Beauty in Tears.
I crushed on the dark musicality of the title and the gothic cover; I relished the blurb, the author’s words about her work and the prospect of playing with romance tropes. Now that I’ve finished reading this book, I feel both like hugging the author for her project and stomping my feet at the missed opportunity.
The story opens on prim Jemima’s interview for a new governess job. All tight bun and rigid efficiency, Jemima is THE Victorian spinster reduced to earn her living by a stroke of fate, unknowingly awaiting the devilishly handsome duke who will soon enter the room, succumb to her inner strength, will sweep her off her feet, teach her carnal pleasures in a hallo of purple prose, and reveal her beauty to the world while she tames unruly children thanks to her unerring goodness.
No devilishly handsome duke.
Jemima is a bad, very bad person. Her job is to tame children without a hint of scruple, break spirits and make them compliant to whatever is asked her to.
The ward is a young half wild Justine (named Imogen, but you see what I’m getting at), all torn clothes, scattered hair, tearful eyes and submissive although somewhat inexplicable adoration.
“She was a doll already, to be picked up and discarded”
An atmosphere of resigned complicity and repressed sympathy for Justine’s Imogene’s trials hangs over the household, dark lust sparks between governess and ward, emotions are getting in the way, Jemima is lost in her definition of self, she’s hardening her resolve...
A gothic tale, f/f eroticism, an ambivalence between innocence and evilness, a mystery and a writing that sounded up to the task; I felt like the cat that got the cream until the story went on and only brushed the introduced threads in a rushed (perhaps timid) execution that made me hiss in disappointment.
Indeed, a short detour Sade’s way further, Jemima’s evilness was easily excused and promptly discarded, she was alternately a lovesick maiden and a mannish protector of an infantilized Imogen, the initial dynamics of their relationship was never fully explored, the occult mystery sounded off and therefore didn’t hook me, the eroticism remained blurred.
I could easily recognize the romance tropes, but they, as well as the characters, were insufficiently developed for me to see how or even that they were played with.
I have loved the idea of this book and have been thoroughly annoyed by its failed promise.