Aug 23 2012 9:30am

Pouring Your Heart Out: The Angstiest Scene in Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaughtSettle in. Today we’re talking angst. You know the scene that knocks your heart into your throat and solidly lodges it there? The scene that makes your eyes scour the page faster as you worry for the characters? The scene you can read again and again and still be drawn in every last time? Yeah, that scene.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE me some angst. And my absolute favorite angsty scene OF ALL TIME is the scene in Judith McNaught’s classic Whitney, My Love when Whitney takes a chance and (unannounced) visits Clayton at his estate in an attempt to win him back. When Clay finally arrives, he’s got another woman with him!

(Bites nails)

Clayton’s brother, Stephen, convinces Whitney to stay. At one point, their mother even gets involved, squeezing Whitney’s hand under the table to demonstrate her support. This is all done in multiple POVs, I might add (and all the better for it, in my opinion. But don’t get me started on POVs…)

That one scene *may* be the sole reason why I’m an avid romance reader. I’ve read it probably 100 times and it NEVER gets old. Whitney’s sitting there, with her heart on her sleeve, wanting to tell Clay she loves him and wants him back, but his snotty lady friend, Vanessa Standfield, is sitting there sniping at Whitney and making her feel miserable. Meanwhile, Clayton’s still angry with Whitney and not about to give an inch. Okay, that sort of makes it sound bad, but believe me, if you haven’t read it, go READ it. Aside from the rape controversy, I personally think Whitney, My Love is a masterpiece, and I absolutely adore McNaught. Once And Always is my favorite romance novel of all time, in fact.

But that scene—my favorite scene—from Whitney, My Love is just so darn…good. I can read it again and again and still be drawn into the emotion of it. I freakin’ KNOW what’s going to happen. Heck, by this point, I could probably even recite it, but it still gets me. Every. Single. Time.

And the dialogue, oh, the dialogue! Check this out. They’re all at dinner together (awkward!) and Clayton and Whitney are having this animated conversation full of subtext and a hint o’ good, old-fashioned passive-aggression. Vanessa sort of senses that Whitney is her rival for Clayton’s affection, but she doesn’t know the whole history between them, of course. In order to get her claws in, Vanessa not-so-subtly tells Whitney that she and Clayton are engaged. Cue Clayton’s mother squeezing Whitney’s hand and convincing her to stay. And then, this…

Whitney couldn’t bear to think of Clayton married to such a haughty beauty—not when she herself loved him so much, and had come this far, in this embarrassing fashion to tell him so. She thought of Clayton holding Vanessa in his arms and kissing her in that intimate way of his, and that made Whitney angry and jealous enough to stay.

Vanessa put her hand on Clayton’s arm. “I hope you aren’t angry with me for blurting out our secret in front of a stranger.”

“I’m certain he isn’t the least angry, Miss Standfield,” Whitney said quietly, but her eyes were on Clayton. “We all do foolish things when we’re in love. Don’t we, your grace?” [Did I mention he’s a super hot duke?]

“Do we?” Clayton countered repressively. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Then you either have a very short memory,” Whitney challenged softly, “or a very convenient one. Or perhaps you’ve never been in love, after all.”

Clayton’s wineglass slammed on the table. “Precisely what is that supposed to mean?”

The goading continues for three more pages before they finally have it out and then the real fun begins when they leave the room together, Clayton calling for Whitney’s coach to be brought round immediately. She only has five minutes to convince the man she loves to take her back.

Oh, the agony!

We’re told that readers read to experience tension and that scene exemplifies this to me. Some readers love sexual tension, others love fight scenes, or big battles, or wry humor, but give me a standing-in-the-rain knowing-the-love-of-your-life-is-walking-away-forever angsty scene any day.

So, tell me, do you love angst, too? And if so, what’s the angsty scene that you can read again and again? I’m always looking for more angst, so please do share.


Valerie Bowman writes Racy Regency Romps. You can find her on Twitter at @ValerieGBowman and on the web at

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1. Alie
I love this book and scene too, despite the rape controversies. McNaught is always great for a tension filled scene. Have you tried Paradise or Perfect by McNaught? They kind of tie in together in terms of characters, but very angsty!
Barbara Bauschka
2. njoireading
One of mine is the scene in Not Quite a Husband where Bryony tells Leo exactly what happened the day it all went bad. It is a continuation of a conversation that started in the deep of the night. Bryony's parting shot leaves Leo thinking over the past and he decides to confront Bryony. He is not prepared at all for what she tells him.
3. Ella Quinn
I do love angst. One of my favorite scenes is from GH's Venitia when she shows up at the hero's house. Nice post.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
4. Kiersten
ONCE AND ALWAYS!!!! JASON!!!! That is all.

McNaught has been an all-time favorite of mine since I was 12. Love so many of her books. Almost Heaven (oh my giddy aunt, Ian), Kingdom of Dreams and Once and Always top the list.
Valerie Bowman
7. ValerieBowman
@Kiersten You are my book-reading twin! Once and Always' Jason is my all-time favorite romance novel hero. Hands down. No ifs, ands, or buts. FAVORITE. He could not be hotter.
8. J-me
I live for the angst!! I find it makes the story that much sweeter and brings the character to their lowest/most desperate point and that is always entertaining. - not is a sadistic way. People can some times be cruel when they're hurt, its natural to try and protect yourself and I think that angst definitely has its place in romance. Make the person fight for you!

I really enjoyed 'My Darling Caroline' by Adele Ashworth.
''An arranged marriage between Brent and Caroline;
When Brent discovers what Caroline had planned to do, which was leave him, the serve he gives her, is without a doubt the most heart wrenching, hurtful and cold I have read, it was fantastic!! Oh he is such a bastard to her, stomping all over her heart with his big muddy boots. When she is realistically 90% innocent and only 10% guilty, but he won't even let her get a word in. I think this made it difficult for me to actually forgive Brent, to be honest I was actually reading it thinking "I would tell him to go and f*#@ himself!!"... I guess I was a little more hurt by Brent, than Caroline was. Anyway, personal feelings aside, Caroline remains a strong heroine despite being married off to a complete stranger, her life plans and ambitions thrown away and then inevitably falling in love with Brent.

The ending was great though, and Brent definitely earns his points back, but I can't help but feel that Caroline should have kicked Brent in the nut sack, at least once..!! he deserved it, trust me! '' (cut from my review)

But of all the parts that I will re-read this part will be it. And you get into the story and you really support the character in their struggle.
Valerie Bowman
9. ValerieBowman
@J-Me You were obviously really affected by that scene and that's what a good angsty scene will do to ya. ; ) I need to get a copy o' that book!
Nicole Neal
10. icecharm
For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale has an angsty scene that I (and my very faulty memory) can actually quote. The hero confronts the heroine about why she has gone back to a bad man instead of staying with him, the man she loves, and she tells him, "He killed everything I loved, just because I loved it!"
I have read this book many, many times and I'll read it many times more.
11. willaful
My go-tos for an angst fix: heroine discovering the hero is the one who pressed charges against her in The Cutting Edge by Linda Howard

Matthew realizing that his attempt to take back the lawsuit he had served on Jessie had failed and she now hates him in Sweet Trouble by Susan Mallory

Hero turning on heroine and kicking her out, then discovering he was wrong about her and she's been living in poverty in Heartless by Kat Martin
Valerie Bowman
12. ValerieBowman
@icecharm and @willaful I could feel the angst just in your short posts!
13. NinoskaSuarez
OMG!! Whitney, my love is one of my favorite romance novel. It was actually my first romance novel and it got me addicted to romance novel. The scene you are describing Valerie is actually one of my favorite scene in the book.

I was thinking this book should become a tvseries or tv movie. I totally love it. I've read several times. :)
14. 3DJenn
Ohhhh Thank you for reminding me about Jason! I don't save many of my books but I kept all of my Judith McNuaght. I am dusting them off and rereading. I loved Perfect too.
15. saji
For me its the scene in judith mcnaughts almost heaven after the court scene when Elizabeth tries to tell Ian why she ran away. You see he was tried for her murder.....

Also Once and always is one of my all time favs....i love jason!!
16. tonidh69
My favorite angst-filled scene is from Mercury's War. It's part of the Breed Series by Lora Leigh. After everything they go thru together wanting to be "mates", his one "true" mate shows up and RUINS it! they just decided they were the mates of their hearts and screw biology, and then this woman shows up, who was long thought dead, to claim him as mate. was heartwrenching and emotionally devastating!
Melissa M Fuentes
17. MMFuentes
I was 15 when I read Whitney my Love and I loved the book then and still do.

Perfect by Judith McNaught, Ransom by Julie Garwood, and All the Queens Men and Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard are my all time go to favorite books. I have all of their full collections in my shelf and have been adding them to my ereader.

The scene in question, in my opinion, was a sign of the times when women were no more than property. Was it wrong yes, does it work in the book and clean up nicely, yes. Either way Whitney is a wonderful read. Thank you for reminding me to pull it out and dust it off to read it again.
I am glad a revision was done with "Whitney my Love" so that more people could enjoy reading this classic.
Flora Segura-Buchler
19. fsbuchler
Whitney my Love is one of my all time favorite and I read it over and over again for this scene as well as the many other perfect ones in the book.
The rape controversy, is not really a controversy for me. I put it in context of the style of writing of that time as well as the context of times in which the novel is set.
20. Jacqueline DeGroot
Great post Valerie! Whenever I am asked during an interview what my favorite book is I tell them, "Perfect, by Judith McNaught." I read it the year it came out and I was hooked. I had to get the backlist and now I own multiples of each one that I pass out so I can turn new readers into romance junkies. Talk about angst, Zachary Benedict loses it all. He is framed for the murder of his treacherous wife, goes to prison, loses his career as a well-established film star, all his millions (I don't think billions was the thing back then), his self-respect, everything. He breaks out of prison and kidnaps Julie Mathison, a young innocent school teacher, and forces her to Colorado to his only loyal friend's secluded retreat (Matthew Farrell from Paradise). There is plenty of angst and betrayal before the fabulous HEA. There is even laugh-out-loud humor. And of course, over the top seduction. I will always credit her with being the reason I write--she made it seem like so much fun.
21. lm7418
Oh Judith McNaught. Almost Heaven was my favourite, closely followed by Ransom. My all-time angsty winner though has to be Loving Evangaline. I do hate it though when there's all the lead up to the angst, the angst happens, and then forgiveness occurs in 3 paragraphs. I want the realisation and the suffering & the honest forgiveness, not just a magical fix by orgasm.
Just recollecting Whitney, My Love - feeling the need for a re-read!
22. omolara
Onve n always and something wonderful are my all time fave , I love the angst , I hate when when the heroines hide their emotion most of Mcnaught's leading ladies are honest -cut to the chase characters...
Iam a love junky
23. twinkhill
Whitney, my love was my first historical romance novel and the end all for me. I became obsessed. I was 14 and bought and cherished each novel. I consumed them. Every word. Thousands of novels. I loaned my copy of Whitney, my love to a co-worker in 89 and never got back. Then they changed cover, and I finally got original cover book off internet when it came around. Truly, biggest fan. I know I am. My only daughter is named, yes, Whitney Allison.
24. Jan Spriggott
I've never read the book, and I find it interesting that you would highlight this passage, because in my view it's quite terrible writing. All that tell not show, together with weird adverb choice ('“Do we?” Clayton countered repressively.' I immediately stopped reading to try and imagine just what this meant - still no idea.).

I am at a loss to understand how anybody could tolerate such poor writing, let alone praise it.
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