Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When the Earl of Rule proposes marriage to her sister Lizzie, Horatia offers herself instead. Her sister is already in love with someone else, and Horatia is willing to sacrifice herself for her family’s happiness. Everyone knows she’s no beauty, but she’ll do her best to keep out of the Earl’s way and make him a good wife. And then the Earl’s archenemy, Sir Robert, sets out to ruin her reputation…
Overall it was a nice read: quick, funny and as historical as it is possible when it comes to Regency romance. I consider it a big asset of Georgette Heyer books, you can never say they are just historically-flavoured or inaccurate. Heyer also had a wicked sense of humour and never hesitated to make use of it, another huge plus.
Of course the whole story was a bit fairy-tale-ish: Horatia, an intrepid teenager, was astute enough to know what’s good for her even at a tender age of seventeen (compare that to Lydia Bennet, ‘married at sixteen’). She visited a man on her own and proposed to him even though he was almost twice her age and inclined to marry her elder sister. That man, allegedly a jaded aristo, let Horatia have her way in almost every aspect because he was so taken by her wits…what’s more he spent vast amounts of money on her family which was close to ruin due to her older brother, Pelham, a notorious gambler. No, I am not a big fan of Marcus, Lord Rule. He sounded unbelievably noble and his interest in Horry was rather strange, smacking a bit of paedophilia.
Still…reading about the adventures and misfortune of Horatia, Lady Rule, I couldn’t help comparing her to Lady Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, a historical figure I’ve written an essay about. It’s roughly the same era and these ladies share many common traits – both were married very young to an older but respectable man, both loved gambling and both had different marriage troubles. There was one vast difference, though: whereas Horatia, the fictional Lady Rule, was helped by menfolk only, notably her brother, her brother’s friend and her brother-in-law, Duchess of Devonshire could count only on female support, mostly her servants. The same was also true in the case of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, another 18th century English lady whose life and two marriages, very adventurous but also sad, were objects of my other essay. In her pursuit of divorce she was helped by maids, and other women, rarely by men.
And here it comes, the vast gap between even the best fiction and the reality. I’m really at a loss why Ms. Heyer, as scrupulous as she was when it came to different historical tidbits concerning conveyances, clothes and mores of the Regency era, never noticed that it would be only natural for her female heroine to have female helpers and/or friends. After all Horatia had two older sisters, a mother and numerous female servants. Why no one of them ever came to her help or even enquired about her problems is beyond me. It is sad that a female author didn’t believe in female solidarity at all.
A funny historical romance starting as a marriage of convenience between a quick-witted teen and an aristocrat of 35. I would recommend it wholeheartedly if only it featured more significant female characters…or could pass a Bechdel test…