Miss Bates has a weakness for heroines who rule with their chin … a chin described as defiant, stubborn, mutinous, obstinate. The thesaurus yields a world of possibilities. This perception of willfulness is the hero’s interpretation of the heroine’s personality. He knows better, thinks better, and it’s to the heroine’s benefit that she submit to his greater wisdom. BUT her usually stubborn little chin (body language is all in the romance novel, folks) goes up, or down, depending on whether her eyes spark defiance, or her brows lower with disobedience, and boom, she asserts her will … against the hero’s better judgement. No romance category is more subject to these interactions than the charged emotions, reactions, and interactions of the HP (no longer exclusive to Harlequin, of course, but most easily associated with it). In Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife, Miss Bates found the most delightfully truculent heroine she’s read since early Julie Garwood, though Miss Bates would argue that Garwood’s heroines are oblivious over truculent (that’s for another post). As for Graham’s HP masterpiece, what could be more appealing than the chin-leading truculence of a doughy heroine named Pudding?
Pudding’s orneriness can be traced to a difficult childhood. And a difficult childhood allowed Graham to develop admirable, believable inner resources in her heroine. To understand these roots, Miss Bates must delve into the novel’s premise and development. Pudding’s (actually Prudence’s) paternal grand-father, Theo Demakis, compels her to marry 21-year-old Greek god of looks and charm, Nikolos Angelis. She is merely 19. What obliges these two into a marriage neither wants? Nik’s business-reckless father, Symeon, has landed the formerly wealthy family in financial trouble and Theo is willing to help, with “conditions.” Symeon does a number on Nik, whose financial savvy has ensured his own future, but who cannot refuse to help out his family. Theo, a long-time rival and ruthless business man, without heirs for his empire, coerces Pudding into a marriage by holding financial assistance for her mother’s addictions over her. Prudence had arrived in Greece in good faith, to get to know her grand-father and see if he’d be willing to help them out. Her father, Apollo, dead for many years, abandoned baby Prudence and her loving if useless mother, Trixie. Though neither belongs to a family worthy of their loyalty and support, Prudence and Nik are willing to sacrifice their own happiness for their families’ sakes. There are vestiges of possible happiness in their marriage: Pudding, who’s known so little of kindness in her life, is in love with Nik (because he’s gorgeous) but also because he’s kind or, as Prudence notes, his “unexpected streak of stubborn gallantry.” Pudding, doughy, short, and devoid of fashion sense is the butt of the Greek yachting club society’s jokes. Nik, beset by women and making the most of his youth to play the field, nevertheless, doesn’t allow them to torment Pudding.
“Christened Pudding for her love of baklava,” Prudence exhibits spirit and spine in the face of her domineering, callous grand-father when he proposes union with Nik. Theo insults her at every turn:
“You’ve got no backbone and weakness disgusts me.”
“If I was weak, I would have gone home the day after I arrived.” Prudence tilted her chin, her soft blue eyes staying steady … she considered herself strong and resilient, but the certainty of his cold, unforgiving malice frightened her and plunged her into despair.
Prudence has cared for her weak, addicted mother since she was a child. Things were so bad that Prudence was placed in foster care at seven. Her shiftless father, Apollo Demakis, shamed into bailing them out, gave Prudence and Trixie a dilapidated farm where Prudence took care of her mother and as many animals as she could gather. Theo mistakes softness, a gentle, loving, giving nature, for weakness. Theo obviously can’t read the chin. Prudence’s strength allows her to see everyone clearly yet dispassionately: her father, a “hypocrite, liar, creep;” her mother, addicted and helpless; her grand-father, unfeeling and hard-hearted; her future husband, a dream come true, but not in love with her, nor particularly interested in the virtues of matrimony. Prudence’s dispassion will give her the wherewithal to withstand Nik’s machismo, domineering, and arrogance. His “passions” don’t hold a candle to her unperturbed dispassion. Pudding may be small, helpless and poor, but she has Jane-Eyre spine when she declares, “she was no more eager to become his unwanted wife.” She holds her ground to be wanted, loved, to be “chosen,” not settled for. When Nik passes out on their wedding night, Prudence leaves him to return to England. As she truculently tells him later, “In the condition you were in, I wouldn’t have let you touch me.” Now, if that isn’t a girl with agency, Miss Bates will eat her spinster’s bonnet. Nik, in turn, as we learn, assumes he behaved boorishly on their wedding night and doesn’t follow Prudence to England, but ensures she’s taken care of: sending a nurse to help her with her mother’s final, fatal illness, and taking her to lunch on her birthday every year … for eight years.
When next we meet Prudence and Nik, Prudence has carved out a good life for herself: turning her farm into an animal sanctuary. She’s still in love with her absent husband, but resolved to put unrequited love away and move towards what she wants for herself, what she envisions for her future. She “thinks about her own needs and what was best for her,” whereupon Miss Bates cheered. Prudence is a woman of integrity: she’s decided to pour her love and, with her mother gone, ample energy into having a child via sperm bank, but not before divorcing Nik. Nik fought off Theo’s financial dominance and enjoyed a life of carousing and partying. Regardless, he cares for Prudence and considers her his wife … with whom he’ll work out a marriage at some future hazy date when he’s ready to “settle down.” In the meantime, he wants Prudence to be happy … and racks his brain every year to find a birthday gift that she’ll enjoy. His latest mistress tells him how Prudence was photographed in a gossip rag holding a sanctuary bunny and wearing the floral rubber boots he gave her for her last birthday. In the process of breaking off with this latest inamorata to celebrate Pudding’s birthday, he’s relieved he was finally able to find a gift that would make her happy. Miss Bates loved that Prudence made a life for herself, is remaking her life, or planning to, and hasn’t spent the intervening eight years slimming down and doing a make-over just so she can win Nik. She loves him, but she won’t change for him. What she doesn’t know, of course, is that he wouldn’t have her any other way. Which is why his Greek machismo goes haywire when she asks for a divorce. When she tells him it’s to have sperm-bank baby, Greek fire sparks from his sexy ears.
The beauty of what ensues, and the chin-up truculent road to Pudding’s HEA, where she gets everything she wants and is vindicated in sundry ways, constitute the fun and beauty of Graham’s novel. [Spoilers ahead.] Witness Nik’s attempt to convince Pudding to stay married to him:
“Don’t you think we should give marriage a trial before we start talking about a divorce?”
… He could surely not have said what she thought he had just said? And if he had spoken those words, no doubt she had somehow misunderstood his meaning.
Aware that his legendary skills as a negotiator had let him down badly, Nik attempted to recoup. “Think about this sensibly. Eight years ago, we were kids. So we did what we had to do and went through the motions and then we parted. We didn’t even try living together. But we’re older and wiser now.”
Prudence felt as if a rocket was about to fire off inside her; containing the shockwaves was almost more than she could handle. She shut her eyes tight. What was the matter with him? Eight years on, eight years after breaking her heart into a million pieces with his essential indifference, he was suggesting trying out marriage like a new pair of shoes. She wanted to scream – but not before she strangled him for daring to offer what she had once most craved …
“No, thanks.” Prudence said as if he had offered her a drink she didn’t want. [Miss Bates wrote “Go, Pudding” all over this page.]
Shock slivered through Nikolos, his golden eyes darkening … She was winding him up, he thought forbiddingly. In the back of his mind he had always known he would settle down with her. Eventually. … she would wait for him, wait with the steady, strong patience of the intelligent woman that she was until he was ready to make that commitment.
“Think about what you’re saying,” Nik urged huskily.. “This is you, this is me and we’re already married -“
“Only on paper – “
“But we could make it real,” …
“I don’t want to make it real.”
Well, well, well, Greek billionaire, looks, money, and charm foiled by a Pudding, a Pudding who stands her ground, asserts her will, and determines life on her terms. She shakes the oblivious and arrogant hero’s assumptions about what a little dough-woman can and will do to ensure that her life is what she wants it to be. Pudding is all the things that Nik knows she is, “strong, steady, and intelligent,” he just never expected her to turn those attributes against him. He never counted on her truculence, but only saw what suited him. Nik is competitive … and he must win Prudence any way he can. The reader, if not Prudence, trusts in his sparks of kindnesses.
Nik has to colossally screw up before he can make it better by giving Prudence her due, respecting her will, and ceding to her self-determination. When Prudence’s grand-father decides to take her farm/animal sanctuary, Prudence will do anything to keep her animals and employees safe. Nik takes full advantage of her plight to pressure her to stay married to him, a “real” marriage of the marriage-bed and babies variety in exchange for his financial help with the animals and employees. Though it’s everything she’s wanted, Prudence is enraged that Nik would blackmail her. Her truculence, however, is no match for her love of the vulnerable, and she gives way to Nik’s will. However, she takes care of herself. She ensures that she doesn’t conceive by taking BCPs, foiling his shock and “disgust” at the idea of her using a sperm bank. Not even her heart’s desire will induce Prudence to stay in a marriage without love, or to tie herself to a cheating, arrogant ass. She’ll bide her time and win her freedom. Nik, in fairness to him, starts looking pretty good from hereon. He doesn’t browbeat, bully, or dictate to Prudence: he woos her.
Nik figures out who she is, what she likes, and offers it to her. Miss Bates has written elsewhere about the significance of gift-giving in romance: the gift stands in for the hero’s feelings, reveals them, especially, in Nik’s case, when they constitute a change of heart and mind. What is important is not what he buys, but what he gives up to ensure that Prudence lives in the kind of home she’s always dreamed of: his beloved yacht in exchange for Oakmere Abbey. This gesture, as a first step to his redemption, indicates a change of lifestyle, giving up his womanizing, playboy ways. In turn, he buys exactly the kind of house he doesn’t like (because he knows that Prudence will, like the floral wellies) and adapts himself to her preferences. As Nik’s wooing star rises, Prudence’s truculence remains the same (for bricks and mortar, even medieval ones, don’t mean “I love you” yet). Nik has to recognize the woman Prudence has become, stripped of naïveté and diffidence:
Nik raked impatient fingers through his luxuriant black hair and expelled his breath on a hiss. He had coerced her into accepting his terms and he had expected too much too soon. But his bewilderment lingered for the Prudence he had believed he knew inside out, who was gentle, soft-hearted and serene. The woman he was currently dealing with was passionate, stubborn and angry to a degree he would not have believed.
Nik flings and bruises himself against the wall of Prudence’s truculence. And it is a joy to read. He learns to bend, relent, give way and, moreover, realizes that what he wants from her is something he hadn’t considered till now: he wants her to need and love him. Prudence, under Nik’s care and desire, finds that her confidence is such that she enjoys sparring with him: “occasionally she took an opposing viewpoint just for the fun of arguing with him.” Here is one of Miss B’s favourite exchanges:
… he would act as if her ability to amuse herself with a walk or a book or a swim was an amazing achievement.
“Maybe you’re only used to helpless, dependent women,” she had contended.
“Or maybe I would like it if you acted as if you needed me occasionally.”
“Sorry … not my style.”
She does love and need him, as he does her. Nik changes, begins to view the world with Prudence’s perspective. They suffer, experience loss together, and are estranged … but they work it out because these changes have been wrought. Prudence, too, relinquishes her truculence to meet him half-way.
There is so much more that Miss Bates can say about this wonderful little novel: there are contraceptive choices that women make that would be interesting to explore; Nik experiences grief and loss that bend his HP machismo in engaging ways; baklava is good; truculence is another word for how the under-dog triumphs. There are also aspects to The Greek’s Chosen Wife that may turn a reader off: the question of Nik’s infidelities during the eight years he and Prudence were apart and his ability to compel Prudence to stay with him on the power of his sexual prowess. On the other hand, this one didn’t bother Miss Bates as much, not because it’s a convention she particularly enjoys. Rather, it bespeaks an appetitive heroine, one as bold in reaching for baklava and satisfying hunger as reaching, well, for a fierce Greek millionaire …
(Pet peeve: misusing Greek endearments; for most of the novel, Nik playfully, affectionately, calls Prudence, “pethi mou,” and “thespinis mou.” The former, “my child,” is just plain ick; the latter is nonsensical, as it means “my miss.” He throws in a “glikia mou,” my sweet, which is okay. When he uses an endearment that is quite lovely, “agapi mou,” “my love,” he’s finally capitulated to everything wonderful Prudence is and does.)
Miss Bates holds her slightly battered M&B copy of Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife close to her heart because her Twitter buddy, Vassiliki, sent it to her because she’s great and generous (and likely makes a mean baklava) and thought Miss B. would enjoy it.
Who are your favourite truculent heroines?