Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Using a Mentally Handicapped Character as Cruel Comic Relief: Why I DNFed Eloisa James’s The Duke is Mine

One of my favorite reads from earlier this year was Eloisa James’s When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I found that book to be adorable and funny in a sweet way with two wonderfully written characters in regards to the hero and heroine. I also like the twist Eloisa has done with fairy tales and when I heard she had a third book coming out called The Duke is Mine, which is a take on the Princess and the Pea fairy tale, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I ended up DNFing The Duke is Mine a quarter of the way through because of something I found disturbing in regards to how a character is portrayed and handled, including the insensitive comments and actions of the heroine toward this character. I’m actually shocked that Eloisa and Avon would allow this character and the way he’s treated as a form of comic relief. Because of this, The Duke is Mine is a big fail of a historical romance and one I wouldn’t recommend to any historical romance reader.

First of all, when an author creates a heroine who acts more like a spoiled brat and is better suited as a villain of the story, that’s where I have to raise some questions. The heroine here is Olivia Lytton. She’s engaged to be married, which she thinks of as a curse. The reason is because she can’t stand her fiance, Rupert, heir to the dukedom. Olivia has been engaged to the Duke of Canterwick’s son, Rupert, since the age of five. Olivia is five years older than Rupert and he’s now just turned eighteen. Olivia isn’t as beautiful as her younger sister Georgiana, and she should be grateful to her parents because she’ll end up a Duchess, which will excuse her faults. Olivia is far too sarcastic, witty and not at all gracious. Olivia also enjoys talking about sex and the male anatomy with Georgina. It seems that's all the two sisters talk about with each other.

Olivia can’t stand Rupert. She thinks of him as a “beardy-weirdly bottle –headed chub” and she and Georgie has nicknamed Rupert the “FF” which means foolish fiance, “HH”, which means half-wit husband and “BB”, which means brain-less betrothed. From all these descriptions of Rupert, I wondered how dim-witted and a fool Rupert really was that Olivia and Georigiana would makes such cruel remarks about him.

What we come to find out about Rupert is that he’s indeed dim-witted and fool because he’s mentally handicapped.

Olivia thinks back to what Canterwick had said to her when she was fifteen and Rupert was eleven. He tells her his son is a “buffle-head idiot”. Rupert has a mind more of a boy, I’d say around a ten year old, because when he was born, he wasn’t breathing at birth and the doctors believed it had an effect on his brain. Canterwick, Olivia, Georgia and their parents all think Rupert is an idiot and that Olivia is making a great sacrifice marrying this man who has a mind of a boy because he’ll become a duke at one point. Canterwick is glad Olivia is marrying Rupert because Olivia has never made from of him. Of course he doesn’t have any clue the cruel and heartless things Olivia says about Rupert behind his back.

To make certain that Olivia and Rupert’s marriage will definitely happen, Olivia and Rupert are forced into a room to consummate their relationship in the hopes that Olivia will get pregnant. This scene was disgusting and I was completely shocked by it because keep in mind Rupert doesn’t have a mind of an eighteen year old, but more of a boy because of his handicapped mind. Olivia lies on a sofa, lifts up her skirts and expect Rupert to know how to have sex. Rupert doesn’t understand the technicalities of sex. He can’t get hard because he’s not sexually attractive to Olivia, because again he has a mind of a boy. Olivia is somewhat pleased by this and all is well because their parents assume they consummated their relationship (I found this scene and the actions of the parents very strange because from every historical romance I’ve read, if a single woman like Olivia has sex before marriage, her reputation is ruined and she’s labeled a loose woman). Olivia tells Georgiana the next day that Rupert’s celery stick was lacking and he apparently needs more than a captive woman and a sofa to get the job done.

At this point I almost stopped reading because of how a mentally disabled man has been used as a butt of many jokes from the heroine, forced to have sex when he has no idea what sex involves and is supposed to be used as a moment of comic relief in this otherwise slap-stick type story.

I read until we meet Tarquin, Duke of Sconce the hero, who’s mentioned as being more like the villain of a fairy tale than the hero and has coal-black hair and stern eyes. But this is completely at odds at what we see the moment he meets the heroine and acts the complete opposite.

I was so turned off by this story not only because Olivia is a heartless bitch and the hero Quin is a complete jackass, but mainly because of Rupert and his damaged mind is used for comedy. I found this beyond offensive.

Some may say I’m overreacting and I might as well be. As someone who was the butt of many jokes and was called stupid and dumb by more than a few people in my life, including having a few family members and friends with mental handicaps, my reaction is completely subjective. Others may not have an issue with the way Rupert is portrayed or treated. I just don’t find the humor in making fun of a mentally handicapped character in this way for laughs or for a heroine who will ridicule and put down a weaker or fragile minded person because of a handicap like Rupert’s.

Disappointed isn’t a strong enough work to describe how I’m feeling about The Duke is Mine, the author who wrote it and the publisher who had no qualms about publishing it. (Avon, available December 27th)

Final Grade: DNF and a complete pass.



Penelope said...

Holy crap! This does not sound like Eloisa James. It sounds like she was trying for a farce-style story, but obviously it struck a bad chord w/ you. I DNFed the first one in this fairy tale series, but I loved When Beauty Tamed The Beast, too. Oh well.

Blodeuedd said...

She sounds like a total bitch and I would not read this book

Brie said...

That scene where she lies in bed waiting for him to have sex with her makes me feel really uncomfortable. They may not realize that he’s a kid in his head, but the reader does, and so does the author. One might argue that she was being “historically accurate” because in that time mental disabilities weren’t treated with the same consideration as nowadays, but then everything about this book should be historically accurate as well, right? Besides, in historical romances authors take creative license that deviate from accuracy in order to have their leads fall in love and experience other things that in reality would never have happened. So having a compassionate heroine who notices the disadvantages of the guy she’s been forced to be with would have been better, regardless of how unhappy she was about it all. And some consideration to the guy who’s been forced to be with a terrible person, who’s the real villain here?

Then there’s the fact that the heroine seems very unlikeable. That conversation about the celery stick wasn’t funny, I wouldn’t laugh at a comment like that even if in a contemporary romance. Witty and sarcastic can be fun and clever, but can also be bitchy and terrible, and this from someone who is very sarcastic, but there are some lines that you simply do not cross.

Anyway, I don’t think you’re overreacting and I’m staying away from this book.

KB/KT Grant said...

Penny: I think Eloisa was indeed going for a farce but the way she did it really didn't work for me at all.

Blodeuedd: :(

Brie: The thing is, this book doesn't have an historical accurate feel to it at all. If it was a more serious tone type of historical, then I would agree. But right from the start in regards to the way the heroine and her sister act and talk to their parents and then the introduction of Rupert and the way he was portrayed was all in bad taste, IMO.

I think a line was crossed with Rupert. It will be interesting to see what the consensus from readers will be when this comes out.

Bookworm1858 said...

I love fairy tale retellings but after loathing the Cinderella story by James, I was skeptical of future ones. And it sounds like I will definitely be skipping this one although I may give the Beauty and the Beast one a try.

bafriva said...

It is almost like there are two different versions of this book out there--Leigh at AAR gave it a B, and Myretta at Heroes & Heartbreakers was very enthusiastic. Neither of these people seemed to recognize Rupert's true level of disability.
As the parent of a young man with severe intellectually disabilities I know I would recognize Rupert for what he is and thus throw the book against the wall. So I am going to save myself the effort and just avoid the book.
Thanks for the warning.
Barb in Maryland

KB/KT Grant said...

bafriva: maybe the other reviewers didn't have the reaction I had?

Marg said...

I have read this, and there were definitely scenes that were completely uncomfortable to read. I did persist though and thought that James found a way to give Rupert a role in the story that wasn't just as butt of the jokes, and that attempted to play to his strengths.

Eloisa James said...

Hi all,
Barbara Vey sent me this blog and I wrote a long answer and then it disappeared... so I'm trying again. If this shows up twice, I'm sorry.

I want to say first off that I would never, ever use a mentally disabled character for comic relief. One of my children lost air at birth; this is an intensely felt subject for me. I will always fiercely defend the right of disabled people to appear in novels--and to be shown in situations which are cruel and demeaning (thus realistic, unfortunately) AND then to triumph over them.

I designed the book around two very different heroes. Rupert is one of them. Yes, that library scene is harrowing--but the key to it is his poem. He is a brilliant, joyful poet who is able to experience emotion in a way that blows apart the kind of social restrictions that hem in the other characters. The other hero is Quin, who is delimited in the other direction--what we might call mildly Asperger's, now. He doesn't understand emotion. It's Rupert's poem that finally teaches him/allow him to grieve for his young son, who died five years before.

Rupert is the most courageous, the most determined, and the most joyful person in the book: he is the one who is able to understand the important things in life, and by the end of the book he is not only a hero, but honored and loved by those around him. And perhaps most importantly, he has changed everyone: he changes Olivia, and he changes Quin. Even hIs father-who forced him into that awful scene--learns to honor him.

Of course, Olivia shouldn't have made jokes about a limp celery. But she changes-that's the point. She begins defending Rupert against cruel remarks; she becomes loyal to him; she risks her life for him. It's always easier (and perhaps more pleasant for readers) if an author starts out with a perfect heroine. But I really wanted to challenge myself--to create a woman who learns and changs.

Olivia, to me, is a real person: the kind who would rather not deal with a disabled person, who has to learn to see past the outside.

At any rate, I wanted to say that. But I'll also add that I know perfectly well that the fact you tossed the book aside shows that I failed in what I tried to do. I don't mean this to be hectoring at all: I'm just trying to explain what I attempted.


TerriOsburn said...

I'm reading this book now and nearly finished. I loved the heroine immediately and have enjoyed every page. It's a shame you gave up when you did. The character of Rupert is very well done.

Alcott said...

My earlier reponse seemed to disappear as well.

I'm disappointed with this review. I don't put a lot of credit in a DNF when the reviewer only reads a quarter of the book, no matter the offense.

Eloise James hasn't let me down yet and I can't imagine that I will share the feelings.

I respect the time put into reviews - I rarely do it myself and frequently depend on others to point out books I would have missed.

Nonetheless, I think that a DNF book should either rate a simple "this didn't work for me because..." or a full read and then post the sort of review you posted.

I thought this read as a tabloid-version of a review. KB, I think you devalued yourself on this one.

KB/KT Grant said...

Eloisa: I've been a fan of your work and will continue to do so The Duke is Mine just didn't work for me and what you were setting out to do with the story and the characters because as a reader, we all take something different from a story and what we think the author is trying to accomplish. I have no doubt many of your readers will love the Duke is Mine.

Alcott: Do you feel it is now a taboild-version of a review because Eloisa has come here to defend why she wrote what she did?

I stand by review and my feelings about what I read up to page 180. I also respect Eloisa's opinion and what she explained about why she wrote the characters and the story the way she did.

I've done many DNF reviews before including many other reviews where I didn't enjoy the book or may have issues with it. And as stated in my review, I have said my opinions are subjective. I also feel I have stated why this book didn't work for me and I'm not going to take it down or change my opinion. I stand by my words.

And reviews are for the readers, not to please the author.

Jane said...

I am in agreement with KB. I found the portrayal of the mentally handicapped person to be very offensive. Even later (I finished the book) during the part where James says that Olivia grew up or changed, Olivia's attitude wasn't one of honoring and respecting Rupert, but one of condescension. There is a scene where Olivia and the "hero" are in bed and are discussing (while they are cuckholding Rupert) how they intend to honor Rupert when he returns from war because obviously he is too stupid to be hurt by the fact that his fiance is shagging some other guy every night and has abandoned him while he was fighting for his country.

Mandi said...

I haven't read this book but I respect this review and think you did a nice job explaining why the book didn't work for you. DNF reviews are needed just as much as "A" review are.

farmwifetwo said...

The reviewer on AAR said "it's ok b/c she learns that it was a birth accident" in an email she sent me.

As a parent with 2 children with autism I find this entire thread and that email very disturbing.

There is unending disability rights work being done. There is unending anti-bullying being done in school's... yet, it's OK to say "well, now that she knows it's a defect it's "ok"".

I have one that "passes for normal". Does this mean that it's OK for people to bully him unless I put a t-shirt on him that says "HFA, social skills still a work in progress".

Ms James, I think the message you tried to get out... didn't. Instead you "ok'd" an issue that we've fought against and will continue to do so forever... That it is OK to bully and to mock anyone that is different until someone finally comes and tells you that person has a diagnosis. We should never mock or bully anyone.

That's the issue and it's one that upsets me enough that I knowing the scope of this book... will never read it.

Alcott said...

In response to:

Alcott: Do you feel it is now a taboild-version of a review because Eloisa has come here to defend why she wrote what she did?

I actually had posted at 11 in the morning and it never showed up. At that point, I had no idea the author had responded.

csilibrarian said...

Thank you so much for saving me the trouble of picking this book up.

I was so excited about it at first... but I can't imagine making it any further than you did regardless of how the book ends or what was intended on the part of the author.

Carolyn said...

Sounds like two different books to me. I believe I'll buy it and decide for myself.

HighlandHussy said...

after reading several 1 and 5 star reviews (and very few in between-either love it or hate it, it seems), I have to read it for myself.

I loved Olivia in the novella Winning the Wallflower, so I find it hard to see how awful she is...therefore must read it myself :)

thanks for the review, KB, I'm really intrigued as to how I'll like it.

Anonymous said...

KB, I agree with your review. I read the entire thing and I was offended by more than just the Rupert storyline. But to comment on that subject further (although part of the issue is perfectly covered in your review):


He was not only maligned behind his back, as an inconvenient character he was killed off to tidy up the HEA. He was in the way. Whether he was handicapped or not, it's offensive.

The other things that offended me were the way Olivia couldn't -- not for even a second -- honor her supposedly beloved sister's plea to be gracious rather than snarky because it was Georgina's "last chance". She didn't hold back for one dialog exchange to help her sister out. What a peach. /s

Then, while under the impression her sister is crazy about the duke she sucks face with him multiple times. It doesn't matter that Georgina didn't actually love him, what matters is that Olivia believed that she did. With a sister like that who needs a back stabber with an 18 inch stiletto?

Then we get to Quin -- the man of dubious honor who knows he's not only supposed to marry one of the girls there (an exercise he completely agreed to) but instead he's all over another man's fiance. Someone serving his country which is something that actually means something to Quin -- apparently. It's not like he had some long-standing feelings for her - he just met her after all so it comes off as completely self-indulgent.

So the two of them go on totally faithlessly and disloyally and I'm supposed to cheer their HEA? Not likely.

And Georgina was a waste of a character. Really, what was the point except to show that her sister would betray her pretty much instantly over a guy? Or that she was the sounding board (and participant) for Olivia's cruel jokes about her mentally disabled fiance.

You know who I liked? My favorite characters where Rupert and the dowager. Yep. The dowager. She was the most honest of all of them and had the fortitude to stand by her son the entire way.


Disclaimer: I have a high functioning special needs son and I admit that may have pushed my "offensive" buttons for the one aspect, but it wasn't just the mean-girl talk behind his back that bothered me. It was so much more. In fact, the more time that goes by since I finished it and the more I think about it the more irritated I am about it.

I did love the companion novella to this (although now that I know Olivia's true nature, I won't bother to reread), as well as the previous entry to the series, but this one I will not recommend to any of my friends.