I bang on a lot about the way domestic violence can be subtly normalized in the genre. Back in the day, the DV was more open and obvious than it is now. While rereading Moonstruck Madness I wondered if the lack of subtlety will make readers less accepting of the main couple than the more obscured abuse dynamics of today. If you're considering reading Moonstruck Madness do not read this piece.
As I discussed in the review, Sabrina grows up quickly on the battlefields of Culloden. Sabrina is taught, through events in the book, that she cannot rely on any man. Even the hero is unreliable, leaving her HEA more of a Best She Could Hope For than a true HEA. All he has to do to win her is show up. Seriously, that's it. He doesn't have to be honest, faithful, nonviolent or supportive. Sabrina has saved so many days by this point that she's just tired of it all. She needs to land somewhere and he's holding a net.
Let's start with the examples. Please keep in mind that this was a bestselling book considered (at the time) to be a sweet or mild read. In this first excerpt Lucien has just recently met Sabrina. While disguised as a highwayman, she is shot and taken captive. Discovering she is female, Lucien decides to rape her.
Some man would’ve caught her by now; besides, her type never had been innocent, they knew what a man wanted before he did, and she would welcome the chance to buy her way out of the predicament she found herself in. Right now she was too angry and frightened to realize this. But soon, the seduction would begin. - McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (pp. 97-98). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Super creepy, right? Hey, but it's FINE, it's OKAY because at the same time Sabrina is planning to buy her way out of this hostage crisis through sex. So in effect, he's right. This girl half his age is planning on welcoming his attentions in exchange for an escape route. Which she does. This is pretty much it for their sex life. Sabrina and Lucien spend just enough time in bed to trap her later. Sabrina's long lost dad shows up to sell her to the highest bidder. She's not happy about it but she accepts her limited options. Lucien screws that up which leads to her father freaking out.
She groaned in pain as time and time again the sharp pain tore across her soft shoulders, ripping the thin material of her bodice and scoring the tender skin with angry welts. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 198). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
So her father has fought off one daughter and is blind to anything but abusing the second when the doorbell rings. (Stepmom is pregnant and therefore washing her hands of the matter.) It's Lucien. Her sister Mary is quick to explain Sabrina's life is in danger.
“The marquis is beating her, and it is all your fault,” she accused him, tears streaking her cheeks. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 199). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Lucien saves the day, informs Sabrina she's marrying him and begins his efforts to pay off her dad so he'll leave town. Sabrina isn't so into this. She (and Mary) are busy blaming Lucien for their father's actions, which allows the reader to transfer sympathy to a guy who shot her, planned to rape her, and then invaded her bedroom uninvited for another round.
“I’m not gloating, Sabrina. I would never have you harmed like this,” he told her truthfully. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 200). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
He wouldn't whip her so the stuff he WOULD do is totally cool. Lucien informs her of his plans. He's shocked to discover that Sabrina isn't so interested in marrying. He's a rich old guy. She was perfectly willing to marry a different rich old guy. Obviously she's just immature. He tells her to grow up, reminds her she faces prison for theft and tells her that's a super rapey place to hang out. Sabrina doesn't find this endearing. She tells her sister Mary that she'd rather kill Lucien than marry him, so Mary decides Sabrina is unstable and becomes Team Lucien for the rest of the book. Later in the book Sabrina slaps him for refusing to accept her refusals.
Without stopping to think, Lucien slapped her back, reacting in the heat of anger and an instant’s uncontrollable rage. Sabrina’s head jerked back with the force of his hand, and the imprinted outline of his fingers stained her white cheek vividly in angry red marks. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 231). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.“All I want to do is kiss you, and I end up hurting you. Forgive me. I’ve never raised my hand against a woman before,” McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 231). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Uh-huh. Nobody's ever heard that one before, buddy. Cue the sex scene, interrupted by her angry younger brother. He takes a shot at Lucien but misses.
“You were being mean to her. You made her cry, I heard you, and she told you to leave her alone,” Richard defended himself with childish logic. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 233). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
There's nothing childish about Richard's logic. Unlike the rest of her family, Richard has a clue. Here's how Sabrina's sister Mary reacts to events.
“I think you should not wait any longer than necessary to marry her. Take her away from here right now. Kidnap her if necessary, McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 239). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Well what about Sabrina's trusted friends? They will protect her, right? To their credit, they set a trap for Lucien. He's a duke. They're tenant farmers. Laying a single finger on him is punishable by death in their world, but they set about laying several fingers on him in an attempt to dissuade him from further harassing Sabrina. They lose.
Tell Sabrina I’ll exact my revenge very shortly. She may count on it.” He turned and walked off, ignoring Will’s, “Hey, wait a minute, you’ve got it all wrong!” McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 249). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Faced with having further angered him Will and John decide… to do nothing. Lucien's ability to fight them off has won him some respect. Sabrina will not be happy they've increased his anger towards her so they keep it a secret. Let's pause and unpack that. Lucien is more physically threatening than they realized. He is now angrier at Sabrina. The answer to this is to stop trying to protect her. Oh, Romance.
Luckily for Sabrina she's busy contracting a serious fever that will trigger her PTSD and render her an amnesiac. Lucien marries her while she's still dazed and confused. The reader is shown how good their relationship could be if Sabrina would just stop having her own emotions. Rightfully angry after regaining her memory she confronts her sister.
I can’t believe that Lucien would have hit you. Why have you remembered everything suddenly?” Mary demanded in confusion. “Lucien has been so kind these last few weeks. Was it only an act? I can’t understand.” McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 310). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Mary has a memory issue of her own, doesn't she? This is a common domestic violence situation. The abuser on good behavior makes the abused and those surrounding her doubt their own experience. The violence is the act, the violence is the aberration, the violence is something to ignore in pursuit of the good times. Sabrina realizes she's trapped. She settles into a resentful life as a pregnant duchess while Lucien runs to the city where a woman might appreciate his attentions.
How to pull a HEA out of this mess? Cue the showing up part of the tale. Sabrina sits alone, spending Lucien's money and nursing her baby. Vulnerable and trapped she romanticizes the good times they had when she wasn't in her right mind. Sabrina wants those back, and therefore wants Lucien back as well. Events lead to her chasing off to Scotland where she is reunited with the man who saved her life at Culloden. He's gone stark raving mad in the intervening five years. Despite being days behind her, Lucien shows up at the crucial second to save the day.
“You came, you came when I needed you. Oh, Lucien, I don’t ever want to leave you again. Never let me go, please,” she pleaded tearfully as she buried her face against his shoulder, blocking out the chilling sight of poor Ewan MacElden, once, long ago, piper of the clan. McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 364). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
By now both Sabrina and the reader have been gaslit to the point that we're willing to accept anyone not actively trying to kill her.
“I missed you desperately, Lucien, and I longed for you to come to me. I thought if ever I got back to Camareigh I would do anything to try and make you love me. My pride be damned, life isn’t worth living without you, Lucien,” McBain, Laurie (2011-02-01). Moonstruck Madness (Casablanca Classics) (p. 365). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
When I talk about abuse dynamics in the genre they aren't as cleanly laid out as they are in Moonstruck Madness. Like Mary, it's easy for readers to focus on the good times and dismiss bad ones. A story does not have to be made simplistic nor it's hero uninteresting for a romance not to perpetuate DV messages. In the same way that these passages may shock or repel a modern reader I hope that one day the coded DV still upheld in the genre shocks and repels future ones. We've come a long way, baby, but we're nowhere near home yet.*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.