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Eighteenth century

REVIEW: Eyton by Lynne Connolly

REVIEW: Eyton by Lynne Connolly

Dear Mrs. Connolly,

Eyton Cover imageAt last, at last. The continuation of the series faithful fans have been waiting for. It all started years ago with “Yorkshire,” “Devonshire,” “Venice” and “Harley Street” as we watched the aristocratic Richard Kerre, heir to the Earldom of Southland, and Rose Golightly, daughter of the gentry, fall in love at first sight then battle for the right to marry. Everyone said it would fail, that rake Richard would never stay true to quiet wallflowerish Rose. But these two knew their own hearts and found in each other that which most married couples didn’t even bother to look for: true love.

Now Rose has finally given birth to their first child. I say finally not because it’s been so long since R&R were married but rather it’s been so long since the last book in the series, “Harley Street,” when Rose announced her “interesting condition.” What was it? five years? Not even elephants stay pregnant that long! [G] Anyway, the Kerre family is gathering to celebrate the birth of young Helen (I totally agree with Rose’s reaction to the name suggestions Richard jokingly made) and love, theft and murder are in the air. Can R&R further the cause of true love, discover who’s got the light fingers, solve a murder and keep scandal away from the family?

I love the snapshot of the mid-eighteenth century presented in these stories. Your history is definitely not wallpaper but detailed, in depth, well researched and integrated into the fabric of the plot. R&R discover that the theft of a necklace ties in with the murder of one of the victims but to do this requires learning about the working class victim, his duties, his opportunities, his past and who might have directed his actions. This allows us to see a comparison between the aristocratic world of the Kerres and that of their working class servants.

But when the crime seems headed in the direction that would hit close to home with the Kerre family, Richard, who has a passionate interest in seeing justice done, is caught in a dilemma. Does he let nature take its course and risk a scandal for the family or does he work behind the scenes and do what’s right but not necessarily legal?

The eighteenth century world doesn’t seem that much different from today in that the masses avidly read about the rich and famous and are just waiting for the great families/famous celebrities to flub up. And you make quite clear what flubbing up for the Kerres would mean – difficulty in making advantageous marriages, weakening the power of the Earldom and wrecking the chances of Gervase who is standing for Parliament.

I like how you also use this subplot to point out the first bit of contention between Richard and Rose. Raised in the gentry, Rose is bothered by Richard’s decision to not only not tell the constable the truth but to actually lead the man’s investigation astray. Up until now, the personal differences R&R faced were seemingly minor and easily overcome by their love for each other. But here’s something that will present Rose with a major division between her old life and her new one. This showcases one of the strengths of the series – that it portrays the evolving relationship between these two characters as would be expected in any marriage.

In the previous books, Rose is seen to be struggling a little to find her way in her new world. In “Eyton” I’m glad to see that her confidence, or at least her public acting ability, is increasing. She’s not just aping the great lady anymore but we see that she’s slowly becoming one. She’s also a new mother, dealing with the changes that brings to her station and to those who, up until now, had stood closer in the line of succession to the Earldom.

As well, she’s worried about how motherhood might change her relationship with Richard – which surely all new mothers must feel. Richard is a champ in this department, displaying his love for his wife and new daughter to their family and in some cases to the masses. I have to admit that I got tired of having the point driven home about Richard’s public mask of aristocratic hauteur and how he sometimes lets it slip to show his real feelings for Rose. I recall it from the previous books and didn’t need a reminder every other chapter.

And now for the questions. You know I always have questions about your books. Is Eyton based on any particular stately home? Were international marriages among the aristocracy common? How did the Kerre family silver avoid being melted down to support the King during the Civil War? Are there prospects for Georgianna? And of course I’m still “Waiting for Gervase.”

Though new readers could actually start the series with this book, I would suggest beginning at the beginning to catch all the references and see the evolution of Richard and Rose’s relationship. I’m thrilled to see the series continuing and eagerly waiting for the next installment. B for “Eyton.”

~Jayne

This book can be purchased at Samhain.

Friday Film Review: Kitty

Friday Film Review: Kitty

Kitty (1946)
Genre: Period romance/comedy/drama
Grade: B-

Here’s a movie that isn’t afraid to let one see its main characters being less than chivalrous. It’s another movie I first saw years ago on AMC and hadn’t rewatched until recently. Though I enjoyed a lot of it, some aspects don’t work so well for me now.

Kitty (Paulette Goddard) was an orphan purchased from the workhouse to become a thief in London. Raised in the “trade” by Old Meg (Sara Allgood), she’s sent out one day with orders to earn her keep. Caught while trying to steal a man’s shoe buckles, she attracts his attention and thus her life changes. The man is Thomas Gainsborough (Cecil Kellaway) who pays her half a crown to sit for him. While he’s painting her, 2 young bucks arrive who admire the “unknown lady.” Brett, Earl of Carstairs (Patric Knowles) is leaving soon for India so he yields to Sir Hugh Marcy’s (Ray Milland) interest in her. Marcy soon discovers she’s a thief from Houndsditch but he takes her in as a scullery maid to keep her away from Old Meg.

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Kitty’s portrait attracts the attention of the Duke of Malmunster (Reginald Owen) who had Hugh fired from his government position. Seeing an opportunity to gain the Duke’s favor, Hugh announces Kitty is a young lady who is the ward of Hugh’s aunt Lady Susan Dowitt (Constance Collier). He also tells the Duke she’s currently traveling abroad in order to gain time to teach her to be a lady. Several hilarious scenes a la Pygmalion follow with Hugh coming off as a sterner task master than Henry Higgins ever dreamt of being. When she’s almost ready, Kitty is seen by a neighbor but since he’s only a tradesman, though a rich one, Hugh dismisses him as a possible suitor. But when Hugh’s creditors have him thrown into debtors prison, Kitty impulsively marries Mr. Selby who pays her “aunt” a rich dowry.

Hugh is furious since he’d promised Malmunster first dibs but events conspire and Selby is killed by a servant when he discovers Kitty’s true past. Now Hugh springs the trap and catches a Duke for Kitty’s next husband. But when the elderly Duke dies, who will Kitty choose next? Hugh, whom she’s always secretly loved, or Brett, recently returned from India and already crazy about her?

Kitty is based on a book, which I’ve never read, and I wonder if parts of it weren’t whitewashed a bit for Hollywood since some of Kitty’s story remind me a bit of “Forever Amber” in its darker tone. During my recent rewatch, I couldn’t help but feel more sympathy for Mr. Selby and the Duke who are basically married by Kitty in a cold blooded grab for their money and position. Selby is made to later appear as a brute and, I guess according to Hollywood, that makes him okay to kill. The Duke had injured Hugh’s pride and was shown as an old fool who believed a lie Kitty perpetrates on him so I guess it’s okay if he dies too.

Lady Susan and Hugh are honest about what they hope to gain from Kitty, lots of money, but Lady Susan ends up as a more sympathetic character to me as she seems to quickly develop some true affection for the girl. Hugh on the other hand, always has his hand out for more from Kitty and is the real instrument behind selling her off for cash. It’s not until almost the end of the movie that the scales fall from his eyes, mainly due to Brett’s courtship of Kitty, and he realizes he loves Kitty. Even then, he pulls a somewhat dirty trick to gain her back. To my mind, Brett is truly the better man for Kitty even though she ends up telling him that she belongs with Hugh as they’re two of a kind who understand and deserve each other. But though Hugh now knows he loves Kitty as she has always loved him, has he really changed his behavior or will he soon have run through Kitty’s inheritance from the late Duke and be back in debtor’s prison? Who knows.

The costumes in the film are lovely and per one source were based on actual Gainsborough portraits. According to the intro to the movie by the AMC host, the ornate fans used are period pieces donated by aristocratic English ladies and later auctioned to raise money for the war effort. The backdrops are obviously sound stages but fairly effective even so. It does look like Paramount lavished a lot of money of the film even though the decision was made to film it in B&W instead of color.

So even though the storyline doesn’t hold up as well as I remembered it, there are some fine performances from Milland, Goddard and especially Collier and Kellaway. Collier is wonderfully funny and Kellaway has what is probably the best line of the film even though it’s the last one. If you’re looking for a nice costume period piece from Hollywood’s heyday, check for the upcoming showing on TCM (listed for February 4th).

~Jayne