Lady Delafont's Dilemma
I have a special place in my heart for traditional Regency Romances about married people. Unrequited love is tragic, but unrequited love within an indissolvable marriage is doubly so. Maybe that’s why, in spite of some problems, the story of Emily Delaforte and Baxter Delaforte, Marquis of Sedgley touched me.
Lady Delafont’s Dilemma takes place during the London Season. Emily and her husband Baxter have been separated for five years. After living in seclusion, Emily has finally decided to appear in public and attend the theatre, where she accidentally runs into her husband, who has come to watch his actress mistress perform.
Despite his treatment of her, Emily remains in love with Baxter. She knows that he has a mistress. She knows that he has been cruel and unfair, banishing her from his home for no reason other than the fact that the two were not getting along. Still ringing in her ears is Baxter’s vicious suggestion that she sleep with other men to discover once and for all if he is at fault for their childlessness. Just to make everything more humiliating, Emily has put on a fair bit of weight.
So what is a lady to do when her husband-for-life rejects her? Lady Delafonte’s dilemma is whether she should accept the fate her husband has given her and live celibate for the rest of her life or whether she should take a lover. For many middle aged women who have put on weight, this would not be an issue. But, to her astonishment, Emily is being pursued by a devastatingly handsome young Frenchman, Etienne Marchant. What should she do? Emily is a woman with moral scruples but the idea that she will never have sex again is hard to accept.
Etienne’s attention to his wife cannot fail to attract Baxter’s notice. Emily is often in attendance at parties and events where he is present and Etienne is not subtle. Furthermore a mutual friend of his and Emily’s is doing his best to throw them together. Baxter is more attracted to his sensuous full figured wife than he is to his childish mistress and the idea that another man is sharing Emily’s bed drives him crazy.
About halfway though Lady Delafont’s Dilemma, the focus of the attention shifts. Emily’s young friend, Lady Grishelda May Van Hoffen, is being forced by her mother into marriage to an old man. As part of this secondary plot, Grishelda is kidnapped, resulting in a rather “over the top” chase with Etienne, Baxter and Emily in hot pursuit. In the course of this chase, Emily and Baxter end up at a roadside inn. There aren’t two rooms available (natch) so guess what happens? What should have been the most powerful part of the story is not because the book’s focus becomes blurred. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “aren’t Emily and Baxter chasing after a young girl who might be in the course of being raped? This is not the time for a romantic interlude!”
Emily Delafont’s problems are closer to those of a real woman in her thirties than any I can think of in a recent Regency. Here is a woman who didn’t get along with her mother-in-law and was desperately guilty about not having children. She became depressed. Her marriage fell apart. She got more depressed and gained weight, so much weight that people often remarked on it. But Emily is determined to make her life work whether Baxter comes back or not, and that is why I so admired her.
Baxter is more problematic. To his credit, he realizes that much of his behavior in ending the marriage is despicable. He’s getting older, feels the creaks in his bones, and doesn’t really want a mistress who is a child. I loved this about him. What I didn’t love about Baxter was the extent of his hypocrisy. Though he has not had sex with his mistress in months, he did have it, and his reluctance to take Emily back when he thinks that she has had an affair wears very thin indeed. Yes, it’s historically accurate but I’m sure that even in the nineteenth century, some men would have seen the irony in the situation and tried to be more fair about things.
Because of problems in the second part of the book, Lady Delafont’s Dilemma is not as wonderful as Donna Simpson’s previous book, Lord St. Clair’s Angel. It is however, far superior to the most of the new Regency Romances I’ve read this year. Though the plot of the book was flawed, Emily Delafont’s predicament and her approach to it touched me and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to read about her.