Tag Archive | Regency Romance Reviews

RRR: Marriage by Decree

Can a man really be forced into marriage? This is a key question posed in Marriage by Decree, the Signet Regency Romance by Ellen Fitzgerald. Published in 1988 and part of Signet’s Romantic Interludes, this is only one of a few that Fitzgerald wrote for Signet. The story wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t find it to be a keeper, as the magic just wasn’t there.

Back to the question: Can a man, or a woman, for that matter, be forced into marriage? Certainly in some cultures, yes. In the Britain of the Regency Era, though, it was a lot easier for a man to escape an unwanted marriage than a woman. They simply had more resources, especially legal ones, to avoid it. However, this isn’t really what the author refers to in the story. What she’s talking about is the nature of manhood, primarily man’s purposeful pursuance of romance. Basically, it works like this: The man pursues, the women succumb. Don’t believe me as now women are so liberated? Women, try chasing and winning a man who doesn’t want you. Time and time again, you will find it just doesn’t work, but with the tables reversed, women often give in and/or are won over and it all works splendidly. And that is actually very romantic.

In Marriage by Decree, two people are decreed by royalty, aka, the government, to get married. Scandal being the reason. Alice Osborne, our heroine, is an American this time, and not too fond of the British due to the Revolutionary War and its following skirmishes and battles. Alice’s father, Charles, is more optimistic about improving relations between the two countries, and has agreed to be a diplomat to London at the request of the President, who in 1815 would have been James Madison. As they travel by ship to England, Alice is openly scornful of anyone on the ship who looks as if they might be a British soldier.

Deep down, though, Alice is a good soul, and during a storm on the sea, saves one of those soldiers from being washed overboard. This part I thought could have used more description. Help came too quickly, though the way some women can scream, would definitely garner immediate attention. At any rate, despite holding him fast and screaming, Alice doesn’t do much, it’s one of the sailors who gets the solider below deck. Despite that fact, tall, dark, and handsome Robert Saint-Aubyn is overwhelmed with gratitude for the pretty red-headed eighteen-year-old. The lesson, here, ladies is to assist handsome men when they are in dire need as they will be extremely grateful and will perhaps even want to marry you.

Despite what would normally be a turning point for someone, Alice is still scornful of Robert, though attracted. Definitely attracted. Sadly, he already has a fiancee, something Alice’s friend Phoebe bemoans, as she has been instantly smitten. When they arrive in England, Alice and Phoebe part ways, as Phoebe’s going to live in Scotland. The Osbornes settle in London and Alice is able to meet Richard’s fiancee, Janet. At first, Janet seems quite helpful to the women who saved her fiancee’s life, but the “help” soon grates on Alice, who as an American is used to more freedom.

Janet sends a harridan of a woman to be a companion to Alice, but the woman proves to be overly strict, causing Alice to react poorly, leaving the house secretively to meet men she barely knows, much to her father’s horror. Of course he responds by making her prison even tighter around her. It is not without reason that Alice should have a chaperone everywhere she goes, the streets of London aren’t always safe, men do have sinister motives, and young women are very naive. However, Alice is more naive than most, and that grated on me during the story. She is so loathing of Britain in the beginning, yet how quickly a handsome stranger persuades her throw caution to the winds.

Soon Alice finds herself in truly dire straights. The handsome fiend, a womanizer named Lord Winston, helps her escape her house in the dead of night and take her hours away to the whorehouse of a French emigre. Alice’s stupidity doesn’t end there: She allows the Lord to ply her with enough alcohol to make her drunk and lead her upstairs to “rest.”

In comes our hero, Robert, who has not forgotten Alice and keeps talking about her life-saving heroics to Janet, who is obviously quite jealous by this time. Turns out Lord Winston is a friend of Janet’s and they have both plotted together to ruin Alice. Winston will sleep with Alice and leave her, allowing her to fall out of all good society. When Robert hears of this he goes into knight errant mode and immediately takes off to rescue Alice, with barely a thought for Janet in the process. After the rescue, the pair find it slow-going to get back to London and have to stop at an inn at which there is only one room left. When Robert drops her at home, the servants hear him speaking of their adventures and scandal ensues. So much so that the Prince Regent himself, a friend of Robert’s, decrees that Robert and Alice must marry even though they did not sleep together. Janet leaves Robert and he caves, agreeing to marry Alice.

At first it seems as if the two may make the best of things with this unwanted marriage, but after arriving at Robert’s estate called The Towers (Wives and Daughters! So have to read that again), he takes off for days, deserting his new bride. Alice despairs, thinking she will never find happiness with a man who was forced to marry her. But her servant wisely says that no man can truly be forced into marriage. On some level, Robert did in fact want to marry her. Robert himself struggles with this reality. He finds himself needing some time to get over Janet, who has stupidly eloped with Lord Winston, but when he returns is resolute, and also horrified to find that Alice has been riding out with Tim, one of the stable hands–not romantically, of course, but servants will talk. He is at once afraid that all women are like Janet, but soon finds that Alice wants to be true to him, it’s just that she needs some help.

Here’s a lesson for the men: It’s not logical and if they try, women can fight against the mentality, but if a women doesn’t have some kind of connection with her man for a few days, she may become anxious. This is entirely due to the nature of women. We want to please men and we want reassurance we are accepted. If we don’t think we’re accepted, we may determine to find out how to get accepted, to be pleasing, change our clothes, or hair, even behavior. We really are very anxious to please. A women who doesn’t hear from her partner in a few days will be much, much more anxious than a man will. A man will logically think she’s just busy. A woman will illogically think there must be something wrong. Men in relationships, help yourselves out here: Don’t leave your woman hanging for too long. Connect with her as much as you can and reassure her that she is the one you want. Yeah, it’s annoying, but it will save you so much time and energy in the long run.

This illogical anxiety is Alice’s state of mind and she just doesn’t have the maturity to realize it for what it is. Her servant helps her the most by telling her that Robert wouldn’t have married her if he hadn’t wanted to do it. Neither prince or country could make him. Robert comes back and proves that this is true. He soundly beds his wife and makes her incandescently happy.

The last half of the story I didn’t find super interesting. The villainess Janet rises again, being as she’s one of those people who think if they aren’t happy, no one should be happy, and it just gets over the top, what with Alice getting kidnapped by an angry ex-soldier and held hostage. It was just too, too much, although the contemplating of the mood between America and Britain at the time I did find interesting. It’s not something we think a lot about today. Not a bad story, not bad writing, but forgettable. Nothing really stood out about it to me, except the intriguing question from above.

We are in different times today, and in many countries it’s not likely one would be forced into marriage. I think it likely few of either sex today would allow themselves to be forced into a marriage they didn’t want. Men sometimes say that women trap them into marriage by getting pregnant, but I think it’s just something they say to avoid the fact it was their choice to sleep with the woman and also their choice to marry her. It’s takes both a man and a woman to make a baby. It just does, and it’s silly to blame another person for choices one freely makes. So, can a man be forced into marriage? Can a woman? Do babies force marriage? It is a true kindness and goodness to a child if his parents are married, but our current society doesn’t make it mandatory. I think the answer is that no, neither sex is forced, not these days. If they get married, it’s because on some level they want to either be married to that person, or to just be married.

One more thing for women: Women’s anxiety over her man. It’s a thing, we do have this, but if you are married to a good man, or even a bad one, remember that he chose to do it. He chose you instead of all the others out there. There should be some security in that. And often if he’s not in touch or not around much, he truly is busy. He’s dealing with work or projects he has to get done. Men, I would like to say the reverse is true, but it’s not a great sign if your woman is not in touch with you. Working women are in fact forced into single focus man mode while on the job, so that’s an exception there, but otherwise it’s generally not in the nature of a woman to stay disconnected from you. We crave those connections constantly.

Alright, and that’s my Regency Romance advice for today! What do you think? Do you think that’s true about men and women or am I just spinning yarns of worlds here? Too many romances going to my head, perhaps?

Up next week, a review of Missing: The Other Side, a ghostly tale perfect for Halloween.

Monday’s Child: RRR

Another Regency Romance Review this week. Although there was a bit of tackiness in Monday’s Child by Barbara Hazard, it is a book I enjoyed and one that I’m likely to keep to read again. The romance was heartwarming.

A Fawcett Crest Book published by Ballantine Books in 1993, Monday’s Child was definitely a more modern story than the other two I reviewed. Although there was some nonsense of force against women, it didn’t, thankfully, come from the romantic hero. Hazard’s writing style was a bit in the vein of Julie Klassan, so maybe that’s why I liked it so well. The main character, Sarah Lacey, was very likable and that helped also.

This is another story which tries to imply what a curse it is for a woman to be beautiful. I’m sure in real life there are downsides to having a pretty face, but it’s kind of like Brad Pitt or someone like that claiming to have been a nerd in high school. No one really believes it. And maybe that is the real curse to being blessed with good looks: It’s really hard for regular people to believe the good looks truly give a person difficulty.

For Sarah Lacey, her curse isn’t so much her looks as it is her family. They remind me of the father and oldest daughter in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, always grasping for more wealth, class, and titles, and refusing to be content with their own class and station in life. This is not to say that people can’t strive after wealth, they certainly can, but this isn’t the way to go about it: Practically selling off one’s daughter instead of working hard with one’s property, in this case a farm, which is already wealth beyond measure for many around the world. The Lacey family is contrasted nicely by the humble and productive farmer Evan Lancaster. Though in his own humbleness, he doesn’t realize what a catch he actually is.

A young earl in the neighborhood takes a fancy to Sarah’s pretty face and insists that they will be married. He is younger than her and refuses to take no for an answer. Add a bizarre suggestion of kidnapping into the mix by Sarah’s rake of a brother, and events in the novel strain credulity. Young men certainly do have wild ideas, but it’s really, really hard to believe that this young earl would have actually kidnapped Sarah and held her hostage until she agreed to marry him or slept with him, or both. It’s a case of trying to make a character into too much of a villain. His insistence despite Sarah’s wishes and clear disinterest in him is really enough, and I was disappointed in that whole part of the story, even though it was funny how Sarah thwarted the young earl’s efforts.

The best part of this book was the love story between old friends. Sarah and Evan have long been friends and long been in love with each other, and finally they both realize it and understand that no one else will do. Friends falling in love are some of my favorite romances. It’s so sweet to see them slowly realize, wait I love this person! In addition to that, Hazard did well with the minor characters included and also made the village of Sutton Cross come alive. Old biddies gossiping over tea are a must, as are holiday events, balls, and the like. This book was a joy to read compared to the other two and has me excited to read more. Oh, “Monday’s child is fair of face.” That’s where the title comes from, a poem the book says was “quoted by A. E. Bray, Traditions of Devonshire.” The original author must be unknown.

The Abandoned Bride: RRR

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.

The Scandalous Season: RRR

Regency Romance Review, book 1: The Scandalous Season by Nina Pykare

Published by Dell’s A Candlelight Regency Special, #501, 1979.

First off, I made it through the book, whew! The story was sadly rather tedious and it wasn’t clear what made it “special” as opposed to just Candlelight, but Dell appears to have Candlelight Romances and Candlelight Regency Romance Specials, so maybe that’s the difference.

Young, innocent Rebecca Stratford agrees to follow her father’s dying wish and marry Richard, the Marquess of Burlingame. From the beginning of the story, the couple is already in love with each other, though insisting that their marriage is in name only. This is somewhat due to the marriage being arranged and also due to the age gap. Richard is not keen to force himself on so young a woman, a point in his favor. He’s about thirty and she’s younger, but it never clarifies how young on purpose. She may be a teenager. Burlingame I kept reading as Burlingham.

From the start, the story was rather cringe and laughable. Over used words like sardonic, schoolroom miss and country miss abound, as do a plethora of points to tick off on norms and colloquial sayings of the day. The atmosphere was bad, just see-through, a skeleton Regency setting.

Exactly why Rebecca loves Richard at the beginning is not clear. She is a poor girl who luckily married into wealth, but her husband is so overbearing and tyrannical that she’s terrified of him most of the time. At one point he even spanks her. Totally different from modern times when we are even reluctant to spank our own children, this scene was hard to stomach. Rebecca did disobey his orders, but like many men, Richard did not fully explain the reason for his orders. This is convenient for the story, but also connects to real life. Men so often have plans and things they simply do not explain to their women, either because they don’t think they have to, but in a larger picture, because they don’t understand that they have to. Many things are obvious to men as men and women as women, and neither sex truly understands that you really do have to explain or spell things out. The opposite sex doesn’t automatically get it. They just don’t.

Although Rebecca doesn’t like being treated like a child, she continues to act like one, and although clearly her husband desires her, even at the end, she was just this hysterical childlike woman, not a match for him. It is supposed that she will grow into her role as wife. Not sure what to make of the fear factor. Most men I know today, at least what I know of them, are not tyrants with their wives. In fact, often it’s the opposite, where the wives have the upper hand. Anyway, the men I know are very kind and loving to their women and so, so far from Richard Burlingame, that I don’t really see how he’s that great of a catch.

Richard is handsome, tall, broad shouldered, and rich. Many times over is it described how broad his shoulders are, how his legs fit well into his pants, etc. Later on, he is shown to have some kindness, but even to the end, Rebecca is ruled by her fear of his anger. This doesn’t seem like a healthy relationship. Richard also is used to bedding other women and it’s doubtful that in a year or two he will not go back to this habit. He has all the power in the marriage at this time, and although we want to believe love conquers all, old habits die hard. The odds are simply not in Rebecca’s favor.

Despite all of that, although scandal was much alluded to, this wasn’t a smutty romance, and the scant love scenes were kisses only. The big reason the two love each other is simply that they are physically attracted to each other and are married. Can’t fault that too much, I suppose that’s often how it really is with couples, but romances are fun to read because they often “earn” each other’s love. Here, it wasn’t earned, but truthfully love isn’t earned, simply given, so there’s that. The ending was more nonsensical and abrupt than the beginning. Smuggling was thrown in for, well, no real reason, and Rebecca hysterically throws herself upon the scene because she loves her husband. Somehow the fact that he’s sent her info fainting hysterics makes Richard realize how much he loves her. This is a very strange relationship.

Some cuteness at the end:

“I expect that I shall be quite a nuisance to you now. Literally living in your pocket.”

“In that case, Robert, I suspect we shall both be nuisances. Can a wife be said to live in her husband’s pocket?”

Lovely and tacky at the same time.

Other updates: Currently liking and reading both The Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Hardy. Rewatching K-drama You Are All Surrounded starring Lee Seung Gi. Next one I review will probably be Oh My Baby starring the never aging awesome actress Jang Nara. Appears to be a remake of Three Men and a Baby with Tom Selleck, a movie I’ve always liked.