The Marriage Lesson
I admit it: I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to comedies set in historical time periods. Usually, I just don’t think they’re all that funny. The banter seems stilted and unreal, the situations seem unlikely and contrived. But The Marriage Lesson by Victoria Alexander pleased even me: it is charming.
Thomas Effington, Marquess of Helmsley, is peeved to be faced with the responsibility of launching three young women into Society. They are the sisters of his new brother-in-law, and he has been given the job of squiring them throughout the Season, guarding their virtue, and, hopefully, finding them husbands. The eldest of these, Marianne Shelton, has no intention of getting married to anyone: she wants to live a life of adventure like the ones she’s read about in novels. She even has a plan for supporting herself – she will sell anonymous stories, titled “The Adventures of a Country Miss in London,” to a publication called Cadwallender’s Weekly World Messenger. Marianne’s sisters do want to marry, but they’re in no rush, and they’re a little worried that Thomas will pressure them to make a choice quickly. Like girls everywhere, they just want to have fun.
The girls have a plan. Marianne will occupy all of Thomas’ time, so that he won’t have time to make matches for the younger sisters. That way the younger girls can enjoy their Season without worrying about marriage, and Marianne will be able to use her encounters with Thomas as fodder for the “Adventures of a Country Miss.”
This situation is ripe for all sorts of comedic events, and Alexander makes the best of it. Soon Marianne is demanding that Thomas give her “lessons in life” (they usually involve kissing) and telling him that she’ll get her lessons elsewhere if he doesn’t comply. Meanwhile, the entire ton is agog over the increasingly-scandalous “Adventures of a Country Miss” and its seductive, mysterious hero, Lord W. The plot thickens when one of Thomas’ friends falls in love with the anonymous Country Miss and embarks upon a quest to rescue her from Lord W.’s clutches.
Each chapter of the book opens with an installment from the “Adventures.” I’ve seen several authors try to incorporate bits of a character’s own writing into the book, usually without much success. However, I think the excerpts are just the right note in The Marriage Lesson; they provide an interesting, partially-fictionalized window on Marianne’s feelings, and the fact that Thomas and others are reading them without realizing that Marianne is the author just makes the whole situation that much richer.
There were times, especially toward the end of the book, when I thought that Thomas was being more than a little dense. There were times when I thought that Marianne should just tell poor Thomas what it was she really wanted, instead of expecting him to figure it out. But on the whole, this book was lively, sexy, and very entertaining.
If you enjoy Regency-set romantic comedies, you should find The Marriage Lesson exactly your cup of tea. It isn’t the type of book I’m normally drawn to, but Alexander’s wit, originality, and light touch won me over.