And so, we come to another Regency Romance Review! This one is The Grand Passion by Elizabeth Mansfield. Although I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the wonderful The Fifth Kiss by Mansfield, I read the whole thing and enjoyed it. If I get any more Regency Romances from thrift stores, she is now an author I will look for. This book was published by Jove in 1986.
The plot has a good hook right at the beginning: We are introduced to the newly engaged Matthew John Lotherwood, Marquis (above a count and below a duke) of Bradbourne. He’s a party his aunt is having, and for entertainment she’s hired a fortune teller. Although he doesn’t believe in that stuff, Matt ends up getting a reading anyway, and the fortune teller says he will soon be married, but not to the woman he is engaged to. Instead, she points out a different young woman to him, tall, with short, dark hair, and blue, mesmerizing eyes. With that as his first introduction to the heroine of our story, there was no way Matt was walking away from this without falling in love with her. No way. As an aside, I didn’t like the name Lotherwood and wished all throughout to change it. It just didn’t seem fitting.
Next we are introduce to Tess Brownlow, the heroine, and a lady who lives in the country. She, too, gets engaged, though with misgivings, as she doesn’t feel as much love as she should for Jeremy Beringer. Her mother has pumped her with stories of what love and romance are all about, that a woman must have at least one “grand passion.” Tess isn’t sure what her mother means by this, but she’s sure she hasn’t experienced it yet. Sadly, she never gets to find out if what she feels for Jeremy will ever turn into a grand passion, for the night before their wedding, he is killed in an awful stagecoach accident. Months later, Tess is still stewing over this and tries to find out who the driver of the coach was. The man wasn’t a real stagecoach driver, but a member of the gentry, drunk with drink, and also part of the four-in-hand club, or FHC. Basically, the members of that club are expert drivers of horse-drawn everything. The gentlemen insisted on driving the coach that night. Tess eventually learns this man’s name was Lotherwood and she is determined to make him pay for what he did.
Tess’s idea is ridiculous, although it is very much punishment fitting the crime: Get the man to fall in love with her and then fake her death the night before their wedding. She engages the help of her friend in London to help carry out her plan, and hires the fortune teller to give a very special reading to Matt Lotherwood. Matt’s rich aunt, Lady Wetherfield is also in on the scheme, as she doesn’t like who’s he’s picked for a bride, so, yeah, no chance for the poor guy. Tess is introduced to him as Sidoney Ashburton.
Everything goes according to plan, except that it doesn’t. That is to say, Matt instantly becomes smitten by her, leaving his bride-to-be, who’s really nothing more than a placeholder to him. He’s happy that Viola Lovell is pretty and accomplished, but not a woman he can “lose his head over.” He’s proud to be a Corinthian, a man young, rich, handsome, and interested primarily in sport and gaming. Even so, because Matt is the one who proposed to Viola, society says he can’t go back on his offer: Only the girl has the choice to end the engagement. I’m trying to imagine any modern man submitting to such a rule…oh dear. But men truly are about honor, so my bet is few of them would really propose to a woman without planning to follow through. Yes, the plan works, Matt falls in love, but so does Tess! This, she doesn’t expect, and she falls in love even though she knows he must be a drunkard and murderer.
Yes, you guessed it, Matt is her grand passion. And yet she seems to not be able to put two and two together. Matt never gets drunk around her or behaves drunkenly. In fact, he saves her from a drunken lout, and mentions with some embarrassment that he himself has been drunk before. But everything about him indicates that that is something that must have happened far in the past, long before the stagecoach accident. Despite now being in love with her quarry, Tess stubbornly insists on carrying out her plan, thinking this drunken lout and murderer must be punished. Her friends relay to Matt her sudden death under the wheels of a stagecoach and she retires back to the country despondent and depressed because she doesn’t have her man. And Matt, reeling in shock and grief-stricken, becomes depressed as well. Why do people do this to themselves? Ah, but then we wouldn’t have a story.
Eventually, the truth comes out. Tess’s mother takes her abroad, hoping to cheer her spirits and who should she happen upon, but a drunken lout going by the name of Lotherwood, although it’s not Matthew. Yes, yes, Matt has a younger brother named Guy, and although he clearly hasn’t kicked his alcoholism, he is truly sorry for what he did, causing the death of Tess’s fiancee, Jeremy. Tess’s reaction to all this is revulsion. Revulsion at herself for planning out a punishment that she now realizes is worse than the crime.
It’s only through a similar chance encounter that Matt finds out the truth–and when he’s does he’s boiling mad, and I don’t blame him. His eventual confrontation with Tess is accusatory. What right had she to act as judge, jury, and sentencer without him even knowing he was accused? Without even hearing what he would have had to say? He’s right, and Tess is doubtful of ever getting him back, as she really does love him. He rightly tells her that he would never do something like that to someone he loves. True, men have honor; women often don’t. Oh, we have other good attributes, but honor isn’t really one of them. It’s a good thing Tess doesn’t have honor, for otherwise she wouldn’t get him back. And of course she gets him back, because that’s how these stories go.
This time she takes up the name Annie and becomes a servant in his large estate house, helping Matt in any way she can to be more comfortable and successful in his house and efforts to improve and protect the estate. Good thing all her suggestions are the right ones and she has a knack for knowing how to assist in what he needs, or she’d really be up a creek. When he finally realizes that “Annie” is actually Tess, Matt is boiling mad again, but not for long. He really does love Tess, too, and I think all her crazy schemes kind of excite him, despite him lecturing her to stop taking on assumed names and roles. Really, their “grand passion” is physical chemistry, which is so often what it really boils down to, isn’t it? But, the two went through a lot together, and sometimes a journey like that will cement things in a way nothing else can.
As for Viola, Matt’s former betrothed, she’s at least smart enough to know that he doesn’t really want her and that it’s better to be “married to a viscount who truly desires you than a marquis who feels trapped.” Thus, she moves on to Matt’s friend, the viscount, who admires only her and truly cares for her, too. She can also be herself around him without being belittled–Matt has always seen her as beneath him, a placeholder who is pretty and just someone to get married to because he has to get married to someone as some point. The viscount is also very rich, handsome in his way, and “more easily controlled.” Ha. If only Matt knew the controlling side of Viola, it may have actually increased his impression of her. She has calculated exactly what she wants in a man and in marriage. I do agree with her that it’s better to be with a man who wants you, who truly wants you and loves you. Like her, I don’t think it necessarily has to be a “grand passion,” but everything probably works a lot better if both parties in the couple have passion for each other.
A good read, and I look forward to reading more of Mansfield’s stories. Also, Tess is oh, so tacky. I mean, with her imagination, she could almost be a writer or something…
Up next time: A review of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels.