August 1, 1999
Q: There has been much discussion on the bulletin board about whether or not Whitney was raped. What is your view? Also, if she was indeed raped, was this the original intention of the plot, or did Clayton’s character leave you no choice?
I have a feeling I should not be tackling this issue at 3:30 AM, but–rightly or wrongly, once and for all–here’s my answer.
In the original drafts of Whitney, Clayton did commit rape. In the final version, I didn’t like that, and I sought to avoid actual “rape” by having Whitney inadvertently collaborate with him (when she mistook his reasons.) That was my intention and that was my belief and that was why I *had* her collaborate.
I thought I’d successfully and clearly averted the issue, and in the years that followed the publication of WML, I could never quite understand why a contingent of intelligent readers still insisted it *was* rape. I couldn’t understand it–until a few months ago, when I was re-reading W,ML for the first time in many years and preparing to work on the new hardcover version.
I’d read past the scene in question and had gotten to the drunken scene between Stephen and Clayton, where Clayton confesses only that he *hurt* Whitney and had not believed she was a virgin. And then, to my utter disbelief, horror, and chagrin, I read the following line. It is Stephen’s reaction to what Clayton has confessed: “It was unbelievable (to Stephen) that Clayton, who had always treated women with a combination of amused tolerance and relaxed indulgence, could have been driven to rape…”
Rape? Rape! Rape?! I couldn’t *believe* I’d altered the scene so it wouldn’t qualify as rape, but I’d forgotten to alter Stephen’s reaction/response to it.
In an earlier post about Matthew Bennett and Clayton Westmoreland’s intentions toward Whitney, I showed you how in one sentence, I’d purposely and subtly led you to draw the wrong conclusion. I did it by telling you what Matthew Bennett’s reaction/response was. With Stephen, I inadvertently led you to draw exactly the conclusion I didn’t want you to reach. To put it more succinctly, I shot myself in the foot.
Now, having settled that, let’s address the really important issue: Did the scene, even as I intended it to be interpreted, belong in the novel? Should it remain? Should it be removed from the new version of WML?
The answer is that when I wrote the novel in 1978, 79, 80, I had absolutely *no idea* that rape was an all-too-common occurrence in real life. I never imagined that there would be women who would read my book and cringe with the real memory of real rape.
Based on the very few other historical romances that were available at the time (specifically including THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER and even Rosemary Rogers) I naively and erroneously assumed that we were all writing harmless fantasy and that it would be perceived as that by readers.
We could all digress here into a scintillating philosophical/sociological discussion and come to the conclusion that until recently, rape was the only exeptable excuse/way for a fictional heroine of morals and integrity to have premarital sex. But we already realize that now.
Just before the first version of WML went to press in 1984, I gave some thought to pulling the whole scene out of the book, because I was afraid my wonderful hero might seem too harsh to some, but I couldn’t remove the scene unless the entire novel ended with the wedding night scene. Everything that followed the wedding night scene hinged on the fact that Whitney had been in Clayton’s bed before the wedding. We talked earlier about how strongly I feel about the need for creditability in our characters, and there was absolutely no creditable way, *No Creditable Way* that a gently bred English girl like Whitney Stone would have been “wooed” or seduced into Clayton Westmoreland’s bed. Not willingly. I left the scene in there.
Is it still in the new version of W,ML? Is it different?”
You’ll find out.
Copyright: Simon & Schuster, Rememberboard, 1999