Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Marriage of Convenience

I'm still on a Betty Neels kick, but I think that hoary convention of The Marriage of Convenience crops up in other books, albeit not with the frequency it enjoys in the Neels canon.  Anyway, what I'm interested in is the psychology of The Marriage of Convenience.

I'm reading this -- not dog-eared, but dog-chewed -- copy of An Unlikely Romance.  (The Uncrushable Jersey Dress review is here; their discussion on the book is here.)  In it, Krijn proposes marriage to Beatrice (aka Trixie) because he needs to finish his book on endocrinology.  (Oh, come on -- all you authors and writers out there, admit it: a wife would make your life easier, if for no other reason than to have someone answer the phone and say, "Brilliant Genius residence.  No, I'm sorry, Brilliant Genius is not available.  Perhaps I can help you?")  

In a variety of ways, Neels telegraphs to the reader that Krijn is not in love with Trixie-Beatrice when he proposes, or rather he has no clue that he might be in love with her.  So his motivation is pretty basic:  he may be unconsciously attracted to her subtle qualities of intelligence, decency, and mousiness, and in all that see someone he can stand to marry and then ignore.  If he were being brutally honest, he would acknowledge that by marrying her he's giving up any hope of falling in love himself.  Further, his offer exchanges Trixie-Beatrice's opportunity to fall in love freely for her financial security.  Also, she will be rescued from both an unhappy home life (orphan raised in cold household of aunt & uncle who consider Trixie uninteresting and unattractive) and an unappealing career.  (Trixie has trained as a nurse, but her superiors make it clear to her that she's not exactly taking the profession by storm.)  He is, in the tradition of all Neels heroes, rich with nice homes and the generosity to insist she buy nice things.

Thus a marriage of convenience makes sense from his point of view.  She's not nearly as good looking as he is, but he doesn't care about appearances (other than to be well, if conservatively, dressed) and his friends -- mostly professional colleagues -- don't care either.  He's perhaps lonely, and may have some instinct that just a bit more social interaction would be a nice addition to his life.  He volunteers to take Trixie-Beatrice shopping, which is absurd from any rational perspective -- the average husband doesn't much like accompanying his wife on shopping trips for her clothes -- but might show his commitment to the marriage.  He knows he wants a wife for social purposes, and said wife should be appropriately dressed, so some passive encouragement may be called for.  (He accompanies her but doesn't actually help her pick out clothes; in effect, he helps her spend his money).

Why, though, does Trixie marry him?  She says yes with no emotional connection, but at various points in their "engagement" she reflects that she could change her mind.  She quickly sees, though, that she loves him.  She may have gotten engaged for one set of reasons, but she's marrying him because she's in love and so not marrying him would be even worse.  My question, then, is why marry someone you believe is not in love with you?  (It should be said that Krijn isn't in love with anyone else, either, although that never stopped a Neels heroine from fearing the worst more than once before the denouement.)

Freud thought mental health (and thus the goal of psychoanalysis) was to love and to work.  Wouldn't we add the ability to be loved, to see oneself as a worthy object of love, to that list?  Trixie doesn't think that she's worthy of being loved (her aunt and uncle will have reinforced that impression), which is surely a factor in her decision to marry Krijn.  But she's on notice even before the wedding that Krijn sees her differently than others do.  He accompanies her to Aunt Alice's house to announce their engagement, and he can see how negligently she is treated, and how differently Aunt Alice treats him.  Trixie can hear it in his voice, and his respect and regard for her is strengthened when he refers to her as "Beatrice" in front of Aunt Alice.

Now, about these two names.  Her given name is Beatrice, but when she was orphaned, Aunt Alice insisted on calling her Trixie even though Alice's own daughter Margaret gets no such demeaning nickname.  Betty Neels isn't one for nicknames; Euphemia remains Euphemia, Cassandra doesn't become Cassie, and so forth.  So why is Trixie not only called Trixie by her family, but referred to as Trixie in the third-person when it's her own POV?  Only Krijn calls her Beatrice, refers to her as Beatrice, and thinks about her as Beatrice.

I kept expecting Neels to do something clever with this, like have Trixie's third-person POV name shift (finally!) to Beatrice when she learns she's loved by Krijn.  But no, even in the penultimate paragraph, Trixie is still Trixie.

I have some experience with this.  I was christened Magdalen because there was a tradition of naming one's offspring after one's siblings (a tradition not entirely dead in the most recent generation, but certainly on life-support) and my aunt is Magdalen.  (She was named for her grandmother, who was named for some Magdalen before her.)  That tradition came from my mother's family; my dad's rule for baby-naming was that the name had to have a nickname.  (He was named George, which has no good nicknames, so his own experience may have had something to do with all this.)  Ergo, I was called "Maggie."  (Use it and your motherboard will die a horrible death.)

I tried other names, but when I'd finally grown up enough to see myself as worthy of such an unusual and handsome name, I told everyone that's what I wanted to be called.  (I asked Ross what one word he would use to characterize my name, and he said "dignified."  I guess I still have some work to do to live up to that!)  It was a huge hassle, I was told, and many of my family members took a long time (up to and including "never") to get used to the change.

For me, though, it was a matter of identity.  I wasn't "Maggie" and when that sense of being misnamed got acute enough, I insisted on being called by *my* name.  (As I pointed out to my mother -- one of the people who never made the change -- it's not like I had picked a name at random and was insisting on being called "Krystal" or "Tiffani."  This was the name they had picked, after all.)

Back to Trixie.  She uses the name her unloving relatives gave her, but somehow Krijn sees through that and calls her by her "rightful" name.  That's an act of respect, certainly, if not attention.  It's not enough on its own to get Trixie-Beatrice to assert her right to be loved.  That takes the slight attentions of Andre, one of Krijn's extended family, who sends Trixie flowers and *shock* telephones her to arrange for platonic meetings.  (Tellingly, the card accompanying the bouquet uses the name "Trixie," which is intriguing as she must surely have been introduced to all of Krijn's family as Beatrice.)

It's not that Andre's attentions trigger Beatrice's self-confidence so much as they show her what she's missing from Krijn.  Eventually -- as happens with almost all Neels heroines -- her misery causes her to do something drastic, which in turn prompts the hero to show up finally ready to be honest with her and have her be honest with him.

That's the risk with the marriage of convenience in romance novels: the hopelessly tangled misunderstanding.  (I would imagine the risk in a real life marriage of convenience might be falling in love with someone else, or perhaps having the immigration peeps find out it's a sham...)  Because the principals have married a) without declarations of love, and b) with sufficient evidence that they will never fall in love, it's then hard to c) reveal that they are in love for fear it's one-sided and makes the situation too awkward.

One last thing:  There's no sex in Betty Neels' marriage-of-convenience plots.  Of course that's consistent with the chastity expected in Harlequin Romances back then, but it's almost necessary in these books.  I don't believe that sex leads to love, but it does lead to intimacy.  If the reason neither admits loving the other is the risk of awkwardness from unrequited feelings, sexual intimacy might be a short-cut out of that dilemma.  The blurted "I love you," is a cliche, but it's also less risky.  You can deny it when you're upright and dressed again.  You can assume the other didn't hear it, and the other can play deaf. 

In a Neels marriage of convenience, the sense I have is that sex would be so personal and so intimate that it couldn't happen comfortably -- for either protagonist -- without the avowals of love.  I don't believe any of her heroines was frigid, but shy and more than a bit nervous.  (They, it goes without saying, were all virgins.  Frankly, many of the heroes might have been virgins, or have had just enough sexual experience to "tide them over" until they married for love.)

The kicker is that you need sex to have kids -- more Neels heroines agonize about the fact that their marriages of convenience won't result in kids than feel sexual deprivation.  They look sad when the housekeeper shows them the nursery and other child-appropriate rooms.  They are wistful when introduced to other couples' children.  There's no connection of procreation with sex; no Neels heroine ever ever ever dreamed of seducing her husband just to have a baby.  On the other hand, there's no exhalation in relief at the end of the book when she realizes "Yippee!  He loves me, so he's going to sleep with me, so I'll get preggers."  Being loved is enough.

The reason, I think, that Trixie's still called Trixie at the end of An Unlikely Romance is that she finally knows -- as a factual matter -- that Krijn loves her, but I suspect she needs a little time to absorb the reality of being loved.  Part of the HEA, thus, is that eventually she stops being Trixie (the name of the unlovable niece) and starts being Beatrice (the much-loved wife).


  1. I like your analysis of the Trixie/Beatrice name thing. As I read An Unlikely Romance I would mentally cringe each time she referred to herself as "Trixie".

    There are a few Neels books where the heroine has a nickname - but almost without exception the hero doesn't use the nickname - he calls her by her real name - I'm with you about it being a sign of respect.

    I am nearly always called "Debbie" - but since my real name is Debra - it's not much of a stretch. My older sister, Marcy would make my name into two distinct syllables - pronounced Dee-bra. As I got into my teen/puberty years I found that less than appealing.

    Good post! I'm looking forward to your review of Fate is Remarkable.

  2. Oh, the stories I could tell you about names I've been "graced" with. But I won't -- they have a nasty habit of turning up again. :-)

    (Don't worry, I'll tell anyone in person. Just ask.)

  3. I was the only one to call my husband by his whole given name when we married. I think his mother was ready to fall on my neck with joy.

  4. And I'm with your father. I love my name but it is both difficult to read and has no nicknames.

    Interesting take on the sexless MOC. Betty doesn't employ the one tool that these stories generally lean on heavily--sexual tension. But I like 'em, so there you go...

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  6. Great post!
    I too have been nicknamed and hate it as an adult. To this day, I am still trying to "teach" my family not to call me by my nickname, unsuccessfully, I may add. The worst part, is that new people in our circle use the nickname even though I introduced myself with my given name. Argh! I hate it. It seems so disrespectful. But hey, not everyone is into being respectful and polite anymore, I guess. At least not in the little corner of my world.

  7. Betty Francesca -- Well, there's a sliding scale of stuff you can do to discourage people from using a nickname (ranging from simply not answering to it all the way up to strongly "requesting" that they not use Francie or Frankie or whatever). But I've found humor to be the best carrot/stick.

    People ask me if I have a nickname and I tell them, "Not if you value your life." I have a very sweet and friendly smile at the time.

    (Hmm. Wonder if that's why I don't have many friends..."

  8. Dear Magdalen,

    I hate to contradict you, but...

    You wrote,"Betty Neels isn't one for nicknames; Euphemia remains Euphemia"

    Now, I distinctly remember Euphemia from
    "An Apple from Eve" being called

    P H E M I E

    Yes, Phemie. Little Phemie. I rather like it.
    Tane van Diederijk, the Dutch doctor in this particular tale, uses her nickname. And I think her family do as well.

    And I don't think, no, I know the Great Betty cannot be opposed to nicknames as a general rule.
    In her very first novel, "Sister Peters in Amsterdam", Adelaide is called Addy.
    In "A Small Slice of Summer", another favourite of mine, Letitia is called Tishy.
    And "Saturday's Child" Abigail is called Abby. From "The Promise of Happiness" Rebecca is called Becky - although Tiele makes a point of calling her Rebecca in front of the unspeakable Basil. "Caroline's Waterloo": Caro - and at one point she asks her husband why sometimes he calls her Caro, and sometimes she is Caroline.
    And the heroes, even the best of them, do use the nicknames.
    So, you see...
    Perhaps, La Neels felt that nicknames should not be given to a person by unloving relatives who when creating the new name for the poor little orphan girl did not do so to express some sort of affection? I muddled that one up, I'm afraid, but I hope you get my meaning.
    Betty Anonymous

  9. Betty Anonymous -- You're right that some of the heroines have nicknames, although I daresay I could find lots of examples of Neels heroines who get a name and that's their only name.

    Part of it is the culture that Neels herself grew up in. First names weren't used immediately in England the way they are in America. (That's still true in business - Brit Hub 1.0 had a client for 20 years and they never left the "Mr." stage!)

    My point was less that their names are never shortened by the other characters but that Neels herself never shortens them. The heroines with full names always act, move, think in the full name. So, yes, Euphemia is called "Phemie" but there's no sentence in the story that starts, "Phemie went outside..." or whatever. In her POV she is always "Euphemia."

    I'll admit, I'm not prepared to go downstairs and start pulling out my paper copies. But I do have 34 of her books on my Kindle, so let's see!

    Waiting for Deborah, the narrative uses Deborah. The Right Kind of Girl, Emma remains Emma. Only by Chance, Henrietta remains Henrietta. A Kiss for Julie - well, that's interesting because she's Julie throughout with no suggestion that her full name is Julia. Julia is used for a heroine elsewhere, of course. Fate Takes a Hand is just the example we're looking for. She's named Eulalia but called Lally -- and in the narrative? Eulalia until the end! (And that's a mouthful.)

    (I won't do all 34. You get the idea.)

    In Fate Takes a Hand, the long-suffering family retainer, Trottie, is Trottie from beginning to end. There, informality goes with the quasi-servant status of the character.


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