Tag: dudley

Review: A Very Plain Young Man by Christina Dudley (2014)

Posted May 6, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a delight almost from start to finish… no, not even almost, it actually was delightful from start to finish, because although the story opens with the hero visiting his mistress, which would normally be a downer in an otherwise traditional Regency, the scene is so funny I forgive it. The lady is a bit of a drama queen, and since Our Hero is not best pleased by her histrionics, he finds himself scratching around for a delicate way to end their relationship. To his every excuse, she finds some counter-argument, and in the end he’s forced to tell her that he’s about to marry. Any self-respecting mistress understands that he can’t have any other relationships – at least, not for a while. He’s free! But in order to keep the lady from pestering him, he’ll really have to find himself a wife, or at least make the attempt.

And so begins the story. Our Hero is Frederick Tierney, the wild older brother of Joseph, the gentle hero of the previous book, The Naturalist, and since said brother has just married the impoverished but equally beetle-mad Alice Hapgood, Frederick decides to descend on the Hapgoods. Having spied the serenely beautiful older sister, Elfrida Hapgood at a ball, he decides that she would make him a suitable wife. Since he’s handsome, charming and wealthy, not to mention the heir to a baronetcy, he can’t imagine that he’ll have any trouble wooing her. But Elfrida is a down-to-earth young lady, not at all romantic, and she knows Frederick’s quite above her touch, not to mention having a terrible reputation. To his surprise, she’s not even interested in him.

And that, in a nutshell, is the whole story. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? It’s hardly an original plot. But the skill is all in the execution, or in this case the characters of the two principals. Frederick is sunnily undeterred by Elfrida’s indifference, and determines to ruffle her composure however he can. This manifests itself in the most glorious teasing banter, which manages to be witty and brain-addling and gloriously funny all at the same time. Many authors are claimed to be masters (or mistresses) of the art of writing witty banter, but nothing I have read before even comes close to this. It’s quite brilliant.

Elfrida’s composure stems at least in part from short-sightedness, so she sees the world in unrelieved fuzziness and doesn’t fuss over the details. And Frederick, lovely Frederick, discovers her secret and realises that she’s never seen just how handsome he is, so he takes care to position himself close enough for her to appreciate him in all his golden-haired glory. And the beauty of this is that it doesn’t come across as arrogance, but as a simple acceptance of himself. He truly thinks that when she sees him properly, she’ll fall for him. And who would not? I defy anyone not to love Frederick.

Of course, there are bound to be obstacles to the path of true love. Frederick’s past comes back to haunt him, and Elfrida is faced with a potential husband of a very different kind, soberly honourable and a very sensible choice. Needless to say, things come right in the end, thanks to Frederick’s irrepressible conviction that Elfrida will marry him eventually. There is only one wobbly moment where Elfrida makes a really stupid decision, but the rest of the book is so brilliant, and Frederick’s solution to the difficulty is so adept that I won’t hold it against her.

An honourable mention for some of the minor characters. I loved Elfrida’s younger sisters, chatterbox Margaret and artistic Edith, and her parents too, the father only interested in his dogs, and the mother dozing by the fire, when she can work up the energy to get out of bed. I’ve mentioned the melodramatic mistress, and then there’s the ‘maid’, Mrs Todd, who is in a league of her own. I love a book that’s funny, and this one actually had me laughing till I cried.

The writing is a treat for anyone looking for truly Austenesque prose, although there are a fair few Americanisms [*]. Nothing drastic, though, and certainly not enough to disrupt my enjoyment. A wonderful read that I raced through almost in one sitting. Five stars.

[*] The author tells me that these have been fixed.

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Review: The Naturalist by Christina Dudley (2013) [Trad]

Posted March 6, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, this was a delightful surprise. For some reason, I’d formed the impression that this was going to be pretentious tosh, but it turned out to be a rather well-written tale in authentically Regency language, with an interesting array of characters and a plot that depends less than is common these days on contrivance and misunderstanding.

Here’s the premise: Joseph Tierney is the younger son of a baronet, whose family had hoped he would enter the church but who preferred the pursuit of science instead. Having secured the patronage of the Royal Society, he is dispatched to Somerset to begin his explorations at Pattergees, the home of Lord Marlton. He accidentally stumbles across a local lad perfect as an assistant for his work, a rough-spoken boy who miraculously knows enough Latin to name the species around them. Unfortunately, the local lad turns out to be Alice Hapgood, one of the squire’s daughters, and once the word gets about that she’s been out and about in boy’s clothes, and alone with Joseph, he feels obliged to marry her.

Now the logic of this is dubious. I’ve never been a great fan of the compromised maiden trope. Unless there’s been actual naughtiness of the baby-producing type between the couple, it’s really unreasonable to expect them to be forced into marriage. Alice is 17, young enough to have it laughed off as childish misbehaviour, she’s the squire’s daughter, after all, and this is village society, not the hallowed realms of Almack’s and Carlton House. It would be a nine-days wonder and then forgotten about, apart from some gentle teasing from time to time. However, every author sets the tone of her own created Regency, and it fits with Joseph’s serious and dutiful character. He accepts the inevitable (as he sees it) with good grace, even though it means giving up his career as a naturalist and going into the church after all.

So there’s a hasty betrothal, but plenty of room for believable misunderstanding between our non-lovers. He assumes she’s trapped him into it from pure ambition, whereas she’s been in love with him from the moment she set eyes on him, and hates the thought that the man she loves is marrying her from duty and will inevitably resent her and rue his lost career. There’s a memorable moment when he’s protesting that he’s going to marry her whether she likes it or not, she’s trying to shut him up and somehow it turns into a kiss, which they are both surprisingly enthusiastic about. But this misunderstanding leads to a glorious later scene where both of them are being entirely honest and open and straightforward with each other, and yet still manage to be entirely at cross purposes. Quite brilliantly written.

Also brilliant is the way Joseph gradually and by very small increments comes to see that this marriage is actually a good thing in itself, and marriage to Alice is the perfect outcome for him. I wasn’t mad about the oh-so-convenient-for-the-plot meeting with his scientific mentors, but the time he spends with his father and brother, talking about Alice and seeing his parsonage, bring him to the perfect place for the charming, if a tad overblown resolution to the romance.

This is a beautifully written old school Regency, a real treat for those who love the authentic language of the era, and a nice evocation of the historical setting, with two sensible and likable leads. I only spotted a very few Americanisms (fall [*] instead of autumn) and one absolute howler (possums [*] in England? I don’t think so!), but nothing that affected my enjoyment of the book. A very elegant read, with more books in the series about the eccentric Hapgood family. Five stars.

[*] UPDATE: a reader tells me that these issues have been fixed.

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