The Husband List

Play it Again, Sam

The Wedding Bargain

 
The Marriage Lesson by Victoria Alexander
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81820-5
**
In the opening scene the hero, Thomas Effington, Marquess of Helmsley and future Duke of Roxborough, informs a friend - and the reader - that the heroine (who turns out to be Lady Marianne Shelton) is an aging, intelligent bluestocking. You know, one of those twenty-one-year-old-almost-on-the-shelf-wearing-glasses-type heroines. It’s a good thing that is established right up front because if one judges a heroine’s intelligence by her words and actions, you’d never know it.

Her parents married for love, but before her mother’s early death the love was gone and she was sad so sad. So Marianne is never going to marry. She wants adventure. She wants to experience life. She wants to drink brandy and neck with the hero late at night in the library.

The hero, meanwhile, wants to marry Marianne and her two sisters off super-quick so he can find a biddable, soft-spoken bride who will think the moon and the stars of him.

These two deserve each other.

Did I mention that he’s a rake with a shocking reputation and some equally disreputable friends? And his mother and brother-in-law (Marianne’s brother) have dumped the three girls in his care in his house with an aunt who conveniently disappears most of the time as their sole chaperone while they’re off visiting America? This doesn’t exactly comport with Regency-era morality and conduct.

Thomas feels an obligation to find Marianne, and her sisters Jocelyn and Rebecca (Becky) sedate, responsible husbands. He has been mislead to believe that Marianne must marry before either of her sisters, and he’s in a hurry to get them all to the altar so he contacts some of the dullest, most boring, dutiful men he knows encouraging them to court Marianne. Thomas, however, has fallen into a pattern of evening trysts with Marianne so he finds himself increasingly possessive of her and disapproving of these worthy men.

Meanwhile, Marianne has embarked upon a writing career by penning letters purporting to be the Absolutely True Adventures of a Country Miss in London which are highly fictionalized accounts of her encounters with Thomas, whom she’s renamed Lord W. These adventures are printed in a weekly rag and have become a hot topic among the ton. One of Thomas’s friends has fallen in love with the Country Miss sight unseen. More complications will quickly ensue.

When writing a romance set in the Regency period, there are certain conventions that are expected - primarily, that the characters will conform to the manners of the time. Although Marianne is the type of Regency-era heroine who’s become almost stereotypical of late, she has the freedom of movement of a contemporary heroine. She seems to wander around at will and never has the mandatory ladies’ maid or footman in attendance. She’s also more than a little illogical. First she insists she’ll never marry then in a sudden reversal she won’t marry without love, and, of course, Thomas can’t love her because he hasn’t said so. Yes, that clichéd story line again.

With so many acknowledged rakes around, one would expect more rakish behavior - some deep betting, some hard drinking, some shady dalliances. Don’t rakes commonly hang out at their clubs or gaming hells betting the home farm on a turn of the cards? But these guys are really clean cut and spend a lot of time acting gallant around society misses. As far as I can tell, Thomas never visits his club because he’s spending evenings in the library getting cozy with Marianne. Given their circumstances, this may be dishonorable behavior, but it’s not very rakish.

The Marriage Lesson is a sequel to The Wedding Bargain and The Husband List. It probably intends to be a Regency version of a screwball comedy with lots of clever repartee, droll miscues, and unexpected plot twists. Unless you think the heroine’s getting tipsy on brandy and insisting the hero kiss her is funny, there’s not much to smile about.

As anyone who has tried it can attest, writing humor is no laughing matter. It takes a special talent to do it consistently and well. Readers looking for a light, amusing Regency are likely to be disappointed with The Marriage Lesson.

--Lesley Dunlap


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