Signet, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-20416-6
Historical Romance, 2002
The heroine of The Pretender, Lady Elizabeth Drayton, is a self-professed feminist. Yes, readers, this also means that she is a birdbrained idiot, in the grand tradition of romance novels’ equating feminism with thoughtless stupidity. Don’t you just love the proliferation of “strong” women whose notion of female independence revolves around doing stupid things to avoid a marriage that, in the end, they embrace fully anyway?
Lizzie here writes equality tracts under a pseudonym “A Lady of Quality” in a controversial new rag that has taken 1746 England by storm. When her daddy finds out what she is doing, however, she is sentenced to live with a dotty and boring old aunt. Lizzie is dismayed. “Daddy, I love you! I live for your affections! I – ooops!” There, suck on that sausage and just SHUT UP, you dumb chit.
But her sister tells her that sssh, don’t tell anyone but daddy is actually plotting to marry Lizzie off to an older guy. Lizzie declares that she doesn’t believe in marrying for love (love’s for pansies like romance novel readers), but she is aghast anyway, because… er, because… er, yeah, what are her objections to marriage anyway? Something about independence, I think. So what does Ms Feminist Missy do to avoid this impending marriage of hers? (Not that she is certain that she is really marrying or not, mind you, but – oh, let’s move on.)
Well, ask a crofter – whom she doesn’t even like because he, like, flirted with her and she is soooooo outraged, ooh how vexing – to pretend to be her betrothed. Smart, I tell you. The intelligence of these sheltered, spoiled, and pampered Daddy’s girls never cease to amaze me.
Of course, Mr Crofter is actually this noble Scots guy, Douglas, who is… well, he just doesn’t want to marry this English chit at all. But Lizzie asks her to stay with him because she is so lonely and she needs company and oops, they are compromised. Ding dong bell, wedding’s destined for hell. Can Lizzie’s girl power make Douglas see that they are meant to be together forever and ever? Will Douglas ever stop calling Lizzie “lass” in that annoying manner? Will Daddy ever love Lizzie?
The Pretender tries to bring together “feminism”, romance novel run-headlong-into-stupidity-whoopee style, and “adorable girlishness”. Probably it wants to make a statement about growing up in the last few chapters, but when growing up here entails to Lizzie moaning about what a burden she is to Doug and Doug going, “There, there, let Daddy kiss your sorrows away”, it’s not much of a progression either. It’s not enough to make this predictable and girly-mirly story interesting anyway.
As a result, half the time my mind is wandering while I am reading this thing. For those who watch Wheel of Fortune, can I ask you all a question? What do you think Vanna White is actually thinking when she is standing there on stage or walking up and down touching those stupid alphabet panels? Here is a woman who doesn’t need to be there – they could have easily automate the flashing of the panels, right? – but here she is nonetheless, grinning widely and clapping inanely while losers spin the wheel and try to fill in the blanks of G_T _ L_FE. I’m asking this because, well, like I said, my mind did wander when I was reading this book right to the TV, and I wonder if Vanna White here is as bored as I am. Well, at least she gets to wear pretty dresses.