I’m currently reading Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, a prequel to Alice In Wonderland that explains the history of the Queen of Hearts.
In the story, Catherine, the future Queen of Hearts, lives in a pseudo-Victorian kingdom, where women are limited in their abilities, opportunities, and prospects. Her parents expect her to maintain her reputation and the reputation of her household. This means accepting the proposal of a foolish King she despises and not pursuing her dream of starting her own bakery.
But Cath loves baking and the King’s joker, Jest. And ladies don’t open bakeries and marry court fools.
I think most readers, myself included, thought the solution to Cath’s problem was easy. She marries the King to appease the country and her family, the King, who admires her baked goods allows her to open her own bakeshop, and she sneaks around with Jest on the side seeing as the King is about as smart as a bag of dreamed lemons.
I was actually hoping that this would be the plot, and the King turns out to not be as idiotic as he appears and discovers the affair, killing Jest for treason, leading to Catherine’s madness due to a broken heart. (Spoiler alert: it’s not actually what happens.)
But there are inherent problems with this proposed solution to Cath’s problems. Namely, it’s not fair to all of the parties involved. First, it’s not fair to Jest, who has genuinely fallen in love with the intended of his employer. Second, it’s not fair to Catherine, who has to break her morals in order to get what she wants. And third, it’s not fair to the King, who just wants a wife (granted, he’s picking her without letting her have any say in the matter).
Of these three, it’s the unfairness to Cath that strikes me, because all of her problems would be solved if she didn’t have to yield to convention and propriety. And maybe that’s why it’s so easy for modern readers to say, “Break convention, let’s go!”
Meanwhile, it’s an incredibly difficult decision for the protagonist.
What’s nice about these stock stories about women who have to break convention is that modern readers, particularly female ones, are quick to say its easy to break convention. We have the privilege and the fortune to do that.
But in reality, women have been and are still suppressed by what is supposed to be feminine, what is supposed to be proper. And I don’t think we should forget that.
I am behind in my NaBloPoMo postings, so in the next few days I will be posting two posts per day to keep up!