The Girl with the Persian Shawl
The Girl with the Persian Shawl is not a showy, angst-filled book full of deep emotions and action galore. Rather, it’s of the quiet, drawing-room drama variety; it’s full of normal people who happen to be living in the Regency. No one is larger than life. At first the book just seemed mildly pleasant and perhaps a bit dull, but about half-way through I decided I liked the quiet pleasantness of it, and the ordinary nature of the characters.
Kate Rendell is a heroine who doesn’t necessarily care if she ever finds a husband, however, when her character is criticized by two different gentlemen within two hours, she begins to wonder if perhaps she’s a bit too strong minded. The first gentleman is Harry Gerard, Lord Ainsworth, who has come to her home to look at a particular painting. Before he can open his mouth to tell Kate that he finds the portrait stunning but isn’t the object of his search, she runs roughshod over him and accuses him of trying to steal the family portrait. As soon as he can get a word in edgewise, he lets her know what he thinks of her manners. Kate is still reeling from Harry’s set down when her neighbor Percy proposes to her – again – and tells her after her refusal that she is impossible to like.
Kate crosses paths with Harry again when she’s invited to her uncle’s home for the announcement of her cousin Deirdre’s engagement. Her fiancé, Leonard Tyndale, happens to be Harry’s best friend. An encouraging romance begins between Kate’s widowed mother, Isabel, and Leonard’s old fashioned father. Kate and Harry share some moments and a kiss themselves, but things end badly for everyone when Deirdre becomes convinced that she is in love with Harry rather than her fiancé. Though Kate convinces Deirdre not to make any drastic choices about her engagement, all parties leave early.
Happily, everyone meets again a few months later in Bath. All couples pick up where they left off, but the inconstant Deirdre flits about from man to man, with results that are almost devastating for everyone. In between all this, Kate and Harry can rarely find a moment together to explore their feelings for each other. But one must believe that their love will triumph in the end.
If you like your romance bold, brash, and larger than life, then this book will likely bore you to tears. The strength of these characters is that they are so very ordinary. Mansfield puts in the little details that make them seem like people you know (albeit people who lived two hundred years ago). Kate’s mother Isabel is a little too fond of embroidery, and has an elaborate cart and specially made apron that supports her hobby. Her beau Tyndale is a little too reluctant to give up the fashions of his youth. Kate has a yammering, gossipy maid who likes to make the dressing decisions for her. Harry is trying to figure out if his way of being “nice” to women means that he is a rake after all. And Deirdre is just about like any boy-crazy teenager you’ve met.
I ended up liking nearly all the characters (except for Deirdre, but then I didn’t like boy-crazy teenagers even when I was a teenager myself) just because they seemed so real to me. The side-line romance between Isabel and Tyndale was a delight, and I couldn’t help laughing when it was almost derailed by Tyndale’s classic error (an unfortunate remark about Isabel’s weight).
Kate seemed a little remote and even unlikable at first, but she really grew on me, and Harry’s expert handling of her – and determination to win her hand in spite of her reluctance – was quite endearing. My only problem with both of them (which is the major reason for the grade) is that they just didn’t share enough time together. In the end, Harry admits that he fell in love with Kate the moment he saw her. That’s all well and good, but I would really have enjoyed more “falling in love” moments that didn’t center around the annoying Deirdre (who really dictates most of the action in the book). The dialogue that Harry and Kate share is generally delightful, but I wanted much, much more of it. As it was, their devotion to each other seemed like it didn’t have much of a basis.
Still, this is a book I’d generally recommend, especially for those who want a quieter Regency read about “normal” people. If you’re tired of fiery beauties (and the TSTL personality that often comes with their impetuous natures) then The Girl with the Persian Shawl is a nice way to pass an evening.