.

  7. Laura June 24, 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

    I read Whitney about 15 years ago, just because I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, and I didn’t like it at all.
    First, I believe that the name Whitney as a woman’s first name is rather recent in origin (1900s I found on the internet) and it seems an anachronism in the book’s setting
    Second, the age difference – i think it was more than 15 years, and far more than that in experience, gave the romance a rather creepy feeling.
    Third, IIRC Clayton threw his ex lovers in Whitney’s face, and I found this behavior so churlish that I would never have finished to book if not that I had promised to comment on it with some internet friends.
    So the fact that it is on ANY list of favorite romances is beyond me

  8. June June 24, 2017 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    I read both versions years ago and found I couldn’t like the couple, particularly Clayton. Most of the time his actions are stupid and appalling. Too many big misunderstandings make the novel frustrating to read. And yet, there is the emotionally charged dinner scene when Whitney angers Clayton and causes them to leave the room which leads to their tender reconciliation – I’ve reread that scene many times.

    • Blackjack
      Blackjack June 25, 2017 at 3:08 am - Reply

      I like that scene too. McNaught is good at poignancy and remorse.

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