Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Secret Desires of A Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke

Dear Ms. Guhrke:

book review I enjoyed your last book, Wicked Ways of A Duke and was looking forward to Maria Martingale’s story.   It is hard to resist these girl-bachelors; after all, who wouldn’t want to root for these young women who seek real independence and also find the gift of love along the way.   However, despite the fact that I liked Maria quite a bit, and even had a certain affection for her upright, uptight hero, Phillip, I ultimately feel that Secret Desires of A Gentleman was not a very strong entry in the girl-bachelor series.

As a baker with dreams of opening her own upscale patisserie, Maria, at 29, seems a confirmed girl-bachelor, completely focused on her ambition and her passion for fine pastry.   For twelve years she has nursed her desires, ever since she returned from Paris as a teenager, honing her craft with some of the best chefs in England after having learned from her father, chef for a nobleman who had two sons, Phillip and Lawrence, with whom she grew up.   Lawrence was lighthearted where Phillip was stuffy, but the three played and spent many hours together together nonetheless, forming a strong bond among them.

Until, that is, Lawrence and Maria decide they are in love and want to elope to Gretna Green.   Phillip, by then the Marquess of Kayne (his father died when he was still a child), paid the seventeen year old Maria a thousand pounds to leave and never see Lawrence again.   A promise she keeps, until, that is, she leases the most charming storefront in Piccadilly, the perfect spot to establish her business, except for the fact that it is next door to Lawrence’s house.   Where Phillip is currently staying while his own home is being renovated.   So when Phillip and Maria accidentally meet, and he discovers her plans (and she the proximity to Lawrence), Phillip immediately assumes that Maria is trying to insinuate herself back into Lawrence’s life and ruin the engagement Phillip is trying to arrange for him.   As owner of the leasing company – and the property itself – Phillip arranges to have Maria evicted, a plan that would have been successful if Maria did not have a strong mind for strategy herself (she and Phillip used to play chess together, after all).   Enlisting the help of a delighted Lawrence, Maria secures her place in the shop and a position as personal patissier to the family for a large charity event, forcing Phillip to take drastic measures to protect what he perceives to be the interests of his family and his brother’s future.

Secret Desires of A Gentleman is not the story of Maria and Lawrence – no, that would be too tepid and predictable a match.   The affable Lawrence may have been more open with his affection toward Maria – and his flattery – but it is the brooding Phillip who always carried deep feelings for the brash, bright Maria, feelings that he channels into astounding condescension.   It is that age-old dilemma for that age-old hero-type:   the straight-laced Victorian gentleman who cannot resist the charms of a woman who is socially beneath him.   What to do, what to do.   What he does, not surprisingly, is attempt to sublimate his desires by reminding himself what an “impertinent wench” Maria is, so that he can resist the “almost unbearable temptation to go to her.”     But just like the “true North” to which he compares her several times, Maria continues to tempt Phillip, whose hunger is largely invisible to the strongly focused Maria.

So she is surprised when Phillip kisses her after eating her sweet petit-fours, surprised but deeply aroused and befuddled, for she has always harbored secret feelings for the stoic Phillip, as well, and “She had been kissed before, but not like this, never like this,”   especially by a man who so persistently insults her.   Phillip, of course, is not so easily won over to his passion, insisting that Maria is victimizing him, somehow:

“Whatever you do, it makes me insane.” He glared at her, his resentment palpable. “A few centuries ago, they’d have burned you as a witch.”

Thus the game continues, with Maria and Phillip resisting each other, struggling against their resistance, and failing miserably, growing closer emotionally and physically as the book goes on, and as Maria’s business and reputation grow.   This creates a real challenge for Phillip:   how can he reconcile his desires with his position as a gentleman? And how can he manage the excess of feelings he has for Maria without compromising her position further, making her even more ineligible a match for a man such as he?

I generally like stories about the proud man brought low by love, and there are a number of things about Secret Desires of A Gentleman I enjoyed, most of them involving Maria.   I liked very much that when Phillip initially tries to evict her that she uses her smarts to frustrate his plans, and I appreciated the fact that it isn’t Lawrence who ultimately turns out to be Maria’s mate, which is a nice little diversion from the obvious.   There are a number of scenes in which Maria’s intelligence shines, like when she confronts Phillip’s master chef in order to prove herself and gain the chauvinistic chef’s respect.     Although Phillip has no understanding of this process, finding the confrontation between the two chefs disruptive, Maria knows what she’s doing and she plays her role perfectly.   She is smart, and for sixteen out of the book’s seventeen chapters, I truly believed in her passion for pastry.   She understands the art of it, the pleasure in baking and serving wonderful sweets, the complexity of flavors and textures, and the crucial chemistry of it.   I enjoyed the scenes where Maria is in the kitchen, where she is expressing her artistry in an authentic way.   She is professional and focused, and she made me believe that she was “one of the finest pastry chefs in London,” as she tells Phillip several times.

Phillip was less successful for me, in large part because he isn’t just condescending to Maria; he is downright mean on a number of occasions (reference the quote above where he tells her she would have been burned as a witch at one point in history).   Further, that meanness is not offset by an equally passionate showing of the deep sensitivity that one expects a man such as Phillip to possess under the bluster.   We have no doubt that he desires Maria, but he has a very hard time being kind to her or expressing any understanding of what motivates and animates her.   Even when he saves her from a terrible rainstorm, he does it by grabbing her from behind and wrestling her into his coach in a way that makes Maria feel abducted rather than protected.   In short, he felt more like a rough outline of the complex character I expected to discover in him.

Another thing I did like, however, was the late-Victorian setting and the attempts made to flesh out the environment.   Even if the writing itself felt too contemporary, there were a number of details present that added a flavor of the time, from Maria’s mackintosh to her “polished brass cash register,” and Phillip’s Morris office chair and radiator.   Many of these details serve more as decoration than true history, but they were welcome, nonetheless.

For me, the biggest weakness of Secret Desires of A Gentleman is in its central focus – namely, the relationship development between Maria and Phillip.   They spar satisfactorily, but it is not until the middle of the book that they even kiss, and their relationship does not become fully sexual until the second to last chapter.   Which wouldn’t be an enormous problem if that act was not so critical in magnifying the basic conflict between the two.   Maria has worked for twelve years to achieve the dream of her own shop, and Phillip cannot understand why she would want to bake when she could be a marchioness.   Despite the fact that this issue is so fundamental to their relationship, they have only one chapter to sort it all out, which sends the pacing of the novel, already a bit unsteady, right into overdrive, flattening out and contradicting much of the logic that propelled the previous sixteen chapters.   Maria goes from steadfast career woman to compliant coquette within a page or two, and Phillip blooms from stuffy prude to passionate exhibitionist within the same time frame.   Maria’s character, in particular, is sacrificed in a way that makes a mockery of the passion and commitment she shows to her profession for most of the novel, and it frankly made little sense within the context of her character development.   It wasn’t just that her independence felt false; it felt betrayed within the context of the book itself.

Part of the problem, I think, is that much of the novel, especially the first chapters, are taken up with paragraphs upon paragraphs of backstory, flashbacks to Maria, Lawrence, and Phillip’s childhoods, information that is important but very page consuming, as well as narratively flat.   Like the last book, this one contains myriad clichés, but this time they annoyed me rather than simply making me wonder about their historical accuracy, largely because there was so much unevenness in the telling – showing ratio, as well as in the general eloquence of the prose.   At one point, for example, Maria yells the same thing at Phillip within one conversation: “I am one of the finest pastry chefs in London, I’ll have you know!”   The second time she replaces London with “England,” but otherwise the phrase is identical.   The artificiality of the world creation is evident in statements like the following: “‘Methinks she doth protest too much,’ paraphrased Daisy, laughing.”   And then there is the kind of triteness that undermines the vibrancy of the hero and heroine, which emerges in those passages relating to their sexual desire:

She’d grown up in the country, she’d gone to a French boarding school, she’d been cornered by a lecherous footman a time or two. She knew- from visits to the farm as a child, from whispered consultations with other girls after trips to the museums, from learning to put up her knee at the appropriate moment-what that hardness in a man’s body meant. She also knew what it could lead to.

Never had he touched a respectable woman in such intimate ways. Always, he had conducted his affairs in the proper way, with paid mistresses and the occasional courtesan.

If I could have one request granted in the genre, it would be to be rid of these comparisons to farm animals mating that Romance virgins predictably resort to as they struggle with the physical realities of sex for the first time (and while I could accept Maria as a virgin at 29, I had a difficult time accepting this level of ignorance), as well as the requisite protestations of “honor” from the heroes via commercially secured sex.   In this book they functioned to undermine the authenticity of the emotion that was already developing within a compressed time frame, despite the insistence that Phillip and Maria had been growing their love since childhood.   The pacing of the story and the development of the adult relationship just was not fully convincing, especially in the final chapter.

Had that last chapter been at least three, and had the dual about-face been less stark (especially in Maria’s case), I think that some of the other issues in the novel would not have been so significant.   But my frustration with that last chapter simply exacerbated the other problems I had, making Secret Desires of A Gentleman barely a C read for me.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

23 Comments

  1. Corrine
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 05:31:56

    “and while I could accept Maria as a virgin at 29, I had a difficult time accepting this level of ignorance”

    Especially in Victorian England… I’m not a huge fan Laura Lee Guhrke (I think I’ve actually only read one), but maybe I’ll check out the previous book to this.

    ReplyReply

  2. Stephanie
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 09:01:57

    I do like this series overall, and I got a look at this one yesterday at a local bookstore. Alas, I came away feeling ambivalent: it always bugs me when a heroine is set up as having a strong vocation, something that defines and motivates her throughout the story–and then she gives it up completely when the hero says those three little words. And the suddenness of Maria’s decision was also too much for me: more soul-searching would have helped. And I agree about Phillip; he may desire Maria but even when he yields to desire, he can’t seem to communicate with her except in the most autocratic fashion. I feel that Secret Desires of a Gentleman really needed an epilogue–though not of the happy baby-making variety–to show how all the issues of control, independence, and equality were resolved with this couple.

    Of the three girl-bachelor books, I think And Then He Kissed Her is the strongest. Harry and Emma’s relationship felt much more equal than the ones between Rhys and Prudence or Phillip and Maria, where the hero was either trying to manipulate or dominate his heroine.

    ReplyReply

  3. Cathy
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 10:56:18

    I really enjoyed “And Then He Kissed Her,” but will probably pass on this one. Reading about a hero who lashes out at the heroine because of his own unrequited feelings is pretty unappealing.

    ReplyReply

  4. MD
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 11:25:47

    It sounds very like the plot of the movie “Sabrina”. At least, the characters and their relationships, if not the setting. I could see that basic story transported appealingly to other eras. It’s a shame it doesn’t sound like it quite worked in this one.

    ReplyReply

  5. Becky
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 11:46:17

    Towards the end of the book, Maria admitted to herself that she used to think that Phillip would always be there for her, until he turned his back on her, refused to even be there for her after her father died and then paid her to go away. She felt that she couldn’t trust Phillip anymore, and I think that’s pretty reasonable. However, then Phillip gives his grand speech in front of Society, and all is good. I would rather have their relationship start earlier and have these two hash out their feelings and differences. I’m so tired of the big “I love you,” that makes everything all right. As for Phillip, he was concerned about how much lower Maria is on the social scale, which is also reasonable. How did his big speech make THAT all right too?

    I was hoping for a clever resolution to keeping the pastry shop open, so that the best pastries in London/England/the world could still be fed to the ton and that Maria’s employees (some of them might even be “girl bachelors” too!) wouldn’t be fired just because she’s marrying up and wants to have a baby.

    I did like the book…more in a “Okay, that was fine. What’s next?” kind of way.

    ReplyReply

  6. Robin/Janet
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 15:06:08

    Corrine: Especially LATE Victorian England. As I pointed out in my last review on this series, there is IMO a persistent tension between mid and late Victorian England in these books. Phillip’s views read earlier to me, despite the proliferation of the edge-of-modern accoutrements that surround him. Although I don’t know a whole lot about the Gretna Green elopement, I think that by the time Lawrence and Maria would have wanted to marry they would have had to live in Scotland for a few weeks first (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretna_Green). As I said in my last review, these books take place a mere 20 years before WWI and yet they feel much more mid-19th century to me in certain ways.

    Now I have yet to read the first one, which Jane gave an A to (you can search for the review of And Then He Kissed her — our template problems mean no side links right now), but that seems to be the best loved of the series so far. I will likely read that one next before proceeding with the rest of the series. There is an underlying likability to these heroines that makes the problems in the books both more frustrating and more tolerable (well, in some instances, lol).

    Stephanie: I would have been thrilled with either a few more chapters or, as you said, a conflict that built more evenly. It was like everything just went over a cliff there at the end, and even his final declaration was kind of autocratic, wasn’t it? Again, on his terms, his timing, etc.

    Cathy: I didn’t find Phillip intolerably abusive, but I do think he stepped over the line a number of times, without any provocation from Maria. Of course it was pretty easy to see that his attitude was frustrated desire, right from the start, but I definitely wanted a bit more nuance in his character.

    MD: Yes, there were some DEFINITE Sabrina elements to the story, except that Phillip doesn’t scheme to keep Maria’s attention away from Lawrence in the way that Linus did, and Lawrence wasn’t completely like David, either. I don’t know if that makes it an adaptation or not, really.

    Becky: SPOILERS AHOY

    What did you think of the scene in which Phillip proposes to Maria so he can sleep with her without ruining her reputation? I kept thinking, “huh?” — you worry that she’s too common, you worry that her reputation will be ruined, but you also were the one who tried to evict her for violating the character clause in her contract, and now you want to marry her, like that’s going to solve anything? I understand that Phillip’s feelings were illogical, and that we’re supposed to understand that when he doesn’t, but I thought he looked more like an idiot in that scene than an incredibly smart, savvy man.

    ReplyReply

  7. SonomaLass
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 16:34:35

    I enjoy Victorian settings, particularly late Victorian, at least partly because of the greater degree of freedom for the female characters (as compared to earlier, notably Regency). So I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like this one, if she gives up her professional ambition so easily. Also, I am not a fan of books where the hero is mean or cruel to the heroine as a means of resisting his feelings towards her. That always reminds me of middle school, where you could tell which boys liked you because they paid you negative attention. And in romance novels, he always seems to get forgiven for that instantly — “I was cruel because I love you” shouldn’t be enough, IMO.

    I liked _And Then He Kissed Her_, the only Guhrke I’ve read. Thinking back on it, I realize it had the seeds of some of these same issues, but they didn’t go as far and so didn’t bother me. I’ll be interested, Robin, to see what you think of that one.

    ReplyReply

  8. Keri M
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 19:26:47

    If this LLG doesn’t appeal to you, some of her earlier stuff is really good. The Seduction and Connor’s Way are two of my favs. I do have the series in my TBR and will read the book….eventually. *sigh*

    ReplyReply

  9. Becky
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 22:34:49

    Regarding SPOILERS AHOY…

    When I read that scene, I was just hoping that Phillip wouldn’t sleep with Maria and then evict her because of it. Glad that didn’t happen, but reading your summary of the scene…these characters are really all over the place, aren’t they? It reminds me of Phillip’s big speech at the end of the book. The reasons he gives Maria for paying her to go away all those years ago, are different than what we’ve believed for most of the book. Yet, there’s not a lot leading up to this declaration. Also, the guy pretty much exiled a teenage girl who had nobody else in the world. In the 1800s, no less. A guy does something like that, he should have to do some serious suffering.

    I haven’t read the early LLG books, but I do actually like her books generally. I was really looking forward to this one though, and the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. I’m underwhelmed by the bachelor-girl series. I wish it had been better. My favorite LLG book is She’s No Princess, which has a unique heroine and another stuffy, responsible hero but done so much better.

    I do like that Maria didn’t harbor any revenge fantasies and was really just going about her life before she ran into Phillip. Also, I liked that there wasn’t a drawn out love triangle between the brothers and Maria. I actually liked Lawrence and how he fit in with the other two characters.

    ReplyReply

  10. Robin/Janet
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 00:34:20

    Sonoma Lass: If I read ATHKH, I’ll probably review it. As to Phillip’s behavior toward Maria in SDOAG, I was kind of surprised that Maria wasn’t more insulted. I couldn’t figure out if that was because she knew Phillip so well or because the book required that she be receptive to his desires. Maybe both? I don’t know, but it bothered me a little, too.

    Keri: It’s interesting that you should mention Connor’s way, because that book featured an angry hero, too. But I agree with you that it was a stronger book. I have wanted to read The Marriage Bed, too, because it was so controversial.

    Becky:

    Also, the guy pretty much exiled a teenage girl who had nobody else in the world. In the 1800s, no less. A guy does something like that, he should have to do some serious suffering.

    Oh, yes! No matter that he paid her, he still acted very insensitively for someone who supposedly had such a big thing for her. And it seems as if he never checked up on her in the intervening years, which was also strange to me.

    I was reading over my review of the last book and I was struck by how much more smoothly it read to me. Not just in the prose but in the way the parts connected and the characters proceeded and the timing flowed. I don’t know if I want to say that the book seemed sloppy, because I don’t want to assign any intent on Guhrke’s part, but that’s the word that came to mind on more than one occasion while I was reading. In fact, the more I think about it, the more the book slips into C- territory.

    ReplyReply

  11. Stephanie
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 09:47:53

    Yes, even Phillip’s final proposal and the manner of it were autocratic–he doesn’t go to Maria, he makes her come to him. And what, ultimately, does he give up or sacrifice? In his first, pompous Mr. Darcy-esque proposal, he points out that by proposing to Maria, he’s denying himself a bride of his own class. Well, I’d be more impressed if there was such a bride actually in view. But Lawrence is the brother who’s engaged or about to be–which is something else that surprises me. Given Phillip’s rigid sense of duty, I’d have thought he’d have married as quickly as possible and begotten the requisite heir and spare, rather than remain a bachelor into his thirties. Of course, I admit I haven’t yet bought or read the book from cover to cover, so perhaps LLG came up with a plausible explanation for Phillip’s bachelor status.

    I guess the thing that bothers me most about Phillip is how hidebound he is in his attitude that birth and class trump everything, including education, hard work, and skill. I’d find this more believable earlier in the century, but in 1895, the social order was changing. People in England and elsewhere were proving that they didn’t have to be born aristocrats to become wealthy, respected, and respectable. Even if Phillip had an exceptionally conventional upbringing and was heavily indoctrinated with the idea that caste was all-important, I’d still hope he could recognize, as an adult, that the world wasn’t exactly the same as when he was a boy and be a bit more receptive to change. Instead, he comes across as a fossil most of the time, unable to perceive or admit his own snobbishness. To me, a closed mind is not a heroic trait.

    ReplyReply

  12. Robin/Janet
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 13:32:31

    Stephanie: ITA with everything you said in your comment, and wondered myself as I was reading why Phillip was still single, given his (by that time) nostalgic views of the English aristocracy. And while I was sorta able to swallow the anachronistic nature of his views (although to have those views in the mid 1890′s and hold to being younger than 60 was a bit of a push, IMO), his behavior hardly reflected the “honor” he was constantly worried about violating. Had he really wanted to be seen as a new man, why wouldn’t he have marched himself downstairs to the kitchen, meeting Maria on HER terms and turf, to declare himself? Not that I think he will continue to be a boor to her, because his character wasn’t consistent enough to begin with to hold to anything very fast (except inner chaos, perhaps), but that still doesn’t solve the problem for me of the effectiveness of his supposed transformation.

    *sigh* I think I’m going to have to revise my grade on this one to a C- (and I’m seriously contemplating a D+ at this point), because the more I think about it, the more I realize that my own appreciation for Maria’s character (for 16 chapters, at least) artificially buoyed my grade.

    ReplyReply

  13. Corrine
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 13:35:58

    Dontcha hate when that happens? You have the rush of reading a new book that has parts that intrigue you, but then the more you think and analyze, the weaker it seems. So I guess the question is, which is the more valuable opinion: the one that came from the instinctual reaction to it upon first read, or the one that is derived from a detailed analysis of the work over a few days? It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.

    ReplyReply

  14. Becky
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 14:51:36

    Yes, I do hate when that happens. I probably would have just felt vaguely dissatisfied about the book, but now I’m specificially dissapointed. Oh, well. I’m stil a LLG fan. I do still like the character of Maria (until the end), and I don’t hate the character of Phillip. I just find him confusing. This is some faint praise, huh?

    ReplyReply

  15. MCHalliday
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 16:09:50

    “I guess the thing that bothers me most about Phillip is how hidebound he is in his attitude that birth and class trump everything, including education, hard work, and skill. I'd find this more believable earlier in the century, but in 1895, the social order was changing. People in England and elsewhere were proving that they didn't have to be born aristocrats to become wealthy, respected, and respectable.” (Block quote not available)

    In 1895 England, things were changing a wee bit but there remained a huge chasm between the working class and the aristocracy, well into the twentieth century. If Maria had been respectably supported and not chosen to become a ‘skilled worker’, Phillip would have had less apprehension inspite of his Victorian conventions. The Queen frowned upon working women and this was an accepted attitude for both middle and upper classes.

    Janet indicated historical inaccuracies in her review and further to that, obtaining a leasehold in bustling Piccadilly would have been an incredible, if not near impossible, feat for woman without male represention. Also, manners and chivalry in the latter nineteenth century were important to an honourable gentleman; malicious words spoken to a woman of good virtue would have been viewed as horrendous. IMHO, Maria’s intelligence should have afforded the ability to see his lack of respect for her; independence and success should have ensured she kept away from such a man.

    ReplyReply

  16. Robin/Janet
    Oct 04, 2008 @ 03:28:51

    Corrine: I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m leaving the review grade as it was originally posted, along with my follow-up comments, so people can draw their own conclusions.

    Becky: I don’t find Phillip confusing in the way I find a *person* whose motivations are opaque confusing. I find him more incoherent in the way of a character who is inexplicably inconsistent, if that makes any sense. Because when an author creates a character, she may create him as unself-conscious and conflicted, but IMO even (especially?) that kind of characterization needs to be coherent at a meta level, which Phillip wasn’t for me. In other words, he may not understand himself, but we need to understand him in order for his journey (and the relationship with the heroine) to make sense.

    MCHalliday: One of the mitigating factors in Phillip’s relationship to Maria was the fact that they had really grown up together in the same household. So while there was a very real difference in social position from the start, Phillip’s attitudes toward Maria IMO smacked of that virgin/whore dichotomy that was so prevalent in the mid-Victorian period. So it wasn’t that I expected him to be fully ‘democratic’ in his social attitudes toward class, but that he treated Maria with dishonor, which, as you pointed out in your comment, would not be part of a gentleman’s code of behavior, especially a gentleman who had grown up with and been very close to Maria.

    ReplyReply

  17. MCHalliday
    Oct 04, 2008 @ 12:50:53

    Janet, I so appreciate a reply to my comment and have the same reservations with the hero as you. Phillip’s attitude was mired in the religious mid-Victorian view point and beyond his lifelong relationship with Maria, there was no true basis for his pretentions; social status was of no real importance to the aristocracy by 1895. The main reason for the shift was the peers need for vast amounts of money to fill depleted coffers and restore estates. Add to historical inaccuracy that Phillip seems not to require a dowry, a bride’s family wealth was a marriage prerequisite for titled men of the day.

    ReplyReply

  18. Robin/Janet
    Oct 04, 2008 @ 19:47:50

    The main reason for the shift was the peers need for vast amounts of money to fill depleted coffers and restore estates.

    And Phillip had already turned to trade via the family shipping business, so his attitudes were particularly frustrating to me.

    ReplyReply

  19. Robin/Janet
    Oct 05, 2008 @ 19:47:41

    Okay, so I’ve been thinking about the Phillip problem further, and the best way I can understand it myself is to compare him to Marcus from Lisa Kleypas’s It Happened One Autumn. Like Phillip, Marcus is reluctantly attracted to a girl who he believes to be socially unsuitable for him, but unlike Phillip, Marcus is portrayed as a figure of change (and the book is set quite a few years earlier, probably too early for his positive attitude toward turning his title toward business) and he comes to accept his attraction to Lillian more readily than Phillip accepts his attraction to Maria, IMO.

    The tension within Marcus’s character follows a more direct trajectory — he is old fashioned in a way that does not fit his progressive ideas in another way, and so he adapts the old-fashioned part of himself to fit the rest of him. And IMO he was never really cruel to Lillian, and he never set out to harm her financially or in any other way. Also, we see him develop into the adoring, doting lover, the man we can trust has grown beyond the petty attitudes toward Lillian’s American directness and modernity. In other words, Marcus shows a character consistently I didn’t detect in Phillip, with a more coherent rendering of a similar personal inconsistency, if that makes any sense.

    ReplyReply

  20. Michelle
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 11:20:07

    I’m a very big Laura Lee Guhrke fan and have read all her books. This one was a disappointment that only gets worse with analysis. If you are interested in the girl bachelor series, I definitely recommend And Then He Kissed Her. If you’re interested in more historical authenticity and detail, I’d recommend some of her older titles from harper monogram or pocket. Breathless is very fun.

    Secret Desires also seemed very short to me – shorter in page count and with a bigger font. This shortness seemed to contribute to the characterization problems.

    I also read this right after Sherry Thomas’s Delicious, and I have to say the use of food and the heroine’s love of cooking was more sophisticated in that novel. This suffered in comparison, but I did like the authentic details about baking.

    ReplyReply

  21. MCHalliday
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 12:30:58

    Janet, your explanation is very clear. Inconsistency can be part of the growth arc of a much younger character but I find that trait unappealing in a businessman in his thirties, particularily as he appears well educated in his knowledge of true north as opposed to magnetic north (‘true north’ as an expression wasn’t used until the 20th century).

    ReplyReply

  22. Stephanie
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 18:02:26

    After my two initial posts, I decided not to post further until I’d had another chance to look at this book and see if I could pinpoint what else bothered me about it–and Phillip, in particular.

    Well, now I think I have the answer. Beyond Phillip’s snobbishness (and his dismaying inability to see it until it’s forcibly pointed out to him), beyond his harsh treatment of Maria (both as a young girl and as a working woman), it’s ALL ABOUT HIM. His wants, his needs, his feelings, his desires–secret and otherwise, his sense of duty, his position, his reputation, his pride, his so-called honor . . . for a little while, perhaps, it’s about Lawrence too, but Phillip seems to view his brother as an extension of himself. Even as a boy, he selfishly keeps Maria’s hair ribbon, despite knowing how upset she is over its loss because it belonged to her late mother. (At least when Roarke retained Eve’s button in “Naked in Death,” it came off an ugly suit that she didn’t care for.)

    There must be scads of similarly self-centered heroes in romance, who become less so when they fall in love with the heroine. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Phillip ever matures sufficiently to really think about Maria and what she might want or need, even after she practically spells it out for him during his high-handed proposals. And for me, that’s a pretty big turn-off. It’s a testament to LLG’s writing ability that I didn’t hate Phillip completely, and, at times, I even felt a bit sorry for him. But that’s a far cry from sympathizing with or rooting for him.

    Still can’t stand the last scene, with Phillip and Maria both doing inexplicable 180s, and all the complicated issues between them being handily swept under the rug. Because just saying “I love you” solves everything, doesn’t it? ( /sarcasm)

    ReplyReply

  23. Becky
    Oct 07, 2008 @ 19:08:09

    Stephanie…
    I agree with everything you wrote. Until I read your post, I didn’t even realize that everything was, indeed, all about Phillip, and it really is a testament to LLG’s writing that I still sort of liked the book.

    Thank you for doing my thinking for me!

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: