ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Patience & Esther: An Edwardian Romance’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Patience & Esther - But Why Tho?

Patience & Esther: An Edwardian Romance is an erotic historical romance written and illustrated by S.W. Searle, and published by Iron Circus Comics. Patience & Esther follows the lives of Patience Payne and Esther Byrd as they fall in love and build their life together.

Patience takes a job as a housemaid with the Honeycutt family so she can send her wages back to her family. While working for the Honeycutt’s, she rooms with and works alongside Esther, the head housemaid and lady’s maid. And as the two get to know each other better, they begin a romantic, and then sexual, relationship.

In Patience & Esther, Searle creates a happy, healthy relationship between the two women. Patience and Esther look out for each other. Whether it’s Patience helping Esther get out of a social obligation she doesn’t feel comfortable attending, or Esther helping Patience scrape together a hangover meal for Lady Blythe and her guests, they have each other’s backs. And while Esther and Patience have very different backgrounds and personalities—Esther is more introverted compared to Patience’s outgoing nature—they mutually respect each other.

Despite the book being at its core, an erotic romance, Searle doesn’t look at the past with rose-colored glasses, as though things like colonialism, racism, and classism didn’t exist. Esther’s mother was an ayah, a nanny, for a wealthy household back in her home Calcutta. Esther’s father was the sahib, or master, of the house. He had a relationship with Esther’s mother, until marrying another British woman. After this marriage, he finds Esther a position with Lord Honeycutt and gives Esther’s money so she can quit working for his household, all to hide the evidence of his relationship with a nonwhite woman. To fit in better, Esther’s father insists on her using the last name Byrd, though her true last name is Saha. Esther has to largely deny her cultural identity on a daily basis. 

Lady Blythe considers herself a modern woman. She has sex freely with whomever she wants, she has her own townhouse, and she’s part of the women’s suffrage movement. But Lady Blythe doesn’t truly believe all women are equal. She frequently reduces Esther to stereotypes about India, and during a salon hosted at her townhouse, Lady Blythe talks at length about how she believes it’s the responsibility of her and other wealthy white women to help liberate themselves from their customs she calls “barbaric.” For all her talk of women’s rights and liberation, Lady Blythe clearly doesn’t see Indian women as equal to her as a white woman.

And race isn’t the only thing Lady Blythe is ignorant of in Patience & Esther; she also fails to understand the true gravity of the difference of privilege between upper-class women, and lower-class working women like Patience and Esther. The upper-class women at a meeting of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies discuss being arrested for the cause as an inconvenience, but nothing too devastating.  Patience points out how this would ruin the lives of women like her and Esther, but the woman quickly ends the conversation like it never happened.

While Lady Blythe and her social circle of upper-class white women say they support women’s rights, they still don’t see the ignorance and contradiction of their own attitudes and prejudices against women of color and lower-class women. Unlike Patience and Esther, these women don’t see the very real issues with society because of their excessive wealth, and their whiteness already gives them a large degree of freedom. 

With WLW (women loving women) romances, sexual content can come across as fetishizing—something for the male gaze—if not done well. But Searle takes great care with the art of Patience & Esther, especially during sex scenes. Not once does the sexual content feel exploitative or disrespectful to the characters. Yes, it’s still erotica, but Patience and Esther’s sexual relationship feels mutually respectful and enjoyable for both parties. The women frequently check in with each other to make sure the other is still feeling pleasure and is comfortable with what’s happening. Searle’s art and writing make it clear that Patience and Esther’s sexual encounters are about making sure their partner feels pleasure and feels loved, not just something to be objectified. 

And Searle takes a body positive approach to the characters, especially Patience. Patience is fat; she has stretch marks, she has body rolls. And while Patience herself has a moment of worry that Esther might want someone that’s closer to Lady Blythe’s very thin body type, Esther quickly reassures her that she is attracted to Patience. Every part of her. There’s no scene in Patience & Esther that pulls the rug out from under you where someone tells Patience “you’re pretty for a fat girl.” No, Patience is fat, and she’s attractive, loved, and desired. These characteristics aren’t treated as mutually exclusive because they’re not. And it’s wonderful that Searle includes this message. 

Patience & Esther is an erotic romance that doesn’t gloss over the societal issues of the time but also doesn’t feel so hopeless that the reader can’t enjoy the relationship being built. 

Patience & Esther will be available on January 26, 2021. 

Patience & Esther
5

TL;DR

Patience & Esther is an erotic romance that doesn’t gloss over the societal issues of the time but also doesn’t feel so hopeless that the reader can’t enjoy the relationship being built.