#Throwback Thursday: Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

For this throwback Thursday, I’m going to repost some old reviews of Georgette Heyer books that I wrote six years ago. They’ve been sitting in draft since I started moving things over to this blog and this seemed like a good time to get them published.

Originally published June 6, 2014

Sprig MuslinSprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
Publication Date: June 2, 1956
Pages: 268
Genre: historical fiction, romance

Sir Gareth Ludlow was a sought-after bachelor in London high society -- wealthy, noble, handsome... and brokenhearted since the death of his true love many years ago. Resigned to remarry, Sir Gareth decides to request the hand of a woman he respects and admires -- Lady Hester Thealer. But fate takes an impish turn when, en route to propose to his sensible acquaintance Lady Hester, Ludlow finds a saucy young lady who identifies herself as "Amanda Smith." Pretty Amanda is alone and unchaperone, and wandering unattended, and Ludlow, whose interest in her was purely avuncular, knows it is his duty to bring her back to her family. But it is to prove no easy task for the Corinthian. This turns out to be a challenge as Amanda seems to possess an imagination as intriguing as it is dangerous.

Finally, resigned Sir Gareth Ludlow arrives at the Theale estate with the runaway schoolgirl in tow. After his proposal, Lady Hester stuns both him and her family when she refuses him. At her age, no one would expect her to turn down such an eligible suitor. But rational Hester has met the beautiful indomitable Amanda. How can the quiet, shy Hester hope to compete with such a lively young lady? The headstrong Amanda is young--but old enough to know her own romantic mind--Amanda ran away from her doting grandfather, who objected to her proposed marriage to a youthful, impecunious officer. And the young Amanda will be who will show Hester how to win Ludlow's elusive heart.

This installment in my Heyer Read was positively delightful. There were two potential heroines here: Amanda, who was an engaging, adorable child, and Hester, the level-headed spinster, long since on the shelf. The Hero, Gareth, was one of Heyer’s most likeable. He is trustworthy, kind to children and animals, and frequently exasperated by the adorable Amanda. He suffered the loss of his fiancee, the incomparably beautiful and spirited Clarissa, many decades ago and it is assumed that he still carries a torch for the woman.

We begin, as we often begin, with a man for whom it is time to marry. And the woman he has chosen to marry does not please his family.

When I think of all the pretty and lovely girls who have done their best to attach him, and he tells me that he has offered for an insipid female who has neither fortune nor any extraordinary degree of beauty, besides being stupidly shy and dowdy, I – oh, I could go into strong hysterics!

Hester’s family, on the other hand, cannot imagine how she has managed capture the interest of Gareth.

After eyeing her for a moment or two, he said: ‘If you let this chance of achieving a respectable alliance slip, you are a bigger fool than I take you for, Hester!’ Her eyes came round to his face, a smile quivered for an instant on her lips. ‘No, how could that be, Papa?

The side-story with Amanda really highlights Gareth’s fine qualities. There is never a hint of impropriety, or skeeviness, in his relationship with her. He is protective and ensures that she is safe when she repeatedly places herself in unsafe situations. In a modern book, this might be irritating or high-handed. In the regency world, however, where the virtue of a girl like Amanda is paramount to a happy future, it is charming. He rescues her from her own folly time and again, without ever once coming off as the sort of gross older man who is doing it for nefarious reasons. In fact, Gareth is sort of the quintessential and most appealing uncle-type. He is able to forgive youthful folly, even when youthful folly shoots him (literally, not figuratively) in the shoulder.

This does not mean, however, that Gareth is without a certain amount of swoony appeal. The romance between Gareth and Hester is wonderful. He begins by offering what is essentially a marriage of attrition. He rather likes her, finds her worthy of attention, and she’s really the only one left other than girls like Amanda, and he’s not interested at all in marrying a child. His decision to marry her isn’t even a decision of convenience, it is more a decision of bored acquiescence. At the beginning.

But, ah, how their relationship develops over the course of the book. Hester shows herself to be much more adventuresome than even she realized she was (although Ms. Heyer realized it from the very beginning). And Gareth falls for her. For real, this time. The ending of the book is simply wonderful:

When I asked you at Brancaster I held you in affection and esteem, but I believed I could never be in love again. I was wrong. Will you marry me, my dear and last love?’ She took his face between her hands, and looked into his eyes. A sigh, as though she were rid of a burden, escaped her. ‘Yes, Gareth,’ she said. ‘Oh, yes, indeed I will!

It is beautifully convincing.

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