I’m rereading Freedom and Necessity, by Emma Bull and Stephen Brust, a book that’s been one of my great favorites for years, but somehow this time it’s the flaws that are striking me more. I can still feel the love but now it feels more like the love of habit than a passionate infatuation. I’m noticing the slow start, and the annoying way it never becomes quite clear whether there is magic or not. (Personal dislike; I know there are books from Edward Eager’s Magic Or Not? all the way on up to the whole genre of magical realism which do this, but it always annoys me.)

I appreciate the authors’ attempts to show that the seemingly fluffy heroine, who defines herself in her relationships to other people, is actually as smart as the more is more prickly, more analytical, and – for me at least – easier to relate to, but sometimes it feels as if they’re telling me that, in the repetitions of her value over and over by other characters, instead of showing me. Again, though, this may be a flaw in me rather than in the book, because Kitty does come up with some revelations the other characters haven’t seen, including the true explanation of the bad guys’ confusing behavior. The contrast between Richard and James is easier for me to appreciate. It’s also just having a bit less emotional impact on me, for some reason – though one benefit was that I appreciated The Letter from James to Susan more in terms of how it shows James’ character development, instead of just swooning over it.

Another thing I appreciate is that Susan is a feminist without being untrue to her own time. Partly this rings true, unlike some of the anachronous proto-feminist characters I’ve read recently, because of the circles she moves in – her natural habitat is big cities, among the top of society and a social circle who live in (historically accurate) unmarried partnerships, read Wollstonecraft, and foment revolution. Her money is her own. She doesn’t have the restrictions of a dependent country gentlewoman like Elizabeth Bennett (or worse, Fanny Price). The other part is that she is an acute observer, very conscious of her own performance. However she might outrage social convention, she’s not going to let society know any more than it needs to. She might sleep with Jamie in private, but she wouldn’t kiss him on a street corner. She might masquerade as a man if she can do it successfully, but when she appears as a woman she will be always correctly dressed.

I’ve spotted a couple of lapses in the end, as if the authors were in a hurry to finish – I’m pretty sure that morning sickness doesn’t start a mere two weeks into pregnancy, for instance, and that an eight-month pregnant woman in 1850 would not have traveled from London to Ireland without ill result. Not sure if it would have been train or carriage (stage?) at that point, but it seems like it would have been extremely jolting.

There’s also one thing Bull and Brust plain got wrong: the contention that you cannot lie to the working classes, because they’ll know (unlike the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy). This bugs me because on the one hand, it seems to reduce the working classes to the level of animals, or maybe something like the Magical Negro film trope, instead of fallible humans like any other. And on the other hand, if it were true there wouldn’t be genocides – those may be directed by the aristos but they are carried out, with great enthusiasm in the case of anything big enough to actually be called a genocide, by the masses. (And, you know, also blue collar workers voting for politicians whose main motive is to reward big business and their big donors.)

One thing I’m noticing this time is the similarities between James Cobham and Lord Peter Wimsey; maybe James is what Lord Peter would have been if he had had the intelligence experience without having actually been in the trenches first. James is certainly damaged, but not quite to the point Peter is, in the early novels at least. It’s also interesting to compare their rlationships to actual working class people – both are accepted and liked, but Lord Peter never pretends to be anything but an aristocrat despite his respect for all kinds of people, where James Cobham struggles with what his own actual class is, and whether it’s possible to be a leader without setting yourself apart from the people you’re leading.

So I don’t know. I still love it, but we’re at one of those lower ebbs that happens in the best of romances. I’ll be curious to read it again in a few years and see whether we still have a relationship, or just happy memories.