Character: Constance Lindon
Text: The Marquess’ Masquerade (Dastardly Lords #2) by Daphne du Bois
*SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*
Miss Constance Lindon, like all other well-bred young ladies, is eager for her first Season. But not to wear pretty clothes and prance around trying to rise in Society and find a husband before becoming an old maid. She is far more interested in having her artwork displayed at the Royal Academy at the next exhibition; her biggest dream and everything she yearns for. But her plan is scuppered when the Royal Academy decides that the dastardly lord of the novel, Athelcroft, is given her space in the gallery. Unfortunately she is little credited for her talent, being female as she is, and not of the temperament to be painting seductresses as Athelcroft does. Con is much too well-mannered and high-born to lower herself to such lusty displays in her artwork.
“Lord Athelcroft’s work will draw a much bigger crowd than the idyllic landscapes and baskets of kittens at which young lady artists so often excel” … Con had never painted a basket of kittens in her life, but she doubted very much that pointing that out would do her any good.
So annoyed she is it drives her to something verging on scandalous; she visits Athelcroft, a renowned rake, at his home, unaccompanied.
Now, Constance is known to her friends and family as a very quiet, straight as an arrow, risk-free kind of girl. She is. And she spends most of her time painting, not doing annoying things that society tells her she must (like shopping for bonnets, this is tiresome). She prefers the quiet, away from the bustle of business that doesn’t include invoking creativity – so the pure audacity to visit a man she has never met, with a reputation such as his, is uncompromisingly dangerous for her reputation. But she will get that space back. She is also much too strong-willed to allow someone – even the renowned Lord Athelcroft – to take away what could very well give her the future she is striving for. To be a professional artist. To own a gallery. Nothing else would complete her.
When she enters Athelcroft’s house, alone, she is introduced to a man who is renowned for his rakish behaviour, and senses something in his presence she hasn’t before, but nothing puts her off. She will have her spot in the RA exhibition no matter what. Not even his preposterous proposal that they fake a romance and engagement for the Season to get his mother off his back. Disinterested in anything but her artwork, least of all looking for a husband, the plan, though absurd, seems simple enough. As it goes, the cunning and devilry of his plan sparks a previously undisturbed desire to have a little fun. She is even talked into a joint venture with him:
“If you mean I must sit for you, I know too well-“
“I do not. It would be a waste of your talent. I mean for you to paint with me. A collaboration to be unveiled in a month, when the exhibition formally opens. A single painting to out-do all the others. Light and Dark, Purity and Corruption, rendered in oils.”
Note there that little compliment he ushered into the conversation? Yep.
What is wonderful about the story of Constance is that she never loses touch of what she wants. She doesn’t give up painting and dash off into the sunset as a silent wife the very moment there is a sniff of wedding bells (nor would the hero of this story let her) – at every turn her life is enveloped in art, and everything that unfolds is because of the shared passion.
The relationship she develops with Athelcroft, suspicious for a good portion due to his reputation, is subsequently corrected by her own experiences with him and his family. They are both artists. They both share the intoxicating lifestyle of art, and constantly learn from each other, whether it be new styles of painting, or a wicked wit, past secrets or a deep sensuality. Constance doesn’t leap head first into a relationship with someone who gave her a compliment or something more shallow, then having to pull herself out of it, she is instead pulled in almost unknowingly with the natural tide. It is her appreciation and handling of this which sets her apart from more soppy heroines who lose sight of their senses the moment they plummet into love. Her drive and self-confidence gives her the means to not even allow failure to enter the equation in her career choice. She will be a painter, and she will have her spot at the gallery. But she still has room in her life and heart, that she didn’t realise was there, which enhances and expands her character and experience, but never defines who she is. Though, the strength of it causes her to be fearful it might:
“To love you would be to give up myself surely. And myself is all I know. I am afraid of that.”
However, she had good taste in men:
“Balderdash!” the Marquess exclaimed. “Give up yourself? Never. Not yourself and not your paints – unless you decide that you no longer care for them. where did you hear such a thing?”
With her richness of spirit, Con turns around the actions, and subsequent heart, of her opposite, through engaging him mentally, artistically and finally physically. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some surprises to our young Con that I didn’t expect, and rejoiced in! That there is the full package of one fine lady. Constance is the level of Elizabeth Bennet in intellect and wit, and everything Lizzie had with spiritual freedom and muddy boots, Con had in her art and perseverance.
“I haven’t the least intention of being the sacrifice to anyone’s slaughter.”
I think what is important about romance stories is that it is not all about sex. I’m not a prude, a pro-virginity (or vice versa – I don’t care what you do with it) spokesperson, or one of those creepy people who thinks it’s OK to stick fingers into someone else’s vagina to ‘prove’ they’re not tainted with having tasted the sins of the flesh – which, by the way, not a sin, and not proof. No. What is important, though the story is a romance in genre, is it equalises all the important parts about journeying through the lost art of courtship, and learning about a partner, their passion and needs, before committing to one deeply.
“I do not much care about your son’s past reputation. No more than I care about romantic verse. He is contrary, certainly, and often quite difficult, but I find that I like him regardless of that. …I will tell you the same thing as I told my sister. Athelcroft is much more interesting than any common rake.”
Women had few choices in those days besides being a wife, and though, obviously, the pleasures of flesh were not uncommonly experienced for either sex (otherwise the word illegitimate would have had no bearing anywhere in history…) they did know how to forge partnerships. Constance is certainly one of those women whose foray into the arena of love was not intentional, and who was dragged through mistakes and misapprehensions in a whirlwind of chaos and adulation. The great thing is, it was thoroughly worth it, and she comes out the other side an even more deeply layered woman, and a particular favourite of mine.
‘And suddenly she did dare.’