Time of the Temptress: Paper 4
Desperate Attempts At Worthwhile Writing
In the Harlequin romance Time of the Temptress, by VioletWinspear, the author seems to be trying to write an intelligentstory of romance, bettered by its literary self-awareness. Shefails on both counts. Winspear appears to recognize that morevalued literature tends to involve symbolism and allusions toother works. It seems she is trying to use archetypes and allusionsin her own novel, but her references to alternate literature andculture are embarrassingly obvious and awkward. Another inter-literaryconnection, though, is more difficult to notice unless the bookis pondered — something the typical romance reader is not likelyto do. Although Winspear attempts to give her book literary valueby tying it to Gone With the Wind, because of the limitationsof her chosen genre, and her own apparent inabilities as a writer,she cannot grasp the depth that makes Gone With the Winda highly regarded romance work.
The first clue to the correlation of the novels is given throughthe 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 lastname of Gone With the Wind‘s heroine, Scarlett.What many do not know, as this bit of her life was cut out ofthe movie version, is that Scarlett had a son named Wade. Scarlett’sson 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 richlydeveloped characters. That Wade O’Mara has a cousin and a sonwith the last name of Mitchell further indicates the connectionto Gone With the Wind.
This is the closest Winspear comes to a direct declaration ofher references to the novel. It is possible that she does notacknowledge 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) ofthe others.
Winspear seems to be attempting to model her characters afterthose of Gone With the Wind. The main characters in Timeof the Temptress have significant references to Rhett Butlerand Scarlett O’Hara, but Winspear cannot capture what makes MargaretMitchell’s characters so appealing.
The descriptions of Wade O’Mara are so Rhett-like, it is surprisingthat Winspear’s Eve does not remark, or think, “you remindme of Clark Gable!” She does, however, repeatedly relatehim to Humphrey Bogart, famous for films of the same era as Gable.Wade is depicted as tall, dark, and madly handsome. He exudesmasculinity, and is in complete control at all times. His hairis wavy black, and his well-tanned skin tightly covers his ripplingmuscles. His demeanor is mocking, and he always has an upper handwhen speaking with the heroine. He is experienced with, and understandsthe ways of, women. All of these characteristics also describeRhett Butler. Even Wade’s speech, described as drawling, reflectsRhett’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 malecharacter so closely to Margaret Mitchell’s. Rhett Butler canbe seen as the epitome of manliness. He is rich, handsome, capable,and forceful — every romance novel heroine’s dream. Part of Rhett’scharm, though, is his refined finesse, which Wade is definitelylacking.
Rhett’s attractiveness is enhanced by his bad-guy image. He isnot 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 extremeof likening him to Satan. This may tie in with the Edenic archetypalof the book, but it makes Wade a bit too evil, as he in fact “looksin league with the devil himself” (Winspear 8). Wade is notas 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 somelights. Both Eve Tarrant and Scarlett O’Hara were considered highbeauties. They came from similar origins of wealth and class,and both were reared to catch a good man with pampered bodiesand 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, butthey react in different ways. Scarlett gets genuinely upset withRhett when he taunts her. Eve only disregards Wade’s comments,or responds with something along the lines of “I – I wishyou wouldn’t call me ‘young deb’ in that scornful voice”(Winspear 11).
Scarlett and Eve are both, at some point in their stories, involvedin significant relationships with men they do not love. Eve isnearly 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 “noticedanything about her beyond that she dressed, spoke and behavedcorrectly, and would in due time inherit some sizeable stocksand shares” (Winspear 28). He sees no value in her person,because she does not have any. She is so weak, she allows herselfto be led by her guardian into this shallow, loveless relationshipwith a man she dislikes.
Scarlett was not in love with her first two husbands, CharlesHamilton and Frank Kennedy, but she herself chose to marry them.Although her motives were not necessarily ethical, she had herown reasons for the relationships, and was in control of themboth. She was not in love with her husbands, but they did loveher, and so the marriages were not completely meaningless. Shemarried the men to get what she needed — particularly with hermarriage to Frank Kennedy, which saved her from losing her home.Her marriages were essentially to take care of herself, an abilitythat Eve does not possess.
Eve and Scarlett each have the habit of trying to push unpleasantthoughts from their minds. When Scarlett decides, “I won’tthink about it now — I’ll think about it tomorrow” (Mitchell1036), it is a manner of coping with hardship. Eve often wantsto try something of this sort, but has difficulty, because shehas little control over her own mind. When a complex idea comesinto Eve’s simple head, she tries “to resist the question,but it took a grip on her thoughts” (Winspear 32). Althoughit is clear that Winspear attempted to make her character likeScarlett, Eve is too desperate and has no mind of her own. Despitethe fact that she is modeled after a character with depth, Eveis flat. This is partially due to the prescriptions that mass-producednovels of the genre must follow.
Heroines in Harlequin romance novels are written as “outlinesof human beings” (Woodruff 28). By following this mold, Winspearcreates Eve to be of even less value than a silhouette. Eve comesacross as being an idiot, unsure of her own feelings, and floatingthrough life on whims and other people’s plans for her. The onemajor decision of her life that she made for herself — to moveto the African jungle was made “on sheer impulse” (Winspear21), and although it leads her to the man she will love, almostends her life.
Heroines of romantic fiction generally “couldn’t care lessabout being liberated” (Woodruff 30), but Winspear takesthis a bit too far. Eve can’t take care of herself, and actuallyseems to want to be dominated, and even victimized. She even considersthat she might like it if Wade “suddenly flung her down inthe rampant ferns and took her with all the forceful assurancewith which he tackled everything” (Winspear 27).
The idea behind writing romance novel heroines as somewhat hollowis “to allow the reader to put herself in the place of theheroine” (Woodruff 28). It is difficult and humiliating forthe reader to try to identify with the helpless and stupid characterof Eve. Had Winspear made Eve to be more like Scarlett with areal personality, however good or bad it may be, she would beeasier to relate to, and therefore, more interesting.
Wade, with his survivalist instincts and freedom of choice seemsto be more like Scarlett than Eve. When considering that the readersof Harlequin novels are women, “usually between the agesof 25 and 40” (Woodruff 27), the typical reader could bemore likely to relate to the character of Wade, who is responsiblefor a child-like dependant. Winspear managed to mirror her charactersto Rhett and Scarlett, but her attempt did not produce its desiredresults.
Even the plot of Time of the Temptress reflects that ofGone With the Wind. Wade’s leading Eve out of the jungleto escape the rebels is like Rhett’s leading Scarlett out of Atlantato escape the Yankee Army. The names of their respective destinationsare also similar: Tanga and Tara. In each story it is the malewho produces the mode of escape: in the case of Time of theTemptress, Wade makes a canoe, and in Gone With the Wind,Rhett steals a horse. The male character does not accompany theheroine on her entire journey home in either story. In Timeof the Temptress, Eve is put on a plane in Tanga, and senthome unconscious, in a completely helpless state. In Gone Withthe Wind, Scarlett is anything but helpless when Rhett leavesher to go on alone — not only does she finish her journey withoutany help, she is also personally responsible for bringing fourothers to safety. Scarlett is made stronger by her journey, whileEve is left with amnesia. As with the character resemblances,the plot similarities to Gone With the Wind do little toeffect Time of the Temptress. Winspear does not give asense of urgency to her characters’ escape. Rather than a hurriedgetaway, Wade and Eve almost seem to be frolicking as if on avacation.
Winspear seems to be trying to capture the essence of GoneWith the Wind with the plot connections of her brief novel.It is as though she tried to rewrite the story, with the samecharacters in a different situation, and with a happy ending.
Winspear would have been better off if she had been comfortableenough with her Harlequin romance novel writing to accept thatthe genre does not require literary value. Instead she tries toenhance her book by throwing in absurd associations with movies,archetypes, and Gone With the Wind, which make her writingseem cheap, and overly and awkwardly self-conscious.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. New York: The MacmillanCompany, 1936.
Winspear, Violet. Time of the Temptress. Toronto: HarlequinBooks, 1978.
Woodruff, Juliette. “A Spate of Words, Full of Sound andFury, Signifying Nothing: Or, How to Read a Harlequin.” Journalof Popular Culture 19.2 (1985): 25-32.