Welcome to today’s Mary Stewart quotation, taken from her novel Thunder on the Right. I have abridged this quote slightly and removed names to try to avoid spoilers. This excerpt follows on from a fight where the thug’s use of brute force thwarts the hero. Our heroine initially feels failed by her hero but then…

What had he said to her, only yesterday? Don’t cast me as the hero of your story. But she had. She had run to him, had put the burden of her apprehension and fear into his hands, confident that he would not – could not – fail her. The story must have the right ending. The hero, the strong man… he would not let her down. But he had. He had.

She turned her head and met his eyes.

And in that moment something happened to her… she saw it all; that it was she who had done the betraying, the “letting-down”, she who had allowed the queerness of the situation to build up in her a set of values as strange as they were worthless. His half-casual, half-jesting rejection of “heroics” went, in fact, very deep; he was the kind of highly civilised man who would loathe violence in all its ugly manifestations…

He had said he was no story-book hero. It was true. And it was the measure of the magic of the place that she had been betrayed into accepting that as a confession of weakness. It was, she saw now, the reverse. A story-book hero had by definition no place in life; he battered his way through twenty victorious chapters, faded out on a lustful kiss, and was gone for good. But at the end of this story there was still a new chapter to open.

I like this quote for its depiction of growth, empathy and epiphany. What I also love is that entwined in this pivotal moment of realisation is Mary Stewart’s repetition of ‘Today put on perfection’, which is a quote from John Donne’s ‘Epithalamion made at Lincoln’s Inn‘, a poem addressed to a bride. Each of Donne’s eight verses ends Today put on perfection, and a woman’s name. This line echoes our heroine’s awakening at this point of the novel from girl to loving, sexual woman. This moment is followed by some kissing after which the beaten-up hero is suddenly invincible and dashing about on a dangerous stallion. Now *that’s* romance!

Please get in touch if you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this quote or the novel.