The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton
After picking up and putting down this book more than a few times, I was a little surprised to find that when I finally got into it I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is a quirky mish-mash of plot devices, popular lord/scandalous commoner, kidnap/rescue, deceived amnesiac, and road romance, that somehow bind together to form a weird and oddly charming love story.
Celia Seaton is in a horrible jam, and has been since she arrived in England from India, where she was reared by her widower father. Shortly before her departure to England she was advised that her father had been killed in an accident. She travelled alone and basically penniless to throw herself on the mercy of an uncle she’d never met. He provided her with a season in which to find a husband, but that was ruined by one Tarquin Compton, a man greatly respected by the ton, when he compared her to a cauliflower. Then the uncle died after neglecting to provide for Celia in his will. She then took a job as a governess and was eventually betrothed to her employer, but that was ruined when a man broke into her room and her soon-to-be sister in law convinced her betrothed that Celia had a lover. Now, the betrothal over, and having had to depart her former employ on foot with no reference, she’s been kidnapped, imprisoned in the attic of a lonely cottage on the moor, and had all her belongings stolen except for one undergarment.
When Celia hears another horse arrive at the cottage, she assumes that it is a co-conspirator of her captor. But then she hears two horses leave and decides to make a break for it while she can. After she escapes from the attic, she discovers that the second rider was another victim of the thief, a man left half clothed and lying in the dirt, having been clubbed in the head. It’s Tarquin Compton! Although she still feels very bitter toward Tarquin, Celia finds she can’t leave him to the mercy of the thief, so she wakes him. When it becomes evident that Tarquin has amnesia, Celia concieves of a plan to make him help her until his memory comes back, telling him that they are betrothed and he had evidently been riding to her rescue. She changes his name to Terence Fish, his occupation to cleric-in-training and his home to Cornwall.
Here the road romance begins as Terence and Celia gather what supplies they can and strike out half-dressed across the moor, since they can’t chance being caught on the road. They fight adversity together, finding food and shelter where they can, all the while watching for followers. When they accept a ride from a lonely Yorkshireman, Terence ends up fighting him, too, when the man offers to buy Celia. Along the way, Celia and Terence fall in love and eventually make love, but Terence worries that he may be a villain, perhaps in cahoots with the kidnapper, since his memories are returning little by little and none of them fit the Terence Fish persona. Obviously he’s given Celia false information about himself, and there can be no good reason for that. Then Tarquin’s memory returns completely, and although part of him wants to very much, he can’t abandon Celia. Once he recognizes where they are, he and Celia take refuge at the home of a friend until they can figure out what the kidnapper wants and until they can ascertain whether Celia is pregnant and in need of a husband.
Tarquin and Celia’s romance is one of the most un-romantic I’ve ever read. Tarquin especially is a clear-eyed observer. At one point when watching Celia sleep amongst the grass and early morning birdsong, where another hero might have become misty over the scene, Tarquin wonders if maybe Celia isn’t deaf in one ear. He looks at her and sees a funny face, and frizzy hair, and a fat butt and remembers her as a misfit, badly dressed outsider at London events. The point is that he looks at her and other women seem to become less real to him. Aw. Celia also has few illusions. She knows before she sleeps with him that doing so will cause problems, but decides to go ahead with it, out of lust and simple curiousity. Although Terence and then Tarquin considers himself betrothed to her, she’s under no illusion that such a shining star will ever marry a plain, odd girl with no prospects and a besmirched reputation.
There is a lot to be said for this book. Although I figured out the mystery and who was behind it pretty quickly, it’s still a good one as you read and wait for the characters to realize what’s going on. The one possession that Tarquin managed to keep besides his boots and pants is a naughty book that he happened to pick up just before being ambushed. His efforts to keep it away from the curious Celia are amusing, as are the funny names for genitalia that Celia learns from the book and the Yorkshire farmer when he accuses Tarquin of having a little penis. The excellently fleshed secondary characters are too numerous to name here, but the cast is a good one, including the main characters from the previous book in the series.
While I’ve used the adjectives quirky, odd, weird, and un-romantic, I should also include “entertaining” and “satisfying”. Don’t let the strange beginning fool you like it did me. This different romance is well worth reading.