Fool for Love
Grade : C

I’m torn here. On the one hand, I greatly admire the resounding ring of Regency period authenticity – at least in the Heyer sense, that is – that permeates this book. But on the other hand, I found myself frustrated again and again by the fact that the book’s primary conflict is based on an assumption that the modern reader knows is faulty right from the start. Clearly, Ms. James is challenging the reader, and if I hadn’t been further distracted by inexplicable behavior by both hero and heroine, even within the context of their time, I might have been better able to rise to that challenge.

When Simon Darby learns of his aunt Esme’s unexpected pregnancy, he’s understandably suspicious. After all, Esme (who figured prominently in Duchess In Love) and her now late husband had long been estranged and should she bear a son, Darby, the sole support of two very young stepsisters, would be disinherited. Determined to discover if Esme is sporting feathers beneath her dress instead of a legitimate pregnancy, Darby, with stepsisters in tow, travels to her country estate.

When she discovers a little girl walking hand-in-hand with a toddler in the streets of the Wiltshire village near her home, Lady Henrietta Maclellan soon discovers that five-year old Josie (a drama queen if there there was one) and baby Anabel belong to a Mr. Darby currently to be found in a private parlor in the local inn. With bosom swelling in indignation, Henrietta confronts the neglectful “father.” Finding himself suddenly nurse-less due to Josie’s histrionics and the fact that little Anabel is prone to losing her dinner (and her breakfast and her lunch) several times a day, Henrietta offers to help Simon find a new nurse for the children once he’s in residence at her friend Esme’s estate.

Not only is Henrietta drawn to the children, she finds herself equally drawn to Simon. Handsome, debonair, and a bit of a clothes-horse, Simon is, not surprisingly, a bit overwhelming to the young woman raised solely in the country. This is especially true since Henrietta is far less physically perfect than Simon himself – she suffers from a displaced hip that causes her to walk with a slight limp and, even worse, she believes this renders her unable to giver birth to children. This clearly erroneous belief is based on the fact that her mother – who also suffered from the same defect – died in childbirth and a variety of country doctors have assured Henrietta that she is destined to do the same.

Simon is equally intrigued by Henrietta, and, since he knows that marrying would provide a much-needed mother for his sisters, it doesn’t take him long to see her as a likely candidate. But before matters proceed too far, Henrietta informs him that she can never have children, and Simon – who believes that she is simply barren – soon enough gives in to his desire for her and prepares to ask her to marry him. But plans change dramatically when her stepmother informs him of the “truth” about Henrietta.

Okay, my problems really started here. The supposedly sophisticated and experienced Simon never considers the possibility of birth control. (While the rubber condom was not mass produced until 1844, the “french letter” was available to those who could afford it as early as the Restoration, and some form of condom has been in use for three thousand years). Instead, and pretty callously, he prepares to walk away from a woman he was quite determined to marry. Henrietta, so inexperienced that she literally doesn’t know how babies are made, doesn’t have the same problem. She (equally inexplicably, I might add) eagerly embraces the concept of using a sheath (a kind of diaphragm) when Esme informs her of their existence. Her next step is to implement a rather juvenile plan concocted by Esme to trick Simon into marrying her anyway. Frankly, at that point, I wonder why she’d want to bother. And after all this hoopla, the entire issue magically disappears by the end of the book.

Though I had so many problems with Simon and Henrietta’s “romance,” I was grateful for the presence of the resourceful Esme. Matters that first came into play in Duchess In Love are happily resolved here and, I have to say, along with the histrionics of young Josie, constituted my favorite parts of the book.

The author’s impeccable research and sure hand with all things Regency are a pleasure; historical details are anything but “wallpaper” and I think it’s fair to say that Georgette herself would be proud. It’s a shame I can’t say the same about both the author’s strained plot device and the characters’ reactions to it.


Reviewed by Sandy Coleman

Grade: C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 11, 2003

Publication Date: 2003

Review Tags: Desperate Duchesses

Recent Comments …

  1. Dabney, for once in your life, could you please stand up for one of your reviewers when a commenter leaves…

Sandy Coleman

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