REVIEW: Marry in Haste by Jane Aiken Hodge
Camilla Forest has fallen upon hard times since fleeing France and the tyrannical rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. When her job as a governess ends in disaster, Camilla finds herself penniless and alone, stranded on a muddy roadside.
A chance encounter with the notoriously aloof Lord Leominster presents Camilla with an unexpected solution to her dire situation: an offer of marriage.
Destitute and without prospects, Camilla is ready to dismiss romantic ideals in order to secure her future. But why does Leominster, openly dismissive of women generally and Camilla in particular, want to marry her?
Camilla grudgingly accepts, and a loveless deal is struck. But what exactly has she agreed to? As the conflict in Europe escalates and Napoleon’s reach spreads, Leominster is sent to Portugal, forcing Camilla to follow.
As everything Camilla once knew is turned upside down again, she tries to navigate this new world of violence and fear. But soon Camilla finds herself falling in love with the man she thought she never could. With war edging ever closer, will Camilla be able to find happiness before it’s too late?
Marry in Haste was originally published in 1969.
Two years ago, I decided to finally read a Jane Aiken Hodge historical.“Greek Wedding” turned out to be a DNF huge disappointment for me but several readers urged me not to give up on her. I headed their encouragement and when “Marry in Haste” was offered at netgalley, I asked to review it.
There is a saying “marry in haste and repent at leisure” and that’s just what Camilla Forest gets to do. The daughter of a French émigré Comte who fled with him at a young age (3, IIRC) to England and then was taken in by the Duchess of Devonshire, Camilla is now on her own and trying to earn a living. When the Duchess died, Camilla decided not to stay in the rackety household of the Duke and his mistress. Her father is little help to her as he’s addicted to the gaming tables and whines about his lost properties in France – now confiscated by Bonaparte.
Camilla’s job as a governess was a disaster and after the son of the household tried to assault her, she is the one dismissed. She is uneasy about accepting an offer from Lord Leominster who was conveniently riding home in his carriage after a visit to his controlling and iron willed grandmother who holds the family purse strings but with night falling and no place to go, Camilla has little choice.
Marius Lavenham, Lord Leominster is a man in need of a wife and he decides that Camilla will do. Better than that, he feels that his grandmother will accept her and then follow through on her promise to increase his allowance as well as pay for the badly needed repairs to his country home. Lavenham distrusts all women due to the actions of (of course) his mother who had an affair, which caused his father to die in a dual after which mommy dearest fled the country with her lover. Naturally all women are liars, cheats and untrustworthy.
His proposal to Camilla is the standard MOC: we’ll marry, fool granny, get the cash but live a lie. Don’t get any ideas because I will never love/trust you because of how my (Whore of Babylon) mother acted. Take it or leave it. Camilla does take it but, good on her, she doesn’t jump immediately. After making sure she has no options of help from her father, who is basically a useless waste of air though he does tell her that he recently learned that her brother who was long thought dead in the Terror is miraculously alive, Camilla and Lavenham are married.
Oh wait, Lavenham forgot to tell Camilla about his scapegrace younger sister Chloe who arrives in a burst of seventeen year old enthusiasm. Fearing that if left in England she will get up to even more disgraceful activities beyond her aborted elopement with a music teacher, Camilla and Lavenham bundle her along with them to Portugal where Lavenham is to take up a diplomatic post.
But the year is 1807 and fans of Regency “follow the drum/military/Peninsular War” novels know that things are about to get dicey there. Will Camilla and Lavenham’s marriage remain “in name only?” What will Chloe get up to? Will Camilla’s long lost brother make an appearance? Are the French about to invade? How many times will Camilla faint and swoon into a convenient days long illness? What other standard gothic tropes can be packed into the story? Read on to find out.
Unlike with “Greek Wedding,” this time I finished the book and the grade is obviously higher but this is a book written almost 50 years ago and it shows it. I could tell almost every twist and turn of the plot. Aiken Hodge pulls out and uses every gothic trope popular at the time. I will say that the characters are given plausible reasons for not talking or explaining things which will – of course – come back to bite them just when the plot needs it. Illnesses and doctors contrive to keep characters apart – and Lavenham and Camilla are apart more than together – when required. Chloe is young and restless and will kick the plot can down the road as needed. And you gotta love the family birthmark twist though in its defense I saw it used by Anya Seton in “Devil Water.” I did enjoy how the actual weirdness of the Devonshire household as well as the historical events in Portugal were worked into the plot. Go into this book knowing that it is dated but still readable for all that. B