Thursday, April 4, 2013

D = Debutantes and Daughters

Day 4 of the A to Z Challenge...

The heroine of my novel, Everything That Matters, eagerly anticipates her debut. Daughter of a British earl, it is her birthright, a rite of passage she not only welcomes, but believes is crucial to her success. Unfortunately—or fortunately depending on whether you believe, as I do, that today's tragedy is sometimes tomorrow's blessing—she is exiled to America before she presents at court to curtsey before the King and Queen, the launch site of all well-bred young gels bound for the marriage market.

Forty-six years after my fictional heroine's debut dreams are dashed, and one-hundred and seventy-eight years after the original ballhosted in 1780 by King George III to raise money for a new maternity hospital named after his wife Charlotte that started the annual custom, Britain quietly ceased the very real practice of presenting eligible young women at court. In 1958, the last set of young women draped in virginal white dipped and bobbed their way past Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their way to dubious futures. Elitist initiations had no place in a changing world where equality was the battle cry, and women began striking out on their own sans titles and taffeta. And so the Debutante Ball died a quiet death.

Or did it?

My daughter's high school graduation had all the earmarks of a Debutant Ball—expensive, glittering gowns and high-heels, up-styled hair, fresh-faced young men in tuxes and shiny shoes, bushels of flowers, gleaming cutlery and glassware, dinner parties, backyard luncheons…a mini-wedding as my husband called it. And all to celebrate her rite of passage.
Dancing with my debutante
On the arm of her escort she emerged from the strobe-lit dry-ice fog on the stage to descend carpeted stairs in an arena full of mothers, fathers, extended relatives, teachers…hundreds of people turned out to witness her and her peers' transformation from student to young adult; graceful, elegant, smiling; beautiful and polite, no longer children, but a young men and women about to catapult into the world and make of it what they would. The only difference, the era; my daughter lives in a time when she is expected to make her own way, fail or succeed on her own merit, while my heroine exists in a time when her success depends on her ability to attract, and snag a good husband. And neither expectation is fair.

Marriage is not the enemy. And a career does not an independent woman make. Independence is a state of mind, not a state of being, something I've strived to ensure my daughter knows.

An unmarried career woman with a six-figure income teetering on the verge of bankruptcy because she lives beyond her means is not more independent than the married woman who manages her husband's five-figure income so well she can afford to stay at home with their children. Somewhere between the demise of the debutante and now, society lost sight of that. Worse, the state of world economies means most women do not have a choice; they work not for the brass-ring of independence, but to keep themselves, and/or their children, housed, clothed and fed. Perhaps that is why romance novels, in particular historical romance novels, are so popular.

Financial worries and relationship issues melt away when you're waltzing with a handsome duke, sailing the seas with a sexy rogue pirate, or, like the distressed debutante in my novel, trying desperately to not fall in love with a rugged cowboy.

Young or old, debutante or divorced, love is both the problem, and the answer.

This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson







Jocelyn Rish said...

I think that's a great point that there is always some type of ceremony to launch youth into adulthood, no matter what you call it. And even though I've always considered myself a feminist, when I was younger there was always a part of be that wanted to be presented wearing a gorgeous gown on the arm of a handsome man.

Best of luck with the A to Z challenge,

Deborah said...

Thank you, Jocelyn. I really appreciate you stopping by. :)

I'm with you on the gown and glamour--I was fortunate enough to enjoy similar at my grad, but not quite the same as attending etiquette classes to learn how to curtsey before the Queen. *g*

Take care!

Lara said...

What a nice way to celebrate graduation! I think I got a cake, but I definitely didn't have such a great dress! :)