Desert Isle Keeper
Lady Barbara's Dilemma
I’ve missed traditional Regency Romances, but thank goodness I have a large TBR shelf of them. I had enjoyed Marjorie Farrell’s single title romances very much and plucked her 1993 trad off the shelf. I got lucky – what a wonderful book! Lady Barbara’s Dilemma features two couples, all adults, all intelligent, and all faced with moral choices. This is about as far from debutantes and rakes flirting at Almack’s as you can get.
Here are the main characters:
Lady Barbara Stanley: She is 26 years old and feels time is running out for her. Barbara is a talented musician, but knows that because she is a woman and a noblewoman to boot, she can’t become a concert pianist without losing her standing in society. While Barbara chafes at the restrictions placed on women, she’s not a rebel and does not want to be an outcast. Barbara wants to marry and she wants children. She’d love to have a passionate marriage of equals like the one her good friends Simon and Judith the Duke and Duchess of Sutton have, but she’s willing to settle for a man who is decent and kind. So she accepts the proposal of the Marquess of Wardour – he’s a good man and she likes him well enough despite their opposing political views.
Lord Alexander McLeod: He is the grandson of the Duke of Strathyre. Alec is a younger son and his parents and grandfather want him to go into politics or the law. Alec wants to pursue his love of music, but his family think that being a musician is beneath him. The duke controls Alec’s inheritance and after some discussion, Alec persuades his grace to allow him to try and make a living as a musician for a year without trading in on his noble connections. The duke agrees that if Alec can support himself for a year, he will release the inheritance. So Alec disguises himself as Alex Gower and fiddle in hand, makes his way as a musician for hire.
Sir David Treves: He is a wealthy and cultured baronet, but he can’t go to Oxford, or Cambridge or stand for Parliament and there are many places where he is not received. Sir David is a Jew, and although he does not practice his faith, he does not deny it. His family has been in England for several generations, and has been titled for services they rendered the Crown. Yet despite the family’s long duration in England, they are still considered outsiders and not truly English.
Deborah Cohen: She is the daughter of a Jewish wholesale merchant. Her family does not practice their faith to a great degree (although they do keep the Sabbath), but unlike Sir David, Deborah does not even try to mix with gentiles. She and her family live in the East End and the only contact they have with gentiles is through business.
I know that Lady Barbara is the title character, but for me Sir David was by far the most interesting one. David loves music, and he meets Barbara at concerts and musicales. She welcomes having someone to talk to since Wardour does not share her love of music and they quickly develop a warm, platonic friendship. After a concert, David stops some hoodlums who are beating an old Jewish orange seller and offers to see him to his home. When he takes the man home, he meets Deborah and her father, who when they discover David is a Jew, ask him to their Sabbath meal. David’s family have suggested he marry a Christian so their children will not be handicapped by the constraints put upon Jews. David is not religious, but he has held back from this step and meeting the fiery and intelligent Deborah causes him to examine his faith and feelings.
Barbara tells herself she is happy with Wardour – and he is a pleasant and kind man. She likes his mother too and persuades herself that all will be well and she is doing the right thing, but she just doesn’t feel right. Then at a party, Barbara meets Alexander McLeod in his disguise as Alex Gower. She is at first taken aback by his brashness and rudeness but when she hears him play, she recognises that she is in the presence of a truly talented musician. Later, they play a duet and Barbara feels a deep connection with him, but he is only a lowly fiddler. Or is he? Alex can switch from rough Scots dialect to the King’s English in a flash, and he can fiddle a folk tune then switch and play Mozart with the utmost sensitivity. Obviously he is not just a rough self-taught musician. Things come to a head when Wardour lets Barbara know that she will have to sever her friendship with David since such connections are not worthy of a marchioness.
The characters are all intelligent and believable and there are no real villains, despite the fact that several of the characters are terribly prejudiced. Wardour is not an evil bigot, but a man of his time who has absorbed the prevailing anti-Semitic attitudes of society. He would never be outwardly rude or insulting, but to him Jews are Not Englishmen and he’s never thought to question the status quo. Even Barbara’s sister in law is stiff around David and Deborah. She’s not rude but she is uncomfortable since she’s grown up with the attitude that Jews are the Other.
Barbara, David, Deborah and Alexander don’t come across as modern men and women in fancy dress. I’ve read some historical romances where the characters act like they are the 19th century equivalent of modern day protestors out picketing Starbuc…I mean Gunthers. The characters in this novel aren’t like that. They espouse the ideas of people like Mary Wollstoncraft and would like social change, but they are going to work for change in Parliament while lobbying in their social circles. They are Whigs – not aregency members of the Green Party.
I’ve glommed all of Marjorie Farrell’s titles, both her traditional Regency and her single title romances, and I have loved all of them. Her books are intelligent, not a bit simplistic, and they are romantic and touching. What more could a reader want – except for Marjorie Farrell to come back to writing again. She’s been sadly missing in action.