Welcome back to Winsome or Loathsome, the column in which AAR staffers lobby for and against controversial heroines. Today’s heroine is the leading lady of Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure, Nora Colville. If you haven’t read the book, be advised there are spoilers ahead.
In Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure, Nora Colville wanted to marry Adrian Ferrers, but in 1715, their Catholic/Protestant difference was too much for both families. Adrian was beaten and abducted, and Nora’s family pressed her into marriage with Lord Towe. She gave in, Lord Towe died, and Adrian, now the king’s agent, has come back looking for her brother David, a known Jacobite. For the first part of the book, I accepted Nora’s loyalty to her brother despite some red flags. But as the book goes on, Nora’s loyalty goes from sympathetic (most people don’t want to see their brother dead) to unjustifiable. There’s family loyalty, and then there’s Flowers in the Attic.
Nora loves David even though he’s appallingly selfish and has never done a damn thing for her or her beloved home estate Hodderby. Nora stays to care for the land and its tenants while David revolutionizes in France, but she realizes “David would never care for Hodderby as she did… Why… while the land was suffering and its people feared to starve, were its caretakers on some foreign shore, politicking and squabbling?” BECAUSE YOU ENABLE HIM, NORA. And you don’t love Hodderby as much as you tell yourself you do, or you wouldn’t store ENTIRE BARRELS of gunpowder underneath it. For DAVID. Who will go on to prove precisely why you should not store barrels of gunpowder for him.
Nora claims that David was the only one to support her when Adrian disappeared (beaten by David and her father, and thrown on a ship in chains by his family) and Nora’s father locked her up without food or drink to force her to marry Lord Towe. What form, precisely did this support take? Not the form of beverages, apparently. If it’s too much to expect David to argue with their father to save Nora’s life, why is it reasonable for David to expect Nora to defy the crown for his politics?
After colluding in Nora’s awful first marriage, David later signs a betrothal contract on Nora’s behalf without asking Nora. Nora’s reaction is, “he was only a man, and she could not blame him if he fell prey to the same masculine disorders of the mind which plagued his cousin and [Adrian] to boot.” Um, the only disorder that has plagued Adrian is excessive patience with your idiotic loyalty to your brother. And comparing your brother to your lover and your forced-fiance is a bad sign.
But let’s go there. Let’s compare Nora’s endless loyalty to David with her treatment of Adrian. Perhaps she’s just a martyr, willing to suffer anything for the people she loves. Let’s look at how she reacted when Adrian vanished. As mentioned, she was deprived of food, and eventually caved and married Lord Towe. How long did this endlessly-patient heroine hold out hope for the return of the man she loved, and (spoiler) whose child she was carrying? Twenty years, like Odysseus’s Penelope?
Try twenty days.
No, not twenty days before she agreed to marry Lord Towe. It was Day 20 when Adrian, having overcome his beating and escaped his chains, staggered back to Hodderby and found himself attending the actual wedding.
Twenty days, in an era of travel by horseback on unreliable roads with highwaymen.
Twenty days, for an aristocratic marriage involving major land deals spanning Great Britain and a big ceremony with guests who probably had to leave the minute the received the invitations to make it on time.
Twenty days, when banns (which come later, but can be used for a benchmark) are called for twenty-one days.
Remind me how long David has been in France fomenting revolution? Months? Years? And Adrian, your lover, got TWENTY FREAKING DAYS?
Give me a break.
(Some will argue that Nora’s pregnancy made it necessary for her to give in for sustenance. Fine. Agree to marry Towe to get out of your room. Then spend six months planning your wedding! A year, if you can pull it off! If you believe in Adrian, keep putting off Towe. Your goal here is not to get the child legitimately born to Lord Towe; it’s to buy time for Adrian to get back to you and marry you himself. You can at least make it to the second trimester).
Now let’s follow the story to Creepytown. David starts to read not just as an emotional rival for Adrian, but a sexual one. David is the elephant in the bed the night Nora and Adrian first have sex again:
“[Adrian] would do things to her that she had only dreamed about, during long, tossing nights… A stifled sound escaped her. “David – if you will help him, if you promise-”
“I have said I might,” he murmured… HIs tongue curled over the lobe of her ear. “Only tell me what to say,” he whispered. Shall I speak of your brother, Nora mine?”
NO. JESUS GOD, NO.
Lines which you think appeared better in context, but really didn’t:
Adrian explaining that Nora can either save herself by marrying Adrian or be convicted of treason with David, literally uses the phrase “Your brother will not touch you.”
A lord smirks at Nora and says, “I know that you share an uncommon closeness with your brother.”
Nora reflects, “Yes, she had erred. But she was still [Adrian’s] wife. Yet, how could she be that woman? One portion of her soul strained behind her, toward the brother… The other half strained forward, to the man on the hill.” THEY ARE NOT JACOB AND EDWARD AND YOU ARE NOT BELLA SWAN.
“May God show mercy to all whom she loved, [Adrian] as much as her brother.”
And then in the final chapter, we see Nora face a difficult moment:
“She held out her arms to him, taking him into a hard embrace. With her face buried against his chest, she closed her eyes, permitting herself to savor this moment, perhaps the last she would ever share with him.
‘David,’ she said very softly…”
What do you think? Nora Colville – winsome or loathsome? Or just plain creepy?