REVIEW: The Beau and the Bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley
Alethea Newnham is a young woman with decided literary tastes, to the extent that she is called a Bluestocking by the gossips of Town.
Educated in the country by her scholarly father and raised as an equal with her brothers, Alethea finds it difficult to play romantic games when she is invited to her aunt’s house in London.
In particular, she despises the dashing and notorious Sir James ‘Beau’ Devenish – a young man overly concerned with the latest fashions, and toying with female affections.
With her aunt determined to see her wed, Alethea finds herself forced into company.
Is Beau determined to make her his next conquest? Can she rebuff his supposedly irresistible charms?
Will this Bluestocking be ruled by her head … or her heart?
I first read this book ages ago when I was a teenager. I misplaced my print copy for years due to moves and college and tried to remember the title and author. Then when I finally saw a image of the cover (the second one below), I said “That’s it!” I’m sure the print of my paperback copy would be impossibly tiny to me now and I’m delighted Endeavour Press has released it as an ebook. Still I hesitated. What if the Suck Fairy arrived and I hated it now? Would it be better to just fondly remember it? Finally, I decided to take the plunge figuring I could always stop if I saw the Fairy hovering nearby.
The plot is nothing new: educated Alethea has been sent by her loving parents to London to stay with an Aunt who is bringing out her youngest daughter, Lydia. Charming and pretty Lydia is the latest to capture the flirtatious attention of “Beau” Devenish. Marriage minded mommas have long given up trying to snag him for their daughters who fall at his feet. No female is immune to his drawling charm and handsome self but everyone knows he rarely pays attention to any woman for long. Besides, her family has hopes of snagging a widowed Duke for Lydia.
Now just so people aren’t taken aback if they read this book, the Duke’s title is Bedwyn. But since Ley wrote the book in 1975, she didn’t steal it.
Alethea is a puzzle to her Aunt who is used to social butterfly Lydia. Alethea talks about books and goes, along with Hannah More, to visit Elizabeth Montagu whose salon is filled with erudite Londoners discussing everything from poetry to books to plays and social conditions. But Alethea also enjoys the London social whirl even if she finds it a bit vapid. One person whom she does not like is Sir James Devenish who appears to view everything with a faintly mocking air and seems bored by everyone.
Devenish is at first amused by Alethea. Her incompletely concealed feelings about him pique his interest. After all, he’s used to women flocking around to snag his attention and she presents a challenge – something he later regrets telling a friend. When at a family social gathering, she talks about wanting to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster and he goads the younger members of the party to get up a sight seeing social. Though most are reluctant to waste a nice afternoon, they gather their manners and agree.
This turns out to be the first time Alethea sees something deeper in Devenish besides a man obsessed with his waistcoat. Yet she’s been warned by her cousin Lydia that Devenish is not to be trusted as a long term prospect and his behavior often appears to support that. Every now and then, Alethea thinks she sees something more serious in his eye and his actions during a country house visit make her wonder but when Devenish’s own friend tells Lydia – who tells Alethea – what Devenish said about her being a challenge, Alethea despairs that this man she’s finally come to admire and love is just what everyone has told her he is. Can he convince her of his change of heart?
Alethea might be more educated and have been brought up by her parents to speak her mind but she doesn’t come off as stuffy or judgmental. She’s remarkably down to Earth and likes a pretty, new hat as much as the next woman. Her opinions on Devenish are formed from her own encounters with him and also from what people she knows and trusts who also know him well tell her about him. But she can also laugh at some of his gentle teasing and warns him that with six brothers, she’s not going to get vexed and cry.
From early on, we see that James Devenish is a man about town but one with faultless manners and social graces, albeit bored ones. There are also little hints and glimpses of a man with hidden depths, who loves his grandmother and knows more about the history of St. Paul’s Cathedral than his friends would ever guess. He can debate the finer points of Shakespeare with her as well. His grandmother fills Alethea in on how highly thought of he was at Harrow and Oxford. And, as her beloved father tells her, when a man journeys 120 miles to seek a father’s approval, it’s no joke. Brava for Alethea that she sticks to her guns and demands his assurance that this isn’t still a game or just a man still in the throes of the chase.
So yay, the Suck Fairy didn’t visit! In fact, I still enjoyed this as much as I remembered. If you’re looking for a book without TSTL or improbably acting characters, which is NOT a Regency (despite the new cover description) try this one. B+