The Girl with the Persian Shawl
by Elizabeth Mansfield
(Jove, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-515-13414-7
***
Elizabeth Mansfield has long been one of the most popular writers of Regency romances. This single title release, while not “officially” a Regency, is nonetheless a traditional Regency expanded to a longer format. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, Mansfield takes advantage of the longer format to create a more textured and expansive story than is possible in a more limited page count.

“The Girl in the Persian Shawl” is a portrait which serves to bring the heroine and hero together. The painting belongs to the Rendell family and hangs in the house inhabited by the Dowager Viscountess and her daughter Kate. One day, Harry Gerard, Lord Ainsworth calls, asking to see the picture. He has been commissioned by his grandmother to find a painting done by an ancestor which resembles in subject matter the Rendell’s portrait.

The strong-willed and opinionated Kate resents Lord Ainsworth’s uninvited appearance at her home and treats her visitor quite rudely. His lordship departs quite quickly, but not before getting under Kate’s skin. She heartily wishes him gone, but can’t quite get him out of her mind.

Kate is well on her way to spinsterhood, not because she isn’t attractive or even because she doesn’t have a suitor - her childhood friend Percy insists on asking her to wed regularly - but because her independent and managing ways have discouraged most likely candidates for her hand. She does not regret her unwed state and is quite happy managing her mother, the household and the estate.

A visit to her uncle’s is a welcome change. She and her mother are invited to a house party to celebrate her cousin’s betrothal. When Kate arrives, she discovers that Ainsworth is one of the guests and jumps to the conclusion that he is the happy bridegroom. She can’t understand why this upsets her. Nor, when this turns out not to be the case, can she understand her relief.

Kate has a penchant for jumping to conclusions. On scanty evidence, she believes that Harry is a rake and becomes suspicious when he begins to pay her attention. But if Kate jumps to conclusions, her cousin Deirdre jumps from one man to another. Betrothed to one man, she almost immediately begins to wonder if perhaps she loves Harry. And when she confides in her cousin, Kate decides that Harry is indeed a bounder and rushes home.

Deirdre’s inconstancy is the driving force of the plot. Her romantical delusions are perhaps forgivable in an eighteen year old but they cause problems for everyone else in the story.

There is a romp-ish quality to The Girl with the Persian Shawl, a gentle sort of humor which is enjoyable enough. I must admit to having some trouble with the heroine; Kate is too willing to believe the worst of Harry. Frankly, I was never completely sure why Harry fell in love with her. Actually, the secondary romance featuring Kate’s mother and her old-fashioned suitor is more charming than the primary romance.

The Girl with the Persian Shawl should appeal to Mansfield’s many fans as well as those who enjoy traditional Regency romances. I found it reading it a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

--Jean Mason


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