An Encounter With Venus

Girl With the Persian Shawl


A Splendid Indiscretion / The Grand Passion
by Elizabeth Mansfield
(Signet Regency, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21624-5
The late Paula Schwartz, who wrote many Regencies as Elizabeth Mansfield, passed away in December of 2003 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Signet has re-released two of her earlier Regencies in this double-volume book, and they are delightful examples of her work. Too bad all Regencies can’t be of this quality.

A Splendid Indiscretion is the story of absentminded Ada Surringham, a charming and artless young lady who is forever losing things, tripping over rugs, and forgetting what she’s doing and where she’s going. Ada is no simpleton, but her mind wanders, and her inattentiveness is a constant exasperation to her Uncle Jasper, with whom the orphaned Ada lives.

Jasper loves Ada, however, and when the opportunity comes for him to best his uppity sister and her supercilious daughter, Cornelia, and send Ada to London for a Season, he jumps at it. A dear friend of Ada’s late mother has offered to sponsor one of the girls. Cornelia decides it will be her; Jasper quickly bundles Ada in the coach and sends her off in a hurry, to get there first. While enroute to London, Ada runs into a strange man at a coaching inn who is avoiding an irate husband. Ada temporarily hides him in her room and he escapes out the window.

Ada arrives in London to find that her cousin Cornelia has arrived first after all, and since only one girl was supposed to arrive, Ada is out of luck – until she is mistaken for the librarian’s assistant. Ada decides to stay and work in the grand house, passing herself off as “Ada Surrey.” Then she discovers her host is none other than Ivor Griffith, Viscount Mullineaux, the stranger at the inn. The attraction between them is undeniable. But he’s supposed to be courting Cornelia.

The story is straightforward, and readers will enjoy Ada’s adventure. It’s true, her mind does leap from one subject to another, but she’s intelligent nonetheless. Her lack of attention to detail, however, lands her in several scrapes. Readers may or may not have patience with her character – this one’s strictly up to personal taste. As for me, I found her endearing, though the author’s penchant for making Ada stammer like a dimwit whenever she’s under stress wore thin after a very short time.

The romance is quirky and fun, as Ada finds herself engaged to the head librarian, or maybe not, as she wasn’t really paying attention at the time. Griff is by turns exasperated and intrigued, and in the end, all is sorted out. It’s a charming and lighthearted story.

The Grand Passion opens on a dark note. Tess Brownlow has given up on finding a grand passion and has become engaged to Jeremy Beringer, an old friend who adores her. On the eve of their wedding, Jeremy is returning from London when a member of the famed Four in Hand Club takes over the stagecoach reins, though the road is icy. Drunken and reckless, this daredevil driver causes an accident and Jeremy is killed. Tess, when she finds out, vows revenge.

According to another passenger, Jeremy recognized the reckless nobleman as “Lotherwood.” Tess quickly discovers this is Matthew Lotherwood, Marquis of Bradbourne, and, taking on the identity of “Sidoney Ashburton,” she crafts a plan to make him fall in love with her and propose marriage. On the eve of their wedding, the Marquis will receive word that his beloved bride has been killed in an accident. Let Lotherwood know what it’s like to love and lose, Tess vows.

Except things don’t go quite according to plan. For one thing, the Marquis is already betrothed, and Tess/Sidoney must capture his attention. This is accomplished, but Tess didn’t plan on falling in love with Matthew herself. Her “grand passion” is now a real thing. What will happen when Tess carries out her original intent?

This story doesn’t take a predictable path. Without giving away the rest of the plot, let’s say that Tess and Matthew are going to have to work hard to make their grand passion into something sustainable, and the author throws in a twist about the original accident, as well. The romance builds quickly, and the story almost overwhelms it. Tess and Matthew have a lot of ground to cover. The attraction between them flares immediately, but just when one thinks the story will resolve into a happy ending, the author takes the story in another direction.

The Grand Passion is well worth a read for the strong story. Tess and Matthew are both bullheaded and proud, and they’ll both have to humble themselves to make their love into a reality. It’s an interesting journey. I would have preferred that the ending not be quite so abrupt, but it did resolve nicely.

At $6.99, this book is a bargain. Readers are treated to two full-length, quality Regencies from one of the most accomplished authors in the field. Paula Schwartz will be sorely missed. Here’s hoping Signet will see fit to re-release more of her Elizabeth Mansfield works.

--Cathy Sova

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