25.7.13

Veronica and Sebastian

On our recent trip to Tasmania, I found a couple of battered Lorna Hill ballet books in a second hand shop at Salamanca, and they were two that I'd never actually read. Of course I pounced.

Well. Sometimes it turns out that there are good reasons why books end up languishing in second hand shops. I knew from reading later novels that Veronica and Sebastian (spoiler alert) end up together. (One of the things I really like about the Wells books is the sense of the baton being passed from one ballerina to another as the series progresses. Veronica is inspired by Margot Fonteyn, and goes on to inspire Jane Foster in her turn, then Jane acts as a mentor to another young dancer, and so on.)

Sebastian initially presents as quite an attractive character -- flippant and charming, but underneath it all, clearly very serious about his music, and obviously (to the reader) smitten with Veronica. So I wasn't prepared for the massive row that Veronica and Sebastian have partway through the book, in which Sebastian behaves like a complete pig.

Veronica has just received the thrilling news that she's earned a part in one of the company's ballet productions and has to rush back to London. Unfortunately this means she'll have to miss Sebastian's concert. Sebastian is not happy.
...I burst out, 'You know quite well I've got to go back. It's my career. You'd go back if it were your career, wouldn't you, Sebastian?'
'Of course. I'm a man.'
'What difference does that make?'
'Quite a lot,' Sebastian said, turning his back on me... 'Men are forced to have careers. Women just barge into them. It's just silly for a woman to give up everything -- friends, beauty sleep, peace of mind -- even marriage -- for a stupid thing like ballet.'
'It's not stupid!' I yelled, almost crying. 'It's my life!'
'Then it ought not to be,' declared Sebastian.
To her credit, Veronica sticks to her guns, despite parting with Sebastian on very bad terms, even after he flings the revelation of his love for her in her face ('I was going to kiss you... But don't worry, I shan't do it now...'). She goes back to London where her career takes off and she becomes the latest ballet sensation. However, as the rest of the book unfolds (they don't see each other for a couple of years after this), Veronica is tormented by the memory of this terrible fight. Not because it's been revealed that Sebastian is a selfish loser, but because she's worried that he won't 'forgive' her!

In the last pages, just before Veronica's ultimate triumph, they are reconciled when he sends her a big bunch of red roses with the label 'Sebastian'.
Just that! No word of apology or good luck. I gave a wry smile. How like Sebastian!... He was brilliant, and witty, and arrogant. Above all, he was proud... Still, my heart glowed. We were friends again, and he had meant me to know it.
Oh, well, that's all right then.

Okay, I admit, this was written in 1951, but still. He didn't have to be quite such a knob about it.

There is an interesting ongoing tension through all the Lorna Hill books between the protagonists' dedication to ballet (almost religious at times) and their need for lurve. More often than not, the women themselves don't seem to realise that love and romance is something they should want! They believe they're quite fulfilled by their passion for their art, and the rigorous demands it makes upon them. They have to be forced to see what they're 'lacking' by the attentions of the men who have fallen in love with them, whereupon they wake up from their dream and realise that they're just like ordinary, non-ballerina women who just want to get married and be adored and taken care of (this is the role of men in the Lorna Hill universe). Now I like a touch of romance as much as anyone, but it's a shame that it always seems to play out the same way. However, I must admit that weirdly, in later books, Sebastian seems very supportive of Veronica's career and writes music for her -- it's a creative partnership. That's what I'd like to see more of -- not the dancers having to choose between love and work, as Jane does later on.

I might keep this one on a high shelf, I think; I wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands!

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