An Inconvenient Wife
I’ve only read a few Regencies, but I’ve long since had a mental block against them. The picture I always get in my mind comes from a classic I Love Lucy episode where Ricky has refused to star in a play set in Cuba, so Lucy re-writes the play, setting it in England, for Ethel, Fred, and Lucy to star in. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it is filled with horrible dialogue and absolutely nothing happens. I’ve known this was not the “real” world of Regencies, but that’s the image I’ve had.
An Inconvenient Wife went a long way toward dispelling this view in my mind. True, some of the dialogue seemed silly, but once I got into the rhythm of the story, I realized it was purposeful. “Faradiddle” makes sense coming from a fop. Clever wit aside, this story works because author Oliver has created such strong and believable lead characters for this traditional marriage-of-convenience story.
Lady Pamela Hancock is a bluestocking, on the shelf at the age of 25. She has little use for men, and does not suffer fools gladly in general. She is blunt and clever, and in an effort to protect her ineffectual cousin Freddie from this season’s Beauty (who is in actuality a rather cheap slut), she finds herself in a compromising position with one Lord Robert Monroyal, a notorious rake involved in a family feud with her father.
While Monroyal has his own distinctly odd code of honor, he is an extremely dark character. He is likeable only with close family and friends. Otherwise, he’s an S.O.B. who cares only for his own pleasures. His sense of honor dictates he offer for Pamela’s hand even though he no more wants to marry her than she wants to marry him. This is the setting-down she gives him after he and her father have decided the two should marry—
“And pray, whatever gave you the notion that you would make a good husband, my lord?” she said coolly. “Have you ever assessed your worth in terms other than rank and fortune? Take those away – and believe me I value neither of them – what is left? An aging roué who spends his life in the pursuit of dissipation and debauchery in all their most disgusting forms. A libertine who would seduce a brainless chit for a paltry wager of five hundred pounds. What sensible female would consider such a man an eligible match?”
What a wonderful paragraph! I have rarely read such a strong definition of the bad-boy hero as this, and to think I read it in a Regency. It not only gives a strong picture of Monroyal, but it gives an equally strong picture of Pamela. Though she is not the type of woman who appeals to him, he chases her throughout the countryside and marries her. They live apart, however; because of the familial bad blood, he refuses to allow her to live at his home.
Monroyal’s family eventually brings them together. They understand his ways, and are fiercely loyal to him. Once they meet Pamela, however, they become loyal to her as well, and it is just a matter of time before he comes to his senses. The author handles this section exceptionally well; it is touching, funny (especially Monroyal’s talks with his younger brother), and quite romantic.
After every Regency Romance I’ve tried in the past, I’ve felt it would have been better written as an historical. I no longer believe that, and it is this book which turned me around. The only flaw for me was the introduction of a confusing sub-plot involving a Monroyal cousin. An Inconvenient Wife features wonderful dialogue, a strong feel for the period, and deftly written characters. Oh God, I feel a major Regency glom coming on!