Hot news, right off the presses! (This is untrue–I found out two weeks ago.) We’re moving to Brooklyn! Finally, I will leave the land of aspiring screenwriters for the land of aspiring authors! Oh, happy day!
So, I tackled yet another historical female traveloguist (this is not a word, please do not use this word in professional company because they will know that it’s not a word and judge the shit out of you) this week.
Please meet Ms. Margaret Fountaine, author of Love in the Time of Butterflies. You may note that I added a link to Ms. Fountaine’s Wikipedia page, as I’m not going to use my word count doing an in-depth examination of her biography.
I put this book on my “historical female traveloguist” reading list because this was supposed to be one of the better travelogues and the subheading for the book was “The diaries of a wayward, determined and passionate Victorian lady.” She sounded intriguing and rebellious, like Beryl Markham and Mary Kingsley, and I wanted to know more.
I just keep hovering over my keyboard here.
Look, it kinda sucked. I’m just going to put that out there.
This was not a travelogue. I mean, yes, she traveled and she wrote about her travels (somewhat). This was a lady’s diary. This was a man-obsessed lady’s diary.
Which was actually probably good for me, as I needed to pull my head out of my ass about certain more amorous sections of my book and reading about someone else’s romantic entanglements and being alternately bored and annoyed by them made me realize how mine might read.
When she first starts her diaries (around the age of 16), I can easily forgive her obsession. Okay, maybe not so easily. She was falling in and out and in and out of love. And, sure, that’s not horrible when you’re sixteen. But she was doing it (falling in love, not sex) with men she had never spoken with.
It murdered my brain a little. Yes, it was Victorian times, I know. Yes, there were extremely different social standards regarding male/female interactions. But to spend page after page mooning after a boy one has never spoken to… I just can’t.
Anyway, she falls in love with a new boy when she’s in her late teens/early twenties named freaking Septimus and moons after him for three years without ever speaking, at the end of which she brazenly throws herself at him (in a Victorian sense) again and again, eventually learning that he has a lady and deciding that she doesn’t care.
He ends up running away from the town they live in because he’s lost his job (singing in a church choir) due to excessive drunkenness and ran up more bills than he ever could pay back (especially given that no one would employ a drunk), so his only option was debtors’ prison or fleeing back to Ireland.
And she still loves him and wants to marry him.
And he ignores her until she inherits a significant yearly allowance and suddenly he’s her swain. Until he’s not.
I don’t know what changed his mind about marrying someone who could clearly not see any of his massive flaws and would shower him in money, but something did. And he ghosted her. After said ghosting, she finds out from his immediate family that he was a horrible person, was even more of a drunk than rumor led on, and that he was a complete was of space.
She, of course, believed none of it and his ghosting was, for Ms. Fountaine, devastating. An emotional scar that she would carry for the entire rest of her life, bringing it up in diary entries decades later.
Anyway, the entire rest of the book is her getting into butterfly collecting, traveling around hunting for butterflies, and aggressively and intentionally breaking men’s hearts to have her revenge on all male life.
I. Can’t. Even.
Anyway, two decades later (in these diaries), she bumps into a twenty-five year old (for the readers in the back: A TWENTY-FIVE YEAR OLD) who fawns over her, follows her everywhere (in part because he’s her fucking bell-hop), tries to feel her up when they’re alone, and who she can’t stand.
But, over the course of many months, his “kindness and devotion” wear her down and she agrees to marry him.
Until she learns that he’s already married.
After learning of his situation’s details (arranged marriage, wife he doesn’t like, dead child–IF ANY OF THIS IS EVEN TRUE), she decides they’re just going to run around the world, having sex and pretending they’re siblings when they need to because, hey, Victorian times. She basically foots all of his bills, gets him educated, and whatever else.
It’s terrible. It’s all terrible. Reading this thing is like reading a screenplay for a Beverly Hills 90210 season finale (or something more culturally relevant) that happens to have travel in it.
Quotes for your enjoyment:
“I believe it is a terrible pain to a man to love a woman who scorns him after having encouraged his affections for a time, and it was the pleasure of inflicting that pain that my soul was craving for; I could do it, I had learnt it at last.”
“As to Papa Bruno [her friend’s father], I hardly knew what to think of him, signing himself with affectionate salutations on a postcard, and with no acquaintance!”
“Why are men such animals? I sometimes almost forget the vile depravity of human nature until I find myself confronted with it again, the selfish lust which men mistake for love.”
I have so many other comments to make. She’s racist. She’s incredibly tied to the class system, which is constantly coming up when she has to interact with “common” men or women. She’s impractical in love. She actually enjoyed breaking other people’s hearts–not because of ego (which is not a good excuse either, but more common), but because she was having her revenge.
She’s just not likable. And I cannot understand why a bunch of British men at the museum which housed her butterfly collection decided to publish these silly things. The diaries make their patroness look like an awful human being and there is so very little in them of science and travel, and so much hand-wringing.
Anyway, I don’t regret reading it (for one, it’s very short) because I learned something about how to make my writing better (which is the point of all of this). Would I recommend it? To a certain species of reader, sure. But to most others? No.