"It Is Only with One's Heart That One Can See Clearly": The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros's the Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn
Schwab, Sandra, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies
How is disability, in particular visual impairment, used in romance fiction? The article explores the use of blindness and the loss of sight in two historical romances by American author Teresa Medeiros. While in The Bride and the Beast (2001) the inability to see is caused by darkness and leads to insight and (self-)knowledge, the hero of Yours until Dawn (2004) has been blinded in battle. Although the latter contains a number of similarities to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), a comparison with the Victorian classic shows that Medeiros rejects various dominant cultural stereotypes about visual impairment and disability such as the disempowerment and perceived helplessness of blind characters.
Teresa Medeiros is a bestselling American author of historical romance with over ten million books in print in more than 17 languages.1 One of the most popular and most beloved authors in the genre, she has written 22 novels to date. Two of them explicitly deal with the loss of sight: Yours until Dawn (2004) features a blind hero, while large parts of The Bride and the Beast (2000) are set at night, and the darkness makes the heroine unable to see the face of the male protagonist. In both novels the loss of sight is indicative of a psychological problem, an inner hurdle that the characters have to overcome in the course of the story in order to reach their happy ending. On the other hand, the loss of their eyesight enables the characters to gain new insights and becomes part of a process of initiation into a better understanding of themselves and their world.
Coding in Romance Fiction
David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder view the metaphorical use of disability critically as "an opportunistic [. . .] device" (47). However, it should be pointed out that romance fiction-especially the historical and paranormal subgenres- relies heavily on the use of metaphors and specific, stereotypical plot elements, and employs them as a form of code. Indeed, much of the characters' inner world is externalized. Some of those externalizations are literally written onto the bodies of the characters (e.g. the dark, tormented hero typically sports dark hair and dark eyes), while other externalizations take the form of inanimate objects. Thus, at the end of many romance novels, the house becomes more than just a place for the protagonists to live in, it becomes code for their unity as a couple. Given the romance novel's heavy reliance on symbols and metaphors, it can come as no surprise that authors often use disability in a similar way. Yet in contrast to "high" literature, where "the immoral or negative [character] is often depicted as having a physical disability" (Davis 542), in romance it is the hero who is often physically impaired, as is the male protagonist in Yours until Dawn. In many romance novels such impairment-either in the form of a physical disability or in the form of (facial) scars-functions as a further externalization of the dark hero's inner torment.2
Among the other codes that can be found in romance fiction are narrative patterns that are modelled on mythology and fairy tales. The two novels under consideration here both fall into the category of "Beauty and the Beast" stories and thus follow one of the most popular narrative patterns in romance. Beauty and the Beast stories amplify the darkness and danger that the romance hero exudes by connecting him to the fairy tale motif of the animal bridegroom, which is underlined by frequent references to wild animals.3 The heroine's task then is to tame the "wild man": to recognize the hero's true self, and specifically to recognize his inner wound and to heal it. The act of looking plays an important role in this type of romance, for the question that poses itself to the heroine is whether she is facing a beast or a man. She cannot rely on outward appearances in order to answer this question because these are clearly deceptive. Therefore, in order to redeem the beast, she has to be able to look beyond appearances and to perceive the hero's true nature.
Her difficulties are increased by the fact that, as the Beauty and the Beast motif implies, "In some way, shape, or form, in some manner either real or perceived on the heroine's part, the hero must be a source of emotional and, yes, sometimes physical risk. He must present a genuine threat" (Krentz 108). In other words, the hero "must be part villain or else he won't be much of a chal lenge for a strong woman" (Krentz 108-109). Romance heroes are thus often romantic versions of the Byronic hero: these dark heroes are "mean, moody, and magnificent" (Donald 81); "cynical men who have grown jaded with life and love" (Phillips 56). The dark hero of modern romance can be traced back to nineteenth-century fiction, in particular to Heathcliffand Rochester, the moody male protagonists of Emily and Charlotte Brontë's novels. Many readers and writers are aware of this ancestry of the modern romance hero (e.g. Clair 66), and romance authors often include implicit or explicit references to the Brontës' novels in their own works.
Echoes of Jane Eyre: Yours until Dawn
This is also the case in Medeiros's Yours until Dawn, the premise of which bears some similarity to the last part of Jane Eyre, where Jane returns to the blind Rochester. Medeiros's heroine Samantha is introduced as a nurse, who has come to Fairchild Park in order to help the visually impaired hero adjust to his altered circumstances: Gabriel Fairchild, the Earl of Sheffield, was wounded at Trafalgar after having joined the navy in order to prove his worthiness to the girl he loved. When he was in hospital, she visited him, but then fled, seemingly horrified by his changed appearance, for in addition to having lost his eyesight he also has a scar slashing across his face "in a jagged lightning bolt" (7), similar to "the scar of fire on [Rochester's] forehead" (Brontë 503). As Stevie Davies has pointed out, Rochester's scar is meant to invoke the scarred face of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost (in Brontë 577). This parallel becomes even more obvious in Medeiros's novel, where the hero is described thus: "It had once been an angel's face with the sort of masculine beauty reserved only for princes and seraphim. But now it was marked forever with the devil's brand" (7). This passage invokes the hero-villain dichotomy embodied by the male protagonist of romance fiction and intensifies it at the same time: by linking Gabriel-a name he shares with an archangel-with the devil,4 it presents the hero as a fallen angel. The contrast between his name and his appalling behaviour indicates his fall from society to the depths of despair.
Furthermore, the "lightning bolt" of his scar recalls the biblical blinding of Saul, who is struck down by a light from the sky in Acts 9: 3-9. Saul's temporary blindness acts as a punishment from God for his persecution of Christ's disciples and is a means to bring about his conversion. In this narrative, then, disability functions as a narrative prop, since the moral lesson Saul is taught is inscribed upon his body. Similarly, Rochester's impairment, too, can be read as a punishment for his sins and as a moral lesson: "Rochester, in losing his hand and his sight, [learns] how it feels to be helpless and how to accept help" (Showalter 122). In this point Medeiros clearly departs from both the Victorian and the biblical model. For even though the heroine ponders whether Gabriel has been struck by a jealous God, envious of Gabriel's physical perfection, his impairment is never regarded as punishment for any deeds he has done. Indeed, the opposite is true, since he was wounded fighting for his country, which carries positive connotations in the novel.
Rather than being evidence of the moral lesson the hero has to learn, Gabriel's blindness and his scar act as externalizations and physical embodiments of his psychological wound: as a consequence of his fiancée's rejection and his own inability to accept his new situation, Gabriel has turned into a metaphorical beast, and his family's country estate has become his lair. Typically, such an association of the romance hero with the motif of the animal bridegroom serves to emphasize that, compared to the female protagonist (and the female reader and writer), the male represents the "Other." In Yours until Dawn this Othering is intensified by the hero's disability: the sightless hero is pitched against the sighted heroine (as well as the sighted author and reader). This way, Gabriel-as the male and the blindman-becomes the "double Other".5
The hero's home acts as a reflection and an extension of his inner self. Fairchild Park is as neglected and as blind as its master, for not only is everything dirty and dusty, but all the windows, the "eyes" of the house, have been covered by heavy drapes, which shut out the sunlight. This connection between the hero and his home is made explicit at the beginning of chapter 2, when it seems to the heroine "as if the house, as well as its master, had been cast into some dark realm of eternal night" (Yours, 21).
Apart from referring to the hero's blindness,6 the term eternal night can also be associated with the underworld or even with hell, and so alludes to Gabriel's inner torment. However, the novel also implies that to a great extent this is a hell of his own making. For just as he insists on plunging his whole house into darkness, he applies the dominant cultural discourse of blindness onto his own life: for him, the loss of sight is indeed "tantamount to [. . .] a loss of a fundamental quality that makes someone human" (Kleege 113). In addition, he displays that "lack of concern for his appearance" that, according to David Bolt, "is typical of the blindman" in literature (277), and, having removed himself from London, the hub of Regency high society, to a country estate, Gabriel is acting out what James Charlton has called "the geography of exclusion" and the "pattern of periphery" (195). Gabriel has made himself peripheral, both geographically and socially. He has lost all social refinement, all manners and grace. Refusing to adjust to his changed circumstances and rebuking any offers of help, Gabriel stumbles around his mansion, bumping into furniture, smashing china, and all the while muttering vile curses.
Yet the house not only reflects the hero's inner world, it is also indicative of another kind of blindness-namely, his obliviousness, arrogance, and selfishness. This is hinted at when the heroine comes downstairs on her first morning at Fairchild Park and, thanks to the heavy drapes in front of the windows, "she almost felt as if she'd been struck blind" (Yours, 21). The hero is clearly oblivious to the fact that he casts all the people around him into a "stifling gloom" (22). Indeed, he has ordered that the drapes should remain closed, not caring that for everybody else he has thus transformed the stately rooms of his mansion into what strongly resembles the family crypt (36, 23)-a visualization of the Miltonian stereotype that blindness means "a living death" (Rodas 128). This way, the hero's visual impairment in Medeiros's novel does not merely act as what has been called, in regard to other cultural representations of disability, "a prompt for narrative" and "a trope that conflates narrative and character" (Couser 17), but it also becomes a catalyst to make the hero's character flaw visible.
Though the descriptions of the impaired Gabriel in chapters 1 and 2 of Yours until Dawn evoke parallels to Brontë's descriptions of the blind Rochester, Medeiros clearly and emphatically rejects Brontë's overall depiction of disability. Thus, while Brontë describes Rochester as a broken man, the fire having robbed him of his beautiful country house, his sight and his strength, Medeiros's hero is far from broken: his vision might be lost, but he still lives in a large country house and he himself is still "an imposing man" (Yours, 24). In contrast to Rochester, who walks "slowly and gropingly" (498) and remains mute when Jane first sees him again, Gabriel "charge[s] forward, refusing to break stride or feel his way along" (12), and makes the whole house reverberate with his "thunderous crashing and cursing" (5).
Furthermore, Brontë's use of animal imagery in her depiction of Rochester- for example, he is likened to "some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird" (497)-bears negative connotations for it "invokes the notion of a lower evolutionary status" (Bolt 272). In Medeiros's novel the opposite is true: here, the "animalistic alterity around the blindman" (272) underlines Gabriel's status as alpha hero, for he is likened to a large, powerful predator, the standard trope used to describe the hero in romance fiction. In other words, the depiction of the visually impaired hero in Medeiros's novel is not all that different from the typical depiction of an able-bodied, sighted romance hero. Indeed, even Gabriel's unkempt appearance can be read as a mere exaggeration of the uncivilized air that often surrounds the alpha hero.
A similar assertion can be made about the description of the sightless male character from the point of view of the sighted female protagonist. In Jane Eyre, Jane first watches Rochester unobserved and unnoticed, and even though she "interpret[s] Rochester's behaviour as helplessness, she refuses to assist him. Rather than relinquishing her fixed stare, [. . .] she ponders and assumes spectatorial authority" (Bolt 278). Here the author has given the power of the gaze not to the male character, the usual "bearer of the spectator's gaze, [. . .] the representative of power in relation to woman as the spectacle" (Bolt 277), but to the female narrator. Jane thus becomes "the representative of power, the sighted character with whom the sighted Implied Reader identifies" (Bolt 277). The dynamics of this scene are comparable to the first meeting of Medeiros's protagonists, which is described from Samantha's point of view. This way, just as in Jane Eyre, the visually impaired hero becomes a spectacle for the female gaze. However, in romance fiction the female point of view is very dominant anyway, and the hero frequently becomes a spectacle for the heroine as spectator and for the implied (female) reader. Thus, the manner of the description of the sightless male protagonist in Yours until Dawn does not differ from that of a sighted romance hero.
In addition, from the very beginning, Medeiros uses the same signifiers of sexual attractiveness for her depiction of Gabriel as are generally associated with the able-bodied romance hero: he is tall and broad-shouldered, and when we first meet him he could have jumped straight out of a clinch cover: "His lawn shirt was untucked and missing half its studs, revealing a shocking slice of well-muscled chest lightly dusted with golden hair" (6). Yet he is not merely attractive, he also displays the typical behaviour of the alpha hero: Samantha "could not shake the sensation that it was [. . .] her he was stalking. [. . . H]e started forward with the grace of a natural predator, heading straight for her" (6). Already in this first scene, Gabriel behaves as the pursuer in a dance of sexual attraction and courtship. He thus presents a decided contrast to the blind Rochester, whose castration the author has made complete (Bolt 275): while the loss of Thornfield Hall signifies the loss of Rochester's outward wealth, the loss of his eyesight symbolizes the loss of his masculine virility. Significantly, only when his sight returns is Rochester and Jane's marriage blessed with children (Brontë 520). As a blindman, Rochester is apparently a eunuch, dependent on Jane in all things, whereas Medeiros's blind hero pursues the heroine and eventually proves his "reputation of being a skilled lover" (258) to be still true when they finally make love.
In other points, too, the dynamics in the relationship of Medeiros's protagonists crucially differs from that of Jane and Rochester. While Jane draws pleasure from Rochester's dependency and her resulting power, and in effect disempowers the visually impaired hero (Bolt 280-81), Samantha seeks to empower the blind Gabriel: instead of "conducting him where he wished to go" as Jane does (Brontë 520), she tries to find the means to enable him to navigate his home and its environs without help and without crashing into furniture; for example, she suggests he should count steps to keep his bearings (Yours, 46). Samantha's wish to empower the hero is externalized later in the novel when his parents arrive with an invalid's chair, the ultimate symbol of disempowerment,7 in tow. Samantha not only envisions herself destroying "the hateful thing" (236), but she also argues, "Your son is far more self-sufficient than you would guess" (232).
Apart from thus challenging and fighting against the limitations Gabriel's physical impairment impose upon him, Samantha also challenges his character flaws, in particular his selfishness and obliviousness. She begins by opening up the lair of the beast: she gets rid of the drapes, opens the windows, and lets in sunshine and fresh air. When Gabriel tells her, "a blindman has little need of sunshine. It's nothing but a cruel reminder of all the beauties he'll never see again," and thus indirectly accuses her of cruelty toward him, she points out to him that his behaviour is incredibly selfish: "Perhaps that's true, but it's hardly fair of you to drag your entire household down into the darkness with you" (47).
Another facet of Gabriel's character flaw is his self-pity: he clearly regards his impairment as an isolated event. Again it is Samantha who makes him realize that although he has lost a great deal, he is still luckier than other men, and thus puts what has happened to him into a wider social context:
I can promise you that the only one who pities you is yourself. Some men still haven't come home from this war. And some men never will. Others lost both arms and legs. They sit begging in the gutters, their uniforms and their pride in tatters. They're jeered at, stepped on [. . .]. In the meantime, you sit here sulking in the lap of luxury [. . .] You're nothing but [. . .] a miserable coward who's afraid to die, but even more afraid to go on living! (144)
As has become obvious, it is not the loss of his eyesight that disables Gabriel, but his unwillingness to accept his blindness, his self-pity and his selfishness. These paralyse him and keep him from fulfilling both his potential as a human being and his responsibilities as the heir to a large estate. In other words, his character flaws are not caused by his blindness; instead, his physical impairment acts as an amplifier of these flaws.
Consequently, the process of Gabriel's civilization does not merely depend upon setting the house in order and making him dress like a gentleman again. Ultimately he has to accept his blindness and needs to overcome the things that keep him paralysed. This point is reached when he asks Samantha to stay and "to teach [him] how to be blind" (154). He can finally work on improving his situation (e.g. by learning how to use a walking stick in lieu of a white cane). That the beast has finally reverted back into a man is indicated by an increasing display of what might be called heroic qualities.
This development reaches a climax when Gabriel saves Samantha from a burning stable. This scene takes up several motifs connected to Gabriel's blindness from the beginning of the novel and transforms them. Thus, while in the first chapter the author depicted Gabriel as a large, threatening beast, prowling through his lair and crashing valuables, he now "crash[es]" and "charge[s] through the woods like some sort of wild beast" (248), intent on saving the heroine. His heightened sense of smell, which seemed almost grotesque at the beginning of the novel (8, 17), here enables him to detect the scent of smoke in the air (248). Even when his walking stick breaks in two, he rushes on to help Samantha with no heed for his own safety. His running into the burning stable in order to save her fully restores him as a heroic figure, which is indicated by a flashback to the Battle of Trafalgar, where Gabriel fought next to Nelson, the ultimate English war hero (250). In contrast to the first chapter, he no longer behaves in a childish manner,8 but instead it is the heroine who is likened to a child, when he carries her out of the fiery inferno inside the stable. This scene thus re-establishes Gabriel as hero in the mould of stereotypical masculinity, thereby presenting him in sharp contrast to Rochester, who is described as helpless, powerless and weak (e.g. 494, 506, 512).
The restoration of Gabriel's heroic qualities and his final acceptance of his disability are part of the healing process that is triggered by Samantha and that happens on various different levels. Another such level is the intimate relationship that slowly blossoms between the protagonists. The love and attraction Gabriel starts feeling for Samantha make him forget his physical impairment (201-202), and her love for him heals Gabriel's heart, which was wounded by his fiancée's rejection.
Samantha is even indirectly responsible for his physical healing: when Gabriel rescues her, a wooden beam hits his head, and as a result of the blow he slowly regains his full eyesight. This presents an obvious reversal of the pattern established in Jane Eyre, where the sighted Rochester saves Bertha from the burning Thornfield Hall, is hit by a beam, and ends up being blind. The doctor who examines Gabriel suggests that a "the sharp blow to the head dislodged a clot of blood" (265). This fairy tale recovery9 seemingly marks the end of the hero's transformation, and they all could have lived happily ever after.
Yet the author has one last surprise in store for us as well as for her hero, because, as it turns out, she has kept both us and him in the dark about the true identity of the heroine, whose name is not Samantha after all. She is Cecily, Gabriel's erstwhile fiancée. By keeping her true identity a secret, Medeiros casts the reader in a similar role as the sightless hero: indeed, Cecily's identity can only be kept a secret from the reader because Gabriel cannot see and thus does not recognize her. However, this lack of recognition Gabriel attributes not to his former physical impairment, but to a lack of psychological insight. "There is none so blind as he who will not see," he says when he realizes the truth, and, thus, "everything in his life was suddenly clear" (360): Cecily has loved him all along. In this context, blindness also becomes a metaphor for the protagonists' former immaturity. Cecily explains to Gabriel,
I didn't flee your bedside because I was horrified by the sight of you. I fled because I was horrified by me. By what I had driven you to, all in the name of some girlish fantasy. [. . .] I was appalled at what I had cost you. I blamed myself for scarring and blinding you. I didn't see how you could ever forgive me [. . .] For not loving the man you were enough. (367)
Gabriel in turn reveals his own former immaturity when he says, "I didn't love you. [. . .] I never really knew you. You were only a dream. [. . .] But now I do know you. I know how brave and silly and stubborn you are. [. . .] Before, you were only a dream. Now you're a dream come true" (368). As becomes clear, Cecily and Gabriel's former love was based only on appearances and never went beyond the surface. His wounding and his ensuing blindness have helped both to grow and to gain a new maturity.
The final lesson they have learnt is reinforced in the epilogue of the novel, consisting of two letters Cecily and Gabriel exchange on their third wedding anniversary. In his letter Gabriel pledges his love once more and tells her that he will love her even when they are both old and withered with age: "I shall love you when your bones are sharp enough to pierce my fragile flesh. I shall love you when the light in my own eyes fades for good and yours is the last sweet face I see" (373). Fittingly, the book thus closes with another explicit reference to the act of seeing, which is, at the same time, an implicit reference to the ability to recognize what is essential in life.
Challenging the Body Cult: The Bride and the Beast
In The Bride and the Beast the act of seeing and the loss of sight play an equally important role, with the difference that in this novel none of the protagonists is actually physically impaired. Instead, sightlessness is caused by darkness or a blindfold. Like Yours until Dawn, it is a Beauty and the Beast narrative, as is hinted at in the title. The novel is set in Ballybliss, a fictitious Scottish village, 15 years after the last Jacobite Rising. The reader soon learns that the laird gave shelter to Bonnie Prince Charlie and was betrayed. The family was then killed by the English, without any of the villagers coming to their rescue. Cursed by their dying laird, the people of Ballybliss are unable to deal with their feelings of guilt. When one day a dragon settles in the aptly named Castle Weyrcraig, they are convinced that the laird's curse has finally come upon them. The villagers see only one solution to their predicament-a virgin sacrifice-because, after all, this is the time-honoured method of dealing with dragons in your neighbourhood. Yet in contrast to fairy tales, the virgin sacrifice is not chosen by lottery; instead the villagers deliberately choose Gwendolyn, the heroine and the ugly duckling among the young women of the village.
Her position as an outsider in the community becomes apparent not merely during the choosing of the sacrifice when suddenly all the villagers turn on her, but her otherness is also written onto her body: while her sisters are all slim and slender, Gwendolyn has "generous curves" (Bride, 30). Her chubbiness thus fulfils a similar function to that which Mitchell and Snyder ascribe to disability in literary texts: "a character 'stands out' as a result of an attributed blemish, but this exceptionality divorces him or her from a shared social identity. [. . .] Disability marks a character as 'unlike' the rest of a fiction's cast" (55).
Apart from fulfilling a narrative function, the physical difference between Gwendolyn and her sisters can also be read as a critique of the current beauty ideal of Western civilization, according to which curves have to be erased in order to create the perfect size-zero female body. In Medeiros's novel, however, slimness is not positively connoted; instead it is associated with the moral corruptness of the villagers.
This moral corruptness becomes evident when the villagers discuss Gwendolyn's merits as dragon fodder, drawing not only particular attention to her different body shape, but also dehumanizing her: "The Dragon could live on that for a while, couldn't he?" (Bride, 30). It finds further expression in the scene in which the village women and girls prepare Gwendolyn for the sacrifice: after commenting on her "fatness" (34), they reach the conclusion that Gwendolyn is much better offas dragon fodder because, looking as she does, she has so far been unable to find a husband; in other words, she does not fulfil her expected social role. This way, the villagers can stylize the violence against Gwendolyn a self-sacrifice (33) and thus need not trouble their conscience when they leave her bound to a pole in the ruins of the castle. Rather than fighting against the "Dragon," they prefer to let the monster kill an outsider of their village.
At this point in the novel, the reader, too, is uncertain about whether the Dragon is really a monster or a human. The introductory description of the Dragon is deliberately kept ambiguous and establishes his association with the night and with darkness (13). Only during the Dragon's confrontation with Gwendolyn bound to a pole does it become clear that he is a mortal man. His identity, however, remains a secret until the end of chapter 17, although the author offers enough clues to make the reader suspect that this man might be Bernard MacCullough, the old laird's son whom everybody believes to be dead. He has come back to take revenge on the people who betrayed his family. The darkness and the shadows in which he shrouds himself thus mirror his emotional and psychological state. His bitterness and his hunger for revenge have indeed turned him into a beast, and like the Beast in the fairy tale, he keeps the maiden a prisoner in his castle.
However, he makes sure that she never sees his face-he either blindfolds her or he comes to her during the night and watches her from the shadows. The author thus evokes a parallel to the story of Cupid and Psyche,10 in which the female character has to take her lover literally "on blind trust" and which foreshadows what will become an issue later in Medeiros's novel. At first though, darkness and the lack of sight are connected to the perception of oneself and others. For while Medeiros's hero effectively robs Gwendolyn of her sight, he himself turns out to be astonishingly perceptive: "Gwendolyn frowned, beset by the strange fancy that the darkness only allowed him to see her more clearly, to penetrate deeper beneath her skin" (93). These almost supernatural abilities that the male protagonist seemingly possesses increase both his Otherness and the threat he presents to the heroine. In his presence she feels vulnerable and has reason to do so, for in the course of their conversations he strips her of her pretences about her own life and challenges her perception of herself as the chubby ugly duckling of the village. So the loss of her eyesight, effected either by a blindfold or by darkness, acts as an externalization of Gwendolyn's psychological lack of insight, that is to say, her inability to face the truth about her life.
For Gwendolyn, the Dragon's world of shadows becomes a place of initiation where she gains self-knowledge. First of all, she learns to change her perception of herself. Bernard's giftof a large mirror plays a central role in this development, which is only fitting as in the Western tradition, the mirror is an attribute of Veritas and Prudentia, two virtues of self-knowledge (Biedermann 413): "A full-length mirror of pure hammered silver stood before her, cradled in a frame of ornately carved mahogany. Gwendolyn might have paused to admire its beauty had she not been captivated by the woman reflected in its polished sheen" (Bride, 127). For the first time in her life she sees herself as a desirable woman. However, the mirror indicates that due to her psychological "blindness," she has to see herself through Bernard's eyes in order to recognize her own beauty.
Apart from symbolizing Gwendolyn's initial lack of self-knowledge, the darkness itself plays an important role in her initiation and becomes a vehicle for her attaining a new maturity. Gwendolyn dreams of a man who looks beyond outward appearances to the real her-and falls in love with her. But this also means that her own love should not depend on external characteristics, as the Dragon points out when she backs away from him in one scene, ashamed of the intimacies they have shared:
"How could I have let you do any of those things when I've never even seen your face? When I don't even know your name?"
"That may be true," he said quietly, "but for just a moment there, I would have sworn you knew my heart." (163)
Bernard challenges the importance that Gwendolyn ascribes to sight and the preference of the visual experience by posing the question of what is more important to her: his face or his heart, that is, his inner self.
Yet his insistence that she knows him without having seen his face challenges more than just this particular heroine's inclinations; it also challenges the body cult in romance fiction and thus exposes the superficiality that hovers over the genre. As romance plays with fantasies of (female) desire, it depicts not merely "normal" bodies, but perfect bodies: the hero is typically tall and muscular, and even if he is not traditionally handsome, he is still good looking, a desirable "hunk." The heroine is equally perfect. To use the words of Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, "She has gorgeous hair, fine eyes, a mouth that usually begs to be kissed or at least gazed at while thinking of kissing, and a plucky, demure, yet saucy and seductive personality-all housed in a perfectly perfect character that drives the hero wild" (30). In addition, she is slender, has perfectly round, high breasts, and smooth, hairless legs (irrespective of the century in which the story is set) without the tiniest stretch mark or even a hint of cellulite. In recent years more average-shaped heroines may have become more common within the genre, but the ideal of the perfect body is still perpetuated by the majority of cover pictures. Moreover, while female characters now more readily depart from the perceived ideal, the male characters do not-the balding head or the expanding midriffare not for the romance hero. When he deviates from the ideal, he does it in grand ways, namely by losing limbs (as in my own novel, Castle of the Wolf, 2007) or becoming horribly scarred (as in Mary Balogh's Simply Love, 2006)-but even then, he is still tall and muscular. Thus, in romance, disability is not quite the same disruptive force as described by Mitchell and Snyder (4-5, 48), for it rarely challenges the body cult as explicitly as Bernard does in The Bride and the Beast.
In the context of Medeiros's story his words trigger the heroine's insight that as long as she is afraid to give her love to the Dragon because she does not know what he looks like, she can free neither him nor herself. It occurs to her that "She might not know his name or his face, but she felt as if she knew his soul-his kindness, his tenderness, the generosity of spirit he sought to hide beneath his gruffexterior and mocking detachment" (181). Gwendolyn-in contrast to Psyche-thus finally realizes that it is more important to rely on one's heart and instincts than to place too much significance on external things. This insight not only enables her to giftBernard with her love and eventually to transform the beast into a man, but because of this new insight she herself is transformed as well: "She was no longer a girl in search of a boy, but a woman in search of a man" (182). This sentence indicates that Gwendolyn has reached a new level of maturity and that she is prepared to leave behind her daydreams about the past and about what might have been and face reality. The darkness she has encountered inside the castle has thus enabled her to overcome her lack of psychological insight.
In The Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn the physical inability to see clearly is indicative of a lack of psychological insight, and functions as a symbol for internal problems that the characters have to overcome in the course of their stories. At the same time, darkness plays an important role in the process of attaining a new maturity: it becomes a place of initiation. In both novels, the happy ending is dependent on the protagonists learning the lesson that the Fox teaches the Little Prince in Saint-Exupéry's Le petit prince: "It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye" (82). But as romance loves metaphors and externalizations, this lesson is externalized. Thus, the metaphorical "cure as a narrative technique" that Davis refers to in regard to the novel as a genre (542) becomes a literal cure in Medeiros's books: after the hero of Yours until Dawn has reformed his ways and has overcome his character flaw, he regains his sight; and shortly after the heroine of The Bride and the Beast has learnt to trust her heart rather than to rely on her eyes, she sees the hero in broad daylight. So even if in The Bride and the Beast the lack of sight becomes a vehicle to criticize the body cult in romance fiction and even if Yours until Dawn rejects many common stereotypes about disability and closes with a reference to the old body, the literal cure in both novels aims at normalizing the bodies of the protagonists and thus results in what Davis has called "the neutralizing of the disability" (542). In regard to visual impairment, this is a common trope in romance fiction, whereas other forms of disability are often used to enhance the dark appeal of the male protagonist and act as externalizations of his inner wound. Though the genre thus creates new stereotypes about disability, we have seen that it generally rejects depictions of disability as a disempowering force that creates helplessness and dependence.
1. For information about Medeiros and her work, see her website.
2. Impaired heroines tend to be much rarer. In these cases, disability is often used to emphasize the female protagonist's vulnerability and (uber-)goodness. The forerunners of these heroines can be traced back to the nineteenth-century novel and to what Davis calls the "flip side" of the disabled villain, namely "the utterly innocent character with a disability, most often a child, a childlike person, a woman or an aged character" (542).
3. For a detailed discussion of the motif of the animal bridegroom in romance, particularly in Medeiros's The Bride and the Beast, see Schwab (Of Dragons).
4. This is a common trope in romance fiction. Linking the hero with the devil or with demons, for example through nicknames, emphasizes the physical and sexual danger he exudes.
5. This reading of Yours until Dawn is influenced by Bolt's analysis of Jane Eyre.
6. As several disability studies scholars have pointed out, the stereotypical representation of blindness as darkness is not merely problematic, but it is plainly wrong (e.g. Rodas 118; Bolt 284).
7. In contrast to modern wheelchairs, which are meant to ensure independent mobility, early nineteenth- century invalid's chairs meant total dependence because they were in effect pushchairs.
8. The infantilization of the blind hero in Medeiros's novel is subtly different from the infantilization of Rochester in Jane Eyre, where a parallel is drawn between blindness and childlike weakness (Bolt 276), both by the hero and by Jane, who compares caring for her blind husband to caring for a child (Brontë 514, 518). In Yours until Dawn this image of blindness is rejected: Samantha makes it very clear that it is not her job to care for Gabriel as for a child just because he has lost his eyesight. When she compares him "to an obstinate three-year-old" (10), she refers to his stubbornness and general unreasonable behaviour. In other words, the infantilization of the hero in Medeiros's novel is connected to his character flaw and not to his physical impairment.
9. This is not the only instance of blindness being almost magically cured in romance fiction. Something similar happens toward the end of Rolls's The Unexpected Bride, when the blind heroine hurts her head during a carriage accident and afterwards can suddenly see again.
10. Medeiros makes this parallel explicit by putting Cupid and Psyche into the mural on the ceiling of Gwendolyn's room in the castle (Bride, 46-47).
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Sandra Schwab (email@example.com) received her PhD from Mainz University, where she is lecturer in British literature. Her research interests include popular literature, especially fantasy and romance fiction, folk literature, and British society and culture in the 1800s. Her postdoctoral project deals with the depiction of travel in Punch.…
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Publication information: Article title: "It Is Only with One's Heart That One Can See Clearly": The Loss of Sight in Teresa Medeiros's the Bride and the Beast and Yours until Dawn. Contributors: Schwab, Sandra - Author. Journal title: Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. Volume: 6. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 1, 2012. Page number: 275+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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