The Eligible Miss Elliot
by Victoria Hinshaw
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7405-0
****
I once asked a well-known author why heroines in Regency romances were so often impoverished or oppressed or in trouble. She noted that it is not easy to create interest about a character who seemingly has it all, that such a heroine just isnít as interesting. Well, new author Victoria Hinshaw has proved that it can be done. Miss Rosalind Elliott is a case in point. (As an indication of the less than stellar editing that has come to be so commonplace, I should point out that while the title identifies the heroine as Miss Elliot, she is Miss Elliott in the book.)

Rosalind is indeed fortunate. She is beautiful and she is wealthy. She lives happily with her loving grandmother in Bath and is a great favorite with the denizens of the Pump Room. But all is not rosy for our heroine. She lost her beloved parents at early age and she has discovered a sad truth. The men who have courted her are less interested in her beauty or her character than they are in the size of her investments. Unwilling to wed where she is not loved and cannot love, she has resigned herself to spinsterhood. Then Captain Philip Caldwell comes to Bath.

Resigned from the Navy now that the war with France is finally over, Philip has agreed to accompany his elderly great-aunt and his young half-sister to Bath. Lady Isiline wishes to consult a physician about her many ailments, while Charlotte needs to be placed in a school. Philip is not particularly thrilled to be in Bath. He really wishes to be out searching for an estate that he can purchase with his not inconsiderable prize-money. But he loves his aunt and feels sorry for his sister.

Then he encounters Rosalind chasing an errant dog through a garden. Suddenly Bath looks more interesting. Once upon a time, Lady Isiline and Rosalindís grandmother had been bosom bows. Then, several years earlier, something had happened to ruin their life-long friendship. Upon meeting Philip, whom she knew as a child, Rosalind suggests that the two conspire to discover what created the breach between the two old ladies and try to mend it. Philip is glad to cooperate.

Upon this Hinshaw sets up her plot. Their desire to help their respective relatives brings them together and their feelings for each other grow. But there are barriers between them. For one, there is Philipís reputation. Way back in 1802, he had eloped with an older married woman to France. This youthful escapade continues to be fodder for the gossips. Then there is the rumor that he is a fortune-hunter.

One might think that Rosalindís worries and Philipís scruples are not enough to create problems for two people who are obviously so well-suited, but Hinshaw manages to portray their feelings so as to make them seem absolutely likely. Rosalind is a gentle, sweet heroine. She may be twenty-five, but circumstances have led to her living a sheltered life. Philip is an honorable fellow who wants to do the right thing.

Actually, at the center of The Eligible Miss Elliot is the power of gossip. It was gossip that separated Lady Isiline and Lady Rotherford and necessitates Rosalindís and Philipís campaign, thus creating their relationship. It is gossip which threatens this relationship and, cleverly, it is gossip which brings about a happy and satisfactory ending.

Victoria Hinshaw has written an entertaining and gently insightful Regency romance. With few exceptions, all of the major characters are likable people. And like its characters, The Eligible Miss Elliot is eminently likable.

--Jean Mason

NB. I would be remiss were I not to point out another failure in editing. The numbers just don't add up! Philip's indiscretion occurred in 1802 when he was 21. In 1816, when the story is set, he would have been 35 years old. Rosalind is supposedly 25. Now, when Philip went to sea at 12, Rosalind would have been two years old. Hence her happy childhood memories of associating with Philip are most unlikely. These are perhaps minor matters, but they should have been caught by the copy editor.


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