Title: Gone Before Morning
Author: Lilian Peake
Published: July 1973
Reasons I might actually remember this one: Yeah, that’s not really going to work for this one. Memorable? I suspect I’ll need intensive therapy to forget it.
Let me try to summarize: Kim Paton has just graduated from university with a degree in literature, and she can’t find a job because anything she’s qualified for is getting snatched up by people with shinier degrees, so she has to accept under-employment (at least temporarily) and applies for a job as a housekeeper. So far that sounds like it could be set now, but no, the seventies force their way to the forefront very very quickly–and I’m not talking about clothes, although let me pause for a minute and share this conversation about clothes:
“Ah, now that’s a long, long story. You make fibres by starting with substances that are plainly not fibres but, lo and behold,” he moved his hand as if waving a wand, “they cease to be somewhat nasty solids and liquids and become desirable and useful threads. The fibre scientist mixes ‘magic’ ingredients–in this case, chemicals–and produces something that will in the end become a man-made fibre, like nylon and so on, but which has to be squeezed, pulled, twisted and generally battered about until it takes up a useful form. So the next time you’re putting on your beautiful dresses and underwear and what-have-yous, with their delightful feel and their excellent wearing and washing qualities, remember that they all originated in a laboratory and remember to thank the clever scientists who made it possible. Now, having explained about my work and my position, financial and otherwise,” he smiled again, “have I made myself attractive enough to make you want to chase after me?”
Golly gosh gee, chemicals? In my what-have yous?
Is it just me, or is that the most condescending and least informative “explanation” possible? It made me want to bash him in the teeth, personally, though the heroine doesn’t seem particularly taken aback. That’s probably because she’s so used to hearing not only the hero but also her brother and both parents (all of whom are scientists) sneer at her for only having an arts degree (all of which reminded me of my husband, and not in a good way, alas. I mean, I love him to bits, but some of the opinions he’s shared about the arts versus the sciences have made me contemplate hemlock, and not for myself.)
Anyway. So most of the book consists of him being rude to her, because he’s convinced himself that every housekeeper he hires is secretly plotting to marry him, and her being rude right back at him, because she thinks he’s an arrogant arse. She’s entirely right, as far as I can make out. For instance, in the beginning she’s wearing shapeless dresses and tying her hair back and hiding behind fake glasses so he’ll think she’s dowdy and older than she is (since she’s been told he won’t hire anyone attractive or too young), and we get remarks from him like this:
“Now how could someone like you,” his gaze travelled disparagingly over her, “net three boyfriends?”
Also, there’s this whole class-tension thing going on wherein he looks down on her because he thinks she’s working class (and doesn’t know she has a degree), and so sometimes he makes her eat in the kitchen, like when he has a colleague over. Meanwhile his neglected-to-the-point-of-abuse daughter loves Kim, and has been telling the other children at school that Kim is her mummy, which unlike almost every other instance of Adorable Book Moppet I’ve ever seen actually had me sniffling. It was just so pathetic it got to me, damn it.
Then Kim goes out with a Sleezy Attempted Rapist who works with the hero. As revenge or something the hero goes out with an Ice-Cold Lady Scientist (whom his daughter, gratifyingly, hates on sight). When the daughter refuses to eat with them and runs into the kitchen to find Kim, her father becomes so enraged that Kim, fearing he’s going to hit the child, steps in. So he smacks Kim in the face instead. No, seriously, that happens.
He paled. “You’re defying me, Miss Paton? You dare to defy me?” His anger burst through like the breaching of a dam. He lifted his hand again, this time swung it, giving her a stinging slap on the cheek. Her lip quivered, her eyes filled, but she stood her ground. She would rather have taken the blow than have had it borne by the child she was protecting.
And, well, that was the exact point at which the retro flavour of this ceased to be entertaining and became flat-out infuriating instead. If you’ve ever wondered exactly how different the seventies were, here’s your answer, because she doesn’t call child services or the police or kill him in his sleep and run away with the child. Instead we get this:
And misery swamped her. She could not love him less because of what he had done. She felt perhaps she loved him even more. Now she knew that under the cynicism and coldness of his manner, he possessed a passion as impetuous and uncontrollable as any other man’s.
Seriously? Seriously? What the actual hell, lady. I mean, call me crazy, but I would take cynicism and coldness over “loses control and hits people” any day.
The next day she feels guilty for having argued with him in the first place, and, look: I am the least armchair-psychologist-y of people, but this reads so very exactly like a description of battered wife syndrome that my mouth was actually hanging open. How the HELL was this ever seen as romantic?
I mean, I can get all over cold and aloof and sarcastic and unknowable and mysterious and brooding and all that, but HE HIT HER IN THE FACE. So when she’s standing in the doorway the next morning watching him “with a deep compassion” because he has his head in his hands and I guess feels guilty, I felt less like I was reading a romance and more like I was forcing myself to read a stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing case study.
In the end she resigns (from her job, I mean, she’s long since resigned herself to the rest), he stops her as she’s leaving the house and confesses he loves her, and she admits she loves him too. All that happens in the last seven pages of the book. No one signs up for therapy or even, you know, admits there might be something wrong with a relationship where he only finally respects her because 1) she is from his social class after all and 2) her father is a famous scientist.
Adorable Book Moppet
Ice-Cold Lady Scientist
Cold/Unfaithful First Wife
Seething Class Tensions
Punishing Kisses (with a side order of I Could Rape You But I Won’t)
Condescending Science! Lessons
Improbable Happy Ending