I was excited when I read that the heroine of Miscalculations by Elizabeth Mansfield was a mathematics whiz. Cool, I thought – math has always been an intimidating subject for me, and I was ready to be impressed. Jane didn’t prove to be much more of a math genius than I am, but this was a fun read anyway.
The Viscountess of Kettering is concerned that her son, Lucien Hammond, Lord Kettering, is squandering away his fortune. Luke, as he is called, receives an allowance until he is thirty-five, and apparently he’s been trying to stretch it at the gaming tables. When he appeals to his mother for seven hundred pounds to pay a gambling debt, she knows something has to be done. Her assistant suggests that Luke should be granted his full fortune to learn how to use it, and Lady Martha agrees – on one condition. The assistant, Miss Jane Douglas, an impoverished young woman with an uncannily brilliant mathematical mind, must become Luke’s live-in “man of business” for a month, to teach him how to handle his finances. Neither Luke nor Jane is pleased about this arrangement, but Lady Martha leaves them no choice.
Jane’s “mathematical brilliance” is mostly demonstrated in her ability to do simple arithmetic problems, like figuring out the odds of rolling a seven on two dice, which seems to astound everyone. (“Remarkable!” gasps Luke.) Nevertheless, I loved Jane. Her dialogue is witty, her personality is fresh, her humor is charming. She falls in love with Luke at first sight but does not proceed to behave like a ninny: the integrity and intelligence of her actions are what make all the hijinks work in this book.
Unfortunately, I found Jane’s love story improbable. How likely is it that a woman with obvious intelligence and good sense would fall in love with a man who, over the one-month course of this book, manages to lose 2,200 pounds? That figure would be staggering at today’s rates. If it’s converted to actual value (the author helpfully provides the conversion rate), 2,200 pounds in the early 1800’s would be worth approximately $72,600 today! Yikes! I would be in no rush to merge bank accounts with this guy. Jane falls for him immediately, and by the end of the book she’s assuring him that she doesn’t want him to change. Sure, it’s romantic, but I’d be real worried.
I have no problem believing in instant, mutual attraction and esteem, but after that first spark a couple needs to spend, oh, at least a week in each other’s company before they get engaged. Luke and Jane spend almost no time together. In the course of this book’s adventures, Luke is always just walking out the door when Jane comes in, or just as he wants to talk to her he discovers that she’s somewhere else. The way they’re constantly missing each other is funny, but Luke and Jane are funnier when they’re together, and it’s hard to believe in a romance when the two protagonists are hardly ever in the same room.
In my opinion, Miscalculations would have been a winner if Mansfield had gone for a slightly higher tone by making both hero and heroine a little brighter, and if the two had spent some more time together. I recommend it anyway. Jane’s much-vaunted mathematical skills were never demonstrated, but her charm, spirit, and intelligence won my heart. I’m not going to prose on about compulsive gamblers because this is a comedy, and Luke’s foolish gambling contributed to the humor. The dialogue between Luke and Jane is sparklingly witty, and her self-doubts and frustration with him are poignant. Miscalculations succeeds perfectly as a romp. It succeeds less well as a romance, but I think you’ll enjoy it anyway.