I am rather partial to fairytale retellings. I find it interesting to see how authors are able to reinvent certain ideas and themes from the original tale. At the outset, The Merchant’s Daughter
has a lot going for it, since in essence it is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast—one of my favorite fairytales. Yet, while I do like the fact that Dickerson does make the story her own, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by it.
At the story’s core, it is definitely a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Yet there are also bits and pieces of Jane Eyre
(the vulcan vs. the adonis, i.e. Rochester and St. John), elements of Gaskell’s North and South
(think of the strikers’ mob scene). As well, religion and religious symbolism play an important part in this story. This is all fine. Yet, Dickerson further compounds her story by adding a crime/mystery element, not to mention a number of saucy wenches and subplots that would have had a better place in an 18th century novel à la Henry Fielding. As I was reading along, I couldn’t help but feel that there was too much going on...somehow everything felt amplified. Yet at the same time, I also felt that there wasn’t enough going on. There is not enough character development. I wished Annabel and Ranulf had more to say to each other, rather than the various visual observations and self-conflicts and inner musings that do occur. Typically I do like reading about inner conflicts, however I found that there was too much. I wanted more outward conversations between these two characters. I even wouldn’t have minded having more religious debates or discussions about what they were reading.
As well, because the story is driven by the various events that drive the plot, I found that Dickerson was losing her initial thread of the Beauty and the Beast tale. For example, in the beginning she focuses in on the symbol of the rose. Yet, Dickerson seems to forget about this detail throughout most of the book, only bringing it back into the story near the end as an almost afterthought. This final description of the rose was rather abrupt and I found this rather disappointing, almost shocking especially since the rose symbol played such an important part in the beginning. At the end it almost seems like an unnecessary detail. It is a sort of betrayal, though one that is in no way comparable to sense of betrayal in Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose. If Dickerson developed the symbolism, it would easily have added much more significance to her story.
But I think my main grievance with the story was the time frame. All of the major events that occur in this novel only take place within a matter of a few weeks. I couldn’t help but find this silly. Especially when a story involves the development of a relationship, I can’t believe that two people could know each other completely within a matter of days. I have always felt that true love and understanding takes time.
Ultimately, I felt that if Dickerson focused more on the main characters and symbolism as a means of driving her story, she would have had a much better and fulfilling story. Her choice of having the plot centered on various almost superfluous events places her story at a disadvantage.