I enjoy these fairy tale retellings quite a bit! There’s something very Georgette Heyer about the way that Eloisa James writes dialogue, in the exact vein of my favorite works of hers (The Grand Sophy*, Cotillion). All heroines are sparkling wits (and may or may not be beauties) who clash verbal swords with broody male leads and/or secondary characters (conservative ladies who hold the keys to Almack’s, clearly unsuited secondary male leads). Not everything is the same, of course–both of these novels take place in foreboding castles far away from the gaiety and eyes of London society. And oh, James has given no indication so far that she’s an unrepentant anti-Semite.
( * this book has a strong bit of anti-Semitism in the middle. I have lots of feelings on this, I usually only recommend Cotillion these days if asked for that reason )
All the better to debauch in 😉
Like all bookish girls who grew up in the 90s, Belle is my favorite Disney princess. She is objectively the best, there is no argument there. But also, as an adult, I am aware that she doesn’t have nearly as much agency as I think she does in the movies. I am ashamed to say that I, for a long time, thought that she was to blame for the Beast’s anger when she went into the West Wing. Which is to say, now that I am older I understand that she shouldn’t have disregarded his wishes but also he doesn’t have any right to a) lock her up or b) lock up her father or c) rage at her. It’s complicated, okay?? It used to hurt when people called her Princess Stockholm Syndrome but, well, if the shoe fits then you must make her your wife, that is a perfectly reasonable way to conduct your love life.
So James does a good job here of stripping out some of the more objectionable parts of the Beauty and the Beast story that we are all thinking of. The Disney version. I know the story is French, James even mentions the French story at the end! But like…are you thinking of the French story? You are?
There’s a lovely bit of frisson between these two, with a minimum of helpful waif syndrome and not as much Beast-ly-ness as is there General Nobel Grumpiness. It helps that Linnet isn’t truly helpless re: staying in the Earl’s castle, and gives as good as she gets for the most part. The Earl is a realistic (to me!) seeming person with a disability (an old leg injury that gives him constant pain) and it’s really just my own pop culture blind spot that made me not recognize the Dr. House homage for what it is (to be fair, I think it’s a pretty strong homage). Spoiler: There’s even a bit of a “would you love me even still”, where Linnet loses her best ticket away from genteel Bennet poverty (her beauty) and the Piers has a chance to prove his better-ness and love her still.
I think the part I like best about these novels is how the female characters get to have teh sex without having it be the only reason why they like the male leads. I enjoy this era of corsetery and frippery, but it usually means very PG rated longing glances and gloveless touches. I’ll have a bit of suspension of disbelief if it means some frickety frack.