Hello, Fellow Readers! Here is the final installment of Moira Nelligar’s Author In Review for Robin Schone.
Here’s where her stories get more robust. Lots of characters interacting with one another, pairings that spill over into another book as well as a short story. Let me sketch it out.
The year is 1887. 49-year old widow Frances Hart was wed at the girlish age of 15 to her husband, who was 44 at the time. Her husband died several months ago of a lingering illness and she has come to London to do something for herself and see the sights. Frances has 5 grown children and 8 grandchildren. The family farm takes in 1300£ a year to which she’s entitled to only a small widow stipend of 20£ month. Worse, the stipend is at the whim of her son, there is nothing in her husband’s will granting it to her but instead suggesting her son give it! She has devoted 34 years of her life to her husband and the raising of their children and has nothing to show for it.
Frances's home as a daughter had belonged to her parents. Her home as a wife had belonged to her husband. Now her home belonged to her oldest son. The full impact of losing the house she had diligently tended and loved for thirty-four years struck her: her family wanted her to return home, but she didn't have a home to return to.
When we meet her, she’s on holiday and exploring the big city of London. She’s dyed her hair red, bought a straw hat and a new frock for her hourglass figure (so right for the times) and has come to the museum to see the dinosaurs.
Mistaking a room for a bathroom, she enters, only to find a meeting in progress. The twelve members of The Men and Women’s Club (5 spinsters, 5 bachelors, 1 widower and 1 married woman) sit around a huge conference table. Widower James Cordon Wilcox VII, barrister, Queen’s Counsel, 47 years of age with an annual income 20,000£, stops her before she leaves and boldly calls out asking her what a woman desires. He needs to know what a woman desires from a man, if she desires the touch of a man. His wife has died tragically, pinned underneath the wheels of a carriage less than a year ago, and he is realizing that in their 24 years of marriage he had never known her fears, her dreams or her needs.
Frances is obviously an unapologetically feminine woman who doesn’t hide from her sexuality, it strikes James. He was only 32 when his wife asked him if she could be spared the weekly trial of conjugal visitations. It was no matter as he took other women to bed afterward.
"I thought responsible men did not burden respectable women with their lust." He said later. "But now I know differently."
The sophisticated barrister will know Frances, a countrified simple grandmother, with nothing in common but the courage to admit the need for sexual satisfaction.
The other cast of characters:
Joseph Manning, founder and president of The Men and Women’s Club, objects to James’ questions and tries to curtail the discussion but is shot down by an anxious James. He is 35 and a Latin professor at University of London.
Ardelle Dennison, cofounder of the Men and Women’s Club and professional publicist for the museum, is 29, and interested in Manning. She and Joseph have handpicked each member of the club. Her every word is suffused with anger. We don’t discover why till we read their short story, Private Places.
Sarah Burns is the unusually tall doctor (for those times, she stands 6’ tall) who becomes close to the accountant, Mr. George Addimore, of Scottish descent.
Mrs. Rose Clarring, philanthropist, is an expert on erotic composition in still life paintings whose husband had mumps shortly after marriage rendering him sterile and refuses her intimacy now.
Esther Palmer is a tiny virginal woman standing only 5’ tall. She teaches girls’ mathematics at a girls’ academy.
Louis Stiles artist and architect and virgin, sketches moments in the meetings. He’s an intense man standing 6’7 and he and Esther grow close.
Student, Marie Hoppleworth, 36, is secretary for the club. Journalist, Mr. John Nickols, is a young handsome man confined to a wheelchair after an altercation in the line of duty. His needs are simple: he wants a woman who isn’t revolted by his condition. He is attracted to Marie.
Suffragette, Jane Fredericks is 27-years old, and an angry woman. Her father passed on syphilis to her mother because he wouldn’t use a ‘machine’ (a prophylactic). Both parents are now dying from the disease of which there was no cure at that time. She can’t forgive her father as she watches her mother growing weak, knowing she will die because he was a careless adulterer.
Thomas Pierce, banker, is 30, with a cherub face. His father was unfaithful to his mom and poisoned her son against women. He is a virgin attracted to Jane.
Not part of the club, we also have Attorney General Jack Lodoun, 44, who is a member of the Queen’s Counsel and a member of Parliament. Professionally adversarial with James, he is privately alternately terse and cool with him, for reasons unclear till the latter part of the story. His story with Rose Clarring is furthered in Robin’s full-length novel, Cry For Passion.
James pushes for Frances to become a member of the club. He asks her if she has ever seen an erotic photo. When she says no, he asks if she would like to. Joseph Manning is beside himself, feeling like the club is being turned into a society for sexual misconduct. James suggests the members convene next at the Achilles Book Shoppe, where a cordoned off area supplies erotica for a male market. The group agrees and meets there the following Saturday.
Frances is confused about the sensational aspect of the bookstore.
"These shops are illegal," hazel eyes recaptured Frances's gaze, "because men govern, and men want their women pure and virginal."
"Men want their women powerless, Mrs. Hart." Marie Hoppleworth stepped off the ladder.
Holding a slender black leather-bound book to her chest, she stared up at the barrister. "They take away our power by controlling our sexuality. When women are powerless, men do not have to account for their actions against them …
There is an amusing moment when Rose and Frances are peering at a french postcard of two naked men, staring at their erections. Frances reminds me of myself in my late teens hitting an adult bookstore at 42nd and 8th in NYC when that strip of Manhattan was all porn palaces. I did it as a dare with a male friend. Women don’t talk, and they certainly don’t make eye contact. When a woman enters, the men scuttle away. Much the same happened to a cheerful Frances who comments about the weather. Robin pens the discomfort unerringly.
Rose: “The composition is quite good, don’t you think?”
I laughed out loud.
James watches Frances avidly. He notes the pain-filled hunger in her eyes when she turns away from the postcard of a man and a woman bound by mutual passion.
The way it could be. The way it should be. The way it would be.
“… I want you to know me, Frances." Father. Barrister. Man.
"I want to know you." Mother. Grandmother. Woman.
All he wanted to do was to touch her, to hold her, to love her in a way that neither of them had ever been loved.
"I don't want a flirtation," James said, need like hunger gnawing at his stomach, "because games are for children, and I don't want a child in my bed. I want a woman who will take as much pleasure in my sex as I will take in hers."
The following week, they meet again at the museum where everyone has been told to bring the item they purchased at the bookstore for purview by the group. Around the table, they exchange French postcards, a dildo, a nipple clamp, a cock ring and Frances brings a lubricant.
They are so enthused by the breakthrough in conversation, it’s decided to picnic the next day at the Crystal Palace. After two years of estranging one another, the group now is working to develop a camaraderie they should have established in the beginning. They did so now because of one woman's honesty.
James wants to show Frances the sights there and the two have a moment of intimacy while observing splendid dinosaurs.
The relationship between Frances and James begins to blossom into something nourishing for them both until something unthinkable happens. Her eldest son comes unexpectedly to visit and is alarmed at the changes in her appearance and her excuses for it. He thinks the family is coming undone because of her behavior. He turns to the vicar in their small town who issues a lunacy order for Frances, believing menopause has affected her mind. Her son has the right by English law to incarcerate her for her own good until and unless he feels otherwise.
"I told you that I loved your father, but your father is dead now, and I need something—" More, dear God, she had said that, she had made him think that the love her family bore her wasn't enough, and it wasn't, but not because of anything they had done or not done. "I need to fill that gap in my life, David, that the passing away of your father created."
His eyes softened. "That's what family is for, Mama."
But family didn't do what David had done to her.
James offers her marriage but the idea of being under the control of a man, even one who professes his love, is abhorrent to her. She could never trust that another man could do this to her down the line. She must sue for emancipation so her son cannot take away her freedom.
James explains that her name will be smeared in every newspaper in London. The Men and Women’s Club will have their records seized as evidence and the members brought into court to testify. James attends the next meeting of The Men and Women’s Club to explain the situation. They are incredulous.
"… men have the legal right to confine a female relative for no other reason than because they wish to, Mr. Manning," James said coolly. "Mrs. Hart refuses to allow her life to be ruled by laws created for the convenience of men."
"What would you do, Miss Fredericks," James asked impersonally, "if a man whom you loved and trusted decided that it was in your best interests to be confined in an asylum? What would you do if the police would not help you, because no law was being broken? What would you do, Miss Fredericks, if you realized you would never be safe unless you sued the man you loved?"
"Mrs. Hart is suing her son … for emancipation, so that she may live her life as she sees fit."
It could mean the end of the careers of each member of the club with their names paraded in the newspaper. They will be called to testify and the minutes of the meetings will be used to corroborate their testimonies. Their lives and livelihoods are at stake. Will they stand up for their convictions that men and women are truly equal in a court of law? Do they each possess the strength of character to do so? As they individually and collectively weigh their options, Rose Clarring goes back home to her husband to end the pain of her marriage.
Hoping to stay a battle in court, James talks with Frances’ son who is unable to see his mother as a woman because he still needs a mother’s love. He storms out of James’ chambers reiterating that his mother is sick and needs a doctor, that he made a promise to his father that he would take care of her and he will see it done. She is not the same woman she was when she abandoned her family to come to London after his father’s death.
It all leads up to a provocative court battle with Jack Lodoun representing Frances’ son and James representing Frances. A stubborn Frances will not allow James to summon witnesses on her behalf. If the court discovers her barrister is also her lover, Frances will be lost to him forever. James has never lost a case, this could be the first and the loss of it far more reaching than he can imagine. Before, he never cared if he lost.
James goes to Jack’s home. Secrets are revealed. Treading on dangerous ground, Lodoun asks who has been subpoenaed and, keeping his back to James as he sets down a brandy decanter, asks, “If you were to file a subpoena, for whom would it be?”
Help comes from an unexpected source …
This short story, found in the anthology, Private Places, takes place the eve before the court appearances of Ardelle Dennison and Joseph Manning for the defense of Frances Hart in Scandalous Lovers.
27-year old Ardelle enters a darkened meeting room in the London Museum moments before closing to meet Joseph who has asked her there. He wants something she has taken from him.
He is angry with her that it seems to have meant nothing to her. She is remote to him and, with a ferocious urgency, he wants to understand why. As the evening unfolds, this hitherto outwardly cool and censorious pair are revealed for the hot blooded individuals they really are. In his dogged pursuit of the truth, Joseph, a professor at the University of London, learns more than he reckoned about the museum’s first female publicist and what she had to do to obtain her position. Ardelle, twisted by guilt and anguish, adrift from her own sexuality, succumbs to the power that is Joseph and together they confront the fears and desires that have stifled them both and made intimacy impossible.
As the morrow dawns, there is a very good chance each will lose their position when details about The Men and Women’s Club come to light within the context of the court proceedings they’ve been called to appear at. They were, after all, the originators of the club and drafted its rules and handpicked its members, and for two years, the club has met and coldly discussed sexology, blinded to its own arrogance, without knowing its members or acknowledging their passions. One by one, the members have been forced to confront their needs, breaking out of the strictly-business posture they’d hidden behind all these years. Frances’ vulnerability has broken something, touched something elemental in every member and we watch in this short story Ardelle and Joseph push through rigid societal mores to their own cathartic end.
While the story is fiction, Robin used as inspiration a real life woman (Emily Jackson) and man (Hardinge Giffard, First Lord Halsbury and Lord Chancellor) who challenged Parliamentary law in England and changed the course of history for all married women.
Up till the early 1900s, England was a patriarchal society with marriage and children being God given rights of men. A woman and child were properties of the husband. Men clung to the belief women were not the same as them, ruled by emotion rather than reason. If family matters were removed from the dominion of men, their entire way of life would be endangered. They feared women’s rights. Women could not vote, they couldn’t hold office or work outside the home unless at the discretion of their husband. Sexual intimacy was a matter of legal consummation.
Cry For Passion is certain to evoke strong emotions in its readers as it gives a strong feel for the time detailing the peril a woman faced looking for rights women in most advanced countries take for granted now. Thanks to the trial and the details of The Men and Women’s Club coming to light, all of London believes Rose Clarring to be an adulteress and the men and women of the club licentious. Many have lost their positions in the ensuing scandal and may never work in their chosen field again.
In this full-length novel, Rose Clarring approaches Jack Lodoun, moments after Frances’ trial has ended. In an era when women cannot file for divorce except for an accusation of incest, bigamy or desertion, she tells him she wants to divorce her husband and needs his help. She believes Jack did a wonderful thing by not winning the trial. He could have brought up the fact that James and Frances were lovers and James would have lost Frances forever. Frances would have been remanded into the care of her adult son who wanted to have her incarcerated into an insane asylum. Jack had also withheld the foray into the Achilles Book Shoppe The Men and Women’s Club members had gone to, seeking sexual titillation. He was duty bound to reveal these facts but had not.
33-year old Rose can no longer be part of the 11 year sham of her marriage after seeing how Frances and James looked at one another. She knows Jack, too, is envious of what the couple have and wants him to petition Parliament for a private act to sanction her divorce. She confides that her husband drinks himself into unconsciousness each evening and despairs for the children they can never have because he became sterile after enduring an adult case of the mumps. He has been unwilling to come to their marital bed, believing the sex act is only for the procreation of children. Rose is a living reminder of the children her husband can never have, every dream now denied him, and she can’t take his suffering anymore. She has come to believe she deserves more.
Lovely intimate moment between Rose and Jack as Jack confesses he had loved James’ wife at one time. I find her use of adverbs placed in the role of nouns intriguing, engaging me from one page to the next.
Rose rents a row house and Jack goes there inebriated (“But not unconscious.” Unlike her husband, Jack Lodoun implied.), fresh from a visit to the Achilles Book Shoppe where he has perused the offerings and wondered what Rose would have been excited by. Everywhere he looked, memories of Cynthia Wilcox assault his senses till he had to leave. He hammers at Rose’s door, rousing her from sleep.
They argue. He asks her, dares her, to prove a woman’s passion is worth a man’s reputation, that he won’t accept her situation without proof because it will affect his career. Jack thinks she wants children, that her plea for a divorce is so she can have children with another man. He doesn’t understand she wants to be loved only for herself and has no desire to be a mother. She turns the tables and insists Jack show her that a man can take pleasure in himself and not in his ejaculate, that it is more than impregnation of a woman.
It doesn’t take long for the two to become lovers as they look for passion in their lives, even while initially loving other people—Rose her husband, and Jack the memory of Cynthia; in effect, people who are dead to them both. How she forgives him for destroying her life is a wonder to me. He vivisected her on the stand during Frances’ trial. She’s been painted in lurid ink by the frenzied media as a wanton, a home wrecker, an adulteress.
Parliamentary law forbids divorce except under rigid circumstances. At best he can give Rose a separation because it doesn’t require Parliamentary approval. She will be unable to remarry and so will her husband. She will, however, gain full control over her person. Jonathon will not be able to lock her away in an asylum or sue for restitution of his conjugal rights. He has the legal right to force her to live in his home.
Jack is a politician and he’s warned not to be indiscreet or he will void his political future. How much is he willing to risk for Rose? What future does she have if she is unable to divorce her husband? She could divorce him by divulging his impotence but she refuses to hurt her husband by outing his condition in public. The law of the time doesn’t even grant a woman’s petition for separation unless she is still residing in the house with her husband! The only one who knows the truth is Jack. Rose even has trouble hiring suitable servants because of her tarnished reputation. Then again, but for Jack, it might have gone far worse with different counsel. Rose now faces the society she loved as a pariah.
Wanting to feel him instead of the rubber condoms of the day, she visits the office of a gynecologist to be fitted for a Dutch cap. The next day, on an outing with her mother to shop for things for her new home, she is forcibly abducted by her husband who locks her up in their home. She is examined against her will by a nurse and doctor who tell her that her husband is concerned she has not conceived a child (!) and they remove her Dutch cap. Her husband says nothing as she is accused of denying him his paternal rights.
“Hold still, Mrs. Clarring; this will just take a minute. . . .”
Rose stared up at the ring of light circling the ceiling.
“I didnʼt think, Jonathon”—her eyes were so dry they burned; a matching burn spread deep inside her—“you could hurt me any more than what you did yesterday: I was wrong.”
“Mr. Clarring, were you aware that your wife is wearing a Dutch cap?”
“No,” Jonathon replied, voice muffled.
Rose more sensed than saw the movement of the doctor: straightening . . . turning . . . bending over the bed. Metal navigated through the metal speculum. What one doctor had given, another doctor took away.
The nurse later hisses smugly:
“You’re not fooling anyone, Mrs. Clarring: We’ve read the newspapers. We saw that disgusting device with which you polluted your body. You’re an adulterous woman. Thankfully, you’ve spared your husband illegitimate offspring. He’s been more than generous. If it were up to me, the likes of you would be thrown in gaol with the other harlots who taint our fair city.”
Jack is forced to go to James Whitcox for help. Adversarial in the courtroom as well as the bedroom, he needs the barrister to go before the Queen’s Bench to petition for a habeas corpus. Frances wants to help the woman who had been so welcoming to her when she first joined the club. She suggests she could contact the members of the Men and Women’s Club asking for their help in creating a scene that would force public opinion to be swayed in Rose’s favor. A woman forcibly taken off the street and imprisoned is cause for a furor and could influence the judge’s decision which is a public affair. Creating a disturbance in front of the Clarring home would draw attention from a variety of newspapers, James agrees.
Before the judges of the High Court of Justice, James pleads:
“Yesterday, on the sixth of June . . . when returning from a shopping excursion with her mother . . . Mrs. Clarring was forcibly abducted. The man who abducted her, my lords, was her husband.” The curiosity lighting the three men’s faces switched off. They weren’t interested in the physical and emotional trauma of a man’s wife: They were interested in the law.
As the members of The Men and Women’s Club convene on the street in front of the Clarring home, we meet again the men and women who, months before, had brought to the club an object expressing their deepest fears and desires. After the trial, each had acted upon those desires. They had come together in the trial because of a subpoena but come together now because they have confronted those fears.
“Free Rose” they chant. But the law is the law and the Queen’s Bench believes Rose is where she should be and where she will stay as long as her husband says she will, despite her own wishes to the contrary. Her involvement in the Men and Women’s Club has cast her in an unfavorable light and the ruling men suggest the club even encouraged her to leave the sanctity of her home. It’s up to Jack to go to Parliament and take the case before the Lord Chancellor.
If only he can be convince the Court of Appeals before Rose does something awful. She picks up a pistol, surprised how light it is as it fits in her hand as if it’s been made specially for her, aims it at Jonathon and pulls the trigger …
In summation, due to popular demand, this writer’s work can now be found released in ebook form sporting covers Robin herself has designed. These are meaty, must-reads every serious reader should have in their library.
Every one of Robin’s novels has a man and a woman who pursue their desires, who are willing to sacrifice their embarrassment and push through the repressive trappings of the era to get to know one another … not in blandishments and pleasantries but in the sweaty, grunting, noisy mapping of bodies, the knowledge of pain and pleasure, and the giving of everything. The reality of knowledge far surpasses their fantasies. That is Robin’s gift to her readers.
I deeply hope Robin will consider writing again someday soon. You can find her on her newly designed website and on Facebook where she is often seen posting and responding to her loyal readers. She is amazingly accessible and responds to emails sent her.
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