The Viscount and the Vicar's Daughter
Mimi Matthews’ The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter begins with Tristan Sinclair, Viscount St. Ashton, hoping to blot out the bleakness of his life at a house party. Then he hears a woman crying in the garden, and he finds Miss Valentine March, a downtrodden companion. She’s in tears because her employer’s daughter ruined some illustrations which Valentine’s late mother started, and which Valentine is trying to complete.
Tristan is fascinated to realize that the verses accompanying the illustrations are from the Song of Solomon, and he and Valentine talk freely until she realizes he’s one of the worst libertines in England. She flees into the house. But Tristan is drawn to her, and he longs for her to see him as something more than a reprobate.
So these two are stock characters. He’s devastatingly handsome, accustomed to women falling at his feet, etc. and she’s an orphaned gentlewoman down on her luck, beautiful and innocent. Nothing new here, but I was curious about what the author would do with these archetypes.
Tristan’s father also arrives at the house-party to inform Tristan that thanks to his wenching and carousing, his allowance will be cut off. This is interesting, but unfortunately it goes downhill from there. Valentine and Tristan secretly meet so he can return a sketch of hers, but when he kisses her and they’re caught in the act, he offers to marry her. Valentine tells him that her mother, a marquess’s daughter, was cast out from her family because she became pregnant. Legally, Valentine is a vicar’s daughter, but biologically, it’s anyone’s guess.
Tristan doesn’t care (he considers the possibility that they’re related, but this is written by Mimi Matthews, not V. C. Andrews). However, his father insists that the two of them spend time apart. Valentine can go to London to build bridges with her mother’s family, and Tristan can go to Northumberland, to restore their run-down country estate and make something of himself.
And at this point, the story’s lack of focus becomes obvious. Here are all the people who threaten Tristan’s and Valentine’s happiness :
- A young man from the village in which Valentine used to live, who believes the two of them have an “understanding”.
- Valentine’s uncle, who doesn’t want to acknowledge his sister’s bastard child.
- Valentine’s employer’s daughter, who’s livid that Tristan won’t be offering for her.
- Valentine’s father, since although he’s now dead, it’s clear he was a harsh, judgmental man who believed the worst of her mother.
And yet none of these people have any real effect. Each spurned suitor threatens once, then isn’t mentioned again. The uncle is a non sequitur. And no matter how emotionally abusive her father is, Valentine is unaffected. She’s also one of those heroines who receives an offer of marriage from a man who protects her, buys her everything she needs, and kisses her till she’s dizzy… and she refuses because he has not said the L word. But what’s her alternative to marriage, you ask?
“To preach to heathens in some foreign clime? To convert them into good Christians?”
She glared at him. “To help people, my lord. To show them a better way through the teachings in the Bible.”
I took her as seriously as I did the missionaries in The Book of Mormon, and they were far more entertaining.
As for Tristan, he is to rakehood what Winnie the Pooh is to intellect. Every questionable thing he did happened in the past, and it isn’t even clear why he became a rake in the first place. His father finds him a colossal disappointment, and this hurts Tristan, but since he’s wasting a life of wealth and privilege, I’m not sure what he expected. Part of the problem is that Ms. Matthews’ romances tend to be gentle and sweet, which is fine when the characters are, in general, meant to be gentle and sweet too. But if I read a blurb which mentions a rake and debauchery, only to find a story which shies away from anything of the sort, I won’t be happy.
In summary, The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter starts out with potential, but the plot soon loses direction and meanders to a bland finish. The historical background is as well-drawn as I’ve come to expect from Ms. Matthews, and there are a few amusing moments, but the story presents a supposedly jaded and debauched libertine in so much soft-focus that he often seems more like a Disney prince wooing a passive Snow White. And that just didn’t work for me.