Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Sound of Love

Hardly a new idea, of course, but don't you think it's just a matter of time before our ereaders (by then, I figure even I'll own one) have hypertext that links to a photo, a video, or music?  Maybe not to the models who posed for the cover photo -- how many of us think they look like the protagonists? -- but to something the author really wanted us to see or hear.

In the case of Simply Unforgettable, the hypertext link might be to this:

But before you click, if you've got the Balogh book handy, go find it.  Don't worry, we'll wait.

Okay, flip to page 144.  Lucius Marshall and Frances Allard have met, been stranded in a snowstorm, shared laughter and passion in a surprisingly isolated inn, separated and not quite been able to forget each other.  Frances teaches music and French at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath, so when Lucius travels to Bath to visit with his grandfather, the Earl of Edgecombe, he is determined not to look for Frances.

Meanwhile, Frances has no idea Lucius is in Bath.  She accepts an invitation to sing at a musical soirée, and this is the piece of music she selects.  She's accompanied by a single pianoforte (not the historically-correct instruments you hear in the recording above); when she starts singing "I Know My Redeemer Liveth," even the non-musical guests in the card room quiet and listen.  Lucius is transported by this anonymous voice.

When I got to this scene, I had to find my own copy of the Handel Messiah, a 1987 recording with Kathleen Battle.  Battle's voice is so exquisite, it conveyed precisely that sense of extraordinary beauty where one was expecting only a nice soprano.  Lucius doesn't fall in love with Frances on the strength of her voice alone; he had taken that tumble in a snowdrift months earlier.  But he learns something unexpected about her, and that both enrages him and entrances him.  The rage comes from the fact she never told him.  (When he confronts her about this omission, she points out that she could hardly have stated, "I have a singing voice that might impress you," or woken him with an aria.)  Lucius spends a lot of time angry at Frances, a fact that in other books might have annoyed me a lot, but here seemed consistent with his age and temperament.

I thought a lot about age while I was reading Simply Unforgettable.  Lucius's 17-year-old sister, Amy, is a solid presence in this book.  At one point I thought: she's only six years younger than Frances but they're worlds apart in their maturity.  Amy's not a frivolous girl, just understandably anxious to be grown up and out in the world.  But she seems very young compared to Frances, who had a difficult time after her father died when she was 18 and seems to have grown up a lot in the intervening five years.

Those six years -- from 17 to 23 -- are supposedly significant years for women in early 19th century.  If the mythology of Regency romance novels is to be believed, a female is a girl at 17, ready for her come out at 18, still marriageable at 19-20, and on the shelf older than that.  Twenty-three today strikes many of us as young, but back then it was "old."  Of course that's nonsense -- in both directions.  There are a lot of factors that go into a woman's sense of herself and her age, such that some 20-somethings are mature and responsible today, while women at the same age 200 years ago would still have been girlish, possibly even silly.

Balogh likes older heroines, and why not?  Even back then, not everyone thought a woman over 25 to be "on the shelf" and "an antidote."  I gather these themes will be explored in subsequent Simply books.  One thing is clear from Simply Unforgettable -- talent needs time and maturity to grow.  Had Lucius heard Frances sing Handel when she was eighteen, he might not have had the same reaction he had in Bath.  Regardless of what ton might have thought about their respective ages, they wouldn't -- either of them -- have been ready for their romance.

P.S.  Late in the book, Frances sings the Messiah excerpt and "Let the Bright Seraphim" from the opera Samson.  Here's Renée Fleming singing the latter:


  1. I'm listening to it right now - very pretty! :D My friend in the room recognized it right away but I hadn't heard it until your post.

  2. Thank you! Let the Bright Seraphim brings me to tears, especially when sung by K. Battle. Ah, so lovely!

    Interesting points about age--I agree on that crucial 6 years--it's girlhood to womanhood.

  3. These are two of my favorite solo pieces, especially "I know that my Redeemer liveth." I always sing quietly along with it. So when it came up in the book, I had my own moments of peace and joy with it as I imagined Frances singing it, knowing that she must have had a beautiful voice to cause that reaction amongst the ton. Thanks for posting the YouTube so that we could actually hear it sung.


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