The Governess of Penwythe Hall
In The Governess of Penwythe Hall, life circumstances force a young woman to return to the community she previously fled. The first in Sarah E. Ladd’s new Cornwall series, this Regency era gothic combines a light mystery and sweet romance, delivering a tale sure to please the author’s many fans.
Delia Greythorne’s first marriage ended in tragedy. Her husband and daughter both died; her powerful, frightening mother-in-law blamed her for these misfortunes and essentially ran her out of town, warning her never to return. Her own family, a somewhat impoverished clergyman brother caring for their seriously ill sister, cannot take her in, so, forced to leave the area and earn a living, Delia accepts a position as governess to five children in faraway Yorkshire. She loves her job and has grown very attached to her charges – but then calamity strikes: Their children’s father, their only living parent, is fatally injured in a horse riding accident. On his deathbed, he gets Delia to promise to escort the children to his estranged brother Jac Twethewey, at Penwythe Hall, just twenty miles from her former home. He also extracts a guarantee that she will stay with the children and help them adjust to their new reality.
It’s not an easy adjustment. Not only had the children expected to be left with their beloved maternal aunt in London (that they are not is for good reasons that their father didn’t share with them), they don’t know Jac, a situation made worse by the fact that their father used to tell them that Jac stole his birthright. Liam, the eldest son, feels particularly embittered by this fact. Adjusting to life at a distant country estate while mourning their father and the loss of everything familiar, the children start their stay at Penwythe with more than a little belligerence and disdain. Fortunately, while Jac demands respect and courtesy from their encounters, he also has the compassion to give them the time and space to settle into their new life. Delia works especially hard to build a bridge between the kids and Jac, confident that the best way forward is for all of them to get to know and love each other. .
This is easier said than done, however. Penwythe Hall has long been under financial stress and Jac has been working hard to change that since he inherited it. His latest endeavour has seen him pouring a substantial amount of money into a risky venture revolving around the estate’s apple orchards. Tensions are high as everyone awaits the harvest, knowing that an early frost, insects, or even a simple hail storm might have devastating financial consequences.
That’s not the only stressor for Delia since she is also concerned that being within twenty miles of her in-laws will cause problems. Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for her to be proven right in that regard. The obvious solution would be to leave, but Delia has nowhere to go and no desire to leave the family she has come to love.
The author does an excellent job in this book of capturing the workings of an upper-class British home. In many novels, the governess is shown to almost run the house, being on near equal footing with the owners of the estate. Here, Delia is very aware that she is an employee, and the interactions between Delia, Jac and the other staff feel very authentic for the time period. Jac and Delia’s initial discussions are professional, albeit with a certain personal aspect due to the nature of her work, and only very slowly grow more intimate.
I also loved how the author handles the romance. Delia knows that Jac, as owner of a vast estate, is far above her in station. She doesn’t dream of any relationship with him at the start of the story but has in fact been thinking that a romance between herself and Mr. Hugh Simon, the boy’s tutor, might be possible. Mr. Andrews, Penwythe Hall’s steward, also shows an interest in courting her. Jac and Delia become aware of their feelings gradually, as they work together to provide the children with a stable, loving environment. The author does an excellent job of showing us Delia’s relationship with the children, providing a credible scenario for Jac viewing her as a vital family member.
Another positive aspect of the romance is how well Delia and Jac suit. He is a simple, clever, hardworking country gentleman who lives a quiet, rather humble life. His estate is large and grand but he is cash poor due to its lackluster management by his beloved, but somewhat incompetent, late uncle. Delia is practical and modest, of genteel upbringing even if she does not have stellar antecedents. Her quiet competence and loving nature are exactly what he wants and needs. I was confident they would truly have an HEA.
The secondary characters are well written and I especially enjoyed how the children did not fit perfectly into their new surroundings but showed the strain of all the recent changes to their lives.
Ms. Ladd writes Inspirational romances whose faith aspect is a gentle, dignified thread in the background of the love story. The characters do believe in God, the power of prayer and the importance of righteous living, but these convictions are shown more through their actions than proselytizing on the page. The various principles contained within the text are generic enough to apply to almost any Christian denomination, which was another component of the tale that was handled expertly.
In fact, the only thing that kept the novel from DIK status was the unrealistic nature of the villains. Their interactions with Delia seemed rather mild until the end of the tale where they went from being a minor but malicious plot device to a rather more explosive, dangerous element that was still clearly a plot device.
That flaw aside, The Governess of Penwythe Hall is a gentle, languorous, heartfelt Regency that will undoubtedly be a hit with the author’s many fans. I think readers fond of a slower paced tale which concentrates on historical authenticity and genuine relationships over passion will also find plenty to love here.