Mary Balogh's Christmas Belle tracks the pursuit of love and respectability by the driven actress Isabella Gellee after she has fled to the continent from London's theatrical scene and unflattering assumptions about the sexual lives of its actresses. She returns to England, widowed with two children and famous as an extremely talented actress, only to end up starring in an amateur theatrical while at a houseparty hosted, naturally enough, by the grandparents of the lover from whom she fled. During the bickering stage of their reacquaintance, the Christmas play seems focused on Portia from Merchant of Venice and Kate from Taming in the excerpts that she plans to perform.
Soon, however, the emphasis settles decidedly on Othello, as Balogh reveals that the hero's raging jealousy drove Isabella away. The hero, Jack Frazier, is naturally cast as Othello opposite Isabella's Desdemona, provoking the audience within the novel to weep "for the world beyond innocence, where love did not always bring happiness, where there could be so many misunderstandings and tragedies because people would not talk openly with each other--even with those they loved" (205). The novel's narrative of early jealous insecurity and accusations of adultery echoes Othello, but the lovers, older and wiser, get a second chance largely because Isabella cannot fully adopt the posture of Desdemona's submission:
She could not understand Desdemona. Although she had played the part several times before, she suddenly felt locked outside the person who was Desdemona. She could not feel with Desdemona's heart or think with her mind or breathe the air she breathed. She wanted to become angry. She wanted to fight back the way she had fought back nine years ago. She wanted to hurt him as he was hurting her. She had done it once, and she thought she had succeeded well enough. She had started to tell him this morning that she sometimes regretted it. No, she could not be Desdemona (Balogh 143).
Rather than submitting and agreeing with her lover's assessment of her as Desdemona seems to do, Isabella fought back with her false acknowledgement that she has taken lovers and with her flight from Jack. Thus she reworks Desdemona's one lie "no one, I myself" and her apparent submission to Othello into an aggressive use of Jack's/Othello's greatest fear. However, their "performance" of Othello also allows him his fantasy of the submissive, betraying woman only to reflect his own excessive jealousy back at him. Her later confession of fidelity then paves the way for their reconciliation, but his recognition that, like Othello, there was no cause for his obsessive jealousy is equally crucial and equally mediated through the "amateur" performance of the scene from Othello.
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