Merely a Marriage
Merely a Marriage by Jo Beverley is not merely a book: It is the final book by a beloved, iconic author of the genre. I’m happy to say that this swan song is a fitting closure to an illustrious career.
In the custom of so many historical romance novel heroines, Lady Ariana Boxstall doesn’t want to marry. However, her reluctance to enter into that institution has not prevented her from attempting to bully her brother into doing so. After Princess Charlotte’s death in childbirth, it became clear to Ariana that death can come for anyone at any time. Determined not to lose her entailed home to an unworthy relative because her brother dies before he can beget an heir, she harangues him about the importance of legitimate progeny.
Her nagging falls on deaf ears because Norris Boxstall does not, of course, have any desire to marry either. We wouldn’t have a book if he did. After a bit of back and forth between the siblings he issues an ultimatum: If Ariana can get herself wed by the end of the year, he will happily – well, not happily but at least willingly – wed before the end of January.
Initially Ariana feels only irritation about the demand but after a dinner at which she can think of nothing but the danger that Norris’ death will bring to her own circumstances, she accepts the challenge. Unfortunately, all the eligible men in her vicinity are either completely unacceptable or have gotten themselves engaged or married in recent weeks. She will be forced to go to London, a city that was once the scene of great humiliation for her. From cartoons which showed her as a giantess among midgets, to cruel jests from dance partners, Ariana’s height had made her a freak among the tiny, delicate beauties of the ton. She has no desire to return to relive the embarrassing experience but she has no choice.
Ariana is not a freak of course, but the sort of tall, willowy beauty that is now worshipped by those of us in the Western Hemisphere. Her mother and the Dowager Countess of Cawle (the woman they’ve turned to for help in re-launching Ariana) are well aware of this and know that the combination of her beauty, title and wealth will make her a much desired prize on the marriage mart. The dowager, a ruling force in London society, provides Ariana with a list of suitable prospective husbands, men whose suitability is not just determined by wealth and breeding but height. Unfortunately, one of the men on that list is someone Ariana considers most unsuitable.
Titus Delacorte, Earl of Kynaston, had once been Ariana’s dream man; handsome, titled, wealthy, charming and – most importantly – tall, Titus was everything she could have wished for in a husband. She’d fallen hard for him during her début season, but he dashed all her dreams when she overheard him call her ‘longshanks’ after they had danced together. She avoided him after that and hopes to continue doing so on this visit to London.
Fate is not so kind. When Ariana descends the stairs at the dowager’s house on her first morning in the city, whom should she find passed out on a parlor couch but Titus. It turns out he is the countess’ beloved nephew and will be staying with his aunt for the foreseeable future.
If you’ve read historical romance before you know exactly where this book is going and even the route it will take to get there. What makes the journey one worth going on is the author’s delightfully easy-to-read style and the way she imbues the predictable elements of the tale with a comforting familiarity that makes it feel like you are eating a favorite version of a much loved dessert. There isn’t a whole lot of action or adventure in the story but for many readers of Regency romance the real pleasure to be found in these stories is in reveling in the manners and mores of the era, and the author delivers those in spades. From musical evenings and literature readings to balls and the viewing of Egyptian antiquities, the novel is a feast of the finer folk at play.
The characters are rather stock-in-trade, too, but in the best of ways. As mentioned, Lady Ariana is the sort who cherishes her freedom and is dead set against marriage. Her height is given as the main reason for her fear of the married state –she is convinced no man could truly want her – and I’ll admit hearing her essentially dismiss anyone who was short eventually got a bit tiring. That’s a minor quibble though. In the typical style of romance heroines she is smart, opinionated and chafes at the unfair restrictions placed upon women during this era. This is a beloved character type so I think many will see this as a positive in the novel.
Titus is protective of his lady love, even when they aren’t a couple; level headed, handsome and blah, blah, blah you know the gist of it. From the beginning the book hints at some dark reason for his seemingly debauched behavior when we first meet him and naturally, once it is revealed, everything is made right and all is explained.
As a couple, Titus and Ariana are clearly well-matched. He appreciates her wit and independence; she admires his noble character, good looks and common decency in treating women like people and not lap dogs. There is a nice amount of zing between them and it is easy to imagine them living happily ever after.
Merely a Marriage is a well written love story about two people finding each other at that just right moment in life. Fans of the author will find plenty to enjoy about this novel and new readers will finish it interested in picking up her back list. It is a great sorrow that the author is no longer with us and so will not be adding new works to her fabulous lexicon but we can rejoice that her backlist is very long and includes many novels worth multiple re-reads. Rest in peace, Jo, you are missed.