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The Sheik by E. M. Hull
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The Sheik (1919)

by E. M. Hull

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I don't know how this is possible, but somehow I liked and was horrified and repelled by this book, all at the same time. I started reading it after reading snippets of Janet's Dear Author post, “Can't Find My Way Home.” I have read very few older romance novels and no sheik/desert romance novels (although I do own an as-yet unread copy of Marguerite Kaye's Innocent in the Sheikh's Harem). I figured I might as well give this one a try since I could get it for free. I knew to expect racism and a rape-y male protagonist, but that didn't seem to help me much once I was actually reading the book. I almost DNF'ed it a couple times, and yet I can't say I truly hated it. It's weird.

I was most engrossed in the book during the parts before Diana realized she was in love with Ahmed. Prior to her journey into the desert, Diana was naive, fearless, and kind of cold. She believed herself to be incapable of emotion, or at least the softer emotions like affection and love. She had absolutely no concept of how dangerous the desert could be and saw it only as a wild and fascinating place that drew her.

After she was kidnapped, nearly everything that initially defined her was ripped away. She learned to fear, as Ahmed's men overtook her guides and as Ahmed raped her. Hull did a fantastic job of depicting Diana's fear, so fantastic that I almost DNF'ed the book. It was almost painful for me to read further, and even worse to realize that, at some point, Diana was going to fall in love with Ahmed. I had serious doubts that Hull could ever redeem him in my eyes, and those doubts turned out to be justified. I'm uncomfortable with calling The Sheik a romance, because it's not like any other romance I can ever remember reading. It's a Stockholm syndrome romance.

I had expected/hoped that Ahmed would change his behavior towards Diana and realize how horribly he had behaved before Diana fell in love with him. Unfortunately, Ahmed's...discomfort...over what he'd done to Diana came well after she fell in love with him.

Her love seemed to happen literally in an instant. She had worked out a way to escape him and was riding away on her beloved horse, Silver Star. Unfortunately, she had been so focused on just getting away that she neglected to think about what she was going to do next, aside from ride as far away as possible. Ahmed caught up with her and told her he'd shoot her horse if she didn't stop running from him. She was so desperate to get away from him that she decided to call him on that, except he wasn't bluffing. He shot and killed her horse. While he was carrying her back to his home, she realized she'd fallen in love with him. The timing of her realization was so incredibly horrible that I was stunned. I even clicked back a few pages, just to make sure I hadn't missed something.

My horror at Diana's “love” for Ahmed grew when I realized she still feared him. Her totally justified fear of him made him more the kind of person a romance novel heroine should be running away from, rather than someone she should hope to continue to be with. Diana knew, because he had told her, that he would probably send her away if her love for him became obvious, so she tried to hide her feelings from him and pretend that nothing had changed.

If I remember correctly, the most notable shift in Ahmed's feelings occurred when his friend Raoul de Saint Hubert arrived. Diana treated him very much the same way she had treated Arbuthnot, a man who, early on in the book, confessed his love to her. She rejected him but asked if they could continue to be friends. Diana and Saint Hubert's relationship was entirely innocent at first, although Saint Hubert soon fell in love with her. Ahmed was ragingly jealous, and he mostly took it out on Diana. Diana, for her part, had no clue why Ahmed was suddenly so cold towards her.

I'm guessing I was supposed to sigh over my secret knowledge that Ahmed cared for Diana enough to feel jealous. I'm also guessing I was supposed to feel giddy over Ahmed's race to save Diana after she was taken by his enemy, and thrilled at his realization that he loved her. I was supposed to forgive him for his earlier behavior, because upsetting Diana suddenly gave him no pleasure. It's possible that all of this could have given me warm fuzzies, maybe even just a little...if it had all happened prior to Diana falling in love with Ahmed. As it was, it was all too little, too late. Also, considering the depth of Diana's fear earlier in the book, I'm not entirely convinced that the shift in Ahmed's feelings and motivation would have been enough to win me over, no matter when it had occurred. Had I been plotting this book, Diana would have stabbed Ahmed's eyes out at some point. She would then have escaped, dressed a boy, and picked up some street smarts while doing her best to evade Ahmed's men.

Had Hull not written this as a romance, I probably would have liked it a lot more. It's weird that, as much as I disliked the “romance” between Diana and Ahmed, I still enjoyed a good portion of the book. It was an interesting read, and the pacing worked really, really well for me. I'm actually planning on giving the one other book of Hull's on Project Gutenberg a shot someday. I'm just going to need a nice, long break first.

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Dec 5, 2013 |
Reading lightly (as I did) this novel that helped establish romance as a genre merely caters to harmless fantasy. This was Fifty Shades for the 1919 set, if you substitute fade-to-black for graphic scenes and remove the woman's consent. I suppose the idea of consenting to such treatment was probably one step too far for readers to swallow back then. An easy read if not for the strenuously long paragraphs and chapters. The formula must have worked since it was popular enough to launch a movie version that established Rudolph Valentino's fame for all time. It's only the flight-of-fancy romance that matters here, so check your brain at the door.

Reading more seriously will only get you highly offended by the story of a rape victim abruptly falling madly in love with her abusive captor, after which they live happily ever after. Good luck finding success with that in 2013, next to today's news headlines and novels like "Room" by Emma Donoghue. The author also strays into describing women as the weaker sex; a feminist tract this ain't. It's a long fall after the introductory description that casts the female lead as being remarkably strong-willed and self-empowered, albeit sexually repressed.

Another reviewer had me ponder the story as a survival guide for abused women being underserved in 1919 - tell yourself you're in love to remove some of the horror. That would be giving this story too much credit for noble intentions. It can't even retain credit for encouraging diversity since the happy ending establishes that, not to worry, the sheik isn't really an Arab after all. The abuse was okay too, because the sheik was only cruel when he was drunk and now he won't get drunk anymore.

I have an e-reader and it was free. Take only the lighter approach, or skip it entirely. ( )
  Cecrow | Sep 11, 2013 |
By: Edith Maude Hull
Published By: Hard Press
Age Recommended: Adult
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: 5
Review:

"The Sheik" by Edith Maude Hull was a good romantic, historical, and adventurous read. This novel was a very interesting read first being published in 1921 and now it is still such a good read that you will not be able to put it down until the end. The read is of 'kidnapping and forced affection' that will only leave you thinking wow this is some read! I found "The Sheik" well written only willing you to keep 'rived' on to keep turning the pages. As you read you will see really how Ahmed feels about Diana and how she really feels about him. I found all of the characters well developed, well portrayed and so very colorful. For the hero...was he a brutal savage? Does he love Diana? Will the heroine Diana feel some attraction to Ahmed, even though at the beginning there was hate, now fear his 'passionate nature' even though she fights her true feelings for him...that fear of not being in control? Now, I don't what to tell too much but do pick up this good read by this author to see how this will all turn out. Yes, there will be some issues but this author does a good job at bringing it out to the reader with the hints of sex which I found even more exciting. My favorite part of the story was the last chapter. I like how the author was able to let the reader see how romance was back in those days which certainly left me saying Wow what passion! "The Sheik" was definitely a good read that you will want see how this 'African Desert' comes alive. Would I recommend? YES! ( )
  arlenadean | Aug 29, 2013 |
What an exciting book this was! Romance and adventure in the desert with a sheik who wants nothing more than to....well i wont say anymore but if you want to read a good romance then this one is definitely for you. ( )
  MissBHaven | Apr 4, 2010 |
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Book description
VIRAGO EDITION:
'He was looking at her with fierce burning eyes that swept her until she felt that the boyish clothes that covered her slender limbs were stripped from her.' The Sheik - to become notorious as Rudolph Valentino's greatest screen role - is an astonishing and touchingly artless expression of female sexual masochism. One of Virago's trio of turn-of-the-century erotic best-sellers - with Elinor Glyn's Three Weeks and Ethel M Dell's Way of an Eagle, its wilful heroine, is kidnapped and subjugated by the cruel but strangely compelling Sheik Ahmed who, it emerges, is not all that he seems.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812217632, Paperback)

Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy—and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger. Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered—and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

One of the most widely read novels of the 1920s, and forever fixed in the popular imagination in the film version starring the irresistible Rudolph Valentino, The Sheik is recognized as the immediate precursor to the modern romance novel. When first published there was nothing like it: To readers the story was scandalous, exotic, and all-consuming; to such critics as the New York Times the book was "shocking," although written with "a high degree of literary skill." In the author's native England, the bestselling book was labeled "poisonously salacious" by the Literary Review and banned from some communities. But the public kept reading.

The influence of The Sheik on romance writers and readers continues to resonate. Despite controversy over its portrayal of sexual exploitation as a means to love, The Sheik remains a popular classic for its representation of the social order of its time, capturing contemporary attitudes toward colonialism as well as female power and independence that still strike a chord with readers today.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:22 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When Diana Mayo plans on a month long trip into the desert with no escort but her Arab guides, no one thinks that it is a good idea.

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