I'm not talking about the whiny brats, the passive-aggressive victims, and the casually cruel. I'm talking about th...more**spoiler alert** I like bad girls.
I'm not talking about the whiny brats, the passive-aggressive victims, and the casually cruel. I'm talking about those women who don't conform to society's expectations and who use every resource they have to thrive. The sluts, the bitches, the fighters and the survivors. Those are the bad girls I like.
You might like a few of them yourself. Historical figures like Elizabeth Tudor and Cleopatra the Great were both bad girls of that mold; if they hadn't been, they'd have been murdered young and we'd have never heard of either of them. Instead, they both schemed, manipulated and even killed to become great queens.
There are beloved fictional bad girls too. Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind is probably the most infamous. Scarlett is a heroine with insurmountable flaws, but her single minded determination and her raw courage made her an enduring cultural icon. More recent literary history gives us the Dallanger Saga by V.C. Andrews, which captivated millions of readers with its vengeful heroine, Cathy Doll. But as dark and twisted as Cathy is, there's redemption for her.
Not so with the main character of a remarkable novel I just read. Wideacre is not the kind of book that I would normally have picked up, though I am lucky I had no idea what I was getting into, because the surprise was thrilling. Since I had no notion of where the story was going, the first chapter was so dull that I nearly chucked the book in the trash. Worse, I could not find it within me to like the heroine. But soon, I realized that I did not just dislike Beatrice Lacey--I hated her.
And then I could not put the book down.
The narrator of Wideacre is unlike any main character I have ever encountered before with the possible exception of The Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons or Catherine Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights. At first, I read Wideacre because I was shocked. Then I kept reading because I couldn't wait to find out what sociopathic thing Beatrice would do next. But eventually, I became so absorbed in the darkness of her heart and the desperation of her struggle that I was unaccountably moved to tears.
While I could see no road to redemption for Beatrice, and I did not come to love her, I took no joy in her failures. This book is a tragedy, and in spite of the wildly divergent reviews on Amazon.com, I think it'll resonate with every woman's inner villainess.
Though Beatrice is not a normal woman by any stretch of the imagination, she is a product of the sexism of her times. Some of her vices, in a man, would be virtues. It's her absolute refusal to accept the role that society has set out for her that turns her into a monster. It's not that Beatrice can't love. It's that she doesn't love as a woman ought to. And when she does love, it's to such excess that it destroys everything.
In less exaggerated ways, I suspect every woman has been there. Driven by passions that are unseemly, unacceptable, and difficult to control. Usually, this manifests itself in semi-innocent transgressions, like spying on a boyfriend's email or calling his cell phone 47 times. I've done neither of these things, but I understand the impulse and have sins of my own. Passion can destroy.
Indeed, I worry sometimes that is going to be the legacy of Hillary Clinton--another admirable bad girl who seems poised, at this moment, to rip apart what she most loves in the world. I'm certainly not calling her a villainess or comparing her sins to the evils of Beatrice Lacey. But Wideacre must be understood as a woman's fable.
It's a lesson in violent passions unrestrained by conscience or apology. And though it purports to be historical fiction, there are some plausibly deniable fantasy elements that pull it into the speculative fiction realm. It's also a book with political and historical lessons; a thinking person's gothic horror. But at its core Wideacre is epic myth. Beatrice is a goddess, with all the potential for destruction that entails.
Wideacre is not a perfect book. It's too long by about 200 pages. It's repetitive, overwrought, surreal, and after a while, you can see the ending coming like an unstoppable freight train; you're just there to watch the wreck. This is a dark book, disgusting and compelling at once.
It's also a book that will haunt me for a long time.(less)