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.