The original Swedish paperback cover.
While the main theme of a Romance novel should be a love story, how two lovers will find happiness together, it's possible to cover other themes too. And that's what Swedish writer Simona Ahrnstedt
did in her debut novel, Överenskommelser
(first published in 2010). It's so easy to believe that rich people always have been happy. After all, don't they live in big houses, wear fine clothes, go to fancy parties and have servants to do everything for them? But reality behind the facade can be ugly, maybe even terrifying. And we only have to go back a handful of generations to end up in an era, when women had much fewer rights than what men had. This is the story about how a seemingly glamourous life in the upper classes of 1880s Sweden could become a nightmare. The title of the novel can be translated as "Agreements" or "Understandings", refering to a forced arranged marriage...
Beatrice Löwenström became an orphan when she was fourteen years old, and now she's had to live with relatives in Stockholm for four long years. But it becomes increasingly difficult for her to stay with them... Uncle Wilhelm doesn't like independent women, so he does everything so that the intelligent and assertive Beatrice shall ”know her place”. And cousin Edvard admires his father's ”firm hand with women”. Aunt Harriet is ill and weak, so she can't bring joy or comfort to anyone. However, Beatrice is really fond of her cousin Sofia and their companion Mary. And one day, she meets Seth Hammerstaal, a Norwegian business man. Despite his rather humble background, he has become very rich, but many people still only see him as an irritating upstart. And even though he's had affairs with numerous women, Seth still hasn't been able to find ”the right one”. But then he suddenly meets the unconventional Beatrice, and they soon become attached to each other. But their happiness is ruined, when they learn about something terrible. Her uncle Wilhelm has already promised her off, without even asking her what she wants, to the tremendously heinous Count Rosenschiöld! Beatrice can't feel anything but repulsion about this. For not only would the age difference be enormous (he's like forty years older than her), but she knows that Rosenschiöld only is interested in her young body, and he's yet another one of these men, who enjoys ruling women with iron fists. But to keep Sofia from having to marry him instead, Beatrice forces herself to agree to this betrothal. But the feelings between her and Seth are just as strong as they ever were, and thus begins a hard time for them both. Will they ever get more than short moments of happiness together?Överenskommelser
has been translated into several other languages. It's called Aegtepagten
in Danish, Unelmia ja yllätyksiä
in Finnish, Ein ungezähmtes Mädchen
in German, Ritratto di donna in cremisi
in Italian, Nepaklaviga
in Latvian and Frihet og fangenskap
- A World Half Full: 1880s Sweden. There were still many injustices to fight against, and the protagonists have to deal with three different villains. Things will eventually get better...
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Carl-Jan Rosenschiöld is a count, but he's also a serial abuser of women, who rapes and nearly kills Beatrice on their wedding night. We later find out that he has killed one previous wife and driven another previous wife into suicide.
- At the Opera Tonight: Beatrice and Seth first meet each other during an evening at the Stockholm Opera.
- Badass Bookworm: Beatrice is an intelligent book lover, but she also competes with men in ice-skating and horse-riding, assists in a surgery and calls the villains out on their atrocities.
- Big Bad Ensemble: Wilhelm (a domestic abuser), Edvard (a serial abuser sociopath) and Rosenschiöld (a combination of both) are all villains in this story.
- Bittersweet Ending: While we can agree that we get a happy ending, we don't get it until after the villains have been able to do whatever they want for years.
- Break the Cutie / Trauma Conga Line: Beatrice might be smart, competent and tough, but life has been really hard on her. Not only did she lose her mother when she was only six years old and her father when she was only fourteen years old. But she also has to live with her tyrannical uncle, who abuses her for five long years, forcing her into a marriage with a man, who's like forty years older than her and treats women like dirt under his shoes. Beatrice's relationship with Seth is also complicated to say the least. And just when she thought that things would turn out good between them, cue Edvard ruining everything! She was brutally raped and almost killed on her wedding night...
- Cannot Spit It Out / Poor Communication Kills: Beatrice won't tell anybody the truth about why she agreed to the betrothal to Count Rosenschiöld. (Which is partly justified as she seems to think that if Seth knew the truth, it could hurt Sofia, but still...) As for Seth, he can only assume that Beatrice wants to marry Rosenschiöld to become a countess, and stupid pride keeps him from admitting that he loves her. Cue a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of misery for Beatrice...
- Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Solved by having the two Romantic False Leads hooking up with each other.
- Death by Childbirth: This story has two examples of this. The first one is a straight one, where Beatrice explains that her mother died in childbirth (her baby sister died too). The second example is a downplayed or subverted one: Sofia suffers from eclampsia, becomes very ill, but survives.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Subverted example. You would expect this trope to be played straight here, considering how Beatrice is treated by her uncle. But while she misses her parents, she can still admit that they had flaws.
- Denied Food as Punishment: Very much Played for Drama. Beatrice is locked into her room for a week by her Evil Uncle. She's not given any food during this time and is near starvation when her aunt comes home and is allowed to give her some soup.
- Diabolus Ex Machina / Hope Spot / Yank the Dog's Chain: Beatrice and Seth have what can only be described as a really hot date. Surely they will sort things out now, after eight months of misunderstandings? Surely now Beatrice won't have to marry Rosenschiöld? But alas, Edvard now cruelly makes sure that she's separated from Seth. Cue a whole year of more misery for Beatrice...
- Diabolus Ex Nihilo: Wilhelm and Edvard have backstories, which can somewhat explain how they became what they are. But with Carl-Jan Rosenschiöld, we never get this. He's simply there to be evil. After he finally dies, he gets some backstory. We find out that he had murdered one wife and driven another wife into sucide. But we never find out how he could become so evil.
- Dirty Old Man:
- Carl-Jan Rosenschiöld wishes to marry Beatrice, who's like forty years younger than him, just because he wants a virgin. He's also a serial abuser of women, and a brutal rapist.
- Beatrice confirms that there was quite some age difference between her parents, so her father might come across as a milder case of this. But while Beatrice states that her mother was only seventeen years old at their marriage, we have no idea how old her father was at the time. We're most likely talking about a May-September Romance rather than a May-December Romance though.
- Ditzy Genius: Beatrice is a very intelligent young woman, when it comes to academical and intellectual pursuits. But man, does she make some lousy decisions! When she's bullied into the engagement with Rosenschiöld, she never asks for help from anybody, who might actually want to and be able to help her. She also gets drunk at Sofia's engagement party (which could have ended much worse than it did), trusts the sociopathic Edvard (she shouldn't have) and tries to seduce Seth when she has just fallen off a horse and gotten injured (not the right time)!
- Do Wrong, Right: Very much Played for Drama. Rosenschiöld is angry with Edvard for making a fourteen-year-old girl pregnant and abandoning her to die after an abortion. But not because doing it was wrong, but because Edvard was stupid enough to do this to a girl from an upper class family! If the girl had come from a working class family, Rosenschiöld couldn't have cared less.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Beatrice and Seth need twenty months to sort things out, so the happy ending sure was over due.
- Everyone Can See It: Sofia and Johan know that Beatrice and Seth should be together. But alas...
- Evil Uncle: While even his treatment of his own children was awful in the past, Wilhelm now has Beatrice as his favorite victim. His attempts to break his niece down into becoming a subservient woman includes threats, nearly starving her to death and direct physical violence.
- Fallback Marriage Pact: Seth has one of these with Lily Tremaine. They're friends rather than lovers, but still decide to get engaged. But in the end, they break it up when Seth is reunited with Beatrice (the story's female protagonist) and Lily finds true love with Alexandre (with whom Beatrice had a similar relationship).
- Fate Drives Us Together: Beatrice and Seth keep bumping into each other, but they don't get the chance to actually say what they feel for each other before Hell breaks loose...
- Generation Xerox:
- Beatrice seems to have inherited both her appearance and her personality from her paternal grandmother. She also must have inherited her intelligence from her father, who was a professor at Uppsala University.
- Edvard has inherited his abusive side from his father.
- Sofia is beautiful but weak like her mother.
- Genius Ditz: While you can't call Sofia stupid, she still comes across as a fragile pretty-face, who never could manage in the world on her own. But at least she's really good at playing the piano (which ironically seems to be the only thing, that the otherwise super-competent Beatrice can't do).
- Gold Digger: Lily Tremaine is a reconstructed case. She got married to an old British lord, who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, rather than accepting the proposal from Seth (who wasn't rich yet at the time). And even when she later does get engaged to Seth, she does it only because she needs someone to help her with financial issues. But then, she does find true love at the exact same time as Seth gets reunited with Beatrice, and they decide to not get married after all.
- Hate Sink / Politically Incorrect Villain: This story has three villains (because one creep clearly wasn't enough), who are just there to be hated. Their views on women are disgusting even by the standards of the era (the 1880s), so they actually think that a man has the right to mistreat a woman in any way they can think of. And as much as Beatrice becomes the most obvious victim of their abuse and their schemes, many other people are harmed as well. Even other men in the story are repulsed by them.
- I Can Still Fight: Beatrice falls off a horse and gets injured, but she wants to get up, despite being adviced not to do so by Seth.
- Ideal Hero: Simona usually gives her characters some flaws, even if they're not villains. And the only male exception is Johan Stierneskanz. He's basically perfect and flawless, the lily-white Nice Guy in a story with three jet-black villains.
- Idiot Ball: See "Cannot Spit It Out" and "Ditzy Genius".
- Incest Subtext: Edvard has sexual fantasies about his cousin Beatrice. But luckily for her, as he's a serial abuser sociopath, he never acts on these fantasies.
- Just Eat Gilligan: Beatrice and Seth could have solved all their problems at once, just by talking to each other and admit that they loved each other! But alas... At least Seth later admitted that he had been an idiot...
- Karmic Death: Count Rosenschiöld takes aphrodisiac drugs, which enables him to keep on sexually abusing much younger women. But after he has brutally raped and almost killed Beatrice, his decadent lifestyle finally catches up to him only a few days afterwards, when he becomes sick and dies what we only can hope is a painful death.
- Kick the Dog:
- Edvard and Rosenschiöld repeatedly abuse women while having sex with them. These scenes have little to no bearing on the overall plot, and are just there to really show us what scum these two guys are.
- Rosenschiöld cuts off Beatrice's hair after raping and battering her. That was a pointless act of evil, that he only did to further humiliate her.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Seth is a very cynical man, who does many stupid things. But still, he never stops believing that you should always do the right thing.
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- Count Rosenschiöld ends up dying what we only can hope is a painful death. As a beautiful irony, Beatrice survives to find happiness with another (much younger) man and work for women's rights.
- Edvard takes his sadism too far once too many, leaving him brutally maimed and hiding in a hospital in Germany.
- Wilhelm has to lose everything in the end. His son has been maimed, his daughter no longer wants to see him, even his doormat wife has left him, and Beatrice also claims the right to "his" house, which turned out to be her inheritence from her grandmother.
- Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Seth is a reconstructed example. He's believed to be a casanova, but really, he's looking for "the right one". And after he meets Beatrice, he starts losing his interest in any other woman.
- Marital Rape License: This happens to Beatrice after she was pressured into marrying Rosenschiöld, when she panics on the wedding night and says no. Not only does he rape her, but he also has the nerve to go into a rage after finding out that she wasn't a virgin.
- Mixed Ancestry: Beatrice had a Swedish father and a French mother. And hers and Seth's kids will be 1/2 Norwegian, 1/4 Swedish and 1/4 French).
- New Old Flame: Lily Tremaine is this to Seth. But in the end, they break off their engagement, so Lily can be with her new love Alexandre and Seth can be with Beatrice.
- Noble Male, Roguish Male: Seth might be a better man than what you might think at first, but he does have a roguish thing going on, and he just keeps having meaningless affairs with numerous women. His friend Johan is noble and pretty much flawless. But despite how different they might seem, they remain close to each other, and they eventually get married to two cousins. Interestingly enough, while Light Feminine Dark Feminine is the technical distaff counterpart to this trope, their love interests Beatrice (a Spirited Young Lady) and Sofia (a Proper Lady) rather have a Tomboy and Girly Girl dynamic.
- Official Couple Ordeal Syndrome: Beatrice and Seth have an extremely difficult time. To be fair, it partly is their own fault, but they also have to deal with three villains, who do everything to keep them apart. It takes them twenty months and alas, Beatrice being raped and almost killed before they can solve their misunderstandings and find happiness together.
- Pair the Spares: Lily and Alexandre become this in the end.
- Red-Headed Hero: Beatrice Löwenström is a Fiery Redhead with Youthful Freckles. She's definately supposed to stand out among other women with a more "normal" appearance.
- Red Heads Are Uncool: Beatrice belongs to the fiery cathegory. She's both an intelligent book lover and a plucky tomboy, AND a proto-feminist, which turns a lot of people away from her. She's described as not conventionally beautiful, with too many freckles and too wide a mouth, and she also seems to often wear unflattering clothes.
- She Is All Grown Up: Edvard has a realisation of this kind about his cousin Beatrice. And being the sociopath that he is, it only makes him come across as a total creep.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: It has been several years since Seth was in war, but he can still have nightmares about it.
- Sibling Yin-Yang:
- Sofia, a flawless good-hearted Proper Lady, and Edvard, a serial abuser sadistic sociopath. They only have one thing in common: They're both good-looking. It becomes very clear that Sofia has taken after their Extreme Doormat mother, while Edvard has taken after their Domestic Abuser father.
- Wilhelm and his brother (Beatrice's father) also seem to been very different from each other. Wilhelm has no good memories at all of his more intelligent and liberal brother.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Beatrice and Seth have a moment just like this before they finally can become happy together.
- The Dog Bites Back: This story has a downplayed example, where Beatrice gets a small revenge on her uncle. Not only does Beatrice claim the right to "his" house, which he basically had stolen from her, despite that she had inherited it from her grandmother. (What makes it even more awesome is that she sells the house to use the money for education for girls.) Beatrice also reminds him of that his daughter wants nothing more to do with him, and that even his wife has left him...
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Beatrice might be intelligent, competent and tough, but still, she doesn't have a good life as a girl or as a young woman. Sometimes though, she does get some nice moments in life. She has two good friends in Sofia and Mary, and she also gets a third friend (Vivienne). Beatrice's relationship with Seth is complicated to say the least, but still, it gives her some moments of joy, so that she doesn't think sex always is bad after she gets raped. And in the end, she and Seth can get married.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: The two Löwenström girls has something like this going on. Beatrice is the Ladette-like and competent one, who will even compete with men in ice-skating and horse-riding. But her cousin Sofia is beautiful, demure and "perfect". But while Sensitive Guy and Manly Man is the technical Spear Counterpart of this trope, their love interests Seth (a Byronic Hero) and Johan (an Ideal Hero) rather have a Noble Male, Roguish Male dynamic.
- Tomboy with a Girly Streak: The ladette-like Beatrice might compete with men in ice-skating and horse-riding. But she also tries to follow the fashion of the era and can be seen wearing fancy dresses, make-up and high heels.
- The McCoy: Beatrice very much fits into this trope. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for her friends actually boarders on pure stupidity.
- Traumatic Haircut: We get a terrible scene, where Rosenschiöld not only rapes and batters Beatrice, but just to further humiliate her, he decides to cut off her hair. But it turns out that she's way more bothered by the other things that he did to her...
- Turn Out Like His Father: Or in this case, "turn out like her grandmother". Beatrice reminds her uncle Wilhelm too much of his mother, who had left her family to study abroad. His treatment of his niece goes downhill from there.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Edvard asks Seth for some money. Seth doesn't like Edvard at all, but as he happens to his best friend's brother-in-law and his love interest's cousin, he does give him some money. But how does Edvard thank Seth? By using the same money to separate him from Beatrice! Justified as Edvard must have been a sociopath, and a sociopath will have a hard time understanding the concept of gratitude.
- Unstoppable Rage: You would think that after he had raped Beatrice on their wedding night, Rosenschiöld would at least not be able to stoop any lower. But he obviously still had the nerve to go into a rage when he found out that she wasn't a virgin.
- Upper-Class Twit:
- Edvard is a very creepy example of this trope. It's not bad enough for him to be a grown man still acting like a Spoiled Brat (albeit with a history of being abused by his father, which is the only thing, that can give us a slight sympathy for him), who totally depends on other people's money, because he doesn't have any idea how to earn any on his own. But he also happens to be a sociopath and a serial abuser of women.
- Sofia is very close to being a female version of this trope. She's a genuinely good-hearted person, unlike her sociopath brother, and no, she's not quite stupid enough to be an airhead. But she would never have been able to make it on her own in the world, because except for that she's good at playing the piano, she doesn't seem to have any other skills at all! She's just a beautiful Proper Lady, who needs her father and then her husband to support her.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: This story has a reconstructed case. Beatrice assumes that Seth is a casanova, who doesn't care more for her than for any other woman. Seth assumes that Beatrice is a shallow gold digger, who only sees him as a fun fling before she gets married to an old aristocrat and becomes a countess. And several unfortunate circumstances (including her cousin completely screwing them over) only makes them even more sure that they can't trust each other. Of course, all of this could have been solved if they only had talked to each other, but it takes them twenty months (and alas, Beatrice being raped and almost killed on her wedding night) to actually reach that point...
- Youthful Freckles: Beatrice has red hair and freckles. And she also is a tomboy and a Plucky Girl.