Flaming JuneNovember 30, 2013
This post is brought to you by my tendency not to think things through before I write about them.
So, the thing about Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey is that she was lousy at endings. Like, she’s so good at putting prickly characters in twisty emotional situations and still having everything be super charming, but then the end is always a cop-out, or rushed, or suddenly makes you hate all the characters you loved for most of the book. Anyway, I read a review of one of her books at Fleur in her World the other day, and Fleur had the same issue with the last 10% of the book, but her praise for the first 90% made me want to read something by Mrs. G. de H.V., because when she’s good, she’s very, very good.
Flaming June skirts the ending issue altogether, by…not having one, sort of. And I can’t decide how I feel about that. Mrs. G. de H.V. basically spends half the book turning tropes upside down, and the other half taking other tropes super seriously and I can’t tell whether she’s doing any of it on purpose. And the self indulgent part of me wants a sequel, and the critical part of me is pretty impressed with Mrs. G. de H.V. for leaving things unresolved, and then just about all of me wants a sequel that has almost nothing to do with the main characters, but follows the villainess as she carries out the plans the heroine lays out for her.
When I started Flaming June, I thought, “oh, this is Mrs. G. de H.V.’s L.T. Meade book,” because there’s a breezily unconventional American girl and a sweet, sheltered English one who become best friends. But Elma, the English girl, hasn’t got the depth that Meade’s more conventional characters have, and Cornelia, the American, has more of Mrs. G. de H.V.’s respect than Meade ever gave any of her characters. Cornelia has come to stay with her cranky spinster aunt in a quiet neighborhood, and of course everyone’s familiar with the narrative of the cheerful young person making over the stiff and uncompromising elderly relative, but Mrs. G. de H.V. passes that by — it’s a story, but it’s not this story. Likewise the story of the brash American and the proud English girl finding common ground — Mrs. G. de H.V. concentrates on Cornelia and Elma’s friendship only long enough to throw Elma into the arms of her longtime crush, Geoffrey Greville. And to introduce Cornelia to Captain Rupert Guest, who doesn’t like her at all, until he does.
Mrs. G. de H.V. structures her romances as problems, which I enjoy, except that she’s kind of too good at it. I think that’s where a certain amount of her lousy finishes come from — she creates problems that are actually insoluble, and has to do violence to her characters in order to resolve them. The Guest/Cornelia problem is that they’re nothing alike, have no common interests, and don’t always even like each other very much. Which, if you think about it, is a problem you see in romances all the time, only it’s waved away, and you’re assured that the characters are going to be very happy together. And if the author is good enough, you believe it.
So, yeah, I was kind of concerned. Because Mrs. G. de H.V. IS good enough, but she also has this tendency to write herself into a corner. And that’s what she does, and…that’s where she leaves it. My respect for Mrs. G. de H.V. has increased enormously.
I realize I’m neglecting the book itself to talk about my various Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey feels, but I do find her really fascinating. She’s so good at certain things, but I never trust her. She’s always doing icky things like shoving characters back into their strictly defined gender roles and/or destroying everything I liked about them with one action. So when I come to a book like Flaming June, and I can see Guest constructing a different version of Cornelia in his head, one that’s based mostly on her least characteristic actions, I’m apprehensive. And then Mrs. G. de H.V. explicitly recognizes that. It’s tremendously satisfying and not satisfying at all. But mostly I feel pretty good about it. Well done, Mrs. G. de H.V.