Kate and the Marquess

The Lady from Lisbon
by Sheila Walsh
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20095-0
Sheila Walsh is not fortunate in her reviewer. Perhaps someone else, someone who did not cut her eye teeth on Georgette Heyer, who has not read The Grand Sophy literally dozens of times, would not have noticed the uncanny resemblance of the heroine to one of the sainted Georgette’s most memorable creations. Perhaps she would not have noticed situations and lines of dialogue which are almost exactly the same as those in this classic romance. However, I must conclude that even someone completely unfamiliar with Sophy and all her doings would find this book tedious.

Cressida Merriton is but a pale imitation of Sophy. Like Sophy, she has spent her life away from England, in the company of her father, a skilled diplomat. Like Sophy, she returns to her homeland to visit not her aunt, but rather her godmother who expects not a self-possessed young lady but rather a much younger charge. Like Sophy, she even brings a spirited horse named in honor of Wellington with her. Like Sophy, she is something of a meddler in other people’s business. But I know the Grand Sophy, and Cressida is no Sophy!

The story begins when Alastair, Earl of Langley, visits his Aunt Beatrice, Viscountess Kilbride and discovers that her goddaughter is coming from Lisbon for a visit. Lady Kilbride lost her husband several years earlier and since that time, has retreated from society. One would almost think that she is suffering from agoraphobia. The two share a deep affection. The nephew is saddened that his aunt has closed herself off from life; the aunt is saddened that Alastair has become cynical and jaded since he was jilted by a thoughtless and selfish woman. When Aunt Beatrice asks Alastair to meet Cressida’s ship at Portsmouth, he reluctantly agrees.

Of course, Alastair is stunned to discover that Cressida is not a child, but a young lady. He is likewise concerned that her presence will upset his aunt. The two do not start out on the most friendly terms, especially when Cressida informs him that she is determined to bring her godmother out of her shell. This is the first of many improbabilities in the story. Why would the earl object to Cressida’s proposal when he has himself been anxious to see his aunt resume her former life?

One of the tasks of a reviewer is to provide a synopsis of the plot. I must admit to having sat staring at the computer screen for quite a while, trying to figure out how to proceed. Then it came to me why I was having so much trouble. There is no plot, merely a series of events which follow one after another.

Cressida rides in the park with Alastair and gallops when she shouldn’t. She meets his friend Perry who, we are told, is much sharper than his dandified appearance would suggest, and learns that Madame Fanchot’s is the place to get dresses. Cressida and Aunt Bea visit Madame’s and both buy lots of really neat clothes. Cressida gets rid of Aunt Bea’s depressing companion. Cressida and Aunt Bea drive in the park and meet people; they go to a soiree and meet more people. Cressida meets the nasty Austrian Baron von Schroder whom she knew and disliked in Lisbon.

Cressida’s father comes back to England and is knighted. Cressida goes to the gala celebrating the defeat of Napoleon and she meets still more people, including Lady Sherbourne, her father’s new mistress who just happens to be the woman who jilted Alastair. Cressida visits Alastair’s house to talk of plans for her debut ball and meets his chef. Cressida meets the nice Major Harry Pelham who lost an arm at Badajoz. Cressida dances the waltz with Alastair at her ball and thinks it is just dandy. Harry rescues the lovely Miss Isabelle Devine who has been brutalized by the nasty baron and Alastair and Cressida give her shelter. Cressida goes to Almack’s and meets more people. Cressida accompanies her father and Lady Sherbourne to Vienna for the peace conference and meets lots of other people including the very nice Prince Metlin. Cressida sees the sights of Vienna. Lady Sherbourne meets the nasty baron. Alastair and Perry come to Vienna. Cressida dances with Alastair at another ball and thinks it is just dandy. The nasty baron gets his comeuppance. So does Lady Sherbourne. Alastair and Cressida and Perry return to England and get married. No, not Perry, just Alastair and Cressida. Perry just gets seasick. And there you have it.

I suppose a romance that simply recounts a series of seemingly unrelated events can be entertaining, provided the characters are interesting, the romance is enjoyable, the author recreates a past world and the book is well written. None of the four is achieved here. The characters are generally flat and stereotypical. The romance seems to occur mostly offstage. The characters behave in ways that flout the conventions of the era. And the writing is pedestrian at best.

I rarely give one heart ratings. A book has to really annoy me for me to say “Don’t bother.” Obviously, this book really annoyed me.

--Jean Mason

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