Sunday, August 24, 2014

Windflower, Windermere and the Differing Effects of Bhang

Last month, I read Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville. I enjoyed it very much, as I have enjoyed all of her books. The plot is a second-chance romance involving an estranged couple who made a marriage of convenience and then separated for a year when Lord Windermere accepted a diplomatic post in Persia.

Newly returned from the Orient, he finds his wife has developed a close friendship with his former best friend (now bitter rival), and circumstantial evidence leads him to believe they are having an affair. He makes an effort to repair his marriage, and his wife asks for time to become better acquainted before they resume having sex. He agrees, and his patience eventually pays off. They plan a night of intimacy, and in order to help her relax, he fills an incense-burner with hashish resin that he calls by the Persian term bhang.

I knew that would not end as Lord Windermere hoped, for I remembered the infamous opium scene in The Windflower. Poor Merry is forced by Rand Morgan to smoke opium until she is passive and semi-conscious. Then she is left in Devon's bed like a gift. He believes she is a woman of easy virtue and at least somewhat willing (an old trope in romance novels of that era). His kissing and groping is brought to an abrupt end when Merry's stomach rebels, and he ends the night holding her hair instead of more interesting bits of her anatomy.

Re-reading that book this month, I was amused by Devon's observation: "That's what you get when you force yourself on a seasick woman splattered with bhang and bruises."

I believe that is an important life lesson for everyone.

The use of the word "bhang" (in this case referring to opium) caught my eye, since I had recently encountered it in Lady Windermere's Lover. I started to wonder if Miranda Neville had written that scene as a deliberate homage/parody.

There are some important differences. Poor Windflower Merry does not try opium willingly, nor does she consent to amorous congress with Devon, and she gets no enjoyment out of the encounter. Lady Windermere consents to intimacy with Damien, and although the bhang is not her idea, she is not averse to it. She gets a pleasant buzz from it (probably similar to the high one experiences at a certain type of rock concert, even if one does not smoke). Damien uses his mouth to bring her to her first orgasm, after which she promptly falls asleep. Poor Damien is left with an extreme case of blue balls, which is perhaps karmic payback for the joyless (for her) sex at the beginning of their marriage.

I also notice that the heroes' names and the heroines' title or nickname sound similar. I recall reading a review of Lady Windermere's Lover (but cannot find that one now) wherein either the reviewer or some commenters complained that they disliked Damien and felt he did not grovel sufficiently, and they found themselves wishing Lady Windermere would dump him and run off with Julian. That was similar to some online comments I read about The Windflower back in May, that some readers disliked Devon and wished that Merry would end up with Cat or Raven instead.

There are many differences between the two novels and only a few similarities. Comparing them is a good illustration of how much attitudes and expectations among readers and writers of historical romance have changed in the last 30 years.

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