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Elza and Michel

So -- Elza and Michel! What do you think of them? Good for each other? Bad for each other? Good decisions? Bad decisions? Surprising ones? What do you think of where they left it at the end of The Emperor's Agent? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
lillibet
Sep. 7th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
While I'm sympathetic to Michel's attempts to be honorable in his relations with women according to the mores of the time, he is awfully frustrating. To have him then throw that all over, without really changing his mind, is kind of infuriating. As much as I know Elza loves him, I'd rather see him go home and attempt a genuine relationship with his wife.
jo_graham
Sep. 7th, 2013 09:43 am (UTC)
I think Michel's issue with Aglae is that because of class they have entirely different definitions of marriage. His idea, companionate marriage, is closer to what a modern reader expects, but it's very lower class. Wealthy people don't marry for love. They have arranged marriages, and only in recent years even require the bride's consent! To Aglae, marriage is about money and family. Josephine is being very, very modern to give her the opportunity to pick a groom from a variety of suitors and to consider the question of who would be kind to her rather than simply who would be a good alliance! But to Aglae, marriage isn't about love or even companionship. Love is something that happens after marriage, and with other people. Looking at the literature of the day, romance and "the love interest" is trying to become the lover of a married woman, not trying to marry a maiden! And of course that's one of the plot threads in Les Miserables, set forty years later -- Marius and Cosette are a younger generation and Marius wants to marry for love even though the girl is unsuitable. His grandfather, Michel's age, thinks this is ridiculous. The entire (now hackneyed) plot of the young lovers who marry in the face of parental opposition is new to the Children of the Revolution, the young people who are babies in arms or yet unborn at the time of this book. If Michel told Aglae that he wanted her to love him and that he wanted them to talk and have a relationship, she'd think he was nuts. Why in the world would she want to have a relationship with her husband? Doesn't he have enough of her? Now he wants to have her thoughts and feelings too?
lillibet
Sep. 7th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
Right. It would be very challenging for Michel and demand both patience and thinking way outside his own box. Still, I'd rather see him do that than rant and rave about right and wrong and then throw that over so relatively quickly, yielding to temptation, rather than changing his mind.
jo_graham
Sep. 8th, 2013 11:30 am (UTC)
I don't think Michel has yet accepted that what he wants is incompatible with his (new) society. If he wanted to marry for love and take care of his children, he could have stayed a farmer in Saar Louis. But if he's going to be a marshal, he can't have those things. That's the price. He has to accept the limitations placed on him by his gender the same way she would. Men do not do those things. Not in that society. He can no more change diapers than she can openly serve as an officer and a woman.

But of course one of the things about Elza and Michel is that neither of them simply accept limitations. He won't accept that he can't have love or family anymore than she'll accept that she can't have the field.

I think he didn't realize that he was moving into a world with a different culture. After all, they speak the same language and live in the same country! How often do we assume that other English speaking Americans share our culture? That of course when they say "marriage" or "family" they mean the same things with those words that we do? And they don't. Aglae and Michel mean very different things when they use the same words and they don't even know it. (I doubt you and I mean entirely the same things!)
mari4212
Sep. 7th, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
I need to re-read it properly before I give a long comment, because I read Emperor's Agent on the plane and in my first day in Manilla, so my impressions are probably somewhat scrambled.

I think Elza and Michel could be good for each other, and definitely are at times. I also think that they spend a lot of their time talking past one another, and that that creates most of their problems. Then again, that was their issue throughout Hand of Isis as well, wasn't it? He wants her to commit to him, to be his home base in a way that he understands it. And she loves him, but could never stand to be confined like that. She'd be his anchor point if he wouldn't try to tie her down. Her world will always be too broad to be constrained to being thought of as only/mostly his wife.

When they meet each other as something of equals, both companions of Napoleon, they are at their best. It is then that they shine and compliment each other as true partners. But it breaks down whenever they try to mesh in a way that renders them systemically unequal.
jo_graham
Sep. 7th, 2013 09:51 am (UTC)
They do talk past each other. And yes, that's been the problem all along. Part of it is that Michel is adrift in this culture. He doesn't belong in this class, and it has entirely different rules than how he grew up. And this leads not only to botching things with Elza, but also with Aglae. He expects her to love him? Why in the world would she do that? That's not part of the marriage contract. Surely Aglae has enough on her without being expected to hear his thoughts and feelings, to be burdened with his emotions! What a demanding and disrespectful husband! And meddling in the nursery! That's none of his business.

Elza does want his thoughts and emotions, but as you say she doesn't want to be constrained. If she were his wife, she wouldn't be able to do any of the things she's doing -- not the campaign, not the spy stuff, none of it. She'd have to be managing a household on a day to day basis and spend her time being his hostess as she was for Moreau. Fulltime hostess and event planner, bookkeeper and finance manager, office manager and chief of staff -- that's a job! And it's a job she understands as she did it for Moreau, and doesn't want again. She wants him emotionally, not as a career. As a fellow Companion, not as a personal assistant. And then they really are partners, as you say!
raederlephoenix
Feb. 21st, 2014 08:52 am (UTC)
Not so scrambled
So much for you being "scrambled" from reading it on the plane. I think you hit the nail on the head quite nicely. Novels and movies have been telling us all along that full honest communication is the key to healthy relationships, and yet who really does it?

It takes a lot of courage to tell someone how you really feel, and it takes a lot on their part to accept what you say as truth, and to go on loving you no matter what you may reveal.
raederlephoenix
Feb. 21st, 2014 08:48 am (UTC)
Michel has thus far been very silly
I'm in completely sympathy with Elza throughout the entire series. She is my soul in a book.

Her relationship with Michel reminds me of a relationship I had before I met my husband. The part where Elza has her moon and he doesn't mind, and he wants her anyway... I broke and cried harder than I've cried for a long time when I came to that part.

That long cry led to a very productive conversation with my husband, but more importantly, another step in my recovery from a long-lost passion that can't be manifested in the same way again.

My own romance of that nature was with a man who preferred to drink than to "settle down" with me, and in many ways, it was my own fault for not having an attitude more like Elza's at the time. It took some "settling down" to realize I wasn't the settling sort!

When Elza gives her speech on the hopelessness of monogamy I was practically cheering, hooting and clapping. Michel wants to keep his vows, and that's nice, but it has no meaning in what really counts: being happy. Its too bad it never occurs to them that marriage and vows don't have to include being monogamous. (I loved what the Conversations with God trilogy had to say about marriage vows; I think you would enjoy that series.)

I used to have notions of superfluous kinds of loyalty. I know now that the only loyalty I owe is to my own soul, and my soul is infinite, one with all, and seeking to experience itself in every way. My choices from moment to moment are what matters, and Elza lives that.

I was cheering for them both toward the end of The General's Mistress when Michel doesn't tell her not to come along with him to war. They decide to "hell with norms" and just "seized the day". Thank goodness!

Thank you so much for not being a sell out! Your books have touched me greatly. I am doing my best to let all of my polyamorous friends know about Hand of Isis and Elza. These are great works of history/fiction.

I feel like you do more than write based upon history. I feel like you're writing history more real than whatever "actually" happened. The flavor of person and the time is more accurately conveyed through your passionate, honest and open words than any dictation of events could hope to aspire to.

Just began reading Cythera tonight. Wow what a pleasant surprise! I should have expected no less from you. It truly was no accident when I picked up Black Ships on a whim ("because I liked the cover and the first page read nicely"), promptly forgot about it for a year, and pulled it out of a drawer just when I needed it, just when it was the perfect story for me. And here, it feels once again like no accident to have read my soul in a book. I wish I could meet Elza in person! I have a feeling that would be quite fun!

Hopefully there will be a third book about Elza?

Totally different topic: Around a year ago or so I recommended Joan Grant's far memory autobiographies to you. Did you ever get a chance to read them? While they don't have much by way of tantalizing sex scenes, they're beautiful depictions of ancient times, and they offer insight not found by most research.
jo_graham
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Michel has thus far been very silly
I am so sorry! I just found this comment as it was on an older entry and my comment notification must not have worked! I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond!

I'm glad Elza is your soul in a book, as you say. I love her so much, and she's stronger than mountains. No, it never does occur to either of them that they could marry and not be monogamous -- or rather, it occurs to her because to her marriage is always pretty much nonmonogamous, but to him it is. Her problem with marriage is more that then she would legally belong to him.

I'm glad you like them seizing the day at the end of The General's Mistress. They always do. It's who they are.

Thank you so much for not being a sell out! Your books have touched me greatly. I am doing my best to let all of my polyamorous friends know about Hand of Isis and Elza. These are great works of history/fiction.

I can't actually tell you what this comment means to me. Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. I have been wrestling with the costs of not changing my books, with the pressure from publishers and editors to "make it more conventionally romantic" and to "make the heroine more sympathetic" and all the other ways they say to remove the polyamory or the main character's agency. Thank you. It means a great deal to hear that there is a reason to stick to my guns.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )