Fiction is full of unlikely coincidences. Most of the time we readers accept them without much trouble. I admit to having had a bit of a problem with the amazing coincidence that is at the center of The Banished Bride which ultimately detracted from my enjoyment of the story.
One night the Earl of Woodbridge is gambling with a group of drunken friends. One of the card players, out of money, stakes a whorehouse. The earl decides to stake something equally outrageous: his youngest son. If Lord Trumbull wins, the earl will marry his youngest son to the baron’s troublesome daughter. Trumbull wins and thus fourteen year old Elizabeth Jane Aurora marries twenty year old James Hadley Alexander Fenimore. The groom comes to the ceremony drunk and departs immediately for India, the promised pair of colours now his.
Fast forward thirteen years. Aurora had fled her father’s home with her beloved governess rather than going to the run down estate that was to have been her fate. She uses the name Sprague rather than her birth or married name. She and Robbie survived first on the latter’s small inheritance and then, after her sixteenth birthday, on a small stipend furnished by her absent husband. Several years earlier, Aurora had stumbled on an additional source of income. She had established “The Sprague Agency for Distressed Females” and her used her shrewd intelligence to assist women who are being mistreated by men. Those with money pay her handsomely; those without she helps for free.
When a local woman with a brutal husband needs to flee to Scotland and her aunt, Aurora decides to accompany her even though Robbie is sick and cannot come. Thus she finds herself in a remote Scottish inn one evening.
Alexander’s fortunes have also altered. He served first in India and then in the Peninsula and had become one of Wellington’s most trusted intelligence officers. Then, to his amazement, he discovers that he has become the Earl of Woodbridge. The army orders him home; they don’t want the last of the line to die in battle. But before he takes up his
new responsibilities, they ask him to undertake one last mission. Invaluable intelligence is being sent to the French via Scotland and information suggests that a woman is behind it. The army wants him to ferret out what is going on. Thus Alex finds himself in a remote Scottish inn one evening.
Alex has already had one dangerous encounter with his foes. Wounded, he sees Aurora alone and concludes that she is his quarry. Thus he accosts her when she gets into her carriage. But Aurora soon convinces him of her innocence and then finds herself caring for a wounded man. When his antagonist discovers them, Alex concludes that Aurora is in danger and takes her with him to the remote cottage where he and his assistant are
planning their campaign to uncover the villains.
There, Alex discovers the shrewd intelligence that this unusual woman possesses as she helps him solve the puzzle surrounding the treason. There Aurora discovers that, for all his domineering behavior, this man seems to respect women’s abilities. Neither discovers the other’s true identity, as they are both using aliases.
Aurora is an interesting character. She has every good reason to dislike the male of the species, both because of her treatment at the hands of her father and “husband” and because of the work she has been doing. Alex is a less attractive creation and all too typical of those heroes who believe that women are shallow and selfish. He has somehow concluded that his “wife” was party to the forced marriage. Meeting Aurora and listening to her tales of women’s mistreatment does force him to reevaluate his abandonment of his bride and to feel guilty about his behavior.
The Banished Bride is a perfectly acceptable Regency romance, but its dependence on such an unlikely coincidence as Aurora’s and Alex’s chance meeting in Scotland detracted from my appreciation of the story. That and a certain unheroic quality in the hero keep me from recommending it.