Too Wilde to Wed
Since I was first introduced to it, I’ve always loved Eloisa James’ characteristic mix of historical detail and humor. Too Wilde to Wed felt skewed a bit more toward humor than reality, but I enjoyed it nonetheless as an escape from ordinary life.
Although it is by no means necessary to read Wilde in Love – the first book in this series – to enjoy this one, it does help to provide an immediate understanding of the characters. Wilde in Love mainly takes place at a house party in celebration of the betrothal of Lord Roland (North) Wilde (heir to the Duke of Lindow) to Miss Diana Belgrave. There’s a noticeable tension between the betrothed couple, even as secondary characters, because North is desperately in love with Diana while she is guiltily uninterested in him. At the end of the book she runs away and calls off their engagement, to no one’s surprise (but North’s).
Too Wilde to Wed opens two years later with North returning to England, after having spent the time since his broken engagement fighting in the Colonies. He comes home to find that Diana has taken up residence on his estate as governess to his sister, and that she has a young boy with her whom most of England believes to be North’s son. The boy is in fact Diana’s young nephew, Godfrey, who was born shortly before the aforementioned house party. When Diana’s sister died unmarried, and her mother refused to take in the child, an already unhappy Diana left North to care for the boy. She was forced to live in poverty with Godfrey (having been disowned by her mother) until North’s aunt found them and offered her the position as governess, which ultimately leads to an awkward reunion for the former couple.
The most interesting thing about this book is watching Diana and North finally get to know each other. They’re in forced proximity initially, while everyone debates where Diana and Godfrey belong, and it leads to revelations about their past together. Diana was forced into husband-hunting by her mother the year she met North, and so came off as more of a socialite than the woman of simple tastes that she really is. Similarly, North found himself dressing up and putting on airs to impress Diana, or at least the woman he thought she was. At heart, he too aches for a simpler life. Before his older brother died, North planned to become an architect, and a part of him still chafes at the thought of being tied down by the responsibilities of a dukedom for the rest of his life. Between family dinners and midnight confessions, they correct their past misconceptions about each other and truly fall in love this time.
There’s an interesting mix of substance and fluff in this book – serious conversations about North’s experiences in war serve as a contrast to comic encounters with an irascible peacock. Although I’ve always enjoyed Ms. James’ sense of humor, it was the more serious, emotional moments that kept me interested in this book. Diana struggles with the loss of her sister, North with his nightmares of war, and they both are uneasy with the prospect of having to bear the weight of a future dukedom. In particular, Diana is resistant to the idea of one day becoming a duchess, certain that she lacks the social graces and inclination to manage the inevitable rounds of parties and politicking. This becomes a major problem for the couple with no easy fix, and I liked them more for struggling to work things out.
Until the ending, that is. The two things that really bothered me were the set-up with Godfrey, and the dukedom-related wrap-up. Godfrey is a little too old to have been North’s son, which everyone at Lindow Castle knows, but apparently no one says anything about until North arrives. So, when North shows up, Diana is stewing in guilt over passing off her nephew as his son, thinking she’s been lying to his family and staff for years, when in reality they’ve known the truth all along. It added a layer of emotional turmoil to the story which felt unnecessary and confused me since I couldn’t understand why Diana didn’t put it together herself. That’s cleared up quickly, though, which is appropriate.
Ironically, what bothered me about the dukedom-related wrap up is that after all their deliberation, Diana and North solve their last big relationship impediment on a whim. It’s cleared up too quickly, and with a scene that randomly involved Diana working as a bartender. The moment fell flat for me, feeling out-of-place in 1780s England, and the fact that a simple solution was abruptly found to the agonizing problem of Diana not wanting to be a duchess didn’t sit well either.
In spite of these off moments, though, I still enjoyed Too Wilde to Wed, and suspect that other fans of Ms. James will as well. It’s by no means my favorite of her books (because I have so many favorites among them!), but is well worth a read, particularly if you’re interested in a light-hearted book to take your mind off things.