Author: Mary Balogh
Genre: Traditional Regency
Pages: 218. Stand alone book.
Reason for Reading: Although I love Balogh regencies and have been reading her from almost the beginning of her career, I have put off this one for years because governess romances are on my Ick List. Also, many of Balogh’s early works are inconsistent in quality and this one did turn out to be one of her duds so my intuition was right for once. IMO, Balogh doesn’t hit her writing stride until about 1990.
Long Ramblings: Late one night, Charles, Earl of Rutherford, a guest at a country estate, finds the family’s “gray governess” Jessica Moore, in the library. Spoiled and indulgent, Charles has figured out a system of what type of servants makes the best shags: the quiet repressed types like Jessica. Jessica rebuffs Charles’s advances but is caught being alone with Charles and is fired without a reference. Jessica takes the stage to London and sees Charles again at the stagecoach inn. Over dinner, Charles points out Jessica’s dire situation: without a reference and with no relatives to turn to, she will probably not be able to get a job as a scullery maid much less a governess and will probably have to turn to a life of prostitution. He then offers her the position of being his mistress. Desperate, Jessica accepts but cannot go thru with it at the very last minute.
Feeling responsible that Jessica got canned and not being able to get Jessica to become his mistress, Charles tells Jessica to see his grandmother in London for job placement. The Grandma recognizes Jessica as the granddaughter of her dear friend, a Marchioness, and schemes to get Charles to marry her. Charles, now obsessed, makes Jessica two more propositions. Of marriage. Which Jessica also rejects.
I didn’t like Charles at first. I find heroes that prey on the hired help gross, even if that sort of thing did happen all the time. But Balogh makes sure to point out that at least Charles isn’t the type to force his attentions if they are unwilling. I began to realize that Charles isn’t a character filtered through modern sensibilities as so many heroes in romances are. He is a snob, spoiled, indulged, pampered, and licentious. Yet he is a gentleman. He is what he is.
The great failure of this book is that Balogh matched a character that conducted himself by the value of his times with a heroine that did not. Jessica, by birth, inclination, and looks, should be a lady attending parties and making a society marriage. The fact that Jessica is so willful and stupid that she prefers the percarious life of an abused governess and possibly even a mistress rather than live a luxurious lifestyle with the Marquess, her grandfather, or enter a respectable offer of marriage with a nobleman is incomprehensible to me. I think it will be to most readers. Jessica is also written inconsistently which just adds to the impression that she is an idiot and dare I write that acronym — TSTL. She would agree to get married to a man of her grandfather’s choosing but when he chooses Charles, she refuses. She is described as being happier than she has since before being a governess, then later in the novel, she runs away to become a governess again citing that she has been unhappy. Trying to figure Jessica out might end with the reader ready for the asylum instead of her.
There is a secondary romance involving Charles’s sister that takes up maybe 8% of the novel. Charles’s sister is almost as big an idiot as Jessica but that secondary romance is actually more satisfying than the one that took up most of this book. I have no idea why Charles pursued Jessica other than for her looks and he did come across as more obsessed than anything else.