Voice in the Wind: Weirdest Proposal Ever

Voice in the Wind, pp. 472-477

Oh boy. Today Marcus proposes marriage to Hadassah. The weird thing is that we were never given much insight into Marcus’ thought process here. He’s wanted to have sex with Hadassah for ages, and has sexually assaulted her and tried to rape her. She has told him several times that she can’t have sex with him because she’s not married to him. On his father’s deathbed, his father put Hadassah’s hand in his, signifying to all involved that he wanted them together (which is odd, because reasons).

I wanted to see Marcus actually work through all this; I wanted to be privy to his deliberations as he considered the implications of taking what then would have been the shocking step of marrying his sister’s slave. Rivers doesn’t give us that.

You know how women sometimes turn guys down by saying they already have a boyfriend—even if they don’t? Many women feel that they must give some kind of excuse for saying no to a guy’s advances—that they can’t just say they’re not interested, because the guy would just keep going. In this case we’re to believe (inexplicably) that Hadassah is interested, but that doesn’t make her statement that she can’t have sex with Marcus because they’re not married not misdirection.

See, when she said that she couldn’t have sex with him because they weren’t married, Marcus came away with the impression that she’s marry him if he asked. And that’s about to become a very big problem.

Hadassah had known that Marcus would come for her. She had known it from the moment Decimus had taken her hand and joined it with his son’s, from the moment Marcus had looked at her. Every time he was near she trembled, torn between her love for him and her knowledge that they couldn’t be together, not as things were know.

Hadassah has watched Julia go from abusive man to abusive man. She knows that Marcus frequently manhandles the women in his life, that he has a temper and that he tried to rape her. And yet her objection to marrying him has nothing to do with any of that. We’re given to believe that she would marry him in a heartbeat if she could. The issue, of course, is that he is not a Christian. That he is controlling, manipulative (remember the gaslighting?), and abusive does not matter.

Many girls growing up in Christian homes get the impression that the only qualification for a future husband is that he be a strong Christian, a man of God. And consider how Rivers is portraying this, to her readership of teenage girls—the problem with Marcus is not that he’s an abusive lout. The problem is that he’s not a Christian. If he would only become a Christian she could marry him. That other stuff—the sexual assaulting and the raping—it doesn’t matter or effect her decision at all.

He came to her and cupped her face, his hands shaking. Gently, he kissed her, and his touch made a sweet longing sweep through her body. “You’re mine now,” he said, his voice low with emotion. “Julia has released you. As soon as the documents can be drawn up, you’ll be free, and I can marry you.”

Ok, Marcus, protip. Have the documents drawn up first. Be 100% sure that Hadassah is truly free (and that Julia won’t change her mind). Then, after that, tell her that you would like to marry her and give her a choice. Right now, she’s still a slave. You’re basically saying, I’ll free you, but only if you marry me. I mean, what else is “You’re mine now” supposed to mean in this context? Asking her under these circumstances is coercive, it’s manipulative, and it’s BS.

Also. If your last intimate encounter with someone was to try to rape them, do not under any circumstances walk up to them and start kissing them without a by your leave. This is so beyond gross and terrifying.

She uttered a soft gasp, her heart crying out to God.

“I love you,” Marcus said huskily. “I love you so much.” He dug his fingers into her hair and kissed her again.

This goes on for a while. No really—we’re told that he kisses her until he is out of breath, that she can feel “the strength of his arms around her,” that he explores her face with his hands. Hadassah doesn’t stop him because she is quickly “drowning in sensation.” You know, all that stuff that Rivers copy and pasted from her former career as a regular romance novel writer.

“I want you,” he said again huskily, putting her away from him. “So much that I hurt. But i remember the last time I let myself lose control with you, and I won’t let it happen again. Not like that.”

At his words, Hadassah gave a small, broken gasp, the fog of his passion washed away in the clarity of what she faced. Trembling, she went back into his arms.

Interesting reaction, that. Ugh, all of this. Just ugh.

Marcus misunderstood. “If we made love now, I’d never regret it,” he told her, holding her away from him. “But you would. Purity until marriage. Isn’t that one of your god’s laws? Religion doesn’t matter to me. It never has. But it matters to you, and because of that, I’ll wait. All that matters to me is that I love you. I want no regrets between us.”

Ok, I don’t buy that. That whole “regrets” thing is Christian lingo. I’m fairly certain that if Hadassah were to change her mind and be all “Marcus, let’s have sex right this second,” he wouldn’t object. Besides, many cultures have considered an engagement close enough to marriage to sanction sexual contact; Marcus might just assume that that is what was going on.

Of course, Hadassah hasn’t changed her mind.

“Oh, Marcus . . .” Her eyes blurred with tears. “I can’t marry you.”

So there’s that. Marcus gets all explainy—yes you can, I cleared it with everyone, you totally can, even Julia said okay. Then he thinks maybe she’s worried because of what his peers will think of it, so he assures her that he doesn’t care.

Marcus knew he had been contemptuous of a man once who had freed his slave in order to marry her, but he hadn’t known then how love could break down the barriers between master and slave. He hadn’t known then how much a woman could matter to a man.

First, I wonder how often this actually did happen. Second, I call bull on this idea of breaking down barriers. It was extremely common for men to have sexual relations with their slaves in Ancient Rome to the point of being almost expected. The issue was that they didn’t view sex the way we do. Sex wasn’t a mutual act between two equals. It was an act of domination and taking one one side. and submission and giving on the other. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would generally lead to a relationship.

This is one issue I have with much historical fiction. You can’t assume that people in the past looked at any particular thing or issue in the same way we do today. To do historical fiction well, you need to research not just historical events and historical clothing, homes, and accouterments, you also have to research historical attitudes. Understanding how the Romans like Marcus would have viewed sex ought to be central to this plot line; instead, Rivers just reads a modern playboy attitude onto him.

From here, things only get worse. Hadassah tries to explain that she can’t marry him because he does not “believe in the Lord.” Marcus says that’ nothing to worry about, that “it’s a matter of tolerance and understanding” and about “loving one another and allowing there to be freedom within a relationship.” His father didn’t believe in any of the gods, he tells her, but his father never had a problem with his mother’s devotion to the gods, and her careful worship of them.

“And what of you, Marcus? Whom will you worship?”

He lifted her face and kissed her. “You, beloved. Only you.”

“No!” she cried, struggling free. She turned from him, tears spilling down her cheeks.

Marcus put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the curve of her neck. He felt her racing pulse beneath his lips. “What can I say to assure you that it will be all right? I love you enough to tolerate your religion.”

See and here, understanding how Romans understood religion ought to matter. It’s true that the Romans had religious tolerance, but this reads as how Rivers thinks a person who believes in religious tolerance would speak than how they would actually do so. How would a Roman talk about this, at the time? Did Rivers look up any Roman sources, and read how the Romans talked about different religions, or religious difference?

Also, just in general, this dialog sounds off. “I love you enough to tolerate your religion,” said no one ever. “I don’t care what you believe,” perhaps. “You can believe what you want, it doesn’t bother me,” maybe. “Religion isn’t important to me but I now it’s meaningful to you, and that’s fine with me,” perhaps. “I love you enough to tolerate your religion,” no.

And then there’s the whole grabbing and struggling thing. Really?!

The conversation continues, but Marcus doesn’t get any better at the power of persuasion. In fact, he rather starts to lose it altogether. Hadassah draws up the oxen analogy, pointing out that if two oxen are yoked together, the strongest ends up determining which direction they go. Marcus doesn’t see the problem.

“And isn’t that as it should be? The husband leads and the wife follows.”

“You would pull me away from the Lord,” she said.

The Lord, he thought, anger rising up against her unseen god. The Lord. The Lord. “I just said you could worship whatever god you chose.”

She saw his anger, and it only confirmed her fear.

Is Hadassah finally recognizing his anger problem?! This is exciting!

“At first, you’d allow it. And then it would change. You wouldn’t even know when or how. Nor would I. I t would just happen in small ways that seem unimportant and, little by little, day by day, you’d pull at me until I was walking in step with you and not following the Lord.”

Oh. Oh ok. That fear. Her fear of him leading her away from God, not her fear of his explosive and often violent anger. That’s cool, I guess.

“Would that be so wrong? Shouldn’t a wife put her husband above all else?”

Marcus. Marcus. You fail at persuasive speaking.

At this point the conversation changes completely. Now it’s all about Marcus trying to convince Hadassah that her god has done nothing for her, that her god left her in slavery and alone, and that what he has to offer her—“freedom, my love, my children, my passion“—is far superior to anything her god could ever offer her. Hadassah refuses to listen.

Marcus let her go.

Hadassah saw the look on his face: hope gone, pride shattered, defensive rage rising. She wanted to reach out to him. “Oh, Marcus,” she whispered brokenly, hurting and afraid for him. …

“it’s a pity, Hadassah,” he said sardonically, fighting the emotions choking him: love for her, hate for her god. “You’ll never know what you threw away, will you?” He turned from her and strode out of the room.

And that’s it. The end. He walks out of the house without saying a word. He goes home to his mother, in a black rage. “I forsook my pride and she threw it back in my face,” he tells Phoebe angrily. “There’s no reasoning with a faith like hers.” When Phoebe tries to reach out to him, Marcus jerks his hand away. “One god! One god above all else! So be it. Her god can have her.” And with that, he leaves Hadassah a slave in Julia’s household.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about love with a number of individuals in recent months. I’ve sometimes argued that if one claims to love a person but cares only about themselves and not about the other person’s needs, they don’t actually love them. By that line of reasoning, Marcus doesn’t love Hadassah. If he loved her, he would at least see her freed before cutting off contact with her—he would be upset and hurt, but he would give her something to get her started and wish her well and happy.

One friend in particular has argued an opposing view. She argued, as I understand it, that we need to stop assuming that love is always good or kind. Love, she said, can be selfish and self-serving and all about oneself. Love, then, is simply a feeling of affection for a person, an attraction to them. A person can love someone and still do horrible things to them. In our society we tend to view love as a universally positive, good thing. My friend argued that we need to complicate that.

I can see my friend’s point. Domestic violence victims often stay because, they say, their partner loves them. How do we respond? Do we tell them that that isn’t really love, if it is selfish and violent and abusive? Or do we tell them that a person can love someone and still treat them badly, and that whether their partner loves them is not the only thing to consider? I don’t work with domestic violence victims, so I don’t know the answer. But it’s an interesting question.

What I do know is that Marcus is a horrible prick.

Oh, interesting question time. Religion aside, what would you have done in Hadassah’s position? Imagine that you can see that Marcus has an anger problem, you know that he’s grabby, and you have seen him gaslight his sister. You also, of course, know that Julia is increasingly erratic, and that she has hit you and screamed at you. Marriage to Marcus would bring you more material comforts. As per Roman law, he would basically own you—but you’re already a slave anyway. What would you do?

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