The Arranged Marriage by Gillian Hawser – An enjoyable “Regency” story of a young woman discovering her own abilities

The Arranged Marriage by Gillian Hawser

This is a great read for fans of “Regency” novels – books set at the turn of the nineteenth century, when a good marriage was the only ambition for the relatively well off woman. This is the time that Georgette Heyer made her own, and has become more popular recently thanks to the success of the flamboyant Bridgerton. This is a substantial book which I greatly enjoyed, along with this author’s “The Rake” which I read and reviewed a few months ago. In its way this is an even better book in that it concentrates on a woman who is greatly changed by the events in this book, and her own determination to protect a younger and undisciplined girl. Not that there is a shortage of a hero, who at first makes a mistake, continues to not understand quite what is going on, and has to revise his opinions considerably. He is no saint, and there are some pretty offensive people in this book, but there is also a lot of support and feminine solidarity to be found in the story of Petty. 

The settings of the novel are beautifully described by someone who has a real understanding of the importance of where characters are living and experiencing difficulties, but the descriptions never slow the story. Similarly, the clothes worn by the characters are important to the story, especially as Petty struggles with her options at times and they demonstrate her changing fortunes, and they appear to be historically accurate. There is so much research behind this book, but it is never allowed to interfere with the narrative. This is a great read in that it reflects a young woman’s progress from being continually being criticised and put down, to a person who can take real agency in her own life and the lives of others. It may be historical fiction, but I think it is also a really fascinating story for any time. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this super book. 

The book opens with Perpetua – Petty – being the disregarded eldest daughter of a duke who is in a financial mess. Her father has been propelled into the tile without the financial cushion to support the house, estate and most especially his vain and spendthrift wife who only cares for her own well being, ability to buy expensive clothes and to give her younger and more attractive daughters a suitable season. Petty is shy, not superficially attractive, but with far more emotional intelligence and intellectual abilities, encouraged by her brothers and her beloved governess Miss Chalfont. When her father hears that the young and wealthy Lord Edward Milton is eager to marry a young woman of impeccable background without a lengthy courtship and a generous financial settlement to offer, he eagerly arranges a marriage and informs his daughter. Despite her protests the marriage ceremony quietly takes place, and Petty decides that she must run away immediately, preferring the uncertainty and relatively poor life of  governess. She soon discovers that her sheltered life has not prepared her for life on her own. Happily she is discovered by Mrs Lumley who recognises her real worth, and all seems to be well until a fateful night when her husband turns up and rapidly becomes angry with her. Her second disappearance sets up Edward and others for a real test of perseverance as they try to discover where she has fled. Petty, meanwhile, has discovered a young woman who is really threatened by her own lack of awareness and her father’s neglect, and determines to use her own knowledge of the world and growing confidence to protect her. Petty little realises how that will jeopardise her relationship with those who care for her, and even possibly place her in actual danger.  

This book features all the elements of a really good read of historical fiction set in this time period. A villain or two, a vulnerable girl, and a man who must rethink his own affections for a woman who he previously dismissed as being of little interest. Petty  becomes a real heroine in this book, taking the best of her life experiences, her knowledge of the rarified world of the ton, and her own intelligence and abilities not only to save herself but those she has come to care for over a relatively short period of time. Actual danger, pursuit and all sorts of characters contribute to this excellent story, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys novels set in this exciting time in British history.  

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.