Dancing with Clara
One of the great taboos in romance novels is adultery. Many readers simply refuse to bother with a book in which it is featured. While I am not fond of adultery in a book, I am loathe to tie an author’s hands – especially an author like Mary Balogh who has made a specialty of breaking the rules of Regency novels. In Dancing With Clara, Balogh accomplished a task I thought would be impossible – she made me understand, sympathize with, and even like a man who married a crippled woman for her money and then promptly began to cheat on her.
Frederick Sullivan is a handsome man. He is also a rake and a rogue who has lived beyond his means and tried the patience of his family. When his father finally brings him up short, Freddie realizes that the only way he will get any money is to marry a wealthy woman – so off he goes to Bath.
Clara Danford is the only child and heiress of a very rich man. She is 25, thin and plain and is crippled. She suffered an illness in childhood, and has been unable to walk since. Freddie arranges a meeting, begins to woo her and Clara allows herself to be wooed. She is not stupid, she knows Freddie is a fortune hunter but she does not care. Freddie is beautiful and Clara longs for beauty. They marry and leave for a honeymoon.
Freddie and Clara’s honeymoon is a total success. To Freddie’s surprise and delight, Clara is a loving, passionate woman. He finds that making love with her is so much more satisfying than the practiced and fake responses of the courtesans he is used to. And Clara enjoys being with Freddie. He is so handsome and Clara enjoys just looking at him. He is courteous and polite, he is interesting and fun to talk to – and they have a wonderful time.
But then Freddie goes back to London and he begins to drink, gamble, and visit houses of prostitution nightly. His round of pleasure seeking is frantic and he knows deep inside that he hates this and is not enjoying himself at all – yet he can’t stop. When he comes back to the country with Clara, he treats her with courtesy, usually – but sometimes with rudeness because he is filled with guilt. Freddie can’t deny to himself that he is happy with Clara, and he loves making love with her but still, he can’t seem to stop his debauchery.
Dancing With Clara gives the reader, and Clara, enough background on Freddie, so we and she know why he acts the way he does. Instead of hating him, I cheered him on in every step he took on the way to realizing what a good man he truly was. Clara is one of my favorite of Mary Balogh’s female characters. She could have been a doormat, but she isn’t. She could have been a wounded soul, but she isn’t. Clara knows that she went into the marriage with her eyes wide open. Freddie wanted her money and she wanted his strength and good looks. Falling in love with Freddie was something Clara never expected to happen, and she can’t blame him for that.
At the end of the book, Freddie and Clara realize that they love each other and they have both changed. Both also realize that living happily ever after is not a sure thing and they will have to work hard on their marriage. If I was a betting woman, I would say that the chances of Freddie and Clara making a success of it are excellent and my money is on them.