The Rake by Gillian Hawser – an historical novel of redemption, romance and transformation at the turn of the nineteenth century

The Rake by Gillian Hawser

I often enthuse about books, and this one deserves enthusiasm. A vivid novel set at the turn of the nineteenth century, this is a book which describes the progress of a man who would admit that he has been a rake; a man careless with the affections of women, a man who enjoys relationships with women outside marriage. Happily there are women who will not accept this, and in this well written story a woman actually shoots Lord Jasper Heddington. Attractive, incredibly wealthy and with a title to safeguard, he knows that he must marry and get a male heir, but in this detailed and beautifully written book he gets diverted by many things – including serious injury. As a world of balls, presentations and concern over reputations whirls around, Jasper is confronted by new concerns introduced to his life beyond his usual lifestyle, but can he cope in a rapidly changing world?

Fans of Georgette Heyer, Bridgeton and other Regency/ Georgian period novels will be extremely impressive with this society based novel of life among the upper classes. It is a lot more weighty than some novels which feature the same sort of subject, not only in length (which is considerable) but also in terms of subject matter. This book is not only about manners, conversations and fashionable clothes, but also some of the issues that were becoming important at the turn of a new century. This is a book that is dominated by women, who have very different experiences and intentions. The characters, including Jasper, are very well drawn with real depth and well described emotions. Ranging from a concerned grandmother through a sister who has a lot on her mind, these are not all young women with romance on their minds. The social issues covered are well dealt with and add a certain level of realism. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to read and review this extremely engaging book.

The book begins with a description of Jasper Heddington. A friend of the very real Mr Beau Brummell, he is classically handsome and fabulously wealthy by the standards of the time. Although of an  impeccable pedigree, he is let down by a certain hardness. He would be the target of ambitious mothers anxious to marry off their daughters, but many are aware of his reputation for women. Not that he ever hurts women; they willingly become his mistresses and he always takes care of any woman that he spends time with however briefly. When he encounters Laura Ludgrove he is instantly smitten, and such is her lack of worldly wisdom that she believes that this is her opportunity to gain a wealthy and generally desirable husband. Her “friends” are distracted, and an easily impressed woman leaps to wrong assumptions. His behaviour is unforgivable, and it is up to his wise and kind sister Petronella, or Nillie, to take action to try to remedy the situation. Neither has reckoned with a determined yet mysterious woman who will take unusual and decisive action. 

This novel is a thoroughly engaging read of a usually confident man about town who is completely thrown off balance by events beyond his control for the first time in his life. There is humour, there are touching moments, and there are enough descriptions of the appearance of characters to satisfy those keen on the fashions of the time. The author obviously has an interest in buildings of the time, as each house is so lovingly described, from the grandest to the poorest. Not that the research ever gets in the way of the narrative; this is a book of atmosphere where questions are answered. I really recommend this historical novel for its romance, characters and thorough celebration of the time in which it is set, a book of transformation and real change in many senses.