Men and Women

"If it were not that I am at the mercy of the shrewdest of your relatives..."
Johnnie Bullo in "Game of Kings" pt. III, ch. 2
It is not only the masculine protagonists who know how the game is played; here the women are equal to the men, and sometimes even superior.
Fra Fillipo Lippi: A Man and a Woman
Sybilla, Mariotta, Kate, Christian, Gelis, Catherine and Janet are not just interested in treating their curtains with brazil wood or in the latest jam recipes. Strictly speaking, they aren't interested in such things at all. More important than keeping house and bringing up childreh, to which they devote passing attention, are the political intrigues, militant altercations and small secrets of their men, which are properly none of their business.

What Janet hatches out behind her husband's back, what Christian knows and conceals, the men are the last to discover. Dunnett's women stand self-confidently vis-à-vis men. Marian carries on her first husband's business after his death and even expands it.
Gelis challenges Nicholas to a duel for the survival or collapse of a business empire, and in so doing fights for recognition and equality.

"What do men talk about?" asks Mariotta in Game of Kings, and begins a challenging dialogue with Richard, who almost wrecks his marriage by his failure to comprehend that men and women could actually have equal rights as (conversational) partners.

Not one of Dunnett's women is stupid, predictable, or two-dimensional. And where Dunnett does employ clichés, she makes them so strongly ironic that in the end our sympathy is once again on the woman's side.

Agnes Herries, her head full of chivalric romances, gets what she dreams of, a romantic lover and the husband she wishes for. However much of a caricature she is in the beginning, her final appearance in Game of Kings shows that Agnes is more than just a silly romantic goose.
Vittorio Carpaccio: Reading Woman
Even the inexperienced Catherine, who runs away to Trebizond with her lover Pagano Doria, isn't just a spoiled child. Disappointed by his failure in commerce, she takes Pagano's business into her own hands.

Dunnett's heroes are plagued by neuroses and traumatic experiences. They have complex and difficult relationships to women, and especially to their mothers. Women remain the driving force in their lives, and the tool women use to gain a hold on men is manipulation. And what could represent it better than the dark joke Dunnett allows herself with her readers in the Lymond Chronicles? The Dame de Doubtance, who shares the author's initials not just by chance, manipulates the Crawford family's fate behind the scenes like a spider spinning her web. None of the protagonists escapes her schemes, and in the end her presence is felt even from beyond the grave.

"Do you think I bring any child into the world to live for himself alone?" Sybilla demands of her son in "Checkmate" (pt. V, ch. 8), forcing him into responsibility and back into life. That's how it is with Dunnett. In the end the men, none of them fairy-tale princes, need the women more than vice versa. Dunnett's men fulfill almost every romantic topos, concerning themselves with birth, heritage, wealth and success. Dunnett's women fulfill not a single one; what concerns them is independence.

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