Lymond 3: love is cryptonite

Lymond has fallen in love. It was possibly the best fictional moment ever.

Some thoughts about how the most superior, restrained, unreachable character I have ever read managed to fall in love believably. (And this is a useful thing to look at, given how often a great, tortured hero is made void by falling in love.)

I had no idea how Dunnett would have him fall in love with Philippa, given that he is superior to everyone he meets – and they always want him more than he wants them, which always gives him the upper hand.

It seemed to be a two-armed approach – though I’m sure the beast really has at least ten arms, and I’m just missing all the subtleties, as usual.

1. Philippa doesn’t give in to Lymond’s bullying, where everyone else in his life, at some point or other, does. The worst threat he can hold above her is to deny himself the friendship of she and her mother, which he can’t afford to do (as this halves the friends he has in the world, poor old Lymond). And even then she won’t be turned aside.

2. She is as inquisitive as him, quicksilver intelligent, and courageous in a human, error-filled way that he is not. So whilst the fact that she can stand up to him has some fascination, it is tempered by the way that her brain sparks his alight, and by the ways she surprises him – and most of all by the fact that she made him laugh.

Here is a brilliant moment: Dunnett has spent five books plumbing the depths of Lymond’s restraint and, particularly in the fifth book, paring away all the human sentiment in him that holds him back from greatness. And then Philippa makes him laugh, by hitting him with a costume axe.

Then, when the realisation that he’s in love strikes, he walks around in a daze all evening, not aware of what’s going on around him.

It reminds of an anecdote an old boyfriend told me: He saw a guy jump the curb on a skateboard. The skater didn’t land the jump and stood there, staring at his board, for a whole minute. By the fact that he was so put out by misjudging such a simple trick, said boyfriend knew he was a pro.

So here’s how I think Dunnett pulls off the ultimate anti-hero in love: With his great powers of intellect and restraint, he doesn’t let that knowledge affect his life, or the way he conducts his life. But he is unable to control his actions quite so well as before, and an element of unpredictability has entered the life he is used to controlling down to every last expression.

I have some thoughts about heroes and their heroine-as-kryptonite that you can read here.

Comments 9 Responses

  1. Alex

    Yes, the moment when he falls in love has to be one of the best things ever written. And their race through the roofs in Lyon… I was completely enticed. I agree with your two reasons, but feel a that the fact she’s able to make him laugh should be an equally important factor.

    I had some issues with Checkmate which so far I haven’t been able to iron out – maybe you can help? (SPOILER ALERT!)

    I understand the reason why he doesn’t want to be close to her at the beginning, he thinks his intensity will destroy her (‘a la Marta and Jerott) and that she’s young and is still not sure about herself and her feelings. But it reaches a point in the novel where Philippa manages to convince him that on her side, it’s also the real thing. I think he says as much to another character, something along the lines of “Ah, if you had only a tenth of what Philippa and I have…” As of that moment, Dunnett lost me. Why the angst? Why the whole show when they were living together in Sevigny? They’re married, they both know that there can never be anyone else, so why is he holding back? I’ve read somewhere that he feels that Philippa couldn’t handle a sexual relationship after the rape and it would be to painful for Lymond to be with her without being with her in that way. I’m not convinced.
    Any thoughts?

    1. anna cowan Post author

      eeep! I’m still reading the end of Ringed Castle, so I stopped reading your comment at “race through the roofs of Lyon” which sounds super exciting, but I haven’t read yet. Will read and respond to your comment once I’ve gotten that far!

      (Am grinning stupidly on the inside, because I just got to the bit where you find out that “yunitsa” is a loving endearment. Oh yay!)

    2. anna cowan Post author

      phew! I’ve finally finished! So here are my thoughts:

      After he realises she equally loves him, his honour won’t let a “hunchback” (ah, Lymond) like himself have her. His self-laothing would have killed him, as Philippa realises at some point.

      After the rape, she can’t bear to be with him in any physical way at all (see how she vomits after seeing him swimming naked, and hearing the men refer to sexual appetite). He tries to keep his love limited to the mind – and given that this is Lymond we’re talking about, his will-power gets him a certain distance on this score. But given also that it’s Lymond we’re talking about, he does nothing by halves. This is the only woman in the world he desires, and his nerves have no capacity for restraint. Also, I think there’s quite a lot of reference to warlike men and their physical appetites.

      His love is extreme, his desire is extreme. It’s Lymond. He has had to regulate himself his whole life; Philippa is his promise of fulfilment; he has to forgo fulfilment.

      Er, I don’t know if that clarifies anything. I’m a bit tired, and still in shock, because Austin/Marthe scene at the end totally sucked me in.

      The angst all worked for me, I think because I found the post-rape scene so horrific. Much as I was on team-Marthe when she went and told Philippa to get over it, I also got how that just wasn’t possible for Philippa – because of course she would have done it, if it was.

      Also, the way Dunnett goes about telling us about their time at Sevigny is really creepy. We’re getting the fulfilment we’ve been wanting for two books at least, but there’s something really wrong. It felt a bit like a horror film to me. I think the weird, second-hand witnessing of it all, and the superficial signs of everything being right, and the telling absence of things that pointed to something being horribly wrong.

      I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on the subject 🙂

  2. Pingback: the awful I love you | diary of a(n accidental) housewife

  3. Caroline Isobel McIlwaine

    How lovely to find this! I belong to a few Dorothy Dunnett Facebook reading groups and was astonished to learn that some readers don’t like Philippa. I think they find some of her actions childish but indeed she was a child for much of the story.

    I think, as Strozzi said, she is Francis’ match in every way. (‘Pen to the penknife they belong to together’). Along with what Anna has written here, there is also the fact that she proved to be a capable spy – she matched his skills there. She understands politics and people. She is kind and honest. She is passionate and loyal – as is he. (When you look for evidence of this, we soon see how Francis is continually taking action to protect family and friends.)

    She is witty and courageous. She is intelligent and inquisitive. She is unique – that combination of innocence and seraglio elegance and training.

    As to why Francis fell in love with her – why does anyone fall in love? So many tangible reasons, and then there are the intangible ones. It’s there whether we can define it or not.

    As to Alex’s question: I have always thought that Philippa was suffering PTSD. That night was one of violence. Francis saw the aftermath and knew. I have heard quite a few readers say they thought the storyline there was overdone. But Philippa was terrified – firstly of the act itself, and then of hurting Francis irreparably by (as Marthe crudely put it) submitting but not enjoying. Francis suffered abuse himself and the loss of loved ones. They were both so aware of the pain they could inflict and kept all the natural expressions of love in check. If Marthe hadn’t made that brutal visit to Sevigny, there may have been a slow and gradual breaking down of the barriers.

    But we wouldn’t have had the amazing ending that we have.

    I’ve been re-reading this series annually for more than 30 years.

    DD has spoiled me – other authors seem lacklustre by comparison!

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Caroline! I also suffered the problem of how to read others after Dunnett – she honestly derailed me for a good couple of years. I haven’t read the Lymond books a second time yet. I still haven’t been able to face Pawn in Frankincense again.

      I like your insight here about Lymond and Philippa being so careful with each other because they both understand the pain they could inflict.

      1. Caroline McIlwaine

        Oh, I understand. I still have to steel myself for the chess game. And I always cry.
        But re-read I do – a bit addicted you see!

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