Review: Delsie by Joan Smith (1982)

Posted June 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did, being the standard-for-the-era domineering hero and the short-sightedly stubborn heroine, but I guess I was in the right mood to take it all as light-hearted fun.

Here’s the premise: Delsie Sommer hasn’t had an easy life. Her father’s various money-making ventures all failed, and when he died, Delsie and her mother were left very little to live on. Nevertheless, her mother had once known a better life, so she made sure that Delsie had a lady’s education. But when she, too, dies, Delsie doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. She’s a little too grand to make friends of the labouring classes, and she’s far below the local aristocrat, Lord deVigne, and his family. She ekes out a precarious existence as a schoolteacher at the village school, thinking herself quite unnoticed by the great ones at the hall.

But one of them has noticed her. Lord deVigne’s brother-in-law, Mr Grayshott, now a widower, turns up on Delsie’s doorstep one day, quite unannounced and without any prior acquaintance, and proposes marriage to her. He’s not an appealing man, with the smell of drink about him, so she indignantly turns him down. A second proposal when he is clearly drunk is treated the same way. Some time after this, an approach is made by Lord deVigne himself. Grayshott has drunk himself almost into the grave, but there is his six-year-old daughter to consider, who will be shipped off to unsympathetic relations if nothing is done. But if Delsie will marry Grayshott on his deathbed, she will be saved from a life of hardship, the daughter will have a stepmother and everyone will be better off.

Delsie’s tempted by the whole business of being saved from a life of hardship, naturally, but Grayshott is even less appealing as a husband now, and what if he recovers and she has to live with him for years? So she says no again, but Lord deVigne is a determined man. He leaves her to consider the offer for a month, which she does every time she walks to the school in the rain or eats bread and cheese in her tiny lodging room, and then he basically says: he’s about to pop off, it’s now or never. And sweeps Delsie away to be married.

This part of the book is very like Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, although with a better excuse for the marriage than Heyer’s version. At least Grayshott had a yen for Delsie beforehand and the motive was to rescue the daughter. Delsie, not surprisingly, finds her new life very much to her taste, but she quickly finds that there’s something odd going on in the orchard at night, and there are bags of gold coins everywhere. So part two of the book is about uncovering the mystery, Delsie wanting to be on hand to witness the uncovering and Lord deVigne wanting very much to keep her out of danger by not letting her witness anything.

As is usual in a book of this age, the romance is subtle. I was quite a way into it before I realised that Lord deVigne was the hero, having, for some reason, assumed he was older than he must have been (perhaps mid-thirties?). But once I twigged, it was obvious that he had set his sights on Delsie almost from the start. Mind you, I disapproved violently of some of his behaviour. Delsie was a new widow, so she should have been free from any importunement from hopeful suitors. Instead, he steals a kiss from her in the garden at night, and makes rather racy remarks to her (when she says she will just have to share stepdaughter Bobbie’s bed, he says, ‘Lucky Bobbie’). Which, frankly, is not at all the thing. But aristocrats will be aristocratic, so I suppose it’s par for the course, and Delsie doesn’t seem to mind.

This was a fun read. I liked the other characters, especially gossipy Lady Jane and her bookish husband Sir Harold, a mismatched pair if ever there was one. I liked the hero, too, despite his autocratic ways, because he only got autocratic when it really mattered; the rest of the time he made sterling efforts to defer to Delsie. She was a little too stubborn, but I can understand her reasoning. There was a good sprinkling of Americanisms like visit with, gotten, fall, and so on, but I’m used to that with this author. In many ways this was a standard Regency romp, but some of the early chapters, describing Delsie’s pre-marriage life and the way she saw the deVignes as they passed through the village in their fancy carriages was a cut above the usual for this genre, and I enjoyed it hugely, so I’m going for the full five stars.

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