Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Comparing Summer Wine Lee to Eliza Doolittle

Since My Unfair Lady was inspired by Shaw’s Pygmalion (and the movie, My Fair Lady), I was asked to compare my heroine, Summer Wine Lee, to Eliza Doolittle.

First, a little bit about My Unfair Lady. Raised in a Wild West mining town, Summer knows she’s an unacceptable bride for her fiancé’s knickerbocker family. So she goes to London to hire a sponsor to turn her into a lady. The Duke of Monchester reluctantly takes on the task, and Summer’s penchant for carrying a knife in her boot, picking up stray animals, and not knowing the least thing about acceptable polite society, makes his job difficult. When the duke starts to fall in love with her just the way she is, it becomes nearly impossible. But they are both determined—even when things get more complicated when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill the duke.

There are a few similarities between Summer and Eliza. They are both products of their environment, their speech and mannerisms determined by where they were raised. Eliza in the East end of London, with her cockney speech and crude behavior. Summer in the untamed west, with her uncultured speech and masculine pursuits. They both have indifferent fathers, men who are more concerned with their own happiness and pursuits than they are with their daughters’. But in Summer’s case, she wants to become a lady, and Eliza was pretty much bullied into it. Summer couldn’t be bullied into anything.

But I think this aspect of their character is also a product of their environment. Eliza is a product of the Victorian attitude that men are superior persons. That their needs are more important than a woman’s. Whereas, Summer pretty much raised herself. She made her own rules, and although her father’s opinion is important to her—perhaps too much so—in her every day life she’s used to making up and following her own rules. Because of this, I have a tendency to think of Summer as more similar to Annie Oakley. A girl who can compete in a man’s world. Who can ride and shoot and fight with the best of them.

Although Eliza has compassion, I think this is one of Summer’s strongest traits. Especially her compassion for injured animals. She picks up quite a menagerie, which provides for some humorous moments in My Unfair Lady, and also allows us to glimpse Summer’s fears and insecurities.

The way Summer interacts with men is different from the way Eliza does, as well. Summer trusts her instincts, knows a good man when she sees one, despite what persona he chooses to reveal to the rest of the world, and acts accordingly. She doesn’t fear men, doesn’t see them in the role as her protector, or her superior. She considers herself an equal and treats them accordingly. I think this allows her to see beyond the surface of a man, and in many ways, get closer to him on a more equal footing. Eliza never views herself as an equal to Henry Higgins, even after she is successfully transformed into a lady. Perhaps this is why there is no happily-ever-after for the two of them. And why the author left it open as to whether she goes off with Freddie, or stays with Higgins.

This is why I love writing romance.

In My Fair Lady, Eliza does come to respect and stand up for herself. Summer has always done so. But in many ways, I think Eliza is more accepting of her true nature. Summer has a long journey before she even begins to understand herself. And her hero is going to help her toward that realization, not bully her into it.

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