Trigger warning for domestic violence and descriptions of an abusive relationship.
Last week, Marcus returned home from a months-long business trip to find his sister married to Caius. Marcus visited Julia and found her blissfully happy and passionately in love with her new husband. Marcus was inexplicably unhappy about this, discontent to find that Julia was drinking wine and going to parties and (gasp!) having passionate sex. This week, things have changed. Julia’s happy dream has been shattered.
Julia shook as she spoke with Calabah. Calabah always understood. She always listened and gave suggestions that she could try. She agreed with her and showed compassion. Julia trusted her enough to tell her everything that was happening in her marriage. There was no one else she could talk to about Caius and his increasingly cruel and bizarre demands.
“He slapped me again last night.” She put her fingers against the tender spot on her cheekbone. She tipped her chin slightly to show off the swelling. “Can you see? Right here. I’ve become quiet skillful with makeup in the last few months.” Her mouth trembled.
Julia describes Caius’ abuse the night before. He screamed at her if she asked how he did at the races, she says, and blamed her for his losses. When she tried to leave the room, frightened, he grabbed her and hit her. He is “wild” and hurts her during their lovemaking, and “makes me do things I don’t want to do.” “A little rough play is one thing, but he’s a best to hurt you like this,” Calabah says.
Julia relaxed slightly. Calabah was always so understanding. Julia couldn’t go to anyone else. She couldn’t tell Marcus anything about Claus because the two men already disliked one another. Marcus would be furious if he knew Claus had ever hit her. A confrontation would undoubtedly make matters worse. She couldn’t talk with her mother, either. She didn’t want to talk to her. Mother would be horrified to know the dark direction of Caius’ appetites, if she even believed it. She was too innocent. Julia didn’t expect her father to help her, either. Whatever Claus did, Father would deem it her fault. He would say something like, ‘What did you do to bring this upon yourself?’
This is one of the saddest passages in this book so far. Each of her family members has made themselves inaccessible to Julia, such that she does not feel that she can come to them for help in a time of need.
Later, Decimus, her father, will say that he knew what sort of man Caius was from the start, but believed Julia needed to learn her lesson the hard way, that she would come back to him when she needed him. I’m not sure I actually believe this, as Decimus doesn’t mention this until after the fact and so far has been completely solicitous to Caius. But even if it’s so, Decimus has badly miscalculated. How can his daughter come to him when she has received only judgment and blame from him thus far?
I’m so over fathers assuming their daughters are silly and shallow to the extent that they never actually try to get to know them, and then thinking their daughters will (for god knows what reason) trust them and come to them for help if they get in trouble. It does not work that way.
And Phoebe—and Marcus. Is it any wonder Julia doesn’t feel she can go to them? Calabah listens. Calabah is sympathetic. Calabah does not judge. When have any of Julia’s family members ever shown her such courtesy?
Here’s the problem, though: This book has to be approached on two levels. If it were just your typical bodice ripping romance novel I might not feel that way, but it isn’t. Francine Rivers, the book’s author, is an evangelical Christian who weaves her theological and religious views into every book. Her books have morals, too. Everything she does here has a point, a moral, and underlying message.
According to Rivers, Calabah isn’t actually Julia’s friend. Calabah is playing a game. As we saw several weeks ago, Calabah was already aware that Caius was abusive when she told him to pursue and marry Julia. That Julia finds herself in an abusive marriage now was all part of Calabah’s plan. Calabah listens to Julia and offers her sympathy not because she is a good friend, but because she is playing her.
“And you say you still love him?” Calabah said.
Julia closed her eyes and lowered her head, ashamed. “Yes,” she admitted softly. “That’s what’s so terrible about it all. I love him so much. When he walks into a room, my heart, oh, my heart…”
“Even when he treats you like this?”
“He isn’t always cruel. Sometimes he’s the way he was in the beginning. Oh, Calabah, he can make me feel as though I’m flying through the heavens,” she said. She wanted her friend to understand.
Calabah did. She knew Caius very well. She knew Julia even better. They were both selfish and passionate. Right now, the excitement of their relationship was keeping them together, but it wouldn’t be long before their discontent with one another would lead them to seek excitement elsewhere.
What in heaven’s name is this?! You see what I mean?!
Julia’s reaction here feels very real. It is typical for abusers to make sure that there is just enough of the good to keep their victim from leaving—and to keep their victim questioning themselves. But what is up with Calabah?
Are we to believe that Calabah doesn’t actually believe that Caius is abusive—that she holds some sort of “both sides” bullshit? Her references to both being “selfish and passionate” and to “their discontent with one another,” which might “lead them to seek excitement elsewhere,” suggests she sees this as some sort of mutual falling out, but this makes no sense. Later in this vary passage, Calabah makes clear that she does understand Caius as abusive. Something is going on here with Rivers, and I’m genuinely not sure what it is.
Rivers tells us that Caius was already seeing prostitutes and that Calabah knows this because he told her—“He said he used a harlot because he didn’t want to hurt his wife, that he loved Julia and didn’t want his other nature to get out of control.” Calabah, Rivers tells us, “was disgusted” but “encouraged his clandestine visits” because, again, she wants Julia’s relationship with Caius to combust, because she wants Julia for herself, and this is all part of her long plan.
If she were to tell Julia now of Caius infidelity, it would shatter Julia’s confidence. Calabah didn’t want to see that happen. Better to leave their relationship alone and allow things to develop naturally and let Claus destroy her love instead. Eventually, Caius would become less discreet in his affairs. Eventually, he would boast of his amorous exploits.
Perhaps, before that time, she would drop a few hints for some well-meaning friend like Octavia to overhear. Octavia was petty and jealous. She would gloat over his infidelity and no doubt take pleasure in telling Julia that Claus was seeking the company of other women. Julia would hate her for it, but she would be wiser more quickly.
Here, Calabah does acknowledge Caius’ abuse.
But, until Julia was fully aware of Caius’ foul nature, Calabah wants to protect her from serious harm.
“You mustn’t antagonize Claus or rouse his vile temper, Julia,” she said. “It’s foolish to ask questions. You’ve learned already that it infuriates him. Never confront him. Find other means of learning what you need to know about what he’s doing with his time and your money.”
“You mean have spies?”
Yes. Yes, that is what she means. Julia balks.
I’d be interested in having someone who has worked with domestic violence victims explain how they would have handled Julia, here. I’m sure Calabah is correct that Julia isn’t ready to actually consider leaving him (if that were an option, which it’s not—but we’ll see that Calabah has another solution in mind). Calabah’s solution to that problem is to suggest that Julia avoid arousing Caius’ temper and make plans to have Octavia tell Julia things that (she hopes) will undercut Julia’s feelings for Caius.
Oh and by the way, while Julia feels “deliciously content” with Calabah and Calabah is the only person she can trust, Rivers also tells us that Julia sometimes “became vague uncomfortable beneath Calabah’s unblinking stare” and that “Julia dreamed Hadassah was stroking her brow … while Caius’ slaves … stood staring at her with cold, unblinking snakelike eyes, eyes that looked familiar and disturbing. Eyes like Calabah’s.” Is Rivers suggesting some sort of demonic possession?
After telling Julia not to upset Caius, when Julia asks to take a nap Calabah wakes her so late that when Julia gets home late Caius is “waiting for her, angry and suspicious, his mind having created all manner of scenarios to rouse his jealousy.” Nice move, Calabah.
“Where have you been?” His heart beat rapidly and he could feel the rage growing within him—though whether at Julia or himself, he couldn’t tell. Why had he allowed his temper to get out of control last night? He couldn’t forget the look in her eyes after he had slapped her. What if she left him? “Who have you been with all afternoon?”
“I’ve been visiting Calabah,” Julia said…
“I was afraid you’d left me,” he said. He tipped her face up and turned it to one side. Caius knew she had been crying. Her eyes were slightly puffy and her makeup was washed away by tears. Even so, she was beautiful. He looked at the mark on her cheekbone and grimaced. He had never meant to hurt her. Sometimes, it was as though some beast within him took control and made him lash out at the things he prized most. “I’m sorry about last night.” Tears filled her brown eyes and he felt even worse. “I love you, Julia. I swear it by all the gods. If you don’t forgive me, I’ll go mad…”
“He kissed her and felt her resistance. He grew desperate. “I love you; I love you so much,” he whispered and kissed her again the way she liked. After a long moment, she began to melt into him, and his sense of power returned along with a wave of pleasure. He still owned her as long as he could arouse her passions. Eros always reined with Julia, as it did with him. They were so much alike. He caught her up in his arms, his blood pounding. “I’ll make it up to you.”
A number of readers have complained that we’re let into the heads of other characters far more often than we’re let into Julia’s. Here, we gain access to Caius head, and what we find is startlingly—and horrifylingly—realistic. I’m really not sure what else to say about it, except that the realism of it creeped even me out on this read-through.
She loved Caius when he was like this, his passion focused on pleasing her. It was only when their lovemaking was over that the feeling of emptiness came upon her again, pulling her down into a pit of depression. If only all the pleasurable sensations lasted.
This sounds like the standard evangelical fall-back about pleasure being fleeting and sexual immorality leaving one empty (which is odd, because Julia is married).
Caius, however, standing across the room now, was content. He knew how much she needed him, how she watched him. He knew she loved to look at him—another confirmation of the power he held over her.
His mouth tipped with a teasing smile and he moved to kiss her. “I love it when you look at me like that, as though I’m a god,” he said, gazing at her as though she were a prized possession.
This man is evil.
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