Mr. Cavendish, I Presume
Mr. Cavendish, I Presume is part of a literary experiment: It and its companion novel, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, published in June of this year, depict the same few weeks and even partly the same scenes, but each book has as its focus a different couple. I came to this novel with high expectations. I liked its predecessor a lot – even if hero Jack Audley was a tad too glib for my taste – and Thomas and Amelia, that novel’s secondary couple, intrigued me a great deal.
Thomas Cavendish, the Duke of Wyndham, is the picture-perfect aristocrat – hard-working, conscientious, well-mannered, and very much in control of every situation. Keeping him from perfection is the fact that he has not yet married his fiancée and neighbor, the Lady Amelia Willoughby, although she has by now reached the ripe age of 21. Their fathers arranged the match when they were children, and although Thomas fully intends to marry Amelia at some point, he just hasn’t quite got around to it. Amelia feels a bit impatient, and at a local assembly, she suddenly decides to be rude to him and thus piques his interest for the first time. This sudden change in his relationship with Amelia is not the only change in Thomas’ life, however. The next day, a man turns up at the Wyndham estate who may very well be Thomas’ cousin, and if so, he is the true Duke of Wyndham.
So while Amelia charms Thomas, whom he only now gets to know without her social mask, he also must deal with the possible loss of his position, his duties and almost everything he owns. I enjoyed his character just as much as I had hoped I would. He is a good and responsible man, and tries to deal with this incredible situation with as much dignity and sense of perspective as he possibly can, but having his whole existence overturned hits him hard. Amelia starts out as the more easy-going character as she is just delighted to find such unexpected rapport with her formerly unapproachable fiancé. Once she knows the truth, however, her situation is also affected. The scene when this happens had me in tears.
The book featured a lot that I liked: two immensely likable protagonists who fall in love after having known each other for a long time. Indeed, that’s one of my favorite plot lines. Add to this Julia Quinn’s wit, which had me chuckling often, a number of fine secondary characters, and a truly wonderful scene during which the couple has their first sexual encounter, and this sounds like a wonderful read.
But. Perhaps I should not have read this novel only a few days after The Lost Duke of Wyndham. Both novels start on the same day and, except for the last 15 pages of Mr. Cavendish, end on the same day. A lot of scenes are parallel, and while people’s thoughts and opinions of what is going on differ, what happens does not. So I already knew quite a lot of what was about to occur, and although I really appreciated the added perspective, I also found a lot predictable. Had this not been the case, the novel would have received a significantly higher grade.
One more element which annoyed me was Thomas’ fear he might be penniless. This is not likely: His mother, the industrial heiress, married his father when he was not in line for the dukedom, so whatever money she brought into the marriage would pass independently of the dukedom, most logically to her only son Thomas. This pulled me out of my reading several time and was entirely unnecessary, because Thomas has enough to worry about as it is.
While I definitely recommend Mr. Cavendish, I Presume for its delightful characters and wit, I don’t consider Julia Quinn’s experiment of writing companion novels entirely successful. It’s probably best not to read these two novels one right after the other.