A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin – Life in the early 1800s limits women’s options- Kitty must find a suitable husband

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin 

I have seen a lot of mentions of this book – if only because it is set in 1818, the same period as the Bridgerton books and television series are based. This is a book which cuts its own path, however, and is a memorable story with characters and an atmosphere of its own. It owes far more to the great Georgette Heyer than any other book, which is explained by the author’s special interest in Heyer’s wartime writing. It is also brilliantly researched, with the small but important details of life at the time. This does not mean that the enthralling narrative is ever slowed or interrupted by information; the story of Kitty’s attempts to save her family is truly engaging throughout.  Not all the characters in this book can boast of an impeccable pedigree and limitless financial resources, as the main drive of Kitty’s actions is the fact that she is on the financial brink, together with her sisters. When challenged about her priorities, she is keen to point out that a good marriage for the eldest of five sisters left in debt at the death of their father is their only hope, as with a certain other famous fictional family. Not that Kitty has to wait for an entail to take effect, or deal with a mother’s nerves; part of her late father’s difficulties were a result of her mother’s death. As debtors press nearer and they face losing their home, Kitty must take action in the only way she knows, or face her sisters being split up and having to depend on uncertain charity.  

The book begins with a crisis. Kitty, or Katherine Talbot, has been engaged to a local, relatively wealthy, man for two years. While not greatly attractive to her, she has been happy that the son of the local squire would be able to help safeguard her sisters, the youngest being only ten years old. His mother and his new love have now persuaded him that to marry Kitty would be a “mesalliance”, and so he causally jilts her. Kitty is dumbfounded – not because he was the love of her life, but he offered financial security and a future for her and a start for her sisters. When he breaks the news to her sisters they are not sure what to make of it, not having really realised how tenuous their situation was and how soon they would lose their home. Kitty therefore decides she must muster their resources and take herself and the studious Cecily to London to stay with a friend of their late mother’s, in order to start a hunt for a wealthy husband from the very beginning of the season. It is a risky plan, as she knows little of the rules of the ton, and Cecily even less, and the friend, Aunt Dorothy, has a somewhat dubious past. Still, by selling the last of her mother’s jewels she obtains ten pounds with which to launch her campaign. When she meets the young Mr de Lacy she thinks she may succeed in her quest in good time, but she had not reckoned with his elder brother, Lord Radcliffe. He has been on his country estate, not wanting to become involved in the social whirl of London and still dealing with his memories of Waterloo. His veto on her marrying his brother means that Kitty must find a new target, but Lord Radcliffe is not the only one who seems to obstruct her desperate search for a marriage which may lack love, but must yield money. 

In this book there are some lovely set pieces of balls and other events which the characters attend, as well as some missions. Kitty’s clothes are described well, including the need to make her small wardrobe work very hard. The characters are well drawn and maintained, especially the often morose Radcliffe, who is not a fan of early mornings. They are enhanced by the dialogue which I found entertaining throughout, especially between the main protagonists. This is a well written book which I greatly enjoyed, combining the realities of the social scene, some wonderful set pieces at events, and the delicate situation of women with no protector, no way of earning a living, and whose only hope was a good marriage. I recommend this book as a good, enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading this author’s next “Lady’s Guide” novel.