The Pride You Trampled by Juliet Armstrong
A Harlequin Romance, #51136
(c) 1967 to Simon & Schuster, originally published by Mills & Boon Limited
That last intrigued me, and sent me off on a hunt for corporate information. I thought that Mills & Boon was the parent company to Harlequin, since M&B seems to have a longer history — imagine my surprise to learn that Hqn was not a spin off of M&B, but a partner that eventually bought M&B in 1971. But I’m still curious about how/where Simon & Schuster fits in to the early publishing and distribution relationship between the two. And I’ve put in an interlibrary loan request for Passion’s Fortune: the Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer. (Holy moly, a new copy costs $110; used is still $58.)
At their first meeting, Julian accused Sylvia of being a common little adventuress. He soon realized his mistake, and tried to make amends. But it was too late. The damage was done, and Sylvia’s pride bitterly hurt. Would he ever be able to make her see him in a more favorable light?
TPYT is both wonderful and awful, mostly for the exact same reasons.
Sylvia Freyne is the rock of her family, the eldest sister to three younger siblings who have been orphaned by a tragic auto accident on the Great North Road. [I recognize that name from historical romance novels, and didn’t realize that the name was still in use. But why wouldn’t it be? Duh.] Anyway, they live with their philanthropist uncle, who is distant but nice enough. The family is wealthy, or at the very least comfortable, since at the opening of the book, Sylvia wears a mink coat, her brother attends an exclusive private (public?) school, and they live in a house in London (in Piccadilly Circus?) with several servants and a butler.
The action begins with Sylvia’s return from some sort of world tour for the uncle-by-marriage’s philanthropy. On the journey, she met and fell in love with Hugh Merring, a somewhat frail young man who lives with his domineering mother in genteel poverty. A reader conversant in the tropes of category romance can recognize what is going to happen right off, right? Interfering mother involved at some point. After settling back in at home, Sylvia traipses off to visit Hugh and meet his mother. At the same time, Sylvia meets Julian, Hugh’s cousin, a wealthy businessman who warns Sylvia off rather brutally. Her uncle has a reputation as a swindler, y’see. Shades of Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi. Sylvia, being innocent and self-righteous, flounces off, peeved at the way he has spoken to her, only to be very rudely awakened to the reality of her uncle’s fraud when he commits suicide as his losses and embezzlement come to light. Eventually, Sylvia learns that her own family’s wealth has been embezzled and frittered away, leaving the family more or less destitute. Having realized Sylvia’s innocence in the whole scheme, Julian admits his misjudgment (while never actually apologizing for what he said to her or how he said it), and offers to assist Sylvia and her family in finding some sort of situation for them to work and live. Being rather prideful, Sylvia declines in a rather snooty way. The plot proceeds this way for 190 pages, with Sylvia basically cutting off her nose to spite her face.
Frankly, Sylvia’s bitterness and her self-imposed martyrdom became rather tiresome, in part because the POV is entirely hers, without any relief via the POV of another character (hero or secondary character). While I could understand her resentment of Julian’s assumptions, she is rather ungracious and foolish about refusing to accept help. If she’d been on her own, that wouldn’t have bothered me, but refusing freely offered assistance when one has three dependents seems TSTL to me, rather like the heroine who refuses child support and instead lives hand to mouth with her child out of some misplaced pride. There’s independence and there’s stupidity. Hot button there, sorry. OTOH, she has a valid point when she says to Julian that he never actually apologized for the nasty things he said to her upon their first meeting.
TPYT as a category romance novel has many of the same tropes that a reader can find in today’s categories — proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite being a "kisses only" and rather conservative romance by today’s standards, a reader can find a great many similarities with modern day Harlequin novels:
- Wealthy business man hero
- Martyring heroine
- Big Misunderstanding
- Scheming Other Woman
- Melodramatic external event prompting confrontation of feelings
The hero and heroine fall in love with each other despite most of their contact being abrasive and adversarial. Until the very end of the book, their only physical contact is a "punishing" kiss, which the heroine is embarrassed to admit to herself that she enjoyed. The two characters spent very little time together on the page, and their love is mostly told rather than shown by her angsting and talking to herself and by his declarations. The asshat to doormat ratio is fairly even here: the assumptions and judgments Sylvia and Julian make, and the way they treat each other, are equally prideful and hard-hearted. At the end of the book, they seem fairly well-matched in terms of temperament and world-view.
Unlike more modern categories, which are set in a world that I understand even if I don’t live in it (never having being a virgin secretary to an Italian billionaire), TPYT is set in a world that seems idyllic, innocent, far away and long gone. Traveling by boat to and from Australia and South Africa, rather than by plane. Are there still village tea shops in England like the one she decides to run? Is that just another name for the equivalent of a local cafe? Hunt balls. Trousseaus. Professional models as scandalous creatures. In some ways, TPYT is as different or unreal to me as a vampire novel because of that setting. As I read the book I wondered, was this considered racy at the time of publication?
The title of the book comes from a W.E. Henley poem quoted at Sylvia by Julian on one occasion when he is fraught by what he calls her wretched pride:
The pride I trampled is now my scathe,
For it tramples me again
The old resentment lasts like death,
For you love, yet you refrain.
I break my heart on your hard unfaith,
And I break my heart in vain.
All in all, TPYT was an engrossing read for me. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book, especially to a reader who is unfamiliar with or does not like categories, but I think anyone interested in looking at the development of categories as a subgenre would be entertained by it. Certainly it held my interest, and I’m looking forward to reading the next old school Harlequin Romance.