Karen Morrison
English 199
Spring 2000

Desperate Attempts At Worthwhile Writing

In the Harlequin romance Time of the Temptress, by Violet Winspear, the author seems to be trying to write an intelligent story of romance, bettered by its literary self-awareness. She fails on both counts. Winspear appears to recognize that more valued literature tends to involve symbolism and allusions to other works. It seems she is trying to use archetypes and allusions in her own novel, but her references to alternate literature and culture are embarrassingly obvious and awkward. Another inter-literary connection, though, is more difficult to notice unless the book is pondered -- something the typical romance reader is not likely to do. Although Winspear attempts to give her book literary value by tying it to Gone With the Wind, because of the limitations of her chosen genre, and her own apparent inabilities as a writer, she cannot grasp the depth that makes Gone With the Wind a highly regarded romance work.

The first clue to the correlation of the novels is given through the name of the Time of the Temptress character Wade O'Mara. The name does not flow very well. When the last name is considered, it seems familiar. Almost anyone can recognize O'Hara as the last name of Gone With the Wind's heroine, Scarlett. What many do not know, as this bit of her life was cut out of the movie version, is that Scarlett had a son named Wade. Scarlett's son Wade's last name was not O'Hara, but the name "Wade O'Mara" is obviously a play on the names of Margaret Mitchell's richly developed characters. That Wade O'Mara has a cousin and a son with the last name of Mitchell further indicates the connection to Gone With the Wind.

This is the closest Winspear comes to a direct declaration of her references to the novel. It is possible that she does not acknowledge this connection, as she does the others in her story, because it, unlike the others, is not cliché and overused. She is not ashamed of it as she is (or at least should be) of the others.

Winspear seems to be attempting to model her characters after those of Gone With the Wind. The main characters in Time of the Temptress have significant references to Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, but Winspear cannot capture what makes Margaret Mitchell's characters so appealing.

The descriptions of Wade O'Mara are so Rhett-like, it is surprising that Winspear's Eve does not remark, or think, "you remind me of Clark Gable!" She does, however, repeatedly relate him to Humphrey Bogart, famous for films of the same era as Gable. Wade is depicted as tall, dark, and madly handsome. He exudes masculinity, and is in complete control at all times. His hair is wavy black, and his well-tanned skin tightly covers his rippling muscles. His demeanor is mocking, and he always has an upper hand when speaking with the heroine. He is experienced with, and understands the ways of, women. All of these characteristics also describe Rhett Butler. Even Wade's speech, described as drawling, reflects Rhett's southern accent. They also both have mysterious pasts, and each has a son, with whom he carries a rather distant relationship.

It is not hard to see why Violet Winspear would draw her male character so closely to Margaret Mitchell's. Rhett Butler can be seen as the epitome of manliness. He is rich, handsome, capable, and forceful -- every romance novel heroine's dream. Part of Rhett's charm, though, is his refined finesse, which Wade is definitely lacking.

Rhett's attractiveness is enhanced by his bad-guy image. He is not socially accepted, and is often referred to as a scoundrel. Winspear recognizes this, but does not seem to understand it. She attempts to give Wade the same feel, but goes to the extreme of likening him to Satan. This may tie in with the Edenic archetypal of the book, but it makes Wade a bit too evil, as he in fact "looks in league with the devil himself" (Winspear 8). Wade is not as appealing, and comes across as almost a caricature of Rhett, exaggerating his distinct features but without true depth.

Eve's character, like her hair color; is only Scarlett in some lights. Both Eve Tarrant and Scarlett O'Hara were considered high beauties. They came from similar origins of wealth and class, and both were reared to catch a good man with pampered bodies and full social lives. Although Winspear attempts at more similarities, Eve's character is too helpless and pathetic to be much like Scarlett.

In both books the lead male character mocks the heroine, but they react in different ways. Scarlett gets genuinely upset with Rhett when he taunts her. Eve only disregards Wade's comments, or responds with something along the lines of "I - I wish you wouldn't call me 'young deb' in that scornful voice" (Winspear 11).

Scarlett and Eve are both, at some point in their stories, involved in significant relationships with men they do not love. Eve is nearly engaged to James Harringway, for whom she has little affection. In fact, she "despised James, and thought him a useless stick" (Winspear 42). Eve realizes that James has never "noticed anything about her beyond that she dressed, spoke and behaved correctly, and would in due time inherit some sizeable stocks and shares" (Winspear 28). He sees no value in her person, because she does not have any. She is so weak, she allows herself to be led by her guardian into this shallow, loveless relationship with a man she dislikes.

Scarlett was not in love with her first two husbands, Charles Hamilton and Frank Kennedy, but she herself chose to marry them. Although her motives were not necessarily ethical, she had her own reasons for the relationships, and was in control of them both. She was not in love with her husbands, but they did love her, and so the marriages were not completely meaningless. She married the men to get what she needed -- particularly with her marriage to Frank Kennedy, which saved her from losing her home. Her marriages were essentially to take care of herself, an ability that Eve does not possess.

Eve and Scarlett each have the habit of trying to push unpleasant thoughts from their minds. When Scarlett decides, "I won't think about it now -- I'll think about it tomorrow" (Mitchell 1036), it is a manner of coping with hardship. Eve often wants to try something of this sort, but has difficulty, because she has little control over her own mind. When a complex idea comes into Eve's simple head, she tries "to resist the question, but it took a grip on her thoughts" (Winspear 32). Although it is clear that Winspear attempted to make her character like Scarlett, Eve is too desperate and has no mind of her own. Despite the fact that she is modeled after a character with depth, Eve is flat. This is partially due to the prescriptions that mass-produced novels of the genre must follow.

Heroines in Harlequin romance novels are written as "outlines of human beings" (Woodruff 28). By following this mold, Winspear creates Eve to be of even less value than a silhouette. Eve comes across as being an idiot, unsure of her own feelings, and floating through life on whims and other people's plans for her. The one major decision of her life that she made for herself -- to move to the African jungle was made "on sheer impulse" (Winspear 21), and although it leads her to the man she will love, almost ends her life.

Heroines of romantic fiction generally "couldn't care less about being liberated" (Woodruff 30), but Winspear takes this a bit too far. Eve can't take care of herself, and actually seems to want to be dominated, and even victimized. She even considers that she might like it if Wade "suddenly flung her down in the rampant ferns and took her with all the forceful assurance with which he tackled everything" (Winspear 27).

The idea behind writing romance novel heroines as somewhat hollow is "to allow the reader to put herself in the place of the heroine" (Woodruff 28). It is difficult and humiliating for the reader to try to identify with the helpless and stupid character of Eve. Had Winspear made Eve to be more like Scarlett with a real personality, however good or bad it may be, she would be easier to relate to, and therefore, more interesting.

Wade, with his survivalist instincts and freedom of choice seems to be more like Scarlett than Eve. When considering that the readers of Harlequin novels are women, "usually between the ages of 25 and 40" (Woodruff 27), the typical reader could be more likely to relate to the character of Wade, who is responsible for a child-like dependant. Winspear managed to mirror her characters to Rhett and Scarlett, but her attempt did not produce its desired results.

Even the plot of Time of the Temptress reflects that of Gone With the Wind. Wade's leading Eve out of the jungle to escape the rebels is like Rhett's leading Scarlett out of Atlanta to escape the Yankee Army. The names of their respective destinations are also similar: Tanga and Tara. In each story it is the male who produces the mode of escape: in the case of Time of the Temptress, Wade makes a canoe, and in Gone With the Wind, Rhett steals a horse. The male character does not accompany the heroine on her entire journey home in either story. In Time of the Temptress, Eve is put on a plane in Tanga, and sent home unconscious, in a completely helpless state. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett is anything but helpless when Rhett leaves her to go on alone -- not only does she finish her journey without any help, she is also personally responsible for bringing four others to safety. Scarlett is made stronger by her journey, while Eve is left with amnesia. As with the character resemblances, the plot similarities to Gone With the Wind do little to effect Time of the Temptress. Winspear does not give a sense of urgency to her characters' escape. Rather than a hurried getaway, Wade and Eve almost seem to be frolicking as if on a vacation.

Winspear seems to be trying to capture the essence of Gone With the Wind with the plot connections of her brief novel. It is as though she tried to rewrite the story, with the same characters in a different situation, and with a happy ending.

Winspear would have been better off if she had been comfortable enough with her Harlequin romance novel writing to accept that the genre does not require literary value. Instead she tries to enhance her book by throwing in absurd associations with movies, archetypes, and Gone With the Wind, which make her writing seem cheap, and overly and awkwardly self-conscious.

Works Cited

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936.

Winspear, Violet. Time of the Temptress. Toronto: Harlequin Books, 1978.

Woodruff, Juliette. "A Spate of Words, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing: Or, How to Read a Harlequin." Journal of Popular Culture 19.2 (1985): 25-32.

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