My thoughts on chapter 29, essentially, but also on the novel as a whole up until now. Obviously this will contain spoilers, so please do not read it until you have caught up with all the updates. You are also not obligated to even read this. I babble a lot, if you haven’t noticed already 😛
Ever since I read the novel, I have not revisited this chapter even once, choosing to skip it during my re-reads. In the back of my mind, I always remember this chapter as the moment when Pusysdeva completely lost me. Although I was never on board his ship to begin with, I still liked him as a character prior to this chapter. But not after this.
I was close to crying as I translated this chapter. Because I have not revisited it for so long, now that I have to absorb every nuance, every word written and convert the sentences into English, the scene hit me much harder than I expected. I basically lived through the entirety of Ai Qing’s experience. Every burst of pain, every whimper, every cry, I understood it all, and my heart goes out for her, as does my condemnation against the man who caused it.
Also, my dear readers, please do not fool yourself into thinking that Pusysdeva did what he did because he ‘loves’ Ai Qing. He doesn’t. He cares for her, certainly, but this is not love. Pusysdeva is still a man-child who doesn’t really understand what (romantic) love means, not until he at least learns to respect women and not treat them like objects. His actions in this chapter was not of a man in love, but of a child that gotten his favourite toy taken away by his brother. Plain and simple.
Pusysdeva realizes the error of his ways and apologizes, yes, I know, but it’s very hard for me to forgive, let alone forget what he did. According to today’s laws, his actions are considered a form of sexual assault. There is no ambiguity with regards to the lack of consent here. Sexual intercourse does not need to happen in order for one to be charged with this criminal offence. Am I taking this way too seriously? Yes, I am, and I’m not sorry for it. Even if I don’t study law (I do), I still would have not condoned this. I do not condone sexual violence of any kind, not even in fiction, unless it’s for a valid plot point. But it’s not even a good plot point here, is it?
The timing of this so-called plot point (Pusysdeva finding out about Ai Qing’s lie) is really terrible. Kumarayana is critically ill. It has already been established that Pusysdeva loves and respects his father very much since the man is the most constant figure in his life and the family member he is closest to, so it doesn’t make sense how he would just disregard his father’s health like that. Though I suppose we could say that the timing does make sense in this context. Pusysdeva is about to lose the most important figure in his life and the only family member he genuinely cares for, and now that he learns his ‘toy’ is also being taken away, he reacts the same way a child would: by lashing out. Pusysdeva is not his calm collected brother, able to objectively analyze a situation and decide on the best course of action after all.
I admire Xiao Chun very much for having written this novel, but now that I am translating the novel, I inevitably have to come to face the flaws in her writing. I don’t expect perfection (whatever that even means), but this is lazy character development. What she essentially did here in this chapter was vilifying the second male lead in order to make the male lead shine even more. It’s a classic move in fictional works, this polarization of characters. I can list countless examples here, but I don’t need to. I’m sure you all have encountered this at one point or another. The reverse can also happen of course, which is how cases of Second Lead Syndrome develop. (Jealousy Incarnate turned all of this upside down of course, but I digress.)
Perhaps using the word ‘lazy’ is inaccurate, because there was clearly a gradual progression (regression?) in Pusysdeva’s character in the past chapters, so in some sense, it is not completely left-field. Perhaps the better term is cliché. He’s basically a cliché character at this point: a rich entitled boy of noble blood, who had a neglectful mother = lack of good female model in his life = callous attitude towards women, and harbours jealousy towards his brother. This is your usual cad/scoundrel in English historical romances. To think I would see such an example here too, makes me rather disappointed. Part of why I loved this novel so much was because it was a break from the overload of alpha bad boys that litter the pages of English romance novels (we get a Buddhist monk instead, it doesn’t really get much further than that, except an asexual or aromantic character probably) and other related clichés. But then this chapter happened.
I should probably stop here. It’s true, this is just a work of fiction, and Pusysdeva is just a character on paper, so perhaps there is no point in me getting so worked up. Perhaps there isn’t. But when you have spent years (it really has been years) getting involved with a novel, can you blame me for getting a bit too involved and invested in the story/characters? Some would say that this is the mark of a great author—being able to pull you in and trigger passionate reactions from you—and I would agree to some extent. There are novels with great premise and terrible execution that can easily make one just as angry.