A Voice in the Wind: A Joyless Homecoming

A Voice in the Wind, pp. 277-285

And we’re back! It’s evening now, and Julia is back from her talk with Calabah, and Caius is still upset. He wants Julia to go with him to a party at Antigonus’ house that evening, but she doesn’t want to go.

“Spend the evening with Arria. You like her.”

“She’s always asking questions about Marcus. She’s become tedious and pathetic.”

“Arria is a woman of remarkable talents. I’m amazed Marcus lost interest in her.” He turned and saw Julia’s expression. He laughed at her. “You needn’t look at me like that. I’ve only heard from others, not found out for myself.”

“But you want to?”

He came over and bent down to tease her. “Not as long as you continue to please me,” he said.

Okay, first, does Julia have any peers who aren’t chasing her brother? Second, Julia’s “But you want to?” question bothers me; it’s something I would have asked of my husband when we were newly married and I saw every attractive woman as a threat because I’d been taught to see even sexual thoughts about others as being unfaithful. Third, Caius’ response isn’t “teasing”; it’s abusive.

In bending close Caius notices the bruise he left on Julia’s face the day before, and decides that perhaps it would be better if she didn’t attend the party after all—he doesn’t want any suspicion of his violence getting back to Marcus. Julia, though, is still thinking about what Caius said about Arria.

Growing up in an evangelical home, I was taught to see any other woman in my husband’s life as an existential threat. Julia’s responses here remind me so strongly of how I approached my marriage early on—when I saw my husband’s female coworkers and others as a danger and approached my husband with suspicion—that it can take a moment for me to realize that Julia does indeed have reason to be concerned. After all, we learned from Calabah (though Julia did not) that Caius has already been straying.

There’s also the reality that Caius intentionally described Arria as “a woman of remarkable talents,” clearly referring to talents in bed, in front of Julia. It’s very unlikely that was unintentional. It’s one thing to de facto view one’s husband’s female coworkers as a threat, as I did, and another for one’s husband to positively describe the sexual repertoire of various female acquaintances when he knows such descriptions will cause consternation (as I’m quite sure Caius does).

Caius’ response to Julia’s question—“Not as long as you continue to please me”—is also very evangelical. As an evangelical girl and then teen, I was told that it would be my job to please my husband to keep him from straying. It is considered abusive for a man to tell his partner that he won’t look elsewhere as long as she continues to please him sexually—a sort of threat that keeps her sexually available even when she isn’t interested—but when a youth group leader to tell a group of teenage girls that it is their job to please their husbands sexually, or their husbands will look elsewhere, it’s just another Sunday.

Out of sorts, Julia decides she wants to go see her parents and bring Hadassah back with her. She determines that having Hadassah will make her feel better. Caius says to rest a day or two before visiting them—for the bruise to fade, though he doesn’t tell her that—and reminds Julia that he doesn’t like Jews, because they’re “prudish” and “put too much importance on purity.” I’m curious whether this was a typical form anti-semitism took at the time, or whether the particularities are an invention of convenience on Rivers’ part.

The conversation takes a bit of a turn and Caius ends up mocking Claudius as an “impotent old man.” Julia wishes they could talk about something else.

Her first marriage amused Caius. At one of the first feasts they attended together, he had told his friends her entire personal history, humorously, as though it were an entertaining tale—she, Youthful Beauty, forced to wed Foolish Old Age. Caius wove a hilarious tale for his friends of an impotent old man pursuing a ripe young maiden through the country side and never quite catching up to her, until he finally broke his neck in the attempt.

At first, Caius’ tale had taken away the guilt and made the marriage seem as utterly ridiculous as one of the farces they saw at a theater. After a while, however, the amusement wore away with the retelling. Now, each time he mocked Claudius, Julia felt shamed. Claudius hadn’t been that old, nor had he been a fool. He had been smart enough to increase his family fortune, while Caius appeared only able to lose money at the races.

Julia really needs a therapist to help her work through all of this, poor thing. And a more responsive husband.

Once Caius leaves, Julia decides to go home and fetch Hadassah that very evening. She applies her makeup carefully and hopes Marcus won’t be home—he’s too perceptive and would see something was wrong.

Her mother was delighted to see her, embracing her and asking all manner of questions as she ushered her into her father’s presence. Julia was even gratified to see a smile of welcome on his face. He embraced her as well and lightly kissed the cheek she turned to him. He was thin and drawn. She wondered if he really was seriously ill, but pressed the thought quickly away.

‘I’ve missed you both so,’ she said, realizing she had. How strange that she hadn’t noticed it until she was back in their presence again. they were so dear to her, her heart swelled. And they did love her after all.

The problem is that her parents seem to love a specific idea they have of her.

Excited and happy, she talked about the parties and feasts she and Caius attended. She talked of the games and gladiators she had seen. She talked of the expensive presents Claus had bought her, showing off her new pearls. Not once did she notice their disquiet or see their exchanged looks or their increasing dismay at what she had disclosed about her new life and her husband.

What is it they disapprove of, exactly? The parties and feasts? You were pretty much expected to go to these functions, if you were of a certain social class. It wasn’t all fun and games, it was about making connections and managing relationships. The games and gladiators? These events were a part of Roman society too, something you couldn’t just avoid if you were a patrician, and while some surely disapproved of young women’s obsession with gladiators, Julia was no different from her peers. The expensive presents? While it’s unwise to overspend, these presents could also be viewed as a sign of Caius affection for his young wife.

Do any of Julia’s family members want her to be happy? Even Marcus was upset when he went to visit her and found her sleeping in, slightly hungover and disheveled from lovemaking. And now, her parents are dismayed to learn that she is living the life typical of a wealthy young Roman wife. What gives? Did they all want her ensconced in the country, sitting and weaving at Claudius’ villa?

Don’t answer that.

Rivers, of course, is eager to paint Julia as self-absorbed:

She asked them questions about what had happened in the household, but as soon as they mentioned anything, it reminded her of something else she had to tell them.

May I point out that, at the very least, Julia did ask her parents about what was going on at home. That’s something. Sure, a bit more listening would be good, but Julia is a teenager, free to live her life for the first time—of course she’s going to be excited and verbose.

Can no one in this book give Julia a break?

It’s when Hadassah enters the room and Julia announces that she plans to take her back with her that things really take a turn.

“Hadassah, collect whatever you have. You’ll be returning with me.” She felt the stillness in the room as soon as she spoke the words. “Is something wrong?” she asked in challenge.

Remember that she just had a whole argument with Caius to get him to agree to let her bring Hadassah home. It took some convincing, and he only agreed to let her have Hadassah reluctantly. And now this.

“Leave us, Hadassah,” Decimus said softly.

“Do as I said, Hadassah,” Julia called after her and then looked at her father.

“It was my understanding that you had more than enough maids already and had no need of her anymore,” he said.

“Julia,” Phoebe said more carefully, “what need do you have of Hadassah with so many others?”

“The others don’t serve me the way I like.”

“Then teach them,” Decimus said tersely, annoyed. He had seen the flier of emotion in Hadassah’s eyes. She was happy here. She served them better than any other slave before her. He had no wish to give her back to his selfish, willful daughter, not when Julia had more slaves than she needed already.

Julia was right—she can’t tell Decimus that Caius is abusive or ask him for his help. He has completely walled himself off from her. He has created his own preconceived notion of what Julia is like, and sees nothing but what he wants to see. She can’t be happy and fulfilled, living the life expected of a wealthy young Roman wife—no, she is selfish and willful. And if she told him that Caius was physically abusive toward her—that would be her fault, too.

As I’ve noted, the above disagreement will become one of the central tensions of this book as Julia comes to believe that her parents and brother care more about Hadassah than they do about her. And in a twisted sense, she’s right.

Rivers is trying to tell the story of a Christian slave girl who enters the lives of this Roman family and changes them forever, charming them with her Christian mojo and leaving a permanent mark—all for the good, of course. What she may not realize is that in practice, Hadassah ends up ripping the Valerian family apart. Sure, the family still has its problems without Hadassah—namely, that everyone in the family judges Julia for, well, living—but from this point out, Hadassah only exacerbates these problems.

Decimus and Phoebe become so strongly attached to Hadassah that Julia (understandably) feels shut out—and they end up constantly comparing “selfish, willful” Julia to good, kind, patient Hadassah. And Marcus—well, let’s just say that he becomes so obsessed with Hadassah that he ultimately decides he has to marry her. Without Hadassah, Marcus might have married a woman like Arria, and this new sister-in-law might have brought Marcus and Julia together, encouraging understanding between them.

But such was not to be. Instead, we get this.

“She’s served us very well over the last six months,” Phoebe said weakly. “I don’t think it’s fair to her to be passed back and forth.”

Julia stared in disbelief. “Fair? Fair! She’s a slave! And what about me? Don’t you care about me?”

There it is, that tension—and it’s only going to grow. While it might be tempting to judge Julia for her suggestion that, as a slave, Hadassah’s feelings don’t matter, it’s worth remember that this is the first time Decimus and Phoebe have treated a slave’s feelings as of any value themselves. They’re not exactly abolitionists, and they’re not rushing out to free Hadassah, for that matter. In fact, they haven’t even asked her whether she wants to stay with them or go with Julia.

Could it be that what’s actually motivating them is their desire to keep Hadassah, because they like having her quiet, Christian mojo in their home? I’m going with yes.

At this very moment, Marcus arrives and wants to know what the fuss is about.

“They want to keep Hadassah,” she said, glaring at her father. “She’s mine and Mother talks about fairness. They care more about a slave than they do about their own daughter.”

“Julia!” Phoebe said in dismay.

“It’s true!” Julia said, near tears, her heart pounding frantically. She needed Hadassah; she needed her nearby. “Did Father once ask me if everything is fine? Does he know what I have to endure?”

Decimus frowned, wondering at the intensity of her emotions. “What do you have to endure?” he asked sardonically, and Phoebe laid a hand over his and gave him a pleading look for silence.

Marcus studied her face. “What’s happened to you?”

“Nothing,” Julia said, shaking. “Nothing!”

Oh FFS. Just this afternoon Julia admitted to Calabah that Caius was abusive. As she thought through per problem she tried to figure out who she could go to for help and eliminated each of her family members for exactly the reasons we see at play here. So she goes home for Hadassah, hoping that Hadassah will calm her nerves and help her feel better, as only Hadassah seems to be able to do—and this happens.

As it happens, there’s something else going on as well—something we readers haven’t been told yet. But Phoebe is perceptive, and figures it out.

[Julia] looked at her mother. “You gave her to me.”

“Yes, I did,” Phoebe said, rising and going to her daughter. “And, of course, you can have her back.” She put her arm around Julia’s waist and felt a significant change in her. Suddenly she thought she knew the reason Julia was so emotional. “Oh, my dear, we had no idea you had such need of her. You may take her back with you.”

As long as Julia is just selfish, willful Julia, letting her have Hadassah isn’t fair to Hadassah, but as soon as Julia is pregnant, future-mother Julia, well—then it’s a-okay to send Hadassah home with Julia.

I should point out that while this pregnancy—and Julia is pregnant—may be making her more emotional, Julia had totally rational reasons for being upset here, and I don’t think her outburst screams “pregnancy hormones.” She’s in an abusive relationship and those who should have been her support network care more about keeping her slave to serve them than they do about her own wellbeing or needs. They don’t know about the violence she’s facing at Caius’ hands. All they see is what they want to see, what they read onto her every time they see her—selfish, willful, self-absorbed Julia.

Remember, if this were actually about Hadassah’s happiness, someone would have asked Hadassah what she wanted—and no one did.

It’s no wonder Julia snapped.

After agreeing to let Julia have Hadassah back, they send Marcus to tell Hadassah to get her things, and Rivers gives us this impossible romance scene.

“Wait,” he said huskily. “Hadassah, look at me.” When she lifted her eyes to his, he saw sadness and wanted to reach out and hold her. Instead, he spoke harshly. “You don’t want to go, do you?” It sounded like an accusation and she looked frightened. It had been a long time since he had seen that look in her eyes and, full of remorse, he impulsively cupped her face. “I meant no accusation. You have served us well. You can tell me the truth.” Her skin was so soft, he wanted to trace all her features and comb his fingers through her hair. His hands tightened. How long would it be before he saw her again? He didn’t want to let her go.

Hadassah drew back slightly, disturbed by his touch. Had she a choice, she would stay here with Phoebe and Decimus. She would remain close to Marcus. He was so troubled. Life was a war with him, each accomplishment a battle to win. it was best that she be sent away. Her love for him was impossible, and yet it was growing each day. Besides, there was her promise to Phoebe about caring for Julia. And, of course, there was Julia to consider. Something was wrong. She had known it the moment she saw her—life with Urbanus was not as wonderful as Julia portrayed. “Lady Julia needs me, my lord.”

Marcus felt her withdrawal and took his hands from her. He turned away, frustrated.

This is not working for me. Marcus is harsh with Hadassah in every single interaction he has with her—but she is falling in love with him. I’m surprised by any attempt on Rivers’ part to make the common evangelical distinction between “in love with” and “in lust with.” Of course, that would mean suggesting some impurity or lustful thoughts on Hadassah’s part, so perhaps this has to be love.

Thus commences a lengthy argument between Marcus and Hadassah, with Marcus trying to talk her out of going (as though she’s been offered a choice) and Hadassah countering. Marcus worries that Julia may send Hadassah to Caius the way she sent her to Claudius, only for a different use, but Hadassah points out that Julia loves Caius. Marcus realizes she’s right.

Caius was as obsessed with Julia as with him. That had been more than obvious on the few occasions he had been at the same event with them and had had opportunity to observe them. In fact, the depth of their obsession made him uncomfortable. It didn’t resemble the love his father rand mother had for one another. It was something dark and powerful.

Dark and powerful? Seriously?! I am almost positive that Julia and Caius’ “obsession” looks no different from that between Marcus and Arria during their first passionate months. This honestly reads like a protective older brother who can’t get over the fact that his little sister is having sex. Deal with it, Marcus! She’s not a child anymore!

After a few more words, Marcus leaves Hadassah and returns to the others. Rivers wants to make sure we know that Julia was drinking “another goblet of wine” when he came in.

“Where is Hadassah?” Julia demanded in an imperious tone that grated on his already raw nerves.

“Don’t use that tone with me. I’m not your lackey.”

Julia’s eyes widened. “I can see I should never have come home,” she said.

Julia spills wine on her new purple plus and freaks out; Hadassah tells her she’ll fix it when they get home and they depart. Julia’s menfolk are left perplexed. Phoebe announces that she knows what’s wrong with Julia—she’s pregnant. Phoebe’s eyes shine as she tells them. She announces that she’ll go to see Julia in the morning and ask a few questions that should confirm her pregnancy. Decimus beams. Marcus frowns—he knows his sister well enough to know she won’t be happy about this.

This has not been a good day for Julia.

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