Winsome or Loathsome: Nora Colville

Welcome back to Winsome or Loathsome, the column in which AAR staffers lobby for and against controversial heroines. Today’s heroine is the leading lady of Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure, Nora Colville. If you haven’t read the book, be advised there are spoilers ahead.

In Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure, Nora Colville wanted to marry Adrian Ferrers, but in 1715, their Catholic/Protestant difference was too much for both families. Adrian was beaten and abducted, and Nora’s family pressed her into marriage with Lord Towe. She gave in, Lord Towe died, and Adrian, now the king’s agent, has come back looking for her brother David, a known Jacobite. For the first part of the book, I accepted Nora’s loyalty to her brother despite some red flags. But as the book goes on, Nora’s loyalty goes from sympathetic (most people don’t want to see their brother dead) to unjustifiable. There’s family loyalty, and then there’s Flowers in the Attic.

Nora loves David even though he’s appallingly selfish and has never done a damn thing for her or her beloved home estate Hodderby. Nora stays to care for the land and its tenants while David revolutionizes in France, but she realizes “David would never care for Hodderby as she did… Why… while the land was suffering and its people feared to starve, were its caretakers on some foreign shore, politicking and squabbling?” BECAUSE YOU ENABLE HIM, NORA. And you don’t love Hodderby as much as you tell yourself you do, or you wouldn’t store ENTIRE BARRELS of gunpowder underneath it. For DAVID. Who will go on to prove precisely why you should not store barrels of gunpowder for him.

Nora claims that David was the only one to support her when Adrian disappeared (beaten by David and her father, and thrown on a ship in chains by his family) and Nora’s father locked her up without food or drink to force her to marry Lord Towe. What form, precisely did this support take? Not the form of beverages, apparently. If it’s too much to expect David to argue with their father to save Nora’s life, why is it reasonable for David to expect Nora to defy the crown for his politics?

After colluding in Nora’s awful first marriage, David later signs a betrothal contract on Nora’s behalf without asking Nora. Nora’s reaction is, “he was only a man, and she could not blame him if he fell prey to the same masculine disorders of the mind which plagued his cousin and [Adrian] to boot.” Um, the only disorder that has plagued Adrian is excessive patience with your idiotic loyalty to your brother. And comparing your brother to your lover and your forced-fiance is a bad sign.

But let’s go there. Let’s compare Nora’s endless loyalty to David with her treatment of Adrian. Perhaps she’s just a martyr, willing to suffer anything for the people she loves. Let’s look at how she reacted when Adrian vanished. As mentioned, she was deprived of food, and eventually caved and married Lord Towe. How long did this endlessly-patient heroine hold out hope for the return of the man she loved, and (spoiler) whose child she was carrying? Twenty years, like Odysseus’s Penelope?

Try twenty days.

No, not twenty days before she agreed to marry Lord Towe. It was Day 20 when Adrian, having overcome his beating and escaped his chains, staggered back to Hodderby and found himself attending the actual wedding.

Twenty days, in an era of travel by horseback on unreliable roads with highwaymen.

Twenty days, for an aristocratic marriage involving major land deals spanning Great Britain and a big ceremony with guests who probably had to leave the minute the received the invitations to make it on time.

Twenty days, when banns (which come later, but can be used for a benchmark) are called for twenty-one days.

Remind me how long David has been in France fomenting revolution? Months? Years? And Adrian, your lover, got TWENTY FREAKING DAYS?

Give me a break.

(Some will argue that Nora’s pregnancy made it necessary for her to give in for sustenance.  Fine. Agree to marry Towe to get out of your room. Then spend six months planning your wedding! A year, if you can pull it off! If you believe in Adrian, keep putting off Towe. Your goal here is not to get the child legitimately born to Lord Towe; it’s to buy time for Adrian to get back to you and marry you himself. You can at least make it to the second trimester).

Now let’s follow the story to Creepytown. David starts to read not just as an emotional rival for Adrian, but a sexual one. David is the elephant in the bed the night Nora and Adrian first have sex again:

“[Adrian] would do things to her that she had only dreamed about, during long, tossing nights… A stifled sound escaped her. “David – if you will help him, if you promise-”

“I have said I might,” he murmured… HIs tongue curled over the lobe of her ear. “Only tell me what to say,” he whispered. Shall I speak of your brother, Nora mine?”


Lines which you think appeared better in context, but really didn’t:

Adrian explaining that Nora can either save herself by marrying Adrian or be convicted of treason with David, literally uses the phrase “Your brother will not touch you.

A lord smirks at Nora and says, “I know that you share an uncommon closeness with your brother.

Nora reflects, “Yes, she had erred. But she was still [Adrian’s] wife. Yet, how could she be that woman? One portion of her soul strained behind her, toward the brother… The other half strained forward, to the man on the hill.” THEY ARE NOT JACOB AND EDWARD AND YOU ARE NOT BELLA SWAN.

May God show mercy to all whom she loved, [Adrian] as much as her brother.

And then in the final chapter, we see Nora face a difficult moment:

“She held out her arms to him, taking him into a hard embrace. With her face buried against his chest, she closed her eyes, permitting herself to savor this moment, perhaps the last she would ever share with him.

‘David,’ she said very softly…”

What do you think? Nora Colville – winsome or loathsome? Or just plain creepy?


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06/27/2016 7:46 pm

I have to admit I haven’t read this one, but after reading this over? I’m thinking I’ll give it a pass. I think Nora would drive me insane, and the relationships here definitely read more towards creepy than anything else…

Sarah #2
Sarah #2
06/25/2016 11:42 pm

I’m a huge Duran fan, and have read this book–like all of hers–several times. But the more I have read it, the more I agree that Nora was incredibly stupid. In fact, after I read it the last time a few months ago I realized that I never wanted to read it again because she frustrated me so much. I found myself cheering when Adrian gave her the cold shoulder after the explosion, and wished that the cold shoulder would have lasted longer, like maybe forever because she deserved it.

I hadn’t caught all of the creepy aspects of her relationship with David, as Dabney pointed out, but I agree that they’re disturbing. Yet another reason to keep my attention on other Duran books and avoid this one.

elizabeth williams
elizabeth williams
06/25/2016 9:46 pm

I love this book . At Your Pleasure is my favorite book by Meredith Duran. Whenever I am in a reading slump I reach for this book to reassure me that it’s not me but the lackluster books that are being released lately which are to be blamed. .

The tension in this book is out of this world. I liked Nora a lot, as a heroine she had her weaknesses but she was human. Those were treacherous times far more complex than the Regency era and loyalty to family was important . I do understand many of her decisions I don’t agree with them all but I definitely did not find her loathsome. Loathsome is Mara Lowe – No Good Duke Goes Unpunished but that’s another story .

Happy reading

06/25/2016 6:47 pm

I’m going to have to say loathsome AND creepy. Nora’s relationship with David has always freaked me out. I tried re-reading this one recently and had to put it down and walk away. It went to the used book store last week.

06/25/2016 12:48 pm

It’s been years since I read this book because although I really enjoy Duran as a writer, the heroine aggravated me terribly. The brother is horrible and uses her repeatedly, never really helped her in any meaningful way, yet she is slavishly devoted to him. I don’t remember all the particulars but I remember being disgusted at the way she was complicit in the brother almost blowing up the entire household she was always supposedly trying to “protect” and how she acted very recklessly at an inn almost getting herself killed. I was also annoyed by how the author had the hero just switching sides so he could at first be reviled and then be on the winning side of history. It made zero sense he would do a 180 and change his beliefs and religion as I recall. Nora really doesn’t stand up as a great heroine, particularly compared to many of Duran’s other ones.

Reply to  Christine
06/25/2016 5:35 pm

I interpreted Adrian’s change in his religion and loyalties to the fact that his beliefs were never deeply felt. I mentioned up-thread that I found him to be a political animal compared to Nora who has deep loyalties, too deep perhaps. Which position does the novel end up endorsing? I think perhaps Adrian’s loose affiliations is the one that comes out on top, though I never doubted his love for Nora and once Nora committed herself to him, I did not doubt her love for him either.

Reply to  Dabney Grinnan
06/24/2016 4:52 pm

The lack of trust divides Adrian and Nora and makes them *both* mistreat each other at times when they first meet again after a long separation, and so it’s not at all a one-way mistreatment in Duran’s novel. I disagree that Adrian is mistreated more, as there are a number of very disturbing scenes in which Adrian physically abuses Nora.

Loved _Six Feet Under_ but see no similarity between the two. In _At Your Pleasure_, David is more of a concept than an actual character. He has so few actual scenes in the book, for one thing. We see him a couple of times in flashback through both main characters’ eyes. Then we finally see him through third person narration at the end of the book in a couple of scenes where he’s not a fully realized character but a figure that represents ideas Duran is exploring, including misdirected loyalty to a fading monarchy, and ill-advised use of violence in a country that prided itself on the absence of violence in the previous Glorious Revolution as monarchical families exchanged seats of power. Duran is one of the few romance writers that really knows her British history and doesn’t talk down to her readers.

David also represents patriarchy in the book and here is where I think there are what AAR Caroline calls “creepy” moments. The men in the novel to varying degrees seek control over Nora, Nora’s sexuality and Nora’s body. She is in a tug-of-war between men all claiming they know what is best for her. Adrian puts her in solitary confinement, imposes sleep deprivation on her, binds and gags her and physically forces her into an unwanted marriage. When she asks him on their wedding night if he is going to force her to have sex with him, that was not a sarcastic question. She does not know if he will permit her to have control over her own body in their marital bed. In fact, men’s obsession with female sexuality and the main character’s body is very much an issue through much of the novel. Her father physically prevented her from being with the man she loves, and her husband secretly forces her to abort her child and then abuses her sexually in their marriage.

Nora struggles through the novel for degrees of autonomy over her life and her own body. She chooses Adrian in the end but only when she is convinced he has put her before himself, and yes, that includes allowing her family member to survive in exile. Some romance novels definitely do fall into stereotypical patterns, but I did not think this one did and I don’t think the main characters especially can be reduced to a single word to describe them.

06/24/2016 3:56 am

Over time, _At Your Pleasure_ has grown on me so much that it’s definitely one of my favorites of Meredith Duran’s. It’s quite dark, and I do really like the Georgian period and Duran’s attention to the schisms within theological debates, the role of the Church and State, the loyalties dividing a nation transitioning to a new royal heritage, and of course, the star-crossed lovers theme that provides obstacles keeping Nora and Adrian at odds with each other for half of the book. Nora is loyal not just to her father and brother but to the Stuart monarchy, and so I think attention has to be paid to her duty and loyalty to the politics and not just to her immediate family. Adrian mocks her for this, but Adrian, as he tells Nora repeatedly, is loyal to himself and his own people and plays the political game. In some ways, I think Nora looks more earnest and is less a political animal than Adrian.

Having said that, David is terribly selfish and it does take Nora a long time to accept what this has meant to her life and to recognize her own near self-defeating behavior. I think too the loyalty-to-David plot goes on a bit long, but it does serve the purpose to help Nora accept Adrian’s love for her. She struggles with this for so much of the novel. A good part of the story is based on *a big misunderstanding. Nora seems to believe that she violated codes of conduct by succumbing to a sexual relationship with Adrian outside of marriage. Her subsequent pregnancy and his absence from her life in this period seems to confirm her worst fears about herself as well as her insecurity in his feelings for her. I love the conversations they have on several occasions about the words hurled at her by the men in her life because of her sexual liaison with Adrian. And Adrian does give up on Nora too, some of which is not completely explained away by the harsh treatment he endures at the hands of the overbearing male family members. It suggests he has his own insecurities about his place in her life and his place in her family’s respect. They were still very much finding their way to each other when events interceded to separate them. He accepts the worst about her and I think he should have questioned why she is marrying a much older man so quickly after their passionate love affair. Pregnancy, as he admits, should have occurred to him. He was the sexually experienced of the two. I found both of them a bit culpable in this respect.

So much of the novel though is propelled forward by their attempts to understand each other. There is also a feminist subtext to this novel, which is that Nora is heavily micromanaged by a number of self-centered men for nearly her entire life. Should she have been more stalwart in the face of their harsh treatment of her? Starvation and solitary confinement, followed by poisoning and insinuations of marital rape and abuse play a part in her characterization as well.

All of this sounds so bleak though, and it’s not in the end. Adrian’s love for Nora is passionate and exciting and I loved witnessing him prove himself to her. I loved the moment when she proved herself to him. I loved the ending of the book. They both endured so much apart and are fully deserving of their happy ending. Neither main character can be reduced to a single epithet. I did, by the way, recently re-read this book and so it’s still fresh in my mind.