The plot of Martha Kirklandís new Regency romance is an old stand-by, but then, there really arenít many new plots under the sun. In the hands of a talented author, an old familiar story can certainly yield a few hours of pleasurable reading. Such is the case with Miss Maitlandís Letters.
Major Stephen Rutledge and Lieutenant Paul Clement are comrades in arms, if not precisely friends. On the eve of Waterloo, Paul receives a missive from his father announcing that he has arranged a marriage for his son with the daughter of a very rich wool merchant. Paul knows that he must marry the girl; the familyís finances so decree. But he isnít happy about wedding a social climbing nobody. The Clements might not
have any money, but theyíve got more than their share of pride. So he tosses his prospective fiancťeís letter to Stephen, unread, and suggests that his comrade might as well do the honors of corresponding with this Miss Lorna Maitland. Thus it begins.
Eleven months later, Lorna receives an invitation from Lady Clement to visit the family seat to finally meet her intended. At twenty-five, Lorna had almost given up hope of marrying, not because she is an antidote, but because of her ambivalent social status. She had agreed to consider marrying Paul after seeing a miniature with his handsome face. But the letters she received in the intervening months had led her to fall in love with the sensitive, humorous, witty writer. So, despite her disappointment in discovering that Paul has already been back in England for a month, she and her father and her young cousin
start off for Clement Park with high hopes.
The first person to welcome her is not her fiancť, but rather his friend, Major Rutledge. The major is very different in looks from the blond Adonis in Lornaís miniature. But he is warm and friendly, which is more than can be said for Paul or his parents. Lorna wants to spend time with the man who seeks to marry her, to get to know in person the man she has come to know by his letters. Paul seems surprisingly uninterested in any personal contact. Is this the man who wrote such wonderful letters? That he is not is the crux of the problem.
Stephen has come to Clement Park out of a sense of guilt, but also out of curiosity. Lornaís letters had gotten him through the very difficult time of Waterloo and its aftermath. What started out as a bit of a lark had come to mean a great deal to Stephen. He wants to be on hand to make sure that the woman he has come to admire will be happy as Paul Clementís wife. When he meets Lorna in person and when he sees how Paul and his parents treat Lorna and her father, he knows that the marriage would be a grave mistake. But how to stop the juggernaut that the Clements have set in motion to make sure that Lorna and all her wonderful money do not escape their clutches?
As I noted above, this is a tried and true plot, but Kirkland makes it work. The main reason is her depiction of Lornaís and Stephenís developing relationship. Stephen is not only nice, but heís fun and Lorna is clearly a warm and lovely woman who would be stifled by the cold, proud Clements. And Lorna is no fool; she quickly understands
that the Paul she knew from his letters and the man she has now met donít fit together, even if she doesnít immediately comprehend the reasons for the difference.
Kirkland has created a fine cast of characters. The hero and heroine are immensely likable; the secondary characters are interesting; and the Clements have to be some of the most unpleasant snobs I have come across in a long time. I did have a thought that perhaps the author went overboard in making them so supercilious and condescending till I remembered that their attitudes towards their supposed inferiors were all too common. So I was delighted that they got their comeuppance.
All in all, Miss Maitlandís Letters is a most enjoyable take on this old familiar story.