Eight months into her marriage, Katherine Forrester has yet to share her husband’s bed. Stricken terrified by the mere notion of giving her body, she has been incapable of consummating the union. Her once patient husband is becoming increasingly irascible, and her mother-in-law despairs that the marriage has yet to result in pregnancy. So, Katherine is sent to a doctor who specialises in the treatment of ‘female hysteria’.
Intelligent and well-read on all manner of subjects, the young Mrs Forrester knows what to expect from the doctor’s care and dreads the humiliating remedies that await her. Although her doctor, David Hershaw, assures her that he will do nothing against her will, she remains wary and guarded. Eventually, as her husband’s bad moods turn to violent tempers and threats of forcing from her what she’s unprepared to give, she believes there is no option but to place herself fully in the doctor’s hands.
What she learns about herself is unexpected, thrilling, and terrifying for reasons she could never have envisaged.
Targeted Age Group:: Over 18
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After a conversation with a friend, I became very interested in the prevalence of the diagnosis of female hysteria in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about psychological (or physical) sexual issues that were simply dismissed and treated in, what we’d now think of as, pretty medieval fashion. It didn’t take long for a character to form, and her story unfolded from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I feel as though most of them came up with themselves in that they occurred to me pretty fully-formed. There was definitely inspiration from the Brontes and Austen in creating the protagonist, Katherine, although she is also quite a modern girl in many respects.
The hard work was to keep all the characters tightly bound in this constricted world, where the women, in particular, couldn’t simply leave a bad marriage or an abusive spouse. And a world in which marriage wasn’t a bond of love, but often a financial arrangement. It was really fascinating to take a woman who has only known that reality, and who has learned to accept it, and give her a surge of emotions she’s never felt before and cannot act upon.
‘You did not want to marry?’ he wonders, cocking his head curiously.
‘It…’ I mumble, beginning to feel a little more clear-headed. ‘It always seemed like an odd business to me.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well, boys, as they become men, need to start thinking about what they will do with their lives; what career they will enter. When a girl becomes a woman, she has no such concern. There is no choice, because there is only one life available to her: wife and mother.’
‘And you did not want to be a wife and mother?’ he asks, with a knowing glint in his eye that suggests he believes he has found the source of my reluctance.
I correct him with a small shake of my head. ‘I was never averse to the notion, and I liked Edward. I thought we would make a happy life together. I just…’ I pause and turn my eyes to the ceiling. ‘I just always found it strange that women are kept. Marriage is, essentially, a legal and respectable form of prostitution. We have roofs over our heads, clothes, money, and food, in exchange for complete and exclusive access to our bodies.’
‘And that is what bothers you?’
‘Partly,’ I concede with a half shrug. ‘But it is something I reconciled with. It is simply the way things are, it is useless to fight it.’
‘So, what about love?’ he counters. ‘Should marriage not be about love?’
I cannot contain the small giggle that escapes from me. ‘Love is not a feature of most matches I have seen.’
Eyeing me with amusement, he leans back and places his hands behind his head. ‘You are incredibly cynical,’ he notes.
‘Realistic,’ I argue.
‘When I marry,’ he sighs, ‘it will be for love. And she will be much more than a glorified prostitute. I want a friend and confidante, she will be my other half in every sense of the phrase.’
I lean back and peer at him in a similar manner to that with which he studied me. ‘You are incredibly idealistic,’ I tell him with the same inflection he branded me cynical.
Chuckling, he lowers his hands and rests them in his lap. ‘Maybe,’ he admits. ‘And perhaps,’ he sighs, his smile faltering, ‘that is why I am still a bachelor.’
I cannot believe that is the reason. I can think of many girls I have known who would be only too happy to meet a man with a such a strong sense of the romantic. Yet, I keep that opinion unspoken.
‘So, Edward,’ he breathes, ‘you did not love him?’
‘I…I don’t know…’ I mutter. ‘I knew that my parents wanted to me to marry him. He was a pleasant and charming man.’
‘But you did not love him?’ he persists.
‘Why does it have to involve love?’ I snap. ‘A woman must find a husband, otherwise she is at the mercy of the world. If she waits for love and it never arrives, what is to become of her? I consented to Edward’s proposal because he wanted me, and it was quite possible that no other man would.’ Finally pausing to draw breath, I feel regretful for raging at him. ‘Perhaps,’ I add a little more placidly, ‘the difference between your idealism and my realism is that I was forced by necessity to be this way. You can afford to wait. You can afford to never marry if you so choose. No such choice existed for me.’
‘You’re right,’ he contritely nods. ‘The situation is different, and I apologise.’
‘You don’t have to,’ I quickly assure him, realising that I have been far too sensitive over the subject, and I have picked a fight where one need never have been. ‘I’m just ill-tempered, because I didn’t sleep last night.’
‘Yes, I do,’ he insists. ‘I sounded as if I were judging you, and I assure you that was not my intention.’
‘I know,’ I softly respond.
‘Do you mind if we continue?’ he suggests carefully. ‘Or would you rather discuss something else?’
‘No, it’s all right,’ I assure him. ‘I will try not to be so emotional,’ I promise with a small, apologetic smile. ‘I’m sorry.’
Exhaling slowly, he shakes his head. ‘Never apologise for feeling something, Katherine. It seems to me, we are all far too scared of feeling things. It’s foolish when that is exactly what makes us human. Without feeling, what is the point of living?’
It is clearly more statement than question, and rather than attempt to make a fumbled, gauche answer, I consider the sense in his assertion.
‘It’s not feeling that’s the problem, though,’ I eventually mumble. ‘It is not being master of it. That is what terrifies us.’
‘Does it terrify you?’ he asks. ‘Not being in control of your emotions, and of yourself?’
‘Doesn’t it terrify you?’ I toss back at him, knowing that my evasion answers his question as definitively as if I had screamed “yes” at the top of my lungs.
For some time, there is only the ticking of the clock. He blinks, but holds my gaze. ‘Yes,’ he eventually breathes. ‘Yes, it does.’
About the Author:
Ayana Prende is an author of romance and erotica, who’s fascinated by love and the spectrum of male and female sexuality. She enjoys exploring the power, passion and pleasure that can be given and expressed through our bodies. And she’s intrigued by the tumultuous emotions attached to an act that is, at the same time, functional and self-indulgent.
She currently lives in the south east of England, where she was born and bred. She has been writing professionally for over six years as a freelance ghostwriter. The Anatomy of Desire is her debut novel.
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