Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
32

'Wideacre': Depraved Estate-Management For Dummies

We here at Classic Trash love Philippa Gregory, dearly. We love The Wise Woman, which involved a lot of zombie candle-wax creatures who stabbed fetuses; we love her attempt to get into the mind-grapes of each and every one of Henry VIII's wives and female relations (okay, not all of them, but the interesting ones); but most of all, we love Wideacre. (We're sticking here to the first book of the trilogy, so hold your thoughts on The Favored Child and Meridon for the time being.)

This book is totally disgusting—and it was absolutely the highlight, for me, of being nine years old and trying to find something to read at my grandparents' house. This is also how I first encountered Forever Amber and Gone With the Wind; for some reason, my mother didn't want me to read Forever Amber, and as a result I wound up trying to become Scarlett O'Hara, which has done terrible, irreparable harm to my personality to this very day (tosses hair, behaves in a self-destructive fashion). No, after a long day of paging through interminable biographies of dead popes and histories of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pierre Berton books about railroads, I hit pay dirt. Because this book is disgusting.

On delightful re-read, I realized this book, in addition to being just as disgusting as it ever was, is set in more olden times than I had remembered. The references to powdered wigs having miraculously escaped me as a feverish, horny child, I think I had done a bit of a GWTW-association and imagined a mid-19th century setting. The GWTW association is easy enough to make, although, to be entirely accurate, I think that the book Wideacre more closely resembles is Scarlett, the unfortunate fan-fiction sequel, which was written about four years after Wideacre, and involved angry villagers and torches and legends and weird changeling children and familial estates engendering CRAZY EMOTIONS. But if you're gonna steal, steal from the best, right?

For those unlucky souls who are learning about Wideacre for the first time, let's break out some plot explication. We've got our (anti-)heroine, Beatrice. Beatrice is the daughter of the Squire of Wideacre, who is your generic Gerald O'Hara-y, clueless horsey red-faced patriarch who is jovial about things and loves the land. Beatrice idolizes her father, loves the land, etc. Which is such a thing, right, in sweeping generational sagas, that I wonder if it has a real future as a device or not. We're all renters, now, right? Or at least we don't really expect to ever live as adults in the same house that we were born in. I mean, I get nostalgic when I walk by my old fifth-floor walk-up on Thompson St., but I'm not going to set an iron man-trap to sever anyone's legs over it (spoiler!).

Back to plot explication. Beatrice has a brother, Harry, who is a complete non-entity of a person. He's having some kind of weird problems at pervy-English-boarding-school, and when he eventually gets booted out, Beatrice finally pulls her head out of her horse's ass and realizes that, duh, she's a girl, and her father is going to be grooming Harry and not her to be the next Squire of Wideacre. We all have to act out some way, and Beatrice goes for the time-honored option of getting ferociously and graphically nailed by Ralph, the dusky "gypsy" young peasant-type whose family has also been living on Wideacre for the last billion years. It's working pretty well for them. And then Harry walks in, because this book is like the Downton Abbey of walking in on things, and Ralph winds up beating the crap out of Harry, who reveals that he is super, super into it.

This continues for a while, and then Ralph is all, hey, I have a really messed-up plan. How about I kill your dad, tomorrow, and then you and I run Wideacre between us, scamming your idiot brother, until he goes under, and then I'll buy up the property and you and I can get married and have mad, sexy sex on the nice Irish linen sheets on the daily. Beatrice, being a Bad Person, is all "oh, you know, I do love my dad, but I feel like his preference for Harry is bringing me down, let's do that."

So Ralph, thinking she's got his back, caves the Squire's head in with a rock. Suddenly, right, Beatrice gets all butt-hurt about it, pretends not to be, and then lures him into his own horrible iron man-trap, which crushes his legs. It's bad. Being an idiot, she doesn't make sure he's dead, so of course he and his no-legs manage to escape and plot horrible vengeance against her. Anyway, it becomes obvious that the best solution to her problem is to begin a really weird incestuous relationship with her non-entity brother, which will culminate in various weird illegitimate children that Harry's wife will pass off as her own, or Beatrice's eventual sad-sack husband will pass off as his own, and then, of course, Ralph is lying in wait, and her mother will walk in on them having sex and go all catatonic, and… well, I'll leave the rest for you, of course, but let's just make it clear: it's fucking gripping, and also disgusting.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

• I canNOT hear the name "Beatrice" now without hearing Steve Holt saying it. "Arrested Development" ruins Classic Trash's dignity, guys. Hey, come to think of it, maybe the tagline for the eventual Wideacre movie (not likely to happen) could be: "Theirs was a love between two siblings that the world thought was wrong. And the world was right." Thoughts?

• No, seriously, does anyone find incest hot? Obviously people do, I shouldn't even say that, and I think your inner fantasy life is completely amoral and you should never feel bad about it, but I honestly do not think enough people find it hot to justify the incredible number of books that use it as a vaguely-sexy plot point. And good books, too! The Mists of Avalon, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Cement Garden, The Hotel New Hampshire. Not always as a sexy-thing, of course, but as a way of creating a taboo sexuality, perhaps, that we're still genuinely discomfited by, instead of the decades of novels in which that whiff of DARK DANGER was instead provided by implying people might be just a teensy bit gay. I digress.

• We're doing Gone With the Wind next time. I am extremely excited. Is there anything in particular you want to discuss? THERE'S A LOT I DO.

• Okay, on the topic of the movie they won't make. Who are we casting? Cersei and Jaime Lannister as Beatrice and Harry? Who's Ralph? Who's dark and "gypsy-esque" and scary and sexy? Your thoughts, please.

• Why didn't Beatrice just go along with Ralph's plan, exactly? I mean, once her dad's dead, you might as well.

• Why isn't Jon Corzine in jail yet? That money was in CLIENT-SEGREGATED ACCOUNTS. No one does that! It has literally never happened! Heads on pikes!




Previously: The Autobiography Of Henry VIII and The Secret History



Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

32 Comments / Post A Comment

Jumping right to the most important thing: maybe the incest fantasies are exciting if you don't have a sibling? I don't have a brother so the thought doesn't HORRIFY me as much as it does with sisters/mothers/fathers/etc. (It still squicks, though).

melis (#1,854)

RIGHT? With G.R.R. Martin and the incest? I think I actually flung the book (Storm of Swords? Songs of Swording? Whichever the third one was) across the room when I got to the crazy northerner who lived in a big log cabin with all his daughter-wives, screaming "INCEST SATURATION LEVELS HAVE BEEN REACHED" loudly enough to wake up and confuse one of my roommates.

melis (#1,854)

SLASHING OF SWORD TIMES / HAND ME MY SWORD IT'S STORM O'CLOCK

OR SOMETHING

WAS THE NAME OF IT

Antennapedia (#161,290)

@melis GOD how I wish that third book was actually called "Hand Me My Sword, It's Sword O'Clock."

Bittersweet (#765)

One of the discussion questions you left out, Nicole: How can someone named Ralph possibly be considered sexy?

@Bittersweet Hairball noise!

Poubelle (#214,283)

@Bittersweet Ralph Fiennes seems to have done okay on that front.

statistics_lie (#14,052)

@Poubelle Weeeell his name is pronounced "Rafe," right? Which is basically phonetic sex. (Also please let his name actually be pronounced like that, because if not I've had some Voldemort-related discussions that would be, you know, embarrassing.)

Bittersweet (#765)

@statistics_lie: Yes, Ralph Fiennes' name is pronounced "Rafe," which is dead sexy. Why his parents couldn't just spell it Rafe is a mystery, and part of a long list of non-intuitive British pronunciations.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Of course in the book where the incest is actually necessary to the plot (Middlesex) readers all of a sudden turn into prudes.

jolie (#16)

MAN-TRAP.

(This was me, circa 5:30p: reading this on my telephone on the bus, DYING, and then telling myself that I wasn't allowed to come in to comment until I'd finished allllllll of my Clean Personing and emailed Edith to tell her I was done. So basically I've reverted to middle school when my mother would have to physically remove the smut novels from my room until my homework was done, at which point my nose would stick itself right back into the page where I'd left off.)

@jolie All I've ever wanted, in my life, is to revert women to their smut-reading middle school selves. Such happiness you have given me.

jolie (#16)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook In fairness, I'm not really sure I ever grew out of my smut-reading middle school self phase, but I'm glad I could bring you such joy. Now can we X-post this bitch up on The HP so we can get a rousing discussion going up in herrrrrrre??? Because I am not NEARLY done! (Also Jamie Lannister is too hot to play Harry and oh man, I would watch the hell out of a Wideacre movie – COME ON LIFETIME. LET'S DO THIS THING.)

aubergines (#216,449)

@jolie I vividly remember reading Wideacre on the bus as a fifteen-year-old, and actually looking around to see if anybody could tell I was ready such a dirty book. It was amazing.

jolie (#16)

Can we talk about Beatrice driving poor John MacAndrew into the bottle? Because that's how I picture it ending between Choire and Balk, totally.

skip2mylou (#232,973)

Thank you! I was obsessed/mortified by this trilogy when I was in jr high. It took me many years after reading The Other Boleyn Girl to put two and two together and remember these books. I remember it in remarkable detail for not having read it in 17 or so years.

jolie (#16)

Oh my God also?!?!? (Sorry, am just going to stay here all day yelling about things. You understand, I'm sure.) THE WISE WOMAN WAS SO F*#&ING CREEPY AHHHHHHH. I had nightmares about those wax dollies for WEEKS after I finished reading it, which was like? A year or so ago? *shivers*

aubergines (#216,449)

@jolie When the baby turns out to be made of wax???? OMG. I'd just got over it. Now I can never have sex again, incase I'm impregnated with a wax baby.

@jolie I read it on a PLANE. I was SHAKING.

jolie (#16)

@aubergines You had to go and remind me of the wax baby, didn't you. *dives under desk*

The Lady of Shalott (#233,017)

@jolie THE WISE WOMAN TOTALLY SCARED THE BEJESUS OUT OF ME!!!! I don't know what I was expecting but it sure wasn't A WAX BABY and IRON PINS and oh God oh God

Binne (#231,278)

Beatrice: Romola Garai
Ralph: Rufus Sewell
Harry: Eddie Redmayne
Squire: Michael Gambon

Annie K. (#3,563)

@Binne Rufus Sewell was the name I couldn't remember for Ralph, he'd be dead on, and thank you for the help.

jolie (#16)

Kyle MacLachlan as John MacAndrew
Natalie Portman as Celia
Helena Bonham Carter as Meg the gypsywitchhealerwoman/Ralph's mom

ipomoea (#207,034)

@Annie K. Rufus Sewell is just ripe for English countryside sinister sexcapades and possibly serious felonies. His name, his face, his everything.

mygoldies (#233,069)

Have you all read Cold Comfort Farm and watched the film of Cold Comfort Farm? Rufus Sewell plays the epitome of debauched countryside sexbomb. It isn't trash, in my book, but CCF is totally classic.

Binne (#231,278)

@Binne Loved loved loved Cold Comfort Farm. I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read the book, so taken was I with the completely hilarious movie. Great cast including Kate Beckinsale, Rufus, Ian McKellen, Eileen Atkins, oh, gosh, who else, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry… Don't miss it. Directed by John Schlesinger, one of his last. "I saw something nasty in the woodshed…."

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

I liked the description of Scarlett as "unfortunate fan-fiction sequel." Fortunately for us, it is as smutty as it is unfortunate.

Scarlett dragging her drama across the pond + witch baby + Irish terrorists = classic CLASSIC TRASH.

ipomoea (#207,034)

@Pandemic Endemic Some people tell me it's terrible and they never finished it. Um, maybe it's terrible if you'r reading it as CLASSIC LITRACHAH but as awesome trashy smut it's phenomenal. There's gorgeous clothing and sex on a beach and magic and royalty! All it's missing is lines of cocaine in Beverly Hills and a tragic past as a prostitute!

The Lady of Shalott (#233,017)

Why DIDN'T Beatrice just go along with the plan? I mean, it's not like her plan was any better, let's be honest.

IS IT TIME FOR GWTW YET? I have so many Thoughts about that book. Also, I hope I'm not the only person who read Rhett Butler's People and then got bored and then got irrationally upset and threw it away. Because…..bad.

annabarenina (#232,041)

@The Lady of Shalott but Ralph was not WORTHY of Wideacre! He wanted to sleep in her beloved father's bed! Gypsy scum!
I should mention that I love Beatrice and I have always stood by her and her shameless evil since I read the books when I was 15 and I have no idea why.

Admittedly, I have never even *heard* of this book until about 3 minutes ago when I clicked on the link, but I am thinking benicio Del Toro would be a perfect Ralph. (Also, what kind of name is "Ralph" for a dark, sexy and dangerous gypsy peasant in ye olde Europe? Ralph is like… Ralph Wiggum. Pants too high. Eats boogers. I hereby vote to re-name Ralph in the movie version.)

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