REVIEW: A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews
A Courtship of Convenience
Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.
A Last Chance for Love
But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.
Dear Ms. Matthews,
The blurb for this holiday novella caught my attention. I mean where were Prince Albert, Charles Darwin and gaslights going to come into the story? I had to read it to find out.
This is more of an arranged courtship novella than arranged marriage though that is what Sophie is facing. The elder daughter of a bankrupt baronet, she knows that her family have splurged money they don’t have in order to bring her and her younger sister to London in hopes of catching rich husbands. Emmy – the acknowledge beauty of the family – is to marry a titled aristocrat while Sophie just needs to find a wealthy man.
She does that when Edward Sharpe sees her and instantly knows that here is someone who will be important in his life. I was surprised that there’s no “love at first sight” here at all. Both Ned and Sophie are also open with each other about the financial aspect of their courtship. Ned is a self made man, the son of hard working London drapers who have done well and risen financially rather than socially. There’s nothing driving Ned to marry up .. . that is until he sees Sophie. But after meeting her, he unfortunately buys an etiquette book he hopes will tell him how to court a woman of higher standing. The book, he discovers, is crap.
Thinking he’s courting her properly, Ned holds back telling Sophie anything about himself leading her to believe they aren’t suited as he seldom says anything. That brings up the opening scene wherein Sophie breaks things off. Ned is a silent type and accepts the rejection with little more than a terse farewell. Ah but if Sophie only knew how he admired her, longed for more from her, a life with her, time getting to know her.
Though she isn’t pressured by her parents to resume any relationship with him, Sophie begins to wonder if she was entirely fair with Mr. Sharpe. Did she give him enough of a chance and could they have made each other at the minimum, happy? She is almost as stunned as he when she turns up at his place of business to see if being more honest, more candid, with each other might show the truth of their chances.
When Prince Albert dies and the country goes into mourning just before Christmas, the Appersett’s country house party numbers are wrecked leading Sophie to take a chance and invite others to fill out the party. Away from London and with opportunities to talk and be alone, will she and Ned be able to finally get to know each other and put Darwin’s ideas of changing for survival in practice?
This gas lit holiday is more a quiet, contemplative one with little holiday cutesiness. There is tension between the upper class and merchant class guests who don’t always mingle easily. Sophie’s younger and sometimes thoughtless sister (who got on my nerves a bit) has a tendency to speak without realizing the impact of her words and throws up some dampers to Sophie and Ned’s courtship. Ned’s parents are also less than thrilled with his choice while his best friend’s actions push some sticks into the spokes of Ned’s wheels.
This story is a little on the dry side and just when I was thinking that there wasn’t a chance of a HEA, something happens to take the financial pressure off and Sophie can finally face Ned with total honesty about her feelings and intentions. To say she catches him off guard is an understatement but at last, Ned’s under no misapprehension and he quickly jumps at their chance for happiness. And fulfills his promise to kiss Sophie under the stars. B-