A Compromising Situation
by Shannon Donnelly
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6751-8
A Compromising Situation is a fairly traditional governess tale. Miss Maeve Midden has come to the Yorkshire estate of Lord Rothe to serve as governess to his young niece. Maeve had thought her charge a young girl; instead, she discovers that Clarissa is a sixteen year old who wants no part of a governess. Maeve wants to leave forthwith. She is looking for a position that will give her some stability. But Lord Rothe convinces her to stay at least for a while, if not as governess, then as companion.

His lordship is desperate. He has only recently taken up his title and position after years in the army. His brother’s unexpected death has left him responsible for a sister-in-law who has retreated to her room and refused to come out and a niece who seems out of control. He needs the sane, good sense of Miss Midden.

Miss Midden has not always been so sane and sensible. In her foolish youth, she had fallen in love with a scoundrel and had lost both her virtue and her family. She has managed to rebuild her life, but lives in fear that her youthful indiscretion will be uncovered.

Lord Rothe finds Miss Midden a welcome addition to his household. She succeeds in reaching both Clarissa and her mother and begins to humanize his lordship as well. Forced into the army as a young man, he had given up his youthful passion for music and turned into a stern man who has lived for his duty. Miss Midden forces him to reevaluate his approach to life and family. Friendship and something more develops between the governess and the lord. But Miss Midden is convinced that nothing can come of their relationship and insists that she must find another post. His lordship takes a long time to realize why this idea disturbs him so greatly.

Except for Miss Midden’s past and the way her nemesis comes to play a role in the story, A Compromising Situation is a fairly standard tale. Still, both the hero and the heroine are a bit unusual and Donnelly develops their relationship quite nicely. Then why am I not recommending this book? It all comes down to the heroine’s name.

I have to wonder whether I would have enjoyed this book more had the author (and her editor who should have known better) not made this one major mistake. No, it’s not one of those improbable first names for a Regency heroine (although I’m not sure how many English girls were called Maeve in the 19th century). Rather, it is the last name that Donnelly assigned to her heroine: Miss Midden. Did not the author or the editor know the meaning of “midden”? A midden, my friends, is a manure pile. I cannot say for sure that no one in the English-speaking world has “Midden” as a last name. I only know that there was not a single “Midden” in any of the three phone books I checked. Well, of course not. Who in their right mind would call themselves Mr. or Miss Manure Pile?

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “Jean, get over it! Was the story good? Were the characters interesting? Was the romance nicely done?” And, in a sense you are right. The story wasn’t bad; I liked the characters; and the romance was nice enough. But every time someone referred to “Miss Midden” - and it happened quite frequently - I was taken right out of the story. This detracted markedly from my enjoyment of A Compromising Situation.

--Jean Mason

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