Reading Paulina Simons for the first time was a right of passage that is still very vivid in my mind. The excitement may not have been as intense as when I graduated from high school or university, or had my first kiss or my first boyfriend. But it was a time where I transitioned from being an awkward schoolgirl to an angsty teenager. Gone were the werewolves and vampire romances, as I welcomed drinks, drugs and sex into my young mind. And who better to experience this turbulent period with than Tully Makker?
The epitome of a destructive, self-indulgent teen, who learns very little from her tragic past and continues to make terrible choices well into her womanhood. She was the perfect partner to share my secret desires with. Rebellion, scandal and sexual intimacy. Paullina Simons knew how to engage the wandering minds of teenage girls. Her novel Tully, worn and dog eared passed through many expectant hands, waiting to live vicariously through the feisty young heroine that every girl wished to be, if only for one day.
Thankfully my adolescent years filled with anguish were fleeting, and unlike Tully, I learnt many, many valuable lessons. My newfound maturity led me into my first serious relationship. A relationship that was filled with intense passion, torment and heartbreak. Maybe that’s why I have such a devout connection to Simons’ Bronze Horseman series.
The tragic love story of Alexander and Tatiana Metanova is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It reminds me of a time when I thought I could overcome my own tremulous relationship if I remained as staunch and committed as the beautiful Russian girl who stood by her husband even when it threatened her very existence.
Tatiana’s strength and devotion is inspiring. She is fearless in the face of war and spends her life fighting for freedom and her family. Yet at her very core she is still a young girl who has a weakness for ice-cream and sweets, and blushes at the thought of being attractive to another man. Her innocence and bravery makes her a heroine you can’t help but fall in love with. She is the complete antithesis of Gina, the Italian immigrant and heroine of Bellagrand, - the very disappointing novel that led to the remarkable Bronze Horseman series.
Paullina Simons is a writer I truly admire, throughout my life she has given me numerous novels that I have felt an intense connection to. Her characters have encapsulated so many of my feelings and thoughts, and I have willingly travelled with them through suffering, torment and abuse, forgiveness, passion and ultimate satisfaction. However, Gina’s journey was not one of them. I felt as through I was drowning reading Bellagrand, and all I wanted to do was give up and let the ocean sweep me away, to somewhere better and brighter.
Unlike Simons’ previous novels, I felt absolutely no compassion or relation to her heroine Gina. She is a selfless woman caught between her own needs and her husbands. After fleeing Italy to find prosper in America, she meets Harry the idealistic, aristocrat who wants to revolutionise the world. At first she is sucked into his communist vision and transforms herself into a woman worthy of his hand in marriage. She bottles up her Sicilian ways, and trains herself to be the model American wife.
However, little does she know that Harry will turn out to be far from the model American husband. In fact so far from ideal, that he ends up getting his families American citizenship revoked, leaving Gina no choice but to return to the depths of despair in war-torn Europe. However, this time she is returning with her most precious possession, her son.
After learning this, she says:
I spent five years reforming myself for you. I finished high school for you and learned to work for you and read stupid books I had no interest in. I learned to talk politics and anarchy and socialism, I pretended to be a feminist, not to care about religion or children - all for you!”
This quote I find particularly interesting, because as a feminist living in the twenty first century, I believe Gina’s actions oppose all of my personal values and beliefs. She sacrifices her own desires to please her husband and ultimately sacrifices her entire life by turning into a shell of the person she once was. Her selflessness and cowardly nature actually sickens me as an independent woman.
It was extremely hard to feel any sympathy for Gina, as she makes no attempt to protect herself or her son. Despite be given multiple opportunities to live a fulfilling life without Harry, she continues to give him her mind and body, and asks for nothing in return.
As Oscar Wilde quotes:
The scarlet flowers of passion seem to grow in the same meadows as the poppies of oblivion.”
To this I can relate. My grandmother, the wisest woman I know, often tells me I see the men of my desires through rose tinted windows. Having sacrificed my own happiness for my first love, a very long time ago, I should have felt some sort of camaraderie with Gina. However being a strong female with Hungarian blood, I felt as though she was turning her back on her heritage, her family and her position as a woman.
As a teenager I overlooked Tully’s ignorance and inability to learn from her mistakes. However as an adult I cannot understand Gina continuing the vicious cycle of destruction. Bellagrand truly demonstrates how far we have come from the 19th Century, from being selfless tools controlled by the needs of men, to being powerful women, who will work for our own happiness and empowerment.
The only idea in this book that sparked my interest was the concept of fate. Fate is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. After seeing various ‘spiritual healers’ and ‘intuitive life coaches,’ I must admit that my position has been swayed slightly. And reading Bellagrand has only confirmed my new-found perspective. Previously I thought that my life journey was out of my control, that my fate had been determined by a higher power and any consequent actions would lead to my destiny. My mantra was, “what will be, will be,” along with, “things happen for a reason.”
After gaining new wisdom I now believe that fate is our own hands, we control the path we take and the future that we will experience. Which is another distinction that sets me further apart from Gina. She is a firm believer in fate and is guided by the signs around her. After a hurricane sweeps through South Florida, destroying her brother’s home, Gina takes this horrific disaster as a warning. For months she had been thinking of escaping to Tequesta with her son and living a life free of Harry. However she sees the destruction of Tequesta as a lesson and is convinced that she had been right not to walk out on her husband.
The consequence of following ‘signs’ is that they are often misinterpreted, and can often be used as a reason to justify your own wants and desires. Similar to that of star signs, people often take from them the elements that apply to their life and twist them into some sort of conviction. Gina took no responsibility for her actions and left it all in the palms of the universe, which ultimately led to her demise into alcohol addiction. If I were to use the conclusion of this book as a ‘sign,’ I would say the universe is telling me to take control of my life and work hard to create my own achievements, not to leave my future to chance.