The Ungrateful Governess
Mary Balogh’s traditional Regencies are, as often as not, not “traditional” as Regencies are usually defined: kisses only, mannered, well-behaved ladies and gentlemen falling in love under mildly titillating situations. Instead, Balogh’s Regencies are traditional only in that they are shorter than the average historical. Although its plot is a well-used one, The Ungrateful Governess is untraditional because of the way Balogh writes her characters, revealing their strengths and foibles through the use of extensive interior monologues.
Miss Jessica Moore, once a governess, is now a companion to a plain, mean, and very wealthy young lady about to make her debut in society. Anxious not to attract any notice for very good reasons (she is a lady fallen on hard times), Jessica is horrified when a night-time foray to the library throws her under the gaze of the lascivious Earl of Rutherford. That encounter – innocent though it is on Jessica’s part – causes her instant dismissal from her position, and she heads off to London to try to obtain another one.
Charles, the Earl of Rutherford, is an unrepentant rake, a man who “considered himself something of an expert on female servants.” He has deduced that a plain woman would have no need to dress in gray, shapeless dresses and unflattering hairstyles, so the governess who does just that must be hiding something pretty spectacular. He asks her to sleep with him, she refuses, and, while he regrets not having Jessica, he certainly isn’t pining over her.
Circumstances a week later force the two together again and once more, Charles asks Jessica to sleep with him, only this time he asks her to take a position as his mistress. He is surprised at himself – mistresses are an encumbrance he usually does not enjoy – but there is something special about Jessica, and he acts on impulse. Jessica, who is sorely tempted, ultimately declines, and the earl sends her on to his grandmother, a Dowager Duchess he promises will find her another solution for her unemployed state.
Instead of finding her another position, however, the Dowager Duchess sponsors Jessica in her debut, and it is as a well-gowned, lovely Society lady that the earl sees her again. Again, he asks her to be his mistress and when she turns him down (again), the two begin a love/hate relationship that is absolutely believable, and despite it hinging upon a Big Misunderstanding, not annoying. Jessica and Charles are well-matched: stubborn, proud, intelligent, and sensual, each growing more aware of their own shortcomings as their story progresses.
Throughout the book, the reader is privy to both Jessica and Charles’ interior musings, and it is those internal discussions that propel the romantic action. Understanding each character’s insecurities and unfortunate misconstruction of each other’s behavior makes for some very frustrating reading, but it makes sense nonetheless, since human beings seldom say just what is on their minds, especially if it makes them appear more vulnerable. Neither knows why they are falling deeply in love (and this is a powerfully passionate love), but they are, and Balogh makes the reader feel some of what her conflicted characters are going through.
What has haunted me, however, even more than their dramatic courtship, is the final scene where they are at last able to express their true feelings to each other. Jessica remains true to herself and takes a risk most – if not all – traditional Regency heroines would not. Charles, too, reveals his insecurity in a touching and wonderful way, and although these two did not really know each other that well, I had no problem believing that they would be happy.