Welcome to another tacky Regency Romance review!
The Abandoned Bride by Edith Layton is a Signet Regency Romance published in 1985. Ms. Layton wrote several romances for Signet, and although I find her writing much better than RR#1 I read previously, she’s no storyteller.
With a title perhaps more suited to a gothic romance, we are introduced to the beautiful Julia on a secretive night. She’s run away no the north to be married to a man we suppose to be her true love. Something happens and they don’t get married. Julia is taken away by another gentleman in the dead of night and we see her again years later where she goes through job after job as a companion and governess. Young Julia is simply too beautiful for her own good. Any male, even baby males, fall for her, apparently. Aside from the creep factor of that, what could be actually a funny curse for our heroine is much forgotten the rest of the story.
From a poor family, Julia has little option but to work. She is innocent and virtuous, so hasn’t the wile to take advantage of her obvious appeal to the male sex. Just before being terminated from yet another position, Julia is visited by Lord Nicholas Daventry, also called Baron Stafford. He is the uncle of Robin, the man she was supposed to marry, the man who abandoned her. Although he is often referred to as “old Nick,” Baron Stafford isn’t really that much older than Robin, but as is usual in these romances, is almost a decade older than Julia. Nick has been trying to track Julia down in the hopes of reuniting her with his nephew and finding out just what happened the night they were supposed to get married. Exactly why this is his problem, was never really clear to me–family duty, I guess–but it seems inconceivable (that word doesn’t mean what you think it means) to me that Nick would have no inkling that Robin is actually gay.
Yes, that is the big reveal, which in the Regency era would have likely been shocking, and in 1985 perhaps a little surprising as well. Of course, this being a modern work by a modern author who doesn’t seem to understand that no conflict and no stakes mean really no story, this is much, much glossed over in the ending. Both Julia and Nick barely raise their eyebrows at Robin’s confession, and although it’s admirable they so easily forgive him for what he’s put them through, especially Julia, it’s sad that the gravity of such a lie is treated so superficially. In Britain back in the day, one could be hanged for living the homosexual lifestyle, and although I don’t agree with the lifestyle, the politically correct glossing over it does a disservice to both the sin, as it was considered at that time, and also to the very great risk that Robin is taking in living the way he wants. It also treats all of Julia’s hardships as nothing, which is a slap in the face to womenkind. It is no small thing for a gay man to daly with a woman with whom he cannot fulfill a romance–all her hopes, dream, and desires deserve to have a serious chance, no matter how virginal she may be. To his credit, Robin himself realizes this, but solves the problem by abandoning Julia to a rather heartless society and leaving her with the idea that she’s somehow at fault.
For stories that deal with this subject with more of the gravity it deserves, I recommend The Object of My Affection starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, very PC, but also more realistic in the dilemma, and also the Korean drama Coffee Prince (aka The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince) starring Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye. Both works are better because they delve into just how bad it is to pretend to be someone you are not, and also to delude oneself about the person you are in love with.
But, back to the RRR. Layton’s writing is good, with many turns of phrase signaling that she has far more in her than trade paperback romances. However, it’s all wasted on a mundane story with almost no conflict. True, the leads don’t get along at first, but they plod along, hanging out in Europe hoping to come across Robin. This goes on for months, months and months, and we are introduced to a great many superficial things about Regency society, including political intrigue that goes nowhere. At no point do we truly fear for either Julie, Nick, or even Robin. Basically, it’s a waste of a book, which is sad.
I’m not really sure why in these romances it’s so important that the woman be a virgin. Usually she’s fairly young, so maybe that explains it, but inexplicably the romantic hero is the opposite, or alluded or rumored to be. Okay, women don’t want embarrassed, fumbling men, I get that, but neither do we want libertines who have slept with half of the female population. These stories are fantasy, though, and I supposed some women do dream about taming a bad boy or wild man when no other woman could. Sadly, Nick is neither, although initially he is angry enough with Julia to hit her. What is with the Regency era hitting of the women? I have trouble believing that in any society this really would have been ok, but even today there are societies in which it is ok. Since Nick isn’t a bad man, he’s surprised at himself, but again, it all seems stupid because he’s a smart man who after so many years surely would have figured out Robin’s inclinations. If Julia really was some beautiful femme fatale, well, now that would have been a lot more interesting.
So far the supposed heroes of these romances are anything but, nor are they outright bad boys. No offense to my fellow females, but men who write romances often get it better. I love the Victorian romances written by Madeleine Brent (Peter O’Donnell), as example. And who can forget the hilarious line from Jack Nicholson’s romance writer in As Good As It Gets: In answer to “how do you write women so well?”: “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” It’s a funny line because it’s somewhat true, loathe as we are to admit it. Take The Abandoned Bride as one example, there’s little reason or accountability in the whole story. I like to think men’s gift to women is helping them operate under more reason and accountability, whereas one of our gifts to them is helping them see beyond their single focus: There’s something uniquely female in the way that Jane Austen and Agatha Christie showcase the strangeness and humor of both society and the human heart.
This is not to say that women have no reason and accountability, but our reasons and how we are accountable are far different than men’s reason and accountability. The closest the two come together are in the work place, for in it women are often forced into single focus mode, a male way of operating and thinking. Too much single focus, and often other details and a bigger picture is missed. The second closest is perhaps the world of social media, in which men are forced to take feelings as fact. This isn’t a diss on women, just the acknowledgement that for many women our feelings are the facts. Many times the two coincide–women’s intuition is a thing–but often they also do not.
In conclusion, here is my question: Without stakes, without reason and accountability, can there truly be a romance? Can there even be a story? Is the the lack of both these things the reason why paperback romances, rom coms, and the like are so heavily derided by both sexes? Food for thought.