Mar 15 2007
Dear Ms Alexander,
Victorian era books are just not my favorites. I freely admit that is due to shallow reasons such as the ugly way most men wore their facial hair and the drabness of their clothes, ghastly women’s hairstyles (all slicked down with sugar water) and the image that I have of a repressed society. Yeah, very shallow. Yet something about the blurb of your first book caught my interest. Young woman with hidden depths, mystery, lost love and a neat cover (you already know I’m shallow).
Emily has almost finished her two years of obligatory mourning for her husband. She’s endured months of condolences and withdrawal from society as it otherwise ignores the young widow, as is only proper. Society deems that she must at least pretend to be prostrate with grief no matter if she really isn’t. After all, she barely knew the man and she only married him because a) she’s the daughter of an earl and therefore must make a good society marriage and b) she desperately wanted to escape her overbearing mother. She’s spent her mourning period doing precisely what she wants and enjoying her new found freedom. Now that she’s been married and become mistress of her own household, mummy can’t really make Emily do anything. Such bliss.
A visit from one of her husband’s lifelong friends and his mention of a villa Philip owned in Greece sparks Emily’s curiosity. She begins to thumb through several books about Grecian art in her husband’s library then, on impulse, decides to visit the originals in the British Museum. Once there, she’s astounded to learn how many of their priceless works of art her husband donated and how well thought of he was as a scholar. Clearly there was more to him than the African big game hunter Emily barely knew. She starts to read his journals and discovers a complex man, a man of wit and intelligence who apparently loved her deeply. A man whom she now wishes she had had more time to know and a man whom she begins to truly mourn. Intrigued by his interests, she begins to study ancient Greek, read Homer and follow the trail of his acquisition of ancient artifacts. But then, at Philip’s country estate, she discovers what appear to be the originals of some of the art now in the Museum. Horrified at the implications, Emily knows she has to uncover the truth. Was her husband a generous benefactor or a gentleman forger? And which, if any, of the two men now courting her helped Philip with his deception or his donations?
Despite the notation on the cover, I’d say this is more of a mystery than a suspense novel and I’d call it historical fiction with a romantic element rather than a romance. The pace is more leisurely and it’s a novel to be slowly savored rather than rushed through. I got a great feel for the period and it’s obvious that you checked your historical facts. I did have one question about how Philip’s sister’s son would be Philip’s heir. He might be heir to land and house but he couldn’t be heir to Viscountancy. I agree with your reasoning that historically, a young woman in Emily’s place would almost never have rebelled openly against the restrictions and strictures of her level in society. The freedoms allowed women are still curtailed and the ones Emily tries in public are mere baby steps towards what we would consider true freedoms to be and do as she really wants. Had she still been married, it would have been her husband who decreed the level of her freedom, as shown in the marriage of Emily’s friend Ivy. I also agree that society would never have allowed Emily to remain unmarried at that age. They’d have thought her as much of a freak as they did her unwed American heiress friend, Margaret.
I like how Emily learns more about herself as she tries to learn more about Philip’s interests. She admits to herself that she ends up going past what she would likely have been allowed by him and that her tastes and likes are different from his. But she truly mourns the discussions and debates they might have had. Maybe she’ll have them with
The book left me pondering the big question: would she have ever fallen in love with Philip if he hadn’t died and she started to look into his life? Would they have ended with the kind of conventional marriage all her friends had? I think her correct in her belief that it would probably not have been as rosy as she daydreamed if might have been. I like that she ends up not wanting to give up the freedoms that she gained by Philip’s death though she might possibly if
I also wonder about Philip. What made him fall in love with Emily since as she admits herself, she didn’t pay much attention to him beyond as a means to escape her mother. Did he really know her or did he love the image he created of her? I think
Emily’s pursuit of the criminals is realistic for what a woman of that age and level in society might be able to accomplish but as one critic states, her wealth and position in society did protect and insulate her from real risk of harm. I think it very believable that at first Emily has trouble discerning who might be lying to her. After all, she’s not a trained investigator and would have no reason to doubt the word of a gentleman. One niggle is that she comes across as maybe more mature than what I’m guessing her age to be (21? 22?).
So I admit that you’ve sucked me into reading further about the adventures of a Victorian Lady. Perhaps I’ll overcome my distaste of muttonchop sideburns. But then probably not. B for “And only to Deceive.”