REVIEW: The Rules of Gentility By Janet Mullany
Dear Ms. Mullany,
I read your first novel, enjoyed it, and was dismayed to hear that Signet wouldn’t be publishing any more. Then Signet pretty much folded and I was afraid that was that. Huzzah to Harper Collins for picking you up (as an author) and giving us this delightful spoof of (almost) every Regency novel. The comedy is delicious, the characters are fantastic and I can only hope we’ll see more of this style from you.
Long before there were designer shoes, apple martinis, and speed dating — there were great bonnets, punch at Almack’s, and the marriage mart.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of fortune and passable good looks amuses herself in London with fashion, philanthropic works, and flirtation, until a suitable gentleman makes an offer. I consider the pursuit of bonnets and a husband fairly alike — I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well.”
Meet Miss Philomena Wellesley-Clegg, a young Regency heiress whose often comical struggle to find a bigger purpose in life and a proper suitor will entertain readers of both historical and contemporary women’s fiction.
Told in alternate first person by Philomena and her tonnish faux suitor, the Honorable Mr. Inigo Linsley, this book is fabulous. Well, mostly fabulous as it sort of seems to slip a little sideways towards the end. Philly is the second daughter of Mr. Wellesley-Clegg, whose house is atop the seam of coal responsible for the family fortune and which is slowly falling into the gap left from mining it, and Mrs. Wellesley-Clegg who astounds the ton by being able to speak longer without taking a breath than anyone else in London. She has a coterie of (for various reasons unsuitable) suitors and a passion for a well trimmed bonnet.
Inigo is the third son of the Linsley family at whose head is his brother, the Earl (aka Pudgebum). Nearly penniless until he becomes engaged or married, Inigo cheerfully amuses himself with the usual activities of Young Men of Good Family who are currently in London and otherwise spends his time managing some of the family properties around England. His first meeting with Philly is while she is at the Linsley townhouse for a meeting of the Association for the Rescue and Succor of those in Extremis (the Gentlemen of London have an acronym by which they refer to it) and he’s not that impressed, aside from the fact that the family is in Trade, but slowly Philly grows on him.
When he discovers she’s about to receive a proposal from a man she has no wish to marry, he gallantly steps in an offers a fake betrothal for the remainder of the Season. It will remain “in the family” so as to give Philly a chance to enjoy the Season (so they tell their families) while in reality it will allow Philly to still be courted by other men from whom she can pick. But as the Season picks up steam Philly and Inigo find themselves beginning to take the situation too seriously and discover in each other someone to love. Will Inigo’s proposals in the water closet, his mistress’s bed and back in the WC turn out to be for real or is there another who will teach the delightful Philly all about men?
While reading this, I frequently found myself laughing out loud as you skewer one Regency convention after another. There are no wasted characters though I did find myself wondering about what would happen to a few of them. The drop in grade from an A to an A- is because suddenly, the Dowager Countess’s romance is dropped and then drop kicked from the plot.
I do like the fact that neither Philly nor Inigo is burdened with wagon-loads of baggage, that both are quite frank in their lustful thoughts about the other, and that you decided to write a story about a 19 year old virgin prancing about in drawing-rooms but what happens with the Dowager Countess’s romance? I only hope we don’t have to wait too long for book three from your pen.