Friday, May 14

Considering Lorraine Heath's "A Duke Of Her Own" and Phillipa Ashley's "Decent Exposure"

A certain pattern can be discerned in my reading choices this past year. The gracious may call it a passion for the highest of the arts. The less gracious would aim more closely toward snobbery. The first six months were filling in gaps in my experience with the canon. A few hundred pages of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, about an equal amount of Borges and O'Connor, significantly less Mann. The last six months were trying to catch up on the contemporary scene. Names like Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum and Rebecca Curtis may not be as well known, but I found them by picking through the winners and runners-up of the past few years of some shorty-story collection contest.

The collected short fiction of Hemingway finally broke me. Somewhere around page 300 I couldn't take another scene of people drinking and being miserable. I needed a break. That break turned out to be Lorraine Heath's A Duke Of Her Own and Phillipa Ashley's Decent Exposure. They are grocery store soft-core porn at their pinnacle. Duke has the bare-chested, dark-haired beefcake exploding his blonde woman into ecstasy as she holds him from behind. Exposure has a blonde of Bratz-proportions, only replacing the melon head with a pin head, prancing across the cover with a calendar showcasing a bare-chested, dark-haired beefcake.

The similarities don't end with the covers. They open with fiercely independent women embarking on new projects and careers when their old lives don't live up to their expectations. Lady Louisa Wentworth becomes a chaperone to eligible society women. Emma Tremayne pitches a nude calendar to raise funds for the local mountain rescue team's new headquarters. Ironically, they could have had a much better title by having Emma pitch a bake sale. Anyone for Buttered Muffin? These bold life choices bring them in contact with men of clipped sentences and withheld backgrounds. Duke Hawkhurst is pledged to another woman but is redeemed by being a duke. Will Tennant left a woman at the altar but is redeemed but wanting to turn some lakeside real estate not into a resort but playground. From the beginning their public irritation with one another can be nothing but repressed lust. Heath and Ashley explain. "She did not stand out in a crowd, but she did manage to stand up to him, and he found that more intriguing than any physical characteristics she might possess." "Emma had to concede, even though it went against all her principles, that at six feet three, dark-haired and disgustingly handsome in a rugged, rough-edged kind of way, Will Tennant was the only one she'd have paid good money to see naked."

There are some misunderstandings, there are some revelations, there are some sex. Poorly written sex. "Raised up on an elbow, he leisurely allowed his heated gaze to roam over her flushed body like a gentle caress. She wanted to pull him down, ask him not to torture her so." Curse those gentle caresses. Curse them to the eternal inferno. "Accepted now, the brisk tenderness that was Will. Like now, as he freed her of the tight restraint of her bodice." I'm not entirely convinced women are writing these scenes. They read an awful lot more like a man singing the song of himself.

Then there are some more misunderstandings, some tears, some more revelations and finally a promise of eternal love.

Of course, that all is not even to begin to touch on the similarity that stands behind Duke and Exposure, propping them up and making their very existence possible. I am, of course, speaking of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. The characters, the story arc, there is not an original idea in the whole. Hawkhurst even has a younger sister of whom he is terribly fond. Why even bother complaining about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? People have been scamming on Austen for decades if not since the very publication of Northanger Abbey.

Sometime ago I proposed that higher education should make an effort to teach its students why the canon is the canon by placing it against garbage contemporary literature. This view has not changed. Duke and Exposure have only inspired my return to Hemingway.

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