Review: The Improper Governess by Carola Dunn (1998)

Posted May 16, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A lovely old-fashioned Regency with all that entails. Yes, it has some weaknesses, like an implausible premise, a hero with a penchant for mistresses and a romance that comes to the boil only in the last paragraph, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nevertheless.

Here’s the premise: Lord Ashe is in the market for a new mistress after setting his last ladybird loose, and there’s an opera singer who’s a bit different – she do nicely. But supper with the lady makes him realise that she’s more different than he had guessed – not only young and innocent, but also caring for two younger brothers. He decides not to press her, giving her the remains of the supper for the boys and taking her home, where the boys turn out to be surprisingly well brought up. Lord Ashe is intrigued and concerned by some of the information Lissa and the boys let slip, so when his widowed sister has trouble keeping a governess for her sickly son, Ashe proposes Lissa for the job. She’s suspicious that he’s just using that as an excuse to seduce her, but when another potential seducer circles close to her, she reluctantly accepts the offer.

From here on, there aren’t too many surprises. Lissa turns out to be an excellent governess, her two brothers make good playmates for Ashe’s nephew, Colin, and Ashe behaves impeccably. It’s an odd thing, but rakes in Regencies always do behave impeccably once the story gets under way, although Ashe does at least have believable moments of still hankering after Lissa. Colin turns out to have what sounds like asthma, but a bolt for the country and Ashe’s own estate restores him to health, and the three boys enjoy a healthy outdoorsy existence.

There’s bound to be a fly in the ointment, however, and here it’s Colin’s mother, a clothes-obsessed social butterfly and her noble suitor, who let the cat out of the bag regarding Lissa’s former occupation as an opera singer (regarded as no better than a prostitute). All sorts of ructions ensue, but in the midst of the mayhem, Ashe, having long resisted looking into Lissa’s mysterious past, now sets out to discover who precisely she is. More ructions ensue, and really, he should have known better. He knew perfectly well that they were escaping from a violent home, so it would have been much better to leave well alone. Or, since he was very much in love by this point, he could have gone to Lissa and said: ‘I want to marry you, but to keep you and the boys safe, I need to know just who you are.’

But of course everything comes right in the end, without very much effort, in fact, and Ashe finally says and does the right thing. This isn’t a perfect book by any means, but then what is? But it’s very well written, with a realistically evoked Regency era and no Americanisms or anachronisms that I noticed at all, and I enjoyed it so much that I can’t give it less than five stars.


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