What we've been reading...

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Apr 11 14:25:43 EDT 2000


On Thu, 6 Apr 2000 22:27:29 +0100, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

>Melissa wrote:
>>Another thing that intrigued me was how similar the
>>two main characters were to Elizabeth and Darcy in _Pride and Prejudice_; on
>>the surface, they were completely different, but their underlying motives
>>and impulses were practically identical.
>
>Hooray!  I'm so glad you liked these, Melissa.  And that's such a cool
>comparison with Elizabeth and Darcy.... though I _completely_ disagree with
>it, I'm afraid. <ducking for cover>

Oh, Hallie.  Must we keep going through this?  :)

(Lots of spoilers ahead, so if you are planning to read the _Duel_ books you
might want to skip this--though, as I said, it's a fairly transparent plot
anyway so I don't feel I'm really giving anything away.)

Let me be more explicit here.  I find characters very interesting--enough so
that I will read an otherwise boring book for the sake of following an
intriguing person around, so to speak.  Something that I also find
interesting is how character archetypes are expressed in stories.  It's
unfortunately not a subject I know much about, so I don't have the
vocabulary to really talk about it and I'm more or less fumbling in the
dark.  But from my limited perspective I can still sort characters from
different books into "piles" based on common characteristics--though usually
I can't really express those characteristics in ways meaningful to other
people.

A better way to express what I was thinking in terms of Meliara and
Shevraeth is that both those two and Elizabeth and Darcy are playing out the
same archetypal relationship.  But I think Elizabeth and Darcy are the more
fully realized characters--fittingly, because the _Duels_ and _Pride and
Prejudice_ are written for very different audiences--and so I put it the way
I did.

What I'm saying is, when you strip away the circumstances of plot and
examine the characters' motivations and instincts, what's left?  How much of
character arises from the situation, and how much is intrinsic?  Mel is
prejudiced against Shevraeth from the beginning and takes a very long time
to let go of those prejudices.  Elizabeth does exactly the same thing.  Both
of them have legitimate reasons to be prejudiced, but also are guilty of
assuming things about each man that prove unfounded--Shevraeth is
deliberately trying to mislead people with his court dandy act, and Darcy is
unconsciously playing the role he was brought up to believe was right.  And
there's also an implication that both Mel and Elizabeth are hanging on to
those prejudices *because* of an unconscious attraction to the object of
their dislike--otherwise it wouldn't be such a strong repulsion.

Darcy and Shevraeth--well, for one thing, they're both cast in the role of
Mysterious Stranger, which means (again, my own personal system here) that
1) we don't ever get the story told from their POV, which is a distancing
tactic that makes them Mysterious, and 2) they're both extremely romantic
figures, attractive and yet unattainable.  Darcy as the embodiment of pride
has been very thorougly explored elsewhere; the issue of whether Shevraeth
is prideful is more subtle, and I think comes down to my own reading of the
story.  It bothered me a LOT that he and his father were carrying out these
plans and were totally willing to let Bran and Mel's faction take the brunt
of the King's opposition--making them, unknowingly, a part of their plan to
seize the throne.  True, they'd been making plans for a long time when the
rebellion began, and to an extent this grassroots uprising was more a
problem than anything else.  But it's also clear to me that Shevraeth went
off to quash the rebels assuming that it would take no effort at all--as his
father says later, they looked like well-meaning country bumpkins who had no
real notion of what they were going to do with the government once they got
it (which is also true, but *not* true that this meant by definition that
they'd mess everything up).  We only get Mel's point of view, so it looks
like Shevraeth is winning effortlessly, but later he reveals that he was
utterly frustrated that every time he had a victory, they all popped up
somewhere else.  Not what he expected from country bumpkins.

And, like Darcy, Shevraeth doesn't even recognize what aspects of his
behavior are prideful--he thinks he's acting naturally and correctly.  It's
not until Mel says, bluntly, that she thinks Bran would make a better king
that he begins to recognize what his blind spots have been.  The reader
knows Shevraeth would be a better king in most ways than Bran, but Mel's
idea of what makes a good king is based in something else that is also
essential:  Bran's lack of courtly expertise and general honesty are more
valuable to a potential king than knowing which fork to use at supper.
While Shevraeth was right to think that the best king would be one who
understands how government works, he'd also assumed that that meant the best
king *had* to have courtly experience--also not true.  And, of course, both
Shevraeth and Darcy are much quicker to swallow their pride than either Mel
or Elizabeth, though Shevraeth is quicker than Darcy (and Mel, conversely,
hangs on to her prejudice much longer than Elizabeth).

I'm not suggesting that Sherwood Smith cribbed from _Pride and Prejudice_ or
that this is an exact comparison of characters.  For one thing, Elizabeth is
far more well-educated than Mel, despite the fact that both of them were
more or less left to do as they pleased when they were children.  Elizabeth
is also more even-tempered and, I think, has more innate common sense.  On
the other hand, Shevraeth (unlike Darcy) is proud not because of his birth,
but because of his singleminded pursuit of his goals; he's spent so much
time and effort learning and planning that he occasionally fails to take
other people's ideas into account, even if they're valuable.  This makes his
faults of pride much less a problem than Darcy's.

The point is that at the heart of each story,

--we have two people who meet under less than favorable circumstances;
--the woman is prejudiced against the man based on those initial
circumstances;
--the man gradually reveals that, while he has some flaws, he's not what she
thought he was;
--the man goes out of his way to show the woman that he really does mean
well;
--the woman gradually loses her prejudice and gains respect for the man.

Etcetera, etcetera.  Now you see why it took me so long to reply to this.
:)

The problem with this kind of analysis--that is, the way I do it--is that
it's dependent on me choosing the right characteristics for comparison.
Take Chrestomanci, for example.  To me, his defining characteristics put him
in the same category as people like Sir Peter Wimsey, or Francis Crawford of
Lymond--distant or frivolous on the outside, but dead serious beneath, and
very observant without appearing to be paying attention, so they seem
uncannily knowledgeable and a little awe-inspiring.  But suppose that's not
what you think Chrestomanci is all about?  Then my saying "I think
Chrestomanci is just like Peter Wimsey" is totally wrong from your point of
view, because to you he's really more like, I don't know, Heathcliff from
_Wuthering Heights_.  (He isn't.  It would be stupid to think this.  So
don't. :)

There you go, Hallie.  Thanks to you I've inflicted another long-winded
missive upon the good people of this list.  I frankly don't know how you can
sleep at night.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
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