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.