Elysia Smith Recommends “Misfortune” by Wesley Stace

In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series Elysia Smith, recent English Department graduate, recommends Misfortune by Wesley Stace.

As a literature enthusiast, I am constantly on the prowl for books that not only challenge me but also manage to walk that line between easy-read and complex yet enthralling. Very few texts manage to do this, leaving me high and dry every summer, stuck with the same old dusty friends on my shelf. This story was tried and true until, one hapless Saturday morning, I was visiting my mother, and she took me to a place in Northern Indiana called Better World books.

Now, Better World is a treasure trove—to put it lightly. I’ve found first editions nestled carefully between Martha Stewart cookbooks, not to mention a number of unsung poetry texts. When I arrived that June day, I expected to walk out with an armful of new pals. But, what I found was so much better. Standing on a ladder to reach the rarely perused top shelf, I discovered the book, Misfortune. Written by Wesley Stace, this fictional trapeze act caught my attention and didn’t let go.

Misfortune is the tale of an interestingly unfortunate heroine named Rose Old.

Set in the mysterious Love Hall, the homestead of a wealthy Lord named Geoffroy Loveall, Misfortune never ceases to amaze.

Lord Loveall is seeking an heir.  And to his stupendous disbelief, he stumbles upon just that—a baby tossed aside on a rubbish heap deep in the heart of London. Of course, this seems bizarre. Why take an orphan in as your heir when society will never accept one, especially if that orphan is a girl child? Well, Lord Loveall has a secret—one of many festering behind the staunch gates of Love Hall.

The Lord had always wanted a daughter. And as Rose begins to grow, the secret of Love Hall becomes impossible to hide. Rose, the Lord’s sweet baby girl, is in fact a boy.

As Lady Rose begins to bloom beneath petticoats, things unravel faster than s/he can believe. Never having been a boy before, Lady Rose must fight angry relatives all clamoring for a shot at the riches hidden beneath Love Hall. Rose has no choice but to flee. He accepts his new gender and abandons the safety and luxury of his beloved home, traveling half-way around the world to find himself.

This story culminates in beautiful Greek allusions that challenge our perception of what it means to be a man, or a woman, or like Rose: a man and a woman all at once and ravishing with vitality. I, personally, appreciated this story for pushing me beyond what I considered a comfortable place in my own understanding of gender. I was a mere 18 when I discovered this book, and it has haunted me ever since.

The language chosen by Stace weaves itself into a tapestry of magnificent proportion. It takes on all the life and charm of Rose Old, all the glamour of a bygone era, and finally the challenge of complicating a human truth: are we willing to define ourselves, carve our own hallowed images rather than always listening to what the mirror can tell us?

Stace, Wesley. Misfortune: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and, 2005. Print.

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