Whereas Mia and Sam’s relationship is salvageable, Evan’s control of Nell was irrevocably warped from the beginning and could never allow either partner to flourish. Evan had offered Nell material security and social status, but at a terrible cost. She “was twenty-four. He was ten years older, and everything I wasn’t. Sophisticated, brilliant, cultured” (Dance 111) and “He made me feel … grateful that he would pay attention to me” (Dance 112). Nell was, nonetheless, at this point an “educated woman with an enviable skill” (Dance 111) and a burgeoning career but Evan took her away from Chicago, where she and her mother ran a “catering business” which had “built up an impressive reputation” and “developed an elite list of clients” (Dance 111). By removing her to California and placing her in a “white palace” (Dance 59) of a house where “It seemed at first like being a princess in a castle” (Dance 110), Evan made her a kind of prisoner. In his mind, if not in truth, he transformed her into a woman with “no skills” and as such, he believed her dependent on him since there was no way she “could [...] earn a living without him to provide for her” (Dance 350).
Trapped in her “castle” Nell “had known all the privileges of great wealth. And for three years had lived in fear and misery” (Dance 8). In exchange for her liberty Nell is, therefore, prepared to cast away all the objects which Evan had given her: she is content to live in a “little yellow cottage and wake each morning with a giddy, glorious sense of freedom” (Dance 43). Given that one of the first changes she makes on taking up residence in the cottage is to plant “Herbs. Rosemary, basil, tarragon, and so on” (Dance 45), one might see her happiness in her new home as an endorsement of Proverbs 15:17: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” Evan’s pretended love was most certainly a form of hatred because he despises women, believing that “women, by nature, were given to flights of fancy and foolishness” (Dance 338) and “were, at the center, whores” (Dance 350).
Nell’s relationship with Evan therefore weakened and diminished her: “He made me feel small. Small, smaller, smallest, until I all but disappeared” (Dance 313). Nell “wasn’t a doormat” (Dance 239) when she first met Evan, but he attempted to change her into one. He “claimed to love” Nell “above all things” (Dance 7) but what this really meant was that he believed her to be “destined for [...] him, meant to be molded and formed by him” (Dance 267). He therefore attempted to make her into a possession. Evan had always chosen his
possessions [...] with care [...]. He had always known precisely what he preferred, and precisely what he wanted. He’d always made certain to obtain it. Whatever the cost, whatever the effort.
Everything that surrounded him reflected his taste. (Dance 264)
Nell, as his wife, became another possession: “She had belonged to him” (Dance 265). He had seen her and “worked very hard” (Dance 313) to obtain her: “He stayed in Chicago for two weeks, made it clear he was staying, reorganizing his schedule, putting off his clients, his work, his life” (Dance 112). Then, when he had her, he ensured she too “reflected his taste”: “Nell “looked the way he told me to look, and behaved the way he told me to behave” (Dance 112). Having obtained her, he considers her body a thing which “belongs to” (Dance 362) him and he therefore feels that Zack, who met Nell after her escape from Evan, has been “trying to steal” (Dance 366) Nell from him.
C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (1942), like Roberts’ trilogy, portrays a spiritual reality in which demons work ceaselessly to obtain human souls. In one letter Screwtape, a demon who is highly experienced at leading humans into sin, states that one of the ways in which to do so is to
teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun—the finely graded differences that run from "my boots" through "my dog", "my servant", "my wife", "my father", "my master" and "my country", to "my God". They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of "my boots", the "my" of ownership. Even [...] a child can be taught to mean by "my Teddy-bear" not the [...] recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation [...] but "the bear I can pull to pieces if I like". (92-93)
The demon in Roberts series is much less articulate but when Evan states that Nell is “mine” (Dance 368), “my wife. [...] She belongs to me” (Dance 369), it is clear that he has been taught this demonic lesson and is using “the ‘my’ of ownership.” Moreover, like the child, he is prepared to destroy his possession: he would rather “slit her throat” (Dance 368) than let her go. As Nell asserts her personhood and regains the magic she needs in order to defeat the demon she states
“I belong to myself.” Power trickled back into her, a slow pool. “I belong to me.” And faster. “And to you,” she said, her eyes locked on Zack’s. (Dance 370)
It is an assertion both that there are “different senses of the” word “belong” and that Nell is choosing a belonging based on love and respect rather than possession.
It is also significant that Nell’s sense of belonging extends beyond her new romantic relationship: “She belonged. To the village, she thought. To Zack. And finally, finally, she belonged to herself” (Dance 357). The “village” comprises both people with whom Nell feels a sense of community and a “spot for memories to take root and bloom” (Dance 42) in which she can feel secure. Germaine Greer stated of women that all their “love is guided by the search for security” (142). This was, as Nell admits, an important factor in her relationship with Evan given that
Even as a child she’d felt displaced. Not by her parents, she thought [...]. Never by them. But home had been wherever her father was stationed, and until his orders changed. There’d been no single place for childhood [...].
Her mother had had the gift of making a home wherever they were, and for however long. But it wasn’t the same as knowing you would wake up to the same view out of your bedroom window day after day.
And that was a yearning Nell had carried with her always.
Her mistake had been in believing she could soothe that yearning with Evan, when she should have known it was something she had to find for herself. (Dance 42-43)
Nell finds this sense of home, therefore, not in either Evan or Zack, but in the village on the island.