has also reviewed:

My Wayward Lady

 
The Gallant Guardian
by Evelyn Richardson
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19715-1
***
When I finished The Gallant Guardian last night, I thought I was going to recommend Evelyn Richardson's latest Regency. I wanted to recommend the book. After all, guardian/ward books have a storied history in the Regency genre starting with the first real Regency of all, Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. But this plot has been mostly absent in recent years, perhaps because it usually requires a significant age difference and a young heroine. And I really did like both Richardson's guardian and his ward.

But the morning brought counsel and I concluded that I could not in all conscience give The Gallant Guardian a four heart rating. Perhaps I can explain my change of heart by relating it to my experience with grading papers. Occasionally, I get a really well written paper that seems to be right on when it comes to the assignment. Then, suddenly up pops a major error. Oops, no A, but still. . . . Then up pops another error. Uh oh, we are moving into the B- range. And finally, when I get to the conclusion, there is something else that doesn't quite make sense. Well, the paper has moved from excellent to good to just acceptable. Just as this book did. Pity.

Let me demonstrate what went wrong.

Maximilian Stanforth, fifth Marquess of Lydon, has a reputation, to say the least. The neglected son of two selfish socialites, he was cut off by his father and proceeded to India and to make his fortune. Since his return to England he has cut quite a swath through the dashing young matrons and widows of the ton. Despite his huge fortune and handsome person, matchmaking mothers warn their daughters away from the marquess. He has made his opinion of marriage quite clear.

The marquess is surprised one day to receive a letter from Lady Charlotte Winterbourne, asking Max when he was going to undertake his responsibilities as guardian of herself and her young brother. Max searches his memory and recalls that his friend, Hugo, Earl of Harcourt, one evening over cards had asked Max if he might name him guardian of his children in the event of the earl's death. Max surmises that Hugo is not merely out of town but has passed from this mortal coil. He turns his responsibilities over to his man of business and puts the matter from his mind.

But Lady Charlotte can not afford to let the marquess shirk his duties. Her young brother William, now Earl of Harcourt, was injured at birth and has limited mental capacities. Charlotte has devoted herself to her brother, teaching him the basics of reading and writing and seeing that he has a happy life. But now, her cousin Sir Cecil Wadleigh and his obnoxious wife Almeria are threatening to descend on Harcourt. Cecil, as heir to the title and estate, wants to relegate William to a country cottage with a keeper and enjoy the position of earl if not the title.

Which brings us to the first error. Cecil is described as the son of the sister of the late earl. Titles and estates do not generally pass through the female line. And if the letters patent creating the earldom of Harcourt make provision for the title's passing through a woman, Charlotte's issue (since she is in the direct line), not her aunt's would have precedence. And if this were the case, then Cecil would not be urging her to marry.

Charlotte finds it hard to withstand her cousins' importunities, so she hies herself off to London to meet the marquess and insist that he come and drive the Wadleighs away. Max, taken by the self-possessed young woman, agrees to follow her to Harcourt shortly. And so he does.

Which brings us to the second major error. Even though Max is Charlotte's and William's guardian, he could not visit them at Harcourt unless there were someone to chaperon Charlotte. Even had he been the epitome of goodness, he could not spend weeks with her unchaperoned. But he is a rake! His presence would destroy Charlotte's reputation. (Indeed, Charlotte probably could not have lived at Harcourt herself without some proper female to give her countenance.)

I know, you are saying, "So what? If it's a good story, who cares?" Well, obviously, I do and so do many others who have been reading Regencies for years. One of the "requirements" for any Regency is a fidelity to the customs and mores of the era. In fact, it is the playing out of human behavior against the backdrop of the formal conventions of the time that gives the Regency its special quality. I really do believe that authors should not make the kind of blatant errors here described, errors that could have easily been dealt with. (And where was the editor? A question I ask with increasing frequency these days.)

I really cannot describe in detail what went wrong at the end of the book. But let me say that the villains behave in ways that are completely contrary to common sense. I know they're basically stupid, but really!

So despite the fact that I really liked the hero and heroine and thought they were well drawn and well developed, that I thought Richardson's portrayal of William was deftly and warmly done, and that I just love guardian/ward stories, I simply cannot recommend The Gallant Guardian. I, being a kind soul, often let my students rewrite their papers. I only wish that were an option here.

--Jean Mason


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