I’m sure you have been seeing Mackenzie Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue around the internet. For a while there, I was hesitant to read it. But, as soon as I started reading it, I realized that this is one of the coolest books I had read in a long time.
Revisiting historical contexts
Essentially, the story is about a trio (two siblings, and their friend who is a person of color) in the 1800s. Monty and his sister Felicity along with Percy are on a grand tour. Basically, it’s a last hurrah before moving to “adulthood.”
The really cool part of the story is the combination of the setting in contrast with the perspectives offered in the story. Monty is an able bodied bisexual man who is wealthy. Throughout the story, Felicity and Percy seem to slap him with the reality of their existence within the society he once assumed was tough on him.
I just love how Mackenzie Lee addresses privilege and perspective. Part of me is kind of afraid that this book will be dismissed as fluff. It is not that at all (to me, anyway).
Because, yes, the story is fun and loose in terms of its following of a grand plot, but the point is the way it is highlighting differences between Monty’s experience and that of Felicity and Percy.
subverting social expectations
I don’t want to spoil the book (I won’t), but all I can say is that the trio definitely subverts the expectations of their time. For once, Felicity is interested in things frowned upon for women. She is certainly more in charge of her two companions than one would assume.
Percy, a person of color with a health condition very close to something I experience, is faced with a destiny secluded from everyone else. He is also addressed in such awful ways. I was afraid for him, definitely. I think you would, too.
Through it all, these three people go on an adventure that no one really expects for them to have. I mean, the tour was scheduled in such an air-tight way. There was a mentor figure with them, and there was a route planned.
But, no. they drift. And, I know this may frustrate some people. But, what drove me most was how relevant this story set in the 1800s even now in 2017.
morality and growth
Obviously, the story is frank in its addresses of sexuality (Monty is bisexual in a time of strong queer-phobia). In many ways, the story is about an arc of growth for the three main characters. It is about deciding on conforming or not. And, if not, figuring out how they’ll exist as people.
What I truly love is that what the society presents as “morally sound” is strongly critiqued and questioned. There is a lot of exploration of familial physical abuse, and, to a lesser extent, emotional abuse. It certainly colors the way Monty behaves, as well as acts as incentive for him to think he is “ruined.” Certainly, it is a notion that echoes with me as someone who experienced abuse from within family.
and i guess
I suppose, if we were to go on a superficial note here, the book is just funny, and witty. It has charming characters who are worth the investment of your time and energy. I have not met someone quite like Felicity. Some people say that she’s like Hermione, but I think she’s a bit more of a pioneer.
Read this book. It’s definitely up there on my list of favorites. So good.