Sir Nicholas Kirwan is returning to Ireland after years serving with the English forces battling Napoleon. As he nears his home, he comes across a small group including an exquisitely beautiful young woman, stranded because of a carriage accident. He learns the girl is Miss Blanche Ferris; her older sister Rietta has gone for help but soon returns. The attractive Rietta is cast into the shade in comparison to her more beautiful sister. Nick helps fix the carriage wheel and promises to call on Blanche.
Arriving home, he discovers that the years and his late father’s wastrel ways have taken their toll on the property. His mother and two sisters have hidden their financial situation from him while he has been serving with the military. It is imperative that Nick find an immediate source of funds to restore the estate and provide dowries for his sisters. As impoverished as they are, it will be hard for them to find husbands.
His long-time friend David Mochrie informs him that he is desperately in love with the beautiful Blanche but her father, a prosperous merchant, will not permit his younger daughter to wed before the elder. Mr. Ferris is offering a sizeable settlement to the man who will take his plain, shrewish daughter - she even sticks her nose in his business affairs - off his hands. Nick decides that marriage to Rietta Ferris will solve his problems.
He goes to call on Rietta and discovers that Blanche has three ardent suitors including David. He quickly perceives that Rietta has qualities her sister lacks. Rietta is incredulous that Nick is actually interested in her and doubts his motives. Mr. Ferris, however, is jubilant. He has romantic plans of his own that require Rietta to be married and gone. Nick proposes quickly, but Rietta turns him down. With so many forces arrayed against her what are the chances that her refusal will long stand?
The parallels to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew are obvious. Traveler informed about the unmarriageable elder daughter blocking the beautiful younger one’s chances. Three suitors for the younger daughter. Elder daughter with shrewish reputation. Father a well-to-do merchant. Even the younger daughters’ names - Bianca and Blanche - both mean ‘white.’ I could almost hear Nick singing “I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily in Ireland” in Kiss Me, Kate -fashion. I soon felt sure I knew where this story was heading. Fortunately for readers, the plot takes another route.
The characters are well developed with believable motivation. Rietta is not a shrew. She’s an intelligent, responsible, capable woman trying to manage a difficult household and getting faint appreciation from those who directly benefit from her efforts. It’s to Nick’s credit that he quickly recognizes her value and comes to want her for herself. On the other hand, it’s a little hard to understand Rietta’s repeated refusals to Nick’s marriage proposals. She likes him. She likes his mother and sisters, and they like her. Staying in her father’s home is obviously a losing proposition.
The story has a few minor weaknesses that keep The Irish Bride from earning five-heart keeper status. There’s a scene where Nick is drunk that seems both preposterous and totally out of character . Furthermore, the lady doth protest too much too long too often even after they’re wed. And the scant attention paid to the disparity in Nick and Rietta’s social classes seems unrealistic given the time period. But readers who are looking for an entertaining story with appealing characters and a light touch should check out The Irish Bride.