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JOINT REVIEW: A Christmas Bride by Mary Balogh

Janine: We’ve all read Christmas stories which feature cynics whose hardened hearts soften during the holiday season. From Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, such figures are not uncommon in holiday stories in or out of the romance genre. But they are almost always male. What makes Balogh’s 1997 traditional regency A Christmas Bride (now reissued in a 2-in-1 edition with Christmas Beau) unusual is that its Scrooge/Grinch is Helena, its (anti-)heroine.
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Sunita: I have reread this book more than once, and not just at Christmastime. But it is definitely a Christmas fairytale, or at least a fable. What I like about it is that while the heroine is the Scrooge figure, the hero is not the innocent or beta hero that shows her the way to happiness through his virtue. Edgar is prickly and stubborn and more than a match for Helena.

Janine: Good point. A Christmas Bride opens with the line “Mr. Edgar Downes had decided to take a bride.” Edgar Downes, readers of The Famous Heroine may remember, is brother to Cora, the titular heroine of that book. In A Christmas Bride we discover that Edgar’s father, though hale and hearty at age sixty, has, like many a parent in one of Balogh’s traditional regencies, extracted a promise from Edgar to choose a bride (in this case by Christmastime). And not just any bride, but a woman of the nobility.

Edgar, like his father before him, is a successful and prosperous Bristol businessman and merchant. Nonetheless, Edgar has a chance to associate with and even marry into the ton because his sister Cora married into high society.

Although fewer aristocrats are in town in the autumn, Cora and her husband Francis help Edgar gain entry to some of London’s excusive parties. There Edgar meets some eligible if down on their luck young women. It is also where he meets Helena.

Unlike the ladies Edgar courts, Helena is neither young nor impoverished. At thirty-six, she is the same age as Edgar, and her previous marriage to a much older man has left her quite well off. Since her late husband’s passing, Helena has spent much of the time traveling abroad, coming to England only occasionally. There is a painful event in her past which she has been running away from.

Edgar’s first sight of Helena is described this way (ellipses mine):

And then he glanced across the doorway, where another new arrival stood. A woman alone, dressed fashionably and elegantly in a high-waisted, low bosomed dress of pure scarlet silk. A woman whose magnificent bosom more than did justice to the gown. […] She looked about her with bold eyes in a handsome face, a half smile on her lips, which might denote confidence or contempt or mere mocking irony. It was difficult to tell which.

Before Edgar could realize he was staring and proving himself to be indeed less than a gentleman[…]the woman’s eyes alit on him for a moment, and then moved deliberately down his body and back up again. She lifted one mocking eyebrow as her eyes met his once more[….]

If he had not been standing in the Earl of Greenwald’s drawing room, he would have been convinced that he was surely in the presence of one of London’s most experienced and celebrated courtesans.

In another book written in this same time frame (1990s), Helena might have been the villainess. Indeed, she was something of an offstage villainess in an earlier Balogh novel. My very favorite thing about A Christmas Bride might be this—that Helena comes across as the kind of woman who could eat a lot of men for breakfast.

Sunita: I definitely saw her as the villainess in A Precious Jewel. But even there, Balogh didn’t make her a monster. I appreciate that rather than redeeming her by rewriting the backstory here, Balogh has Helena take responsibility for what she did and very effectively conveys her anguish.

Janine: Yes, her remorse for those actions is is palpable and her path to redemption painful.

Helena ends up taking Edgar home the very night they meet and although she only thinks to offer him a drink, she finds herself taking him upstairs, to her bedroom. The sex they have is a struggle for mastery, and while Edgar gives Helena pleasure, she loses the upper hand in the process and ends up feeling violated as a result.

But Edgar feels just as violated. He does not understand his actions or Helena’s, and the next day, he calls on her to apologize. Helena rejects his apology but makes him an offer of platonic friendship. During this conversation, Helena reveals to Edgar that Miss Grainger, the woman he was most interested in courting, is in love with another man, one too poor to be acceptable to her parents as a marriage prospect.

Because he plans to court and marry a younger woman with many childbearing years ahead of her and fears he might end up in Helena’s bed once more, Edgar rebuffs Helena’s suggestion that they could be friends. A wounded Helena responds with scorn, telling Edgar that his friendship would have been less satisfying than his lovemaking, and pretending to have habit of using men sexually and then discarding them. Edgar swallows her lie and leaves feeling deeply ambivalent about her.

Sunita: I loved this part of the book. Helena and Edgar are physically so drawn to each other, and even as they each fight for mastery, that attraction never wanes.

Janine: I loved that both of them still wished they could have that friendship even after they each concluded they didn’t like the other. Talk about conflicted feelings!

For a while it seems like this is the end of Edgar and Helena’s relationship. But this being a romance, circumstances force them back together. By this time, Edgar has gotten tangled up in a commitment to the aforementioned Miss Grainger, so he wants to help that young lady find a way to be reunited with her beau. He invites Miss Grainger and her parents, as well as her young man, to the Christmas party he and Helena, Helena’s aunt, Cora, Francis, and several of their friends will be attending at his father’s home.

Christmas miracles only happen to other people, Helena believes. She does not think the heartache in her past can be outdistanced, and the more Edgar, who is falling for her, tries to convince her that happiness is possible for them, the more she resists the Christmas spirit. Her refusal to allow herself happiness leads Edgar to begin digging in her past.

Will Edgar discover the root causes of Helena’s cynicism? Will he reunite Miss Fanny Grainger and her suitor, Mr. Jack Sperling? Will he present his father with a Christmas Bride? Will Edgar’s father find happiness? And what about Helena? Will she allow a holiday miracle to take place in her life?

There’s a lot to like in A Christmas Bride. I’ve quoted from Helena’s introduction and I can’t resist quoting some of her “Bah, humbug!” moments as well. Here are her thoughts about the Christmas house party:

There was such an air of eager anticipation in the house and of domestic contentment. One would have thought that in such a sizable house party there would be some quarreling and bickering, some jealousies or simple dislikes. There were virtually none, apart from a few minor squabbles among the children.

It was just too good to be true. It was cloying

And here is Helena talking about the nativity story:

The stable at Bethlehem must have been drafty and uncomfortable and smelly and downright humiliating. How dare we make beatific images of it. It was nasty. That was the whole point of it.

This portrayal works because beneath her wonderful grouchiness and verbal ripostes are underlying loneliness and melancholy. I also got the feeling that when George Carlin said “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist,” he was talking about Helena. With her character, Balogh gets across the toll that being isolated from the rest of humanity takes.

Sunita: Yes, I agree. It’s clear that Helena is a very unhappy woman, even though she has managed to create a stable, even pleasant everyday life. She presents a strong, assured façade to the world, but through her internal monologues and especially through her interactions with Edgar we see what is behind that façade.

Janine: The one criticism I have with Helena’s character has to do with the painful events in her past. These were weighty, and I therefore wanted to have a better understanding of her state of mind at the time these events took place. My reading experience could have benefited from a better grasp of the younger Helena’s motives.

Then there’s Edgar. He’s not as unusual a character as Helena, but he’s a good match for her — just strong enough that she can’t easily walk all over him, but tender and caring once he gets to know her.

Sunita: I thought Edgar was a terrific match for her. He’s an unusual Balogh hero (has she had any other rich merchant heroes?). He’s not gentry or nobility, but he’s very comfortable in his own skin and he is self-confident to the point of arrogance.

Janine: True, and that’s a good thing here because he needs every bit of that self-confidence as he comes up against Helena’s belief that there is no getting over her past.

Sunita: He’s also sensitive enough to think about who Helena is as a person and take seriously her desires and fears.

Janine: I loved that about him.

The class difference between Edgar and Helena doesn’t come to play as strongly in this novel as in some other Balogh novels like A Christmas Promise or The Famous Heroine. It’s not a true conflict here, but it lends a nice shading to Edgar’s character in giving him additional dimension.

I found the struggle for supremacy in the bedroom between Edgar and Helena interesting, and I really liked the way it was resolved.

However, I have to add that there was a sex negative vibe in some places which took away some of my enjoyment. This centered around Helena’s lie to Edgar that she had used a lot of men for sex and never slept with the same guy more than once. I would have loved for this lie to be true, and for Edgar to not care, but while he loved Helena anyway, her made-up sexual experience did bother him a bit.

I expect that from 1990s books, and his reaction was human enough that I could go with it, but what I didn’t like was that his rationale that Helena’s “promiscuity” was a sign of self-loathing. I’ll grant he had reasons to think that, but the implication that the same qualities that are good for the goose are a form of self-flagellation in his female counterpart didn’t work so for me.

Sunita: I see your points, but his attitude seems pretty understandable for the period, especially for someone raised in the middle class. There’s a spectrum between demanding a virgin wife (even when you’re not going to be a virgin husband) and unproblematically accepting your future wife’s active sexual past, and I thought Edgar fell within that spectrum. And given Helena’s actual sexual history, the self-loathing explanation is pretty compelling to me.

Janine: Yes, I agree he fell within the spectrum. My issue here wasn’t so much with Edgar, but more with the author. I felt there was an implication that a double standard should apply.

A much bigger problem for me, though, was that Balogh had to jump through some high-hanging hoops to pull off the happy endings for her couples, and these resolutions landed on the page with bobbles.

Let’s start with Fanny Grainger and Jack Sperling. Edgar and his father make a business decision in order to bring this couple together. The problem I had there was that this decision seemed like a big risk to take with their business. It was not set up well enough to convince me that it would pay off financially and thus did not fit with the idea that Edgar and his father were astute businessmen.

Then there’s what happens when Edgar goes digging for a solution to Helena’s cynicism. This requires Edgar to visit someone from Helena’s past, and while he is there, a married couple has a very private conversation in his presence. I could not believe they would hold that discussion in front of Edgar, a stranger whom they had just met. It felt like a contrivance to allow readers to know what was said.

The people Edgar visits then make a decision that I didn’t find fully believable either – another step toward resolution that was not set up well. And then some issues of class, reputation and social mores are conveniently shoved under the carpet by a number of secondary characters in order to allow for Helena to make peace with her past.

Sunita: I agree that these aspects were not very convincing, but I swallowed them as part of the Christmas-fable aspect of the story. The counter-intuitive treatment of the people from Helena’s past was the most unbelievable, and I can see why readers have trouble with that one.

Janine: Are you referring to the way they treated Helena, or the way they were treated by others?

Sunita: The way they were treated by others. Balogh had thoroughly convinced me that they could expect to be socially ostracized by the time A Precious Jewel ended, so to see them unhesitatingly accepted by people who didn’t know them stretched my suspension of disbelief too far, even for a Christmas story.

Janine: Agreed. For me their decision to face potential ostracism in the first place was almost as difficult to credit, especially given what had gone down in Helena’s past.

None of these problems directly impact on Edgar and Helena’s romantic relationship. That remains lovely throughout. I loved seeing Edgar warm to Helena and begin to help her thaw the heart she’d thought was permanently frozen.

But the cumulative effect of all these unlikely holiday wonders is to take a plot that beings grounded in Helena’s cynicism and lift it off that ground in what feels like a fragile soap bubble that could—or should—easily burst. We begin with some realism and end with a flight of fantasy, and unfortunately, the two don’t mesh that well.

Sunita: I don’t disagree, but I enjoyed Edgar and Helena’s relationship so much, as well as their individual characterizations, that I forgave that. I also really liked Edgar’s relationships with his sister and father; they were warm and believable.

Janine: I liked Edgar’s relationships with his father and sister too, but I did feel in places that his sister Cora was portrayed as more of an airhead than she’d been in The Famous Heroine. I was a little regretful of that since I concluded she was one of my favorite Balogh heroines when I read that book.

Sunita: I also think that given Helena’s backstory and the setup of Edgar’s search for an appropriate wife, these threads had to be resolved, and perhaps the Christmas setting led to it being more sugary than it had to be. As you said at the beginning, this is a Christmas story that draws on Scrooge, and that ends on a note of fairy-tale optimism as well.

Janine: Yes, given Helena’s backstory the conflict in her past had to be put to rest. That was the only path to a happy ending for her. I think Balogh undertook a Herculean task here, though. There really wasn’t a way to make that resolution fully believable, but I agree with you that Edgar and Helena’s relationships and individual characterizations were wonderful enough to make me willing to overlook that at least in part.

I find I often feel that way about Balogh’s trads. Even when she doesn’t pull the story off, the characters and their dynamics feel so fresh and interesting. My grade for A Christmas Bride is a C+.

Sunita: My grade for A Christmas Bride is a B.

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

20 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 11:18:57

    I love Helena and Edgar and I equally hate what Balogh did with Pris and Gerald. I have to pretend the ending isn’t there to enjoy the really lovely story between Helena and Edgar. I really wish Balogh hadn’t mucked up APJ. There would have been ways to resolve that that didn’t require a totally implausible and utterly unbelievable Disney ending.

    ETA: And yes, I also really resented what she did to Cora on Cora’s behalf. She turned her into a caricature and nobody could now possibly understand why Francis married her. :(

  2. Janine
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 13:38:24

    @GrowlyCub: I’m curious what other ways to resolve Helena’s conflict you see.

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    I think Helena needed to be forgiven both for her to forgive herself and for her redemption arc to be complete. And I think Gerald would have had to be a saint to travel for a full day in the snow during Christmas just to release her from her guilt. Granted, doing so had a positive effect on him, but I don’t think that would have motivated him enough, given Helena’s past actions and his own personality. I think he had to do it for Priss or for his child to have sufficient motivation. Even with these motives, I found his decision hard to believe.

    I also think that Priss and Gerald had to get something more than forgiving Helena out of the equation for readers not to throw the book across the room. Given the events of A Precious Jewel, it would work better for Helena to go to them to beg forgiveness — but first of all, she wouldn’t have done it because she didn’t think she deserved forgiveness and second, even had she done that, I don’t think Gerald would have had sufficient motive to let the past go. And even if he had, she would have gotten everything out of that equation but Gerald almost nothing. I think Helena had to do something to help Priss and Gerald for things to be more equal all around, and therefore satisfying to readers.

    Really, the more I think about this, the more I feel that there was just no ending that would have been both satisfying and believable.

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    END OF SPOILERS

  3. GrowlyCub
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 14:48:53

    @Janine:
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    My issue wasn’t with their decision to come, it was with the ‘she just did what she had to’ response from all the high ton guys, especially in light of the fact that she’d be coming face to face with oodles of her former customers if she went to London as that ‘we embrace you wholeheartedly and will make you socially acceptable’ BS implied.

    A solution that would have worked for me would have been acceptance of her in this family circle, private visits in the country and invitations to their kids when they got older to ease their way into society.

    As it was, the ending just utterly destroyed the whole setup of APJ.
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  4. Kaetrin
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 15:32:20

    I wonder what difference reading order makes. I read this book before either Cora’s or Gerald’s story and so I saw Cora in The Famous heroine as more of an airhead in that book too and I didn’t know anything about Priss or Gerald before reading A Christmas Bride. Not having those preconceived notions about Helena helped me see her as sympathetic but I wonder if I would have been so eager to forgive if I had seen Gerald’s hurt rather than her remorse first?

    In any event, my enjoyment aligns more with Sunita’s grade; I was more forgiving of the ending in keeping with the Christmas fairy tale quality of the story, but like both of you, I did feel the Priss/Gerald social acceptance stretched credulity too far. But, I liked Helena and adored Edgar (even if his name was EDGAR – ugh!) and loved the romance between them.

  5. Janine
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 15:32:28

    @GrowlyCub: Ah, I see what you are saying. You’re right, that would have worked better.

  6. Janine
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 15:46:37

    @Kaetrin: The reading order probably does make a difference.

    I thought Cora was lovely in The Famous Heroine — a little flighty, but caring and sweet. In A Christmas Bride she was downright ditzy.

    Have you read A Precious Jewel yet? It’s been ten years since I read it so my memory could be off but I think Helena was portrayed (via Gerald’s description of her) as a true villainess there. This is why I wished we’d been given more insight into her state of mind when she made those past mistakes.

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    Specifically, what I wanted to know was whether she was in love with Gerald or believed herself in love with him. Since it wasn’t just a one-time incident but something that happened three times before he asked his father to send him away, and since Helena saw him as a vulnerable boy to whom she was a maternal figure, I had a hard time understanding the motive. Granted, he was eighteen, but she was also married to his father at the time.

    I could understand a one time incident better, but three times indicates premeditation to me, and the way Helena was portrayed in A Christmas Bride didn’t totally square with that. I completely believed in her remorse, but given how horrible she felt about it, it was hard to understand what could have driven her to make three attempts at the time they happened. If she had believed she was in love with him at the time it happened, I would have understood it better.
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  7. GrowlyCub
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 15:49:24

    @Kaetrin:

    For what it’s worth, I saw Helena as both villainess and victim in APJ. What she did was clearly wrong and had a serious negative impact on Gerald’s life, and she certainly felt herself beyond forgiveness. I had no issues with that aspect or with finding her sympathetic in ACB, however. It might be a bit of ye olde double standard creeping in, not sure.

  8. Kaetrin
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 17:34:51

    I’ve read A Precious Jewel now, but I read A Christmas Bride first – at the time, getting hold of old Balogh Signet Regencies was a feat and I paid through the nose on eBay for whatever I could get whenever I could get it! (So glad they’re being re-released now).

    I saw Helena in A Precious Jewel through the prism of what I already knew about her in A Christmas Bride so, while I didn’t condone what she did, I had more sympathy for her in APJ going in than I think I otherwise would have. I can’t remember all the details of the situation in APJ but I think I would have had *some* sympathy for her as well as thinking of her as being wrong. But, I can’t really know because I read the books in the order I read them :)

    Is my memory correct in thinking that the main motivation was loneliness? I can’t remember…

  9. cleo
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 17:58:27

    Her novella A Family Christmas also has a rich merchant hero and gentry heroine. It’s one of my fave Balough Christmas stories.

  10. Merrian
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 23:43:44

    I haven’t read these two linked books and having spoilered myself like crazy with the comments thread here, don’t think I will. Like Growlycub I think I would have a problem with the ending and I do think Growlycub’s plot solution is much more realistic and meaningful than the actual ending sounds.

    My problem arises from the feeling that forgiveness is being forced from the one who was wronged and is delivered here to meet the needs of the plot not because it is an organic outcome of growth and change on either Helena or Gerald’s parts and redemption on Helena’s. Helena doesn’t seem to take any active/conscious steps to acknowledge the wrong or earn Gerald’s forgiveness. She could have written to him about her regrets for her actions and understanding of what they cost him. Gerald could have read that letter or not, responded to it in some way, or not.

    I believe we can hope for forgiveness but cannot expect it. Even if we are very sorry for our actions, forgiveness is a grace we receive. It seems like a doubling down on pride in a way to have her emotional life shaped by these actions of hers but that being it. It still makes the matter all about her.

    If Edgar hadn’t pushed for more nothing would have changed. Forgiveness may begin with the acknowledgement of wrong done and regret, but it isn’t a quid pro quo – being sorry doesn’t mean forgiveness is automatic. It may well come in time because there is new possibility. Nor does forgiveness mean that relationship is welcome or possible.

    Edgar pushed Helena and then Gerald because of his needs. The story’s ending sounds more like a bribe than a reward for Priss and Gerald because they have met other people’s needs on other peoples time lines.

  11. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 00:31:52

    @Merrian: Hi, Merrian!

    SPOILERS AHOY …

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    I don’t disagree with what you’re saying about forgiveness in general, but I didn’t read the book that way at all. Janine and I didn’t explicitly address this part of the book for spoiler-related reasons, but maybe we should have. I didn’t read Edgar as pushing them for his own needs. And Balogh is clear on why Priss and Gerald might accept Edgar’s overtures, as well as why Gerald might forgive Helena. The problem I have with the ending (I won’t speak for Growly but let her chime in herself if she wants to) is not the resolution of Gerald and Helena’s issue so much as the way Priss is welcomed into the family&friends fold.

    I agree with Growly that Helena thought her actions to be unforgivable and felt that not contacting Gerald was the best thing she could do for him.

    I thought it made quite a bit of sense for Gerald to be willing to meet Helena and to forgive her, not for Helena’s sake but for his own. Sometimes you forgive primarily to free yourself, not to meet the other person’s needs. Gerald’s happy marriage and fatherhood had made him stronger and in his own eyes different from the boy who was hurt by Helena. That doesn’t mean I think he *should* have acted as he did in the end, but rather that I can see why he chose to.

  12. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 00:54:15

    @cleo: Thanks for the rec, I don’t think I’ve read that one.

  13. Merrian
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 03:41:10

    @Sunita:
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    I do understand that Gerald might have been ready to forgive and that Edgar’s approach offered him an opportunity to act on that feeling. I think I wrote my comment above as much from a general feeling as the specifics of these books. Within the genre I often think there is a rush to forgive and to expect that forgiveness will happen in the resolution of many stories. This disturbs me because in rushing forward we can skim over the messy stuff and also harm the original victim by denying their feelings. Given that the messy stuff is where growth and change and redemption are created (or not – sometimes the hurt and harm is greater than the possibility of forgiveness) I think I believe more in HEAs that have the messy stuff as part of them. If the messy stuff is reduced to a thing ticked off a list before the HEA is allowed then I think the strong basis for moving forward/HEA is compromised.

    Thinking about forgiveness interests me particularly because I think many romance genre stories have a strong redemptive arc for the characters, so the part that forgiveness plays in romance genre stories is really important. If the issues are rushed because they make us uncomfortable or it isn’t neatly meeting the needs of the plot then a fundamental element of the romance arc and the genre is undermined.

  14. GrowlyCub
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 05:59:27

    @Merrian:

    Merrian,

    A Precious Jewel is one of my favorite Baloghs. I totally think you ought to read it and while I had a very strong negative reaction to the ending in A Christmas Bride, I also loved the relationship between Edgar and Helena. I’d hate for you to miss either.

    I’d also love to see whether you would feel the way you describe for the general issue of forgiveness about ACB.

  15. cleo
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 07:59:43

    @Sunita: It’s in Under The Mistletoe, a Balogh Christmas anthology. I like the whole collection and I really like A Family Christmas – it’s the story of an estranged young married couple who figure out how to make their marriage work during a Christmas house party. She married him because her family needed the money and he married her because he father wanted him to marry into the upper class and they each think the other looks down on them for their choices.

  16. Janine
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 12:53:07

    @cleo: I have Under the Mistletoe TBR, so it’s good to know about that. If the opportunity presents itself and Sunita is amenable, I’d love to do another holiday-themed joint review with Sunita in time for the 2013 holiday season, whether it’s of that book or another.

  17. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 13:04:04

    @Merrian: Ah, I see what you’re saying. I agree the the redemption arc brings forgiveness into the equation a lot, and the path to get there can be shortchanged in favor of the grand gesture.

    Like GrowlyCub, I’d love to hear your reactions to the way the issue is handled here by Balogh, but only if you want to!

  18. Janine
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 13:09:17

    @Merrian:

    SPOILERS

    Like Sunita, I didn’t read Edgar as acting selfishly. I saw him as acting out of love for Helena and a desire for her happiness. He also seemed thoughtful and considerate of Gerald and Priss.

    With regard to Gerald’s forgiveness, my main issue was more the how of how it came about than the fact that he forgave her. Priss and Gerald discuss Helena and Gerald’s feelings toward her in front of Edgar, whom they only just met, and that seemed like a contrivance rather than like something that could believably happen. Also, it was hard for me to believe that Gerald would risk Priss’s possible ostracism in order to forgive Helena, especially when he already had already turned down an invitation from the Earl and Countess of Severn (main characters from The Ideal Wife and friends to Priss and Gerald) to spend Christmas with them because he feared how Priss might be received.

    I could believe Gerald capable of forgiving Helena, especially once he met her, since he’d had a distorted view of her based on past events. Once he saw the extent of her guilt and unhappiness, I think he was fully capable of it. So for me the issue around was the forgiveness was more that his decision to travel to Edgar’s father’s house to offer Helena his forgiveness took place before all that and was not set up well.

    I also had the same issue GrowlyCub had with the way Priss was embraced and accepted by one and all despite having been a prostitute, and to a lesser extent, with Cora’s portrayal.

    Also like GrowlyCub, I think both books are worth a read despite my qualms.

    END OF SPOILERS

  19. Janet W
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 20:06:51

    Has anyone mentioned the tipping point for Gerald and Priss — the reason Gerald reluctantly took his courage into his hands and accompanied Edgar to Edgar’s father’s home for Christmas? It was Gerald and Priss’s son — Peter I think — a lively lad who already craved companionship and was not getting it. When Edgar mentioned all the children that were gathered for Christmas and pointedly said (my words, to the best of my recollection) that children didn’t judge other children, they just played together — that was what tipped the scales for the lonely couple and persuaded them to leave the safety of their circumscribed life. I know not everyone agrees but I think Janine’s outlined persuasively why Balogh decided to end the story the way she did.

  20. What Janine was Reading in October, November, and December of 2012
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 10:46:43

    [...] A Christmas Bride by Mary Balogh, C+ (reviewed jointly with Sunita, who gave it a B) [...]