The Reluctant Husband
The Reluctant Husband features some wonderful characters and an interesting story. Several plot points seem to lead to a conflict, but they peter out. Rather than conflict and resolution, the book simply drifts to its ending.
As Mr. Marchmont plays cards with his good friend the Marquess of Dacre, he listens to his worries about his son, the Viscount Ormiston, who is about to go abroad for some education and travel. Ormiston has a bad attitude and his father fears he might marry someone totally unsuitable. When Marchmont half drunkenly proposes that if he loses the next game of piquet, Ormiston can marry his daughter Cecilia and be safe from fortune hunters, Dacre agrees. Marchmont loses.
To Marchmont’s surprise, Cecilia – who is only fourteen – agrees to marry Ormiston to preserve the family honor and Ormiston goes along as well, albeit sullenly. The men agree that it will be a marriage in name only and then when Ormiston returns to England, they will get a quiet annulment. After the ceremony, Ormiston makes some very nasty remarks about Cecilia – she overhears them and is furious.
Five years later, a mature Ormiston, wild oats sown, is ready to come home. He meets a fascinating and beautiful woman at a masked costume party and they share a sexual encounter. She is Cecilia, and the encounter leaves her pregnant. Clearly an annulment is impossible now and other events occur to bring Ormiston and Cecilia together. But can they live together when the marriage has had such a bad beginning?
The characters were the best thing about this book. When we meet Ormiston he is a sullen, petulant teenager who can’t stand the fact that his father exists. We meet him again when he is a mature and sensible man. He’s not perfect and has a few lessons to learn, but he matured in a very believable way. Cecilia, who grew up with a happy home life, is sensible and mature for her age; she has a good head on her shoulders. Her actions in marrying him are not hard to understand – she loves her family and has a crush on Ormiston.
After Ormiston and Cecilia are forced to make their marriage a real one, several incidents occur that would offer some good conflict. To describe them would spoil the book, particularly since they never fully develop. More often than not they simply peter out while Ormiston and Cecilia muse inwardly and wonder why the other will not say “I love you.” At the end of the book he does say those three little words and all is well, which I found simplistic.
However, Ormiston and Cecilia are interesting characters. They are both intelligent and self-aware. They know that they have to make a go of their marriage but they are not quite certain how to do it. They spend more time thinking to themselves than they do talking to each other. I like introspective characters but I would have liked a bit more outward conflict in the story.
Even so, I’m intrigued enough with The Reluctant Husband to put Madeleine Conway on my list of Regency authors to read again. Sadly, that list is shrinking as more and more switch to full-length historicals. I hope that trend reverses soon; I love the genre and would hate to see it die out.