Desert Isle Keeper
The Obedient Bride
The Obedient Bride takes on the issue of Regency adultery and humanizes it with the depiction of two very different people caught in an arranged marriage. Many Regency Romances speak lightly of rakes and adultery among the aristocratic classes. Many have heroes who regularly bed married women. Few examine the darker aspects of the matter.
To Mary Balogh’s credit this is not a book that exploits the salacious side of adultery, but neither does it shirk the sensual aspects of it either. Some people are shocked by The Obedient Bride for Lord Astor, the hero of this book, has sex repeatedly with Ginny Cox, his mistress. He enjoys the sex enormously and feels little regret until the affair is revealed. As you may perceive, this is not a light, frothy comedy of manners (though there are some light moments). But it is a wonderful book. If you are looking for a Regency with a bit more “meat” in it, so to speak, this is an absorbing and worthwhile love story.
The plot begins with a fairly typical arranged marriage. Lord Geoffrey Astor, a new Viscount, offers, sight unseen, to marry one of the late Viscount’s daughters. Though he has misgivings about his impulsiveness, Lord Astor is unfailingly polite and kind to the plain, somewhat plump girl who is to be his bride. For her part, Arabella is overwhelmed by the handsome and dashing lord. One look at him tells her that she is doomed to disappoint. How could a small, plain bride be a match for such a perfect man? Arabella decides early on that although she cannot be a beautiful woman worthy of her husband, she will be an obedient bride.
In the first few weeks after the wedding both seem content if not in love. Arabella learns to dress to suit her husband and uncomplainingly submits to his perfunctory and selfish lovemaking. She gains friends within the ton and begins to feel more confident. It is then that Arabella learns the truth. All through their marriage, before and after, Lord Astor has kept a beautiful mistress, Ginny Cox.
In the first half of the book we are not entirely sure of how Arabella feels about her husband, so how she will react to the revelation of his infidelity is something of a mystery. There is very little real intimacy between them. Arabella calls her husband “my lord” and during their clothed lovemaking he has never so much as kissed her. It is her handling of her discovery of the adultery that makes Arabella such a sympathetic character. She confronts Lord Astor directly and angrily. What is both beautiful and bitterly sad is how Arabella feels learning that her husband has made love to another woman. She is in agony, feeling that every bit of physical affection he ever gave her was a lie.
The physical love that develops between Lord Astor and Arabella after the adultery is revealed is a metaphor for the changes in the marriage. The love scene where Lord Astor finally uses his marriage bed to express love rather than physical desire demonstrates fully how a wonderful writer can use physical intimacy to advance the story in a book.
Both Lord Astor and Arabella grow and change, which is what makes The Obedient Bride one of the best Regencies I have read. Lord Astor does not automatically reform because he is in love. He learns that his past behavior was destructive and a betrayal of the person whose welfare he had pledged himself to protect. Arabella learns that she has married a fallible man, not a perfect lord. Obedient or not, she respects herself enough to demand a loyal husband. The intimacy both physical and emotional that blossoms on the last pages of this book is a joy to read. Lord Astor is not the perfect hero, but his willingness to change gave me confidence in his future and I smiled as I closed the book.