The main discussion posts on the Wyckerley Trilogy may be found at Something More.
My main takeaway from Forever and Ever by Patricia Gaffney is that it’s a story of a relationship between equals. This might seem an odd thing to say, when the heroine owns a copper mine and comes from wealth, and the hero from a family of poor miners who expended great effort to educate him. Their class differences are a major part of the plot, and give rise to a lot of conflict between them. But in the end, what felt important to me was that in those conflicts, both characters had their say. Neither of them is always right, and each conflict leads to each character reconsidering their position and to compromising. Their relationship is constantly in search of balance, but if not for the conflicts, I think their interest in each other would soon fade.
Throughout, they are on a voyage of discovery, constantly fearing the unknown, even as they desire it, and are willing to adapt to it. She didn’t move; the invisible thread that held their gazes had hypnotized her, too. Finally she whispered, “I’m afraid of you.” It floored him. It evened the score, because he was afraid of her, too. But she was braver: she could admit it, and he couldn’t. Sophie begins the story in a much safer position than Connor does. She is secure in her material wealth and social position, while he has always had to fight for what he wants. They must constantly try to negotiate a middle ground.
For instance, near the beginning of the novel, they argue about literature.
She gritted her teeth. Emma Woodhouse was her favorite heroine in all of fiction; she would not stand by while this—this—miner defamed her. “The point is,” she said again, louder, “she learns from her mistakes. It’s true that she’s not a perfect heroine, but that only makes her more interesting and human. Her flaws are forgivable because she has a good heart. She can be foolish and misguided, yes, but when she interferes in other people’s lives it’s because she really believes she’s helping them. And in the end everyone—Emma, Harriet, Jane Fairfax, even Mrs. Elton—each marries exactly the right person, not only according to their hearts and their temperaments, but their stations, too. All the couples—-”
“Their stations? So Harriet could only marry a farmer because that’s what she was born for?” No boyishness now; his pale gray eyes speared her, intense and unwavering.
Sophie considered the question and answered it honestly. “Yes.” But she wasn’t prepared for the loaded silence that followed, or the uneasy feeling that accompanied her reply—although she believed it was correct. For the first time she saw uncertainty, perhaps even mistrust in the faces of her friends and neighbors. The look on Mr. Pendarvis’s face was subtler and better hidden, but she interpreted it easily. It was contempt.
“…ladies who look down on other people because of their ‘stations’ aren’t heroic. They’re stupid and arrogant.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I think I do.”
“No, no, and—-I could never make you understand.”
“Because I’m a poor, uneducated copper miner?”
She ignored that. “You’re making a comparison that isn’t fair, a false analogy. An analogy is a—-”
“I know what an analogy is,” he snapped.
She flushed—-but she wanted to ask how he knew, and if he knew, then how could he be a poor, uneducated copper miner? She shook her head quickly, frustratedly; this was hopeless. She was in an argument she couldn’t win, even though she was still sure she was right, and it was beginning to seem as if every encounter she had with Mr. Pendarvis put her in this disagreeable position.
Later, after Sophie has learned Connor betrayed her by reporting on work conditions in the mine, she is angry, but then she begins to reconsider. I think this is more easily possible for her because she has the power in their relationship at this point, as she’s higher on the social scale. Connor of course has the advantage of being male; later, he’s offered opportunities that would be denied to any woman, even one high on the social scale; but at this point, Sophie is more free to make choices. Connor is trapped by lack of money and position.
Once before when happiness had been wrenched away and her life was in turmoil, the mine had saved her. This time it did not. Days passed before she could bring herself to acknowledge why, and the reason made her more despondent. Since childhood, she had seen Guelder through her father’s eyes, but now she was seeing it through the eyes of Connor Pendarvis. It changed everything.
Connor, meanwhile, is still trapped in his lower social position, and has also lost Sophie through his own inaction. The strange thing was that he was still angry with her. All the blame was his, and yet every time he thought of the things she’d said at their last harrowing meeting, his skin felt hot. Fury and mortification came boiling up in him, as if the encounter had happened yesterday or an hour ago. You taught me how low I could sink. I’ll spend the rest of my life repenting what I did with you. Maybe he deserved that–yes, all right, he deserved it–but her absolute disgust still infuriated him. Sophie was a snob, and he believed in his heart that not a single moment had passed during their summer-long acquaintance, not even the night they had made love in her narrow bed, when she didn’t consider him her social inferior. He himself had much to answer for, but he couldn’t forgive her for that.
Throughout, their relationship is active; over and over again, they must make the choice to be together. When Connor first sees Sophie, he knows she’s of a higher social class (though not higher than the class to which he aspires). Despite being uncomfortable with their differences, he chooses to pursue her, and after some misgivings, Sophie chooses to be with him, risking her own social position in many ways. They repeatedly choose to continue their relationship. “I don’t know what will happen, Sophie, but I think we have to begin sometime.” With his fingertips light on her cheek, he passed his thumb over her closed lips, watching them quiver. “We have to come toward each other.”
Later in the novel, they acknowledge that despite their differences, their personalities are very alike (another source of conflict for them). “We’re too much alike,” Sophie sighed, snuggling against him. “That’s our problem, Con. We’re too much alike.”
“A blessing and a curse…We have the same temper. The same pride. Exactly the same things make us angry.”
I really love this exchange. He said, “I think you love me, Sophie.” Before she could agree or disagree, he added, “But I don’t think you always approve of me. And I want that. Need that.”
“Don’t say anything, sweetheart. I just wanted to tell you.”
“I feel the same,” she whispered, shy, stroking his temple over and over. “I know I’m not the sort of woman you’d have married if you’d had a choice. No, I’m not,” she insisted when he tried to interrupt. “You’d have chosen someone smarter—”
“—and more liberal. A socialist, probably.”
“Hm, I’ve never met a lady socialist. It wouldn’t have been easy.”
“I’m serious, Connor.”
“Maybe Karl Marx has a sister.”
And…that’s pretty much it from me. I thought I would be saying more about the class conflict in this novel, but I can sum it up as “I liked the way Gaffney showed her characters dealing with their class differences, the end.”