I find that Judith McNaught's WHITNEY, MY LOVE caters to adolescent, immature sensibilities for the most part. The 577-page hardcover special edition attempts a grand, epic scale but I thought the book sorely needed an editor and it was vastly overinflated. Notorious libertine 34 year-old Duke of Claymore, Clayton Westmoreland, and spirited 19 year-old virgin Whitney Stone both act like spoiled children and I couldn't stomach the huge age difference. Clayton is 5 years away from being twice Whitney's age for heaven's sake! Like most regency novels, there isn't a veritable historical backdrop, the prose and writing is below average, the pacing lolls, the story was dumb and puerile, and lord almighty the lead characters are both childish. The first half of the story comprises mostly of juvenile kissing, balls, picnics and girlish plots. I lost track of who is using whom to make who jealous or who is coming out on top. The second half consisted mostly of Clayton and Whitney hurting each other over misunderstandings and confusions. Clayton's retaliation is usually more destructive, both to himself and Whitney. A huge thumbs down on Clayton Westmoreland by the way, he's neither a likable nor an interesting hero.
The first half of the novel introduces our typically spirited, headstrong heroine Miss Whitney Stone at 15 years of age. She has a crush on neighbor Paul Sevarin and after being ridiculed for chasing after Paul and not excelling in ladylike activities like knitting, singing, and playing the pianoforte, she vows to get Paul to marry her at some point. Nothing new in the characterization here. Whitney's father believes her daughter too unruly and has her Aunt and Uncle take her to Paris for her debut and coming-out. Over the next 4 years, Whitney transforms into a beauty and shines in Paris with a whole host of nameless, faceless suitors. She rejects all of them, still vying for Paul's affections when she returns home.
The Duke of Claymore Clayton Westmoreland takes notice and falls for Whitney's charms and beauty. He pursues a thorough investigation into her background and discovers her father deeply in debt. He pays off her father's debt in return for Whitney's betrothal, completely unbeknownst to Whitney. There's some chance encounters between Whitney and Clayton at this point in Paris, but nothing Whitney recalls vividly. Clayton has his own mistress anyway. After the arrangement with Whitney's father, Clayton has her father send for Whitney to return home. Clayton secretly bankrolls all of Whitney's finances including her expensive clothing and jewels. Whitney thinks her father is doing extremely well. There's some parties and picnics after Whitney returns home and while Whitney continues her quest to win over Paul, Clayton introduces himself as Clayton Westland and plays his own game to win over Whitney. The plotting continues for 250-300 pages without anything happening except for insipid, gossipy conversations and childish pursuits in a game of marriage.
Just when Whitney gets Paul to marry her, she learns the truth behind Clayton, that he's the duke and that she's already betrothed for 2-3 months. She still resists Clayton of course. Finally, Paul doesn't turn out to be the guy Whitney wants (he doesn't have a spine), and the second half of the book painfully slugs along in a series of misunderstandings and confusions which incite both Clayton and Whitney to hurt each other. Clayton is at his patrician, autocratic worst here, brutally punishing Whitney for perceived betrayals.
A lot of romance novelists tend to have their hero ruthlessly incarcerate the heroine in some way. Freedom simply isn't an option for the heroine, and the hero tyrannically won't let go. When you have a powerful, arrogant duke used to getting his own way, the results of the childish games can be severe. All the while, the hero bears the brunt of his heroine's seething bravado. Supposedly, this shows a stubborn spirit linking the two, the experienced libertine answering the spirited virgin's profane cursing by igniting her passion. You know the rest.
I found it hilarious when Whitney's Aunt Anne thinks to reveal the Duke's identity and his notoriously lascivious reputation to Whitney if Whitney shows signs of falling for the Duke's charms. Ha, that's the whole point, that's the entire attraction from the girl's point-of-view! How flattering for a girl to find herself the center of a handsome womanizer's attentions. In fact, in spite of Whitney's professed hatred for Clayton, she refers to him as "elegantly dissolute," at one point watching him shuffling cards.
Both are childish. In some rare moments of friendly conversation, Clayton recounts for Whitney every moment he's seen her back in France and everything she says or does. Yes, that's a bit of an obsession and yet after learning of the deceptive betrothal, she asks why he offers for her. Isn't it blatantly obvious? He wants you, he's obsessed by your innocent, virgin charms and enjoys a good expletive drubbing at every meeting. I mean Clayton laughs and chuckles at every single one of Whitney's insipid remarks and stories. Isn't it clear why he offered for you, Whitney, or are you that dumb?!
Even though both are childish and immature like no tomorrow, I couldn't abide Whitney's apology after "the-note" incident. Whitney didn't need to apologize for anything! Although Whitney instigated the entire fiasco of a misunderstanding, it's who Clayton blows it out of proportion and treats Whitney very cruelly. There was no reason for Whitney to be apologizing to him. First, Clayton momentarily leaves at a party with a former mistress in front of Whitney, and when he returns to the party, Whitney isn't there. Although Clayton didn't do anything with his former mistress other than talk, obviously Whitney was pained watching him leave with his former mistress. Instead of returning immediately to explain things to Whitney, he stays elsewhere. Then when he finally does attempt to confront Whitney, she's not there. When Clayton finally finds Whitney at his mother's, he doesn't apologize, and Whitney doesn't require an explanation over what happened with his former mistress. I know Whitney loves Clayton, but my gawd, at least demand an explanation over what happened with his former mistress before laying with him again! Then afterwards, as they trace through the confusing threads of the note which started the misunderstanding, it's Whitney apologizing. Clayton did not warrant an apology from her, c'mon it's his treatment which was despicable. And some of the things he thinks about her before (slut, whore) was deplorable.
Anyway, the book is dumb, the characters behave like infantile children, the plotting and pacing is painful, and the writing: just ok.