Breach of Promise
Breach of Promise is a rural Regency Romance set mostly in the village of Chipping Campden in the Cotswold region of England. It is one of the most frustrating books I have recently read – beautifully written with some of the best rural scenes I have read in a long time, but marred by characters who remained hazy and behaved very inconsistently. It also relies a bit too much on overheard conversations and gossip to advance the plot.
One day, a handsome stranger comes into the village and inquires about lodging. When the innkeeper tells him about Mrs. Stott’s honey house, Philip Randall Chalmondeley, Marquess of Chalmondeley and Earl of Rockford, indignantly declares he does not need a brothel. The honey house turns out to be a comfortable country house owned by Miss Susan Fairford and it is called the honey house because she keeps bees there and sells the honey. Philip leases the house under the name of Philip Stone rather than using his title.
Philip and Susan’s pasts are revealed in flashes like a dark room is illuminated by lightning. Both have been deeply hurt by those who professed to love them and both are wary of people who would tell them lies and attempt to deceive them.
Susan was wooed by a man named Stott who married her and left her right after the wedding. The marriage was unconsummated and annulled, but there are people in the village who persist on calling her Mrs. Stott. Philip discovered his fiancee’s infidelity on the wedding day. Neither is anxious for a new relationship, yet both are drawn toward the other.
Susan accidently finds out Philip’s true identity and for a time thinks he is yet another man who would tell any lie to get what he wants, but as she spends more and more time in his company she soon begins to care for him deeply. Just as Philip is about to reveal his intentions toward her, she overhears a conversation where he is told that his former fiancee is about to sue for breach of promise and that there is a child on the way. Philip leaves the village and Susan is crushed.
I will not go much further into the plot. Philip goes to London for a time and then moves back to Chipping Camden. He is followed there by his brother Brett and by Lavinia, his faithless fiancee. Finally, the truth of the matter all comes out when Susan overhears yet another conversation and Philip is shown as the honorable man he truly is.
The best thing about Breach of Promise is the wonderful writing in the rural sections. The village of Chipping Camden comes alive with all its original, eccentric and prone to gossip characters. Susan’s profession of beekeeping is also very well depicted.
The problems came with the characters. Susan and Philip were fine characters – really. But as I read, I felt like I had a bee veil between me and them. They remained somewhat distant and passionless and never became full-blooded.
Lavinia and Brett were problematic as well. For almost the entire book, they were portrayed as unlikable, amoral characters. She was simply out for the money and Brett bitterly disliked his brother simply for being the heir. Then finally at the end of the book, they had a total change of heart toward Philip and Susan. I was left scratching my head and wondering why these two rotten characters had suddenly become nice.
And one other minor thing. Philip is the Marquess of Chalmondeley and Earl of Rockford and the characters kept referring to him as Lord Rockford. Members of the peerage use their highest title. He would be Lord Chalmondely and Lord Rockford would be his oldest son’s courtesy title.
If only the characters had been as good as the setting this would have been an excellent rural Regency. Its wonderful descriptions of country life do make Breach of Promise somewhat better than average and those who are tired of the London scene will probably enjoy it. If only the characters had not been so nebulous, I know I would have enjoyed it much, much more.