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A Rose by any other name
on May 11, 2005
It is the early 1820s in London. After an infant boy is discarded on a garbage heap and left for dead, he is found by Geoffroy Loveall, the effeminate, eccentric Lord of Love Hall, who is concerned about the need for an heir to inherit his vast wealth. Lord Loveall brings the baby back to the manor, hastily marries a member of the household staff, and claims that there is a new heir to the family fortune. However, obsessed with the death of his sister and living in a dream world of his own, the Lord declares the baby to be a girl and names him Rose. With the collusion of the immediate family and household staff, Lord Loveall raises Rose as a proper Victorian girl who is pampered, spoiled by an excess of weath and prestige, and dubbed "Miss Fortune". For years Rose never questions his femininity. His life seems idyllic as he plays with the two children of a household servant and helps his mother with her work in the estate library.
Inevitably, the young Rose reaches adolescence and suddenly doesn't look or feel ladylike any more. As greedy relatives circle in their attempt to wrest control of the estate from Lord Loveall, Rose discovers his true gender and adoptive status. When he reveals himself as a male to society at large and to his predatory relatives, he causes a scandal that jeopardizes the legitimacy of his inheritance. He does not feel at home in his male body and continues to wear dresses, even while sporting a fine mustache. After Lord Loveall dies, his survivors struggle to keep their claim to the Loveall fortune while Rose sets out to discover his roots... and himself.
There are many humorous elements here. The reaction of proper Victorian society to the cross-dressing Rose is one. Another is the squabbles of a dysfunction pack of conniving relatives who examine each other's weaknesses and go for the jugular. The Loveall wealth is exaggeratedly immense, leading to descriptions of a household staff so huge that one servant does nothing except raise or lower a flag to signify whether the Young Lord is at home and well. Author Wesley Stace, who is also known as singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding, laces the story with Victorian ballads, one of which is instrumental in helping Rose unearth his true past.
In some ways, this story brings to mind the novel "Middlesex," since both novels are about a male brought up as a female in unconventional family surroundings. Both concern the child's gradual awakening to his true sexual nature, his flight, and his gradual acceptance of what, and who he is. Both are also interwoven with mythological references. Although "Misfortune" is not as well-crafted a novel as "Middlesex," it is an entertaining story full of wild Dickensian coincidences, absurdly comic situations, songs, and bawdy humor. It also offers some serious observations about a dual masculine/feminine psyche and the nature of fate. This is a great debut novel!