There are few books in romancelandia that stir up controversy like Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love. Some people love it, others loath it, and some are “meh” about it. First published in 1985, it has all the hallmarks of traditional Old Skool romance:
- a super arrogant titled hero with some sort of hidden agenda
- a very young, feisty heroine whose eyes are so distinctive they require mentioning about every third page
- a largish time span
- big misunderstands that lead to personal growth
- a rape scene.
Yes, a rape scene.
Rape scenes have become synonymous with Old Skool romances over the years. Heroes who are so alpha they can barely stand to be in the same room with the heroine without the desire to posses her and (very often) stupid heroines who succumb to the hero’s “punishing kisses” are the norm; and that very often leads to rape.
Not all Old Skool romances include rape, but a lot of them do. Like so many things, that’s just the way books were written then. It doesn’t make them any worse or any better than more current (post 1995) historical romance; you just have to accept it in the context of when it was written and the style of books being published.
I went in knowing that Clayton was an alphole (alpha asshole) and that Whitney would probably drive me nuts because I can’t stand overly feisty heroines. I knew that Clayton rapes Whitney. When I bought this book (over a year ago), I purposefully bought the original edition. I wanted to read it as it was meant to be read and not cleaned up to be more PC. Whitney, My Love is classic for a reason and wanted to experience that classic-ness in all it’s rapey glory.
I was marginally surprised at how much I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book. The book opens with Whitney at 15, desperately trying to impress the local golden boy. Because of her behavior (and because her father’s an asshole), she gets shipped off to France to grow up and become a lady under the guidance of her aunt. Four years later she returns to England to find that her father, to keep from going to debtor’s prison, has sold her to the Duke of Claymore (as you do). This wealthy duke with a horrible reputation turns out to be Clayton Westmore, the guy that’s been living next door and attempting to woo Whitney. The guy she’s developed love-hate feelings for.
Naturally, she’s pissed (I would be too) and everything goes to hell in a hand basket because Whitney has received a marriage proposal from her childhood love (that she’s been basically stalking since she got home). So then everyone goes to London (because, you know, it’s The Season) but Whitney runs back home so can get out of marrying Clayton by marrying the childhood sweetheart, who then turns out to be a money-grubbing asshole (obviously).
So Whitney races back to London to keep Clayton from finding out all of this and to tell him that she does want to marry him after all, but she’s too late. Clayton is told that Whitney is a big fat ho, and because he’s an alphole, he believes this bit of gossip and rapes Whitney as a punishment for lying and being a big ho.
Yeah, I know. I didn’t really get it either.*
After that, I couldn’t read it anymore. It wasn’t the actual rape that bothered me; I knew it was coming, and yes, it was terrible. But it was the reason behind Clayton’s “punishment” of Whitney. He was told and believed (SPOILER ALERT!!) that Whitney was not the innocent virgin he thought her to be. He was told this by a character we are told time and time again doesn’t like Whitney, has it out for her, and has set her cap for Clayton. We are told that she is horrid and we are shown that Clayton doesn’t like her and doesn’t do much but humor her in public because, manners.
Yet Clayton believes her. This is where I threw up the book in disgust. I can take a lot of things in books, even terribly stupid misunderstandings. But when we the reader are told over and over again that this character is awful, that people see through her schemes and then she is somehow still believed by the hero?? I’m done.
I flipped through the last third of the book, and while I’m sure I would have enjoyed some of it, I just couldn’t bring myself to read anymore of it. No amount of groveling or pleading declarations of love could make me trust Clayton again. I did enjoy what I did read and found it to be more like A Kingdom of Dreams than some of Ms. McNaught’s contemporary stuff (if I have to put up with an alphole hero he better come with a title and buckets of money), but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t finish it after losing faith in Clayton, and subsequently, in the book.
Final Grade: DNF
*I should note that I read this book 2 days after my surgery so it might not be so much the confusion of the story as my drug-addled brain not keeping up.