by Wesley Stace
Is Rose Loveall “Miss Fortune”? Did her fortune
pass her by miss her? Did she long for miss fortune? Or, is her cross-dressing life itself a misfortune? I loved Wesley Stace’s By George and wasn’t displeased with Misfortune, either. It is, however, a riot of a novel filled with more characters and subplots and back stories than the novels of Charles Dickens himself. What I like about Stace, though, is that his stories are original (no run-of-the-mill Chick Lit here) and fresh: an orphaned baby boy is thrown out on a London garbage heap, picked up by a dog, rescued by Lord Loveall, a Johnny Depp-like misfit, and raised as the girl Rose. See what I mean?
Not that Rose’s young life wasn’t idyllic. Understanding that he needed a wife to have produced this infant (apparently one can’t just pick a baby off the rubbish pile and take it home), Lord Loveall quickly proposes to the librarian of Love Hall who sequesters herself until the baby is “born”. (Mother Anonyma, long infatuated with dead poet Mary Day finds original manuscripts in the library over which she spends hours of study, so that ruse is not hard to pull off.) There are playmates and picnics and music and books–the entire manor revolves around young Rose and her every need. But misfortune comes to Miss Fortune when Lord Loveall falls ill, slipping away from reality, and slowly, carriage by carriage, relatives descend on Love Hall to sniff out opportunity–young Rose, of course, will need a husband to produce the future heir.
And as if the the plot wasn’t extravagant enough already, the relatives’ arrival and Rose’s awakening sexuality collide with devastating consequences for both Rose and Anonyma when Lord Loveall dies. For my taste, I enjoy the romp of a Dickens-like tale–but after a while the back stories that connect characters, the poetry and song lyrics that slow Rose’s story, weigh down the novel like one too many sweaters on a spring day.
The beauty of the novel, however, was the unabashed look the reader has of cross-dressing, sexual identity, and gender identification. For Rose, though physically male (and sexually attracted to at least one woman), never gives up her gowns, stockings, and long locks. Her struggle with identifying (and dressing) as a man almost leads to destruction. Her family, too, wrestles with Rose’s identity–but in almost losing her they find that what they really want is Rose, with all of her grace and tenderness. While I still might not understand, intellectually, those gender identity issues, Stace led me to accept and understand Rose with my heart. And isn’t that what matters in the end?
Next up: Oh, my. Dare I even try to write about 50 Shades of Gray? I’d better, because I’m blowing through book two already, but whatever shall I say …