Voice in the Wind: Marcus, King of Gaslighting

Voice in the Wind: Marcus, King of Gaslighting February 23, 2018

Voice in the Wind, 462-66

Of everything that has struck me in this re-read of Voice in the Wind, the unrealistic nature of Hadassah’s feelings toward Marcus has hit me the hardest. Oh, I’m not saying that having a crush on someone who is handsome, rich, and on a fundamental level unobtainable is that implausible. What feels odder is that it has lasted so long, in the face of Marcus’ many unattractive traits.

Marcus’ pursuit of Hadassah feels equally unrealistic. Oh certainly, wanting to penetrate her makes perfect sense. Roman men had their way with slaves all the time. But now Marcus is in fact and actually considering marrying Hadassah. Marcus, remember, has not become a Christian. In fact, he is still at the point of mocking Hadassah’s religion. He’s still a self-centered hedonist—and he’s considering marrying a slave—and one he’s never really taken the time to get to know.

The whole thing just feels off. Do you know what would read more realistically? If Hadassah had to dodge at once the brutal pursuit of a hedonistic master, and the tender attentions of a kind male Jewish slave in the Valerian household. That would make sense—her conviction that she could not marry a man who was not a Christian no matter what he had to offer her, and her defense of her purity in the face of her master. But instead, Rivers tried to combine the two. And it doesn’t really work.

This week Marcus shows up at Julia’s house asking to see Hadassah.

“You want to see Hadassah?”

“Yes. It concerns a matter of some importance.”

“What matter?” she said, seeming only curious.

“A personal matter,” he said, annoyed at being questioned.

Um, Marcus? You can’t show up at someone else’s house, ask to talk to their slave privately, and except them to not ask you any questions. It does not work like that.

At the sound of soft footsteps approaching, Marcus turned and saw Hadassah. She came beneath an archway into the sunlight and walked toward them with a humble grace that made him ache.

Ah. See, this is why I so admired Hadassah—and wanted to be like her—when I read this book as a teen. She could captivate a man by the way she walked. She was that pure, that good, that kind, that remarkable. I wanted to be like that.

What I didn’t realize until much later is that real life does not work like that.

Julia, of course, is upset. We’re to believe that she’s upset unreasonably, and to some extent she is. Her treatment of Hadassah is becoming progressively more abusive—she’s taking out an increasing amount of the pain and anger she feels at the hand life has dealt her on Hadassah. But as we’ll see in this section, she’s not wrong about a large part of what she throws at Marcus. And Marcus, for his part, gaslights the hell out of her.

“You wanted me my lady?” she said, her head bowed.

“No. My brother wants you,” Julia said coldly.

Marcus glanced sharply at his sister.

“You’re to go to the bedchamber on the second floor, and wait for him there…”

“Julia,” Marcus said, his temper rising, but she ignored him.

“What until he comes to you; then whatever he wants you to do, you will do it. Do you understand?”

Marcus saw Hadassah’s face become a mask of confusion and fear, and he wanted to strike his sister.

WTF, Marcus! My god!

Several chapters ago, Marcus tried to actually and literally rape Hadassah in just the way Julia is suggesting here. He sexually assaulted her as she sobbed. He doesn’t exactly have a leg to stand on here. He has no right whatsoever to be angry with Julia for suggesting what he already tried (and without Julia’s permission I might add). And really, why shouldn’t Julia assume this is exactly what he wants? He took Bithia in this way many times, after all!

We’re to think Julia disgusting and evil for suggesting what Marcus actually tried; somehow, perversely, we’re to think Marcus the good guy here, and Julia the one who is sadistic and cruel.

Marcus tells Hadassah to leave, and she steps back.

“You conniving harlot!” Julia screamed suddenly and came at Hadassah, hand raised to strike her. Marcus caught his sister’s wrist and jerked her around to face him.

“Leave us now!” Marcus commanded Hadassah harshly. When she was gone, he shook Julia once. “What’s the matter with you? Has this pregnancy driven you mad?”

Julia is wrong to dry to strike Hadassah, but Marcus is a-okay to shake Julia, because she had it coming. Or something. I would love to imagine that this section is meant to be a demonstration that both Julia and Marcus are out of control, but that does not seem to be what Rivers is going for. Instead, we seem to be having a “bitches be crazy” segment here.

“What Primus told me is true!” Julia said, fighting him.

“What did Primus tell you?” he demanded, his stomach sinking.

“He said you came to see Hadassah rather than me. I said he was being ridiculous! My brother, in love with a slave? Absurd! I told him you came to see me—me! And he said I should open my eyes and see what’s been going on around me.”

“Nothing’s been going on. You’ve been drinking Primus’ poison,” Marcus said tautly. “Don’t listen to him.”

My god. Does Marcus realize that Julia would be more likely to listen to him (and less likely to listen to Primus) if he would start telling her the truth rather than lying to her?

“If that’s true, why do you come asking to speak to Hadassah?”

“For personal reasons that have nothing to do with you or Primus or anyone else.”

You see what I’m saying?

Julia alleges that Marcus won’t answer because he can’t without admitting that he cares more about Hadassah than he does about her. Marcus says she’s being ridiculous.

Recognizing her fragile emotional state, Marcus took her hands. “Julia, look at me. By the gods,” he said and jerked her again. “I said look at me. What I feel for Hadassah has nothing to do with my love for you. I adore you as I’ve always adored you.”

By the gods indeed.

What we need is fan fiction that turns this book into an essay on abusive male “nice guy” gaslighting behavior. Because it basically is that, but without any recognition that these things are toxic rather than romantic. And sure, this is a romance novel. Romance novels often have toxic themes. But Voice in the Wind is a romance novel masquerading as religious ideals to strive for. And lest you think I’m imagining that, I have spoken with individuals who said this book was read aloud as part of their homeschool program.

At this point Julia blames Julia for “stealing” Claudius. Julia says she only realized it when Calabah pointed it out. Marcus says this is ridiculous. The thing is, I don’t entirely disagree with Julia. Yes, she has twisted her memory of what happened to fit a specific narrative. But. Claudius spent his free time speaking with Hadassah about religion instead of getting to know or caring for his young wife. This wasn’t Hadassah’s fault—and that’s where I disagree with Julia’s narrative of what happened—but it is certainly true that Hadassah “diverted his interest completely” such that he spent no time working on his marriage.

Again, what happened with Claudius was not at all Hadassah’s fault. All the blame for that disastrous marriage go to Decimus and Claudius. Julia is wrong to blame Hadassah, who was a girl no older than she was at the time. The other part of Julia’s allegations here ring more true, however.

“She did what you demanded of her. You wanted Claudius distracted, and he was. He questioned Hadassah about her religion.”

She looked at him coldly. “How would you know that unless you asked him?”

“Of course, I asked! You’ll remember I was furious with you for sending her in your place.”

“I remember,” she said, eyes blazing. “You were angry that I’d given her to him. I thought it was concern for me, concern for my marriage, but that wasn’t why, was it?” Her voice was thick with bitterness, and she shook her head and turned her back to him.

“I’ve been so blind!” she said with a bleak laugh. “I look back now and see it all so clearly. All those times when I thought you came to be with me because I needed you.” She turned to him. “It wasn’t like that at all, was it, Marcus? You didn’t come to Capua for me. You didn’t move back into the villa in Rome or come to Ephesus for me. You came for her.”

Marcus turned her around. “All those times, I did come to be with you. Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.” It hadn’t been until later, much later, that he had realized Hadassah mattered to him in ways no other woman ever had. Julia had been his first concern. Until now.

Let’s fact check this, shall we?

Way back toward the beginning of the book, when Marcus rode to Capua, he was indeed thinking of Julia. He was also thinking of Hadassah, of course, but he was genuinely excited to surprise Julia with his visit. But he moved back into the villa in Rome for Hadassah, and he moved to Ephesus for Hadassah. Marcus is flat-out lying to Julia—and seriously gaslighting her.

And Julia is absolutely correct that Marcus was concerned about her sending Hadassah to Claudius not out of concern for security of her marriage (as Marcus seems to suggest), but rather because he wanted Hadassah in his bed.

Let’s take a look back in time:

“Did you sell that little Jewess mother gave you?”

“Hadassah? I wouldn’t part with her for anything! She’s devoted and obedient, and she’s been most useful to me over the past few months.”

There was a hidden message in the last par tor her statement, for bedevilment shone in his sister’s eyes. He smiled wryly. “Indeed?”

“Claudius is quite taken with her,” she said and seemed amused.

A sudden hot flood of dark emotion burst inside Marcus. He couldn’t assess his feelings, for what gripped his stomach was far too uncomfortable.

Marcus was certainly gentler with Julia, back then. When he became upset she thought he was upset with her, and began defending herself, and he realized he had hurt her, and actually cared.

He stood and went to her. He took her shoulders firmly. “I’m not angry with you,” he said gently. “Hush, little one.” He turned her and held her close.

But the idea that he was upset because he cared about her marriage is patent nonsense. Have a look at this:

He knew that such arrangements worked in many households. What business was it of his if his sister decided to conduct such practices in her own home? As long as she was happy, what difference did it make what she did?

But it did make a difference. He told himself it was concern for his sister’s marriage that made him uneasy. But the thought of Claudius Flaccus having both his sister and Hadassah rankled. More than he would have thought possible.

It was about Hadassah, even way back then.

Rivers tells us, in Marcus voice, that:

It hadn’t been until later, much later, that he had realized Hadassah mattered to him in ways no other woman ever had. Julia had been his first concern. Until now.

This is blatantly false. Way back when in Rome, when Julia was married to Caius, Marcus did not want to let Hadassah return to Julia when she sent for her. He didn’t want to send Hadassah back because Hadassah had taken the beating Caius meant for Julia—and it was his father who pointed out how selfish this was, that Julia would be dead if not for Hadassah.

Marcus is lying to Julia. Lying, lying, lying.

At this point, Julia wonders whether Hadassah ever actually took her messages to Atretes—and what all she said when talking to him. In other words, if this much has been going on behind her back, what else has? Marcus tells her that she, and not Hadassah, drove Atretes away, and Julia begins to cry. But she’s not willing to be so easily diverted.

“If she told him the child is his as I commented her to, he would have come. And he hasn’t! She probably went to him and sang psalms and wove her stories instead.”

Again, she’s not completely wrong—Hadassah did deliver Julia’s message, but she also wove her stories. Hadassah started talking to Atretes of God and love and peace ages ago, certainly without Julia’s knowledge or approval.

Marcus manages to talk Julia down somewhat from her grief about Atretes. “Some things you can’t put back together again,” he tells her, and she leans on him and cries.

“Why is it that love burns so hot you think you’ll be consumed by it, and then, when it’s over, there’s nothing left but the taste of ashes in your mouth?”

“I don’t know, Julia. I used to wonder that myself,” he said.

They actually bond for a moment. It would be really nice if this is what their relationship regularly looked like—it feels real, and refreshing.

“With Arria?”

“With Arria and with others,” he said.

A small frown flickered across her pale face. “But not with Hadassah. Why?”

“She’s different form any woman I’ve ever met,” he said softly. … “She’s something rare and beautiful.”

 

Again, this is why I and other evangelical teenage girls reading this book were so taken by Hadassah. Everyone could see that she was “something rare and beautiful,” even those who weren’t saved—even handsome, rich, virile men like Marcus! We were taught that what we’ve been describing as Hadassah’s “mojo” in our analysis here was something every good Christian girl could have, if they were only as quiet, dutiful, obedient, patient, and compassionate as Hadassah.

Marcus suggests that Julia free Hadassah so that he can have her, but Hadassah says she needs her “now more than ever.” Marcus assumes this is due to Julia’s pregnancy and tells her he’ll wait “until after the baby comes.”

Julia didn’t respond. She merely stared at the floor, and Marcus felt a strange chill come over him at the emptiness he glimpsed in his sister’s eyes.

That means what exactly?

Julia needs—honestly, I’m not sure what Julia needs. A therapist, maybe. Better friends, perhaps?

As friends go, Primus could be worse. He was right when he told her that Marcus was after Hadassah, though he needn’t have been so gleeful about it (though maybe that was more about taking self-righteous Marcus down a peg, which I totally get). Primus is doing his best to turn Julia away from Hadassah, partly for selfish reasons (he says Prometheus hasn’t acted himself since Hadassah came) and partly (it seems) out of a dislike of Jews, which is unhelpful.

Calabah, though—she set Julia up with Caius knowing he would abuse her, planning for her to eventually have to poison him. I am not a fan of Calabah. Maybe that’s what Julia needs—space away from Calabah. Julia has a head on her shoulders, she’s just never really had the freedom to use it. When Marcus isn’t telling her what to do, Calabah has been pushing her one way or another, playing her to her own advantage. Calabah is all about Calabah.

Julia seems to cycle between needing Hadassah and hating Hadassah. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Hadassah is less different form other slaves than Julia realizes. Hadassah hasn’t just been serving Julia, she’s also been playing her own game. She’s been proselytizing everyone in Julia’s life (except her)—Decimus, Phoebe, Atretes, Marcus—and always when Julia is out of the room, and out of earshot. Hadassah hasn’t put serving Julia ahead of all else. She’s also been doing her own thing.

Slavery is an abomination. Hadassah absolutely should be be allowed to play her own game. She shouldn’t be property in the first place. But let’s not all pretend she’s something she’s not, with all this talk of her being the perfect serving servant. The reality is that Primus and Calabah aren’t off base in what they’ve been telling Julia, in urging her not to trust Hadassah. And that makes it easier for Julia to believe them, because they’re not entirely wrong.

Things are about to get very, very bad.

Also, WTF with Marcus just showing up like this. He’s intending to marry Hadassah, as we’ll soon learn, but he has no reason to think she’ll say yes. He tried to rape her, for god’s sake! His whole “I know you want me” thing is so contrived and such BS. We’re meant to think she does want him, yes, but we’re also given entry into her mind. Marcus isn’t. He’s treating her the same way everyone else is—as someone he can order around and position for his own pleasure, what she wants be damned.

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