With Seduction in Mind
I always enjoy Laura Lee Guhrke’s books and With Seduction in Mind is no exception. The characters were a delight to meet – witty, intelligent and well matched. The story had a bit of a silly misunderstanding at the end, but for the most part I had a wonderful time reading this one.
Years ago, Sebastian Grant, Earl of Avermore, burst on the literary scene and was hailed as one of England’s finest authors. His novels pleased the critics and public alike and he was considered a literary giant. Then he moved to the continent and things changed. Sebastian still wrote, but his novels and plays were not as good. They lacked what made his early work so wonderfully readable and compelling and sales slumped. Sebastian has a contract for a new novel from his publisher the Viscount Marlowe (And Then He Kissed Her ), but years have passed, he has not delivered the manuscript, and is about to be in breach of contract.
As the book begins, Sebastian has come back to London with a new play The Girl with the Red Handbag, which he hopes will be a hit (he badly needs the money). Alas – the reviewers are severe and none more so than George Lindsay, the critic for Marlowe’s journal who calls the play “second rate Oscar Wilde.” Incensed, Sebastian goes round to Marlowe who introduces him to George Lindsay aka Daisy Merrick.
Daisy is a girl bachelor who works as a typist. Daisy’s outspokenness cost her her latest job when she objected to her employer’s roving hands. Needing another job Daisy, who has always wanted to be a writer, takes one of her stories to Marlowe in the hopes that he will buy it. Marlowe did not get where he was as a publisher without knowing quite a bit about writers and their hangups. He knows that Sebastian is suffering from writer’s block, and sees that Daisy is an unpolished writer but a good storyteller, so he arranges for Daisy to work with Sebastian to get that long delayed novel ready to be published. Daisy and Sebastian work at his country house (with his aunt as chaperone) and the sparring (and writing) begin.
I love how Guhrke gives us interesting aspects of life in late Victorian England. At the time this book is set, women were able to get white-collar jobs, mostly as typists. This is what Daisy does and she and Sebastian begin to bond when she sees his Crandall typewriter. Daisy is a very independent young woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. She has had to work hard all her life and she is not a sheltered young miss.
Sebastian is an outsider and in torment. His father always disparaged his literary aspirations, but for Sebastian, words and writing were life itself. His early books flowed with ease, but as time passed, he began to suffer from writer’s block. His solution was to take cocaine, which helped him over his crippling writer’s block (partially triggered by his bad relationship with his father), but the drug taking ruined his writing, and almost killed him. Sebastian is still a good writer, but he thinks he can’t write without drugs and he has vowed never again to take them.
Daisy does become Sebastian’s muse. But she’s far from being a muse on a pedestal who is only there to inspire. Daisy is….well, she’s kind of irritating. She pushes Sebastian, gets under his skin and generally bothers him. But she fires his mind, and in turn, he shows her where she can improve her writing. They are a wonderful couple.
Now on to a mistake that would probably not be noticed by anyone who isn’t a Victorian fiction nerd. At one point, Sebastian shows Daisy a book he liked called The Damnation of Theron Ware and mentioned that it had a character in it named Svengali. Svengali is the villain in George du Maurier’s classic Trilby.
I thoroughly enjoyed With Seduction In Mind, despite the silly title and misleading cover (Daisy is slim and freckled). Get past those and you will find a well-written book with excellent characters that’s a real pleasure to read.