The Enticing of Miss Standish
Julia Justiss’ Cinderella Spinsters series comes to a close with The Enticing of Miss Standish, which takes place against the backdrop of the cotton mills and the societal changes being wrought by the industrial revolution. It’s a well-researched story packed with information about the manufacturing industries operating in the middle of the nineteenth century, and it takes an insightful look at the unfairness of the class system and displays an understanding of the magnitude of the task facing those wishing to improve the lives of the ordinary people – and especially the children – who worked in the factories and mills that were powering the nation’s prosperity. It’s easy to see that Ms. Justiss has done comprehensive research in order to incorporate these elements seamlessly into her story – but on the downside, they tend to overshadow the romance which, while lovely, isn’t as prominent as I’d have liked.
Of the three Cinderella Spinsters, only one remains unwed. The well-bred, pretty-behaved, but rather dull and ordinary Miss Sara Standish, is being constantly urged by her well-meaning mother and aunt to find a suitable husband and settle down into marriage, but a life comprising afternoon calls, shopping trips, routs and soirées, meeting the same people over and over again, has never been the life she’d envisaged for herself. She and her friends Emma and Olivia (heroines of the two previous books) had planned to set up house together and pursue their political activities; members of Lady Lyndlington’s Ladies’ Committee and devoted to the cause of social and political reform, they intended to spend their time working to promote change and improve the lot of country’s inhabitants. But now Emma and Olivia are wed and blissfully happy, Sara’s dreams of independent living must be shelved – although she is still determined to continue her work for the various causes she supports, the closest to her heart of which is children’s welfare and education. When the book opens, Sara’s mother and aunt are not at all pleased to learn of Sara’s plan to act as a kind of assistant to the Marchioness of Trent, a fellow member of the Ladies’ Committee, and to accompany her to her Derbyshire estate, where Lady Trent will host members of the Parliamentary Committee appointed to oversee factory inspections in the wake of the recently passed Factory Act.
Sara’s relatives can hardly object to her association with a marchioness, and a couple of weeks later finds her accompanying Lady Trent and members of the committee on a visit to Hughes Cotton Works. It’s here that she first meets the mill’s manager, Cameron Fitzallen, but they don’t get off to the best of starts.
Many AAR regulars will be pleased to learn that Cameron – Cam – is that rare breed of hero we’d love to see more often in the pages of historical romance: one without a title. He’s an orphan who was put to work in the mills and whose keen mind and interest in machinery were spotted by the owner, Mr. Hughes, who took Cam under his wing, paid for his education and brought him up to eventually take over the business. Cam is now the manager and part-owner of the Hughes Cotton Works, and is not particularly well-disposed towards those ladies of the gentry who amused themselves by dabbling in ‘Good Causes’. He makes no secret of this when he suggests that Sara and her committee will have forgotten all about the children at the Hughes works within a month and moved onto some other Enthusiasm of the Moment.
After the group’s departure, however, he realises that he behaved badly, and is glad when an invitation to a dinner party for local mill owners at Lady Trent’s house affords him the opportunity to apologise to Miss Standish for his boorish behaviour. After this, a tentative friendship develops between them, one that is underpinned by a strong current of attraction that takes them both by surprise. This is very much a slow-burn romance; Sara and Cam are well aware that their difference in station renders anything more than friendship impossible (and even a friendship is frowned upon), and the author does a great job here of developing their relationship; they admit to their mutual attraction and agree that nothing can come of it, but the undercurrent of desire and longing grows stronger the more they try to rationalise it away.
Sara and Cam are strong, engaging characters who are passionate about their work – he about developing techniques and machinery that will make the work safer and providing decent conditions for his staff; she about the welfare and education of the children at Hughes’ and the surrounding factories. Despite their difference in station, they’re both lonely people – Cam is an orphan, Sara grew up in luxury with parents who were too self-absorbed to take much notice of her – but they bond over a love of books and reading, and a shared desire to do what they can to make the world a better place.
Ultimately, however, this is one of those times where the individual parts of the book don’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. The characters are likeable – admirable, even – and the background is full of fascinating detail, but there were times it seemed that Cam and Sara’s passion for their work and causes was stronger than their passion for each other, and that isn’t ideal in a romance novel.
With that said, I’m still giving The Enticing of Miss Standish a recommendation because it has a lot going for it, and I’m sure it will appeal to those of us who appreciate some actual history in our historical romance and for whom a non-aristocratic hero is always a draw.