Three Wishes for Miss Winthrop
Grade : B-

I think I’ve found something new in Shirley Kennedy: a guilty-pleasure Regency author. Three Wishes for Miss Winthrop is like Pride and Prejudice meets The Young and the Restless. One minute everyone is behaving in normal, Regency-like ways, and the next minute raging hormones are circling like a swarm of bees. I’ve never seen anything like it, but it was kind of fun.

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Miss Lucy Winthrop is secure and happy in her position as governess to a wealthy family, but she has a secret ambition to run a school for girls – a real school where they can learn geometry and Latin instead of just painting and embroidery. When her employer spots her in the company of her radical sister, she loses her position and eventually all of her savings as well. Reluctantly, she agrees to take a new position with Lord Granville, a man who was with her employer on that fateful day.

Although she finds him very attractive, Lucy does not really admire Lord Granville; she shares many of her sister’s radical views and believes that all members of the aristocracy lead wasteful, selfish lives. Her initial contacts with Lord Granville do little to change her mind about him. He leaves her in the country with his three children (from a now deceased wife) while he concentrates on his political career in London. When he arrives for a house party, things gradually begin to change. Lucy finds his lost signet ring in the woods, and as a reward he offers to grant her three wishes. Rather than asking for material wealth, she first asks simply that he join his children for supper rather than dining with his houseguests.

This is the starting point for a more active parenting role for Lord Granville, but it’s also the beginning of his keen interest in Miss Winthrop. Lucy returns his interest, but she knows their relationship is completely impossible. Granville is practically engaged to another woman, and marriage to a governess would completely destroy his political career. Still, they find themselves spending more and more time together, outwardly behaving themselves as they fight their feelings.

Lucy and Granville are both likable and sympathetic. I have to admit that I am a sucker for both poor relation and governess stories, and this is the best type of governess story: both characters behave in a realistic way. Lucy is the type of heroine who is easy to root for. She can’t help falling for Granville, but she knows their relationship is completely impossible. She settles for friendship and a congenial relationship with his children, knowing that she really can’t hope for anything more (though it’s a romance, so we know they will get together somehow). Granville is likable in a “handsome-self-absorbed-nobleman-who-becomes-a-better-person-because-of-the-heroine” kind of way.

What I really liked about this book is that the characters are very conscious of their respective positions in society, and they act accordingly. Lucy is a governess who knows when she is stepping out of line, and she’s aware of her precarious position in society. Granville actually behaves as a typical nobleman of the era might: he’s fond of his children in an abstract way, but he thinks finding adequate servants to care for them is as far as he needs to go. These attitudes change during the course of the book, and it happens in a way that is believable. When Lucy and Granville are finally united at the end, they have already thought through all the implications of their relationship.

What seemed funny and a little off to me was the barrage of lustful feelings and descriptions. They come from both Lucy and Granville, and they seem at odds with their otherwise proper and traditional behavior. Often descriptions are completely over the top. Just as often, the author makes word choices that can only be called odd. It all adds up to a Regency Soap Opera feeling. Some typical examples:

…he regarded Lucy with an expression that at first seemed but a casual acknowledgement between master and servant, yet for one singular moment Lucy stood powerless to move; inwardly shaken by the storm of sentiments unspoken, unseen, but indisputably tangible, that surged back and forth between them. Without question, his eyes told her he remembered that night in the nursery.

And my favorite:

“My name is John,” he replied with suppressed vehemence. He strode back to the bed, knelt in front of her, and grasped her shoulders in a vise-like grip. “John, do you hear me? Not your lordship, not m’lord, not sir, but if we ever make love again you will call me John.”

Oddly enough, all this emotional upheaval never leads to an actual sex scene, which was something of a disappointment. I enjoyed all these exchanges in a cheesy-funny kind of way, even if they did seem out of place.

The grade probably would have been a solid B if not for a separation at the end that slowed down the pace of the book and threw everything off track for a little while. Still, overall I enjoyed my first read by Kennedy, and I will likely try her again in hopes of receiving that same proper characters/cheesy dialogue thrill.

Reviewed by Blythe Smith

Grade: B-

Book Type: Regency Romance

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : August 18, 2003

Publication Date: 2003

Review Tags: governess

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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