Saturday, January 1, 2011

Musings: Indiscretion

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan
I discovered Jude Morgan about seven years ago when I read his novel The King's Touch while studying abroad in London.  Since then, every time I see a book by him on sale, I buy it.  But, until now, I had never actually read another one of his novels.  I picked up Indiscretion as my last full read of 2010 because it was a treat for me.  It was my 100th book of the year (exciting!), a feat I am unlikely to match ever again, and it is a gentle romantic romp set in Regency England in the mode of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, so I knew I'd be happy with it.

Indiscretion is about Miss Caroline Fortune (yes... her name is Miss Fortune), a young woman who takes care of her unreliable father while the two are pursued by creditors.  But now her father is completely out of money and his new scheme is for Caroline to become a companion to a wealthy old woman, Mrs. Catling, known for treating both her family and her servants badly.  Caroline takes the role and is off to Brighton with Mrs. Catling, where she meets the rich widow's niece and nephew, both hoping for a place in her will, and several other characters.  It seems wherever Caroline goes, trouble follows, though, and before long she is caught up in a complicated mess that involves not only her, but some of her best friends, too.

Have I mentioned before how much I hate doing plot summaries?  I do.  I tend to abruptly end my summary right around where the plot is about 1/4 of the way through... I don't like to give away endings, and so then I don't like to give away the middle and then... well, you can see what happens.

Anyway.  Suffice it to say, more happens.

But back to Indiscretion.  I wanted a light, frothy Regency romance to end the year and that is what I got.  I admit I was a little surprised by this because, while it's been years since I read it, The King's Touch wasn't super light or frothy.  A lot of research went into it about Charles II's court and all its hangers-on and the king's many mistresses and was he a Catholic or wasn't he, etc., etc.  I've heard that Passion (also on my shelf to read!) and many of Morgan's other books are also quite meaty with period detail and research.  And so I thought the same would be true of this novel.  But it's not, really.  That is to say, it is set very much in Regency England and has a great Austen-esque feel, being populated with fabulous comical side characters, lots of Misunderstandings and fun wordplay.  Meaning, perhaps a great deal of research did go into it, but it seems so natural that I can't tell.

I really enjoyed the book, though I already know it won't stick out in my mind nearly as much as The King's Touch does.  It was fun and light and interesting, but I feel that Morgan drew too heavily in some ways from Austen, particularly with reference to bumbling country ministers and impetuous younger sisters.  I think he also used a lot of stereotypes.

[Steps onto soapbox]
For example, there is a male character, Mr. Stephen Milner, who claims to never want to be married and to think it a horrible state to embark upon, blah blah blah.  He is also one of the most interesting, loyal and quick-witted characters in the story.  This combination often comes into play in Regency romances and it annoys me, with its implication that interesting and intelligent men should be at pains to keep out of the "clutches" of women.  As these men generally end books/movies/dreams with becoming ardent converts who believe in the power of true love and marriage, it also sets up the idea that a woman can change a man based on her charms and wiles.  Well, really.  Just once, I'd like to see a man convince a woman that she wants to get married, rather than the other way around.  I know that is unlikely, given the times, but still.  I don't like that plot setup and I don't like the idea that the only really interesting heroes are those that are too smart for the ordinary girl and can only be caught by the beautiful, witty, intelligent, great conversationalist one.  That implies, of course, that not many girls are all that great, and a man has to lower his standards for witty repartee if he plans to marry.  And I understand that these are my modern sensibilities coming out, but hey... I don't think Jane Austen ever made it seem as though the heroines in her stories were above and beyond all other women, so I assume that Regency England had at least enough intelligent women to go around that a gentleman wouldn't despair of ever meeting his equal in intellect.  And yet... these romances get written as though the men have never encountered a girl with a sense of humor before.
[Steps off soapbox]

I apologize for using this space to muse on things only tangentially related to the books I'm reading.  That's why I changed my subject headings from "Review" to "Musings"- this tendency to wander off can become more and more pronounced.  But well, I don't know what else to say about Indiscretion.  I enjoyed the read, and I think if you are a fan of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, or of comedies of manners, then you would enjoy this book.  That's all :-)

23 comments:

  1. I like the soapbox musings...plus, you bring up an excellent point. Why do women always have to be the ones wanting marriage?

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  2. softdrink- Exactly! And, even if they do want marriage, why are men always portrayed as so AGAINST it? Particularly "highly eligible" men? So aggravating!

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  3. Ooh! Ooh! I recently read a Regency romance in which the man had to convince the woman to get married: DEVIL'S BRIDE by Stephanie Laurens. Unfortunately, I wasn't too thrilled with it, but it proves that such books do exist.

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  4. Passion and The Taste of Sorrow are definitely not on the light side, but it's actually good to hear that his books are so diverse in tone.

    "That implies, of course, that not many girls are all that great, and a man has to lower his standards for witty repartee if he plans to marry. "

    I had a very similar problem with Sorcery and Cecelia recently. But I did like the book overall, and it left me in the mood for more Regency stuff, so I'll be on the lookout for this.

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  5. Love the review. Havent read a historical novel in a long time. Will add this to my list of library books.

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  6. There are a couple Jude Morgan books that sound interesting to me, but I admit I've seen this one on the shelves and decided not to pick it up. I want to read Passion and the one known as Charlotte and Emily in the US but The Taste of Sorrow outside the US. I actually hope to read that latter one this week in preparation to reread Jane Eyre next week!

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  7. Definitely agree with you on the why does it always have to be the female thing. And reminds me of my "campaign" to convince my husband to marry! :--)

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  8. It is so annoying that men are always so jaded and bored and have never encountered anyone with intelligence or humor. Sure it might be the case sometimes, but not nearly as much as is portrayed. For the most part I try to enjoy around it.

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  9. Drat, I wish I'd read this review earlier! My sister's friend asked for Regency romances for Christmas, and this sounds like it would have been a good one for her.

    >>>Just once, I'd like to see a man convince a woman that she wants to get married, rather than the other way around.

    Not Regency, but may I draw your attention to Dorothy Sayers's Harriet Vane books? Strong Poison is the first one. They are very good! Peter Wimsey spends ages and ages trying to convince Harriet that she wants to get married when she doesn't. (That's not a spoiler, he proposes to her in like the first two chapters of the first book.)

    Also, I like your soap box. At first when I looked at the picture I thought it said soup, and I didn't get it. :p

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  10. Memory- Haha, just from the title alone, I admit, that doesn't seem like a book for me ;-)

    Nymeth- Yes, I noticed that in Sorcery & Cecelia, too. I didn't love that book the way so many others did, and I disliked the sequel even more. There's this whole "lady vs. woman" thing that got on my nerves.

    Kathy- Glad to be of service!

    Amanda- I have Passion, but not the Brontes one. I bet it would be a great pre-read for Jane Eyre!

    rhapsody- You realize, of course, that now I MUST hear more about this "campaign"!

    Nicole- Yes, I try, too. I think if you are a fan of the historical novel, it's impossible to get away from it. But sometimes... it just gets on my nerves.

    Jenny- Haha, yes, I've heard many things about Wimsey and Harriet! Actually, I have several of the first books in the Wimsey series as they were recommended to me years ago, but I read the first one and just wasn't enthralled with Peter, so now it's very hard for me to want to read all the books in between before getting to Strong Poison... (or the one right before it)

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  11. This sounds like a lot of fun, though I admit I was surprised to find out that the author was a man! I love Jane Austen novels and I'm slowly rationing them out so that I don't run out of new books by her too soon (I have two full novels left and then her shorter works and letters left), but I have already flagged Georgette Heyer as an author to try when I finally exhaust my supply of Austen. Sounds like this might be another author to consider (though I'll probably try Heyer first!).

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  12. I do like comedy of manners, and Austen, so perhaps this could be a book for me :=)

    Congrats on 100!

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  13. Like Steph, I am also surprised that this one was written by a man, but it does indeed sound like it's a really fun book that I would like. And as far as your soapbox rant goes, I totally agree with it. I am not sure why all the charming and witty males in these types of books have to be cajoled into marriage either. It does seem to point to inadequacy of the females of the time to me as well, and I can imagine that reading a lot of it would drive me a little crazy. I also would love to see the situation reversed, and would be the first to read that book!!

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  14. Steph- It surprised me, too! In fact, I checked online to verify that it is a pen name for a man. I think he did quite well with it, really. And I hope you do try Heyer! Let me know if you want a suggestion for a first read by her :-)

    Blodeuedd- Yes, I think you'd like it- it's quite fun!

    Zibilee- Yes, it's very frustrating, but I guess if one was to go the other route, I might think it was historically inaccurate? So perhaps it's a lose/lose situation. I don't know.

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  15. I recently read The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan and loved it, even if it is heavily researched it didn't exactly feel like a heavy read.

    And don't feel sorry about using this place as your personal soap box (that probably isn't a proper English thing to say?). I like it! I enjoy reading such musings more than I enjoy a straight review.

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  16. Some really interesting thoughts about gender stereotypes here. I think you're right that, in this day and age, anything that seems like an archetypal gender representation is really quite clunky and awkward, as well as frustrating.

    Especially as there is a vast wealth of women who write men realistically and visa versa.

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  17. Iris- Good to know! Though The King's Touch didn't feel heavy, either. Just that you could tell it was researched. And I'm glad you enjoyed the soapbox :-)

    Silkworms- Thanks for visiting! I don't even know that I necessarily think of it as an "archetypal gender representation." I don't know that many authors who wrote IN the period were so derogatory towards women, it seems to be mainly the later writers. Perhaps because they put on the veil of modernity and think that most women of the period MUST have been boring, based on their background? I don't know....

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  18. It's interesting, I just finished reading 'Vindication of the Rights of Woman', and Wollstencraft basically approached this issue from the other side - her argument in much of the book essentially comes across as 'most of the women in our society are somewhat stupid, heartless, and poor conversationalists, good for nothing but being decorative - this is because you teach women to be this way'. And it's a valid argument as far as it goes - if a woman is not allowed to get an education except in how to entertain and look nice, then one would think that they would make a poor conversationalist, and come across as dim. The problem is, of course, that it is easy to conflat what a woman is with what she is taught to be. And in the end, even in Jane Austen, it seems like the intelligent, witty women are anexception to a more general rule of Kitty Bennets, etc, and that Jane rewards them by giving them what convention says they want and need - women NEEDED to get married, because that is what they were trained for: marriage. I think this is awful, horrible, nasty. But I can see how it would be difficult not to fall into that trap in writing a novel, without feeling anachronistic. Women had to be feminists in the world they lived in.

    That being said, I would love to read a book that has a woman who grapples with the issues of her sex within the confines of the time period - what would it feel like to BE trapped by that kind of teaching? Not to be the rare exception that figures out how to break out and be ahead of their time, but to be a woman who would be wonderful, but whose wonderfulness is tamped down by the conventions and educations of a world that continually tells you 'you're stupid, you're lesser, you need to focus on looking pretty and having babies'?

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  19. Jason- I understand your point. But I do think women of the upper-classes WERE taught a lot, particularly if they were ones who were going to inherit a good amount of money. Many were fluent in multiple languages, knew how to play instruments, do drawings and watercolors, and were proficient in history and mythology and philosophy. And I don't think that having a fine wit is necessarily a byproduct of having a great education- I think that is something often developed on its own (for example, Lizzy Bennet wasn't supposed to be particularly booksmart or great at the "womanly accomplishments" but she was very witty, as opposed to Miss Bingley).

    I haven't read Mary Wollstonecraft's book before, but I don't like her comment, either. I don't like this "most women are stupid and heartless" blanket statement at all, and based on biographies I've read of women in that period, I don't quite believe it, either. Though maybe my definition of "stupid" is defined differently than Wollstonecraft?

    I have a feeling this comment is just very rambling and perhaps doesn't make much sense.

    I also don't know of many books (written contemporary to the period) that deal with the issues you talk about, though I wish there were some! I think most books written by women then were very moralistic, which isn't quite as fun to read...

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  20. I like the soapbox speeches, otherwise it's basically just a book synopsis, the blurb on the back of the book does that.

    Possibly the men are written as not wanting to be married because if they did want to, why on earth were they still available?

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  21. I think I would like this, but I agree- a woman can't change a man. She can shoot him though right? These books should only be read by wise women who will not be influenced by the sub-text. Great rev.. I mean Musings!

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  22. I've contemplated reading Jude Morgan a few times now. I may even have borrowed a book once, but still hasn't happened.

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  23. Re Wollstonecraft's comments it's quite common for early feminists and proto feminists to use what were sexist arguments then, but now seem even more sexist to us to further the feminist cause of the few. I remember starting an essay by George Elliot that basically sets out the idea that the majority of female writers are dilletantes and can't write for toffee, but that of course does not include her. They alligned themselves and those they supported as exceptional women who had more in common with men because in their time few men were going to believe that all of womankind was smart etc and to gain independence they had to show how different they were from regular women. It's not a tactic I'd approve of now, but I do kind of wonder if we'd have come up with any better working strategies back then. Of course the really problematic thing is we can never know how far these women actually believed these things - was it just a tactic, or was it a true belief?

    As for men in period novels being cajoled into marriage. I find it believable. In lots of time periods marriage didn't offer a whole lot that men couldn't get outside of marriage. That's a blanket statement, so I won't stick by it as a general rule, but practically in lots of cases men had access to status, fullfillment and sex outside marriage, while marriage brought regulation (to a degree) and financial burdens.

    But I agree there were loads of exceptions, just loads of men who didn't think practically about marriage so why can't we see a bit more balance. And I hate what you menioned, that the choice not to marry always seems to reflect badly on the women he meets like he has never met a smart woman before in his life. Women were often exceptionally accomplished and part of their social training was how to keep a conversation going with swing. Wouldn't it be nice to see a Regency romance about a man who has loved and lost, only to now meet our lovely heroine? Or a man who has never quite measured up to the hopes of the women around him, then meets his true love. And books about women being cajoled into marriage - would love. Maybe 'In For a Penny' by Rose lerner fits the bill as the heroine isn't cajoled, but she's so independently wealthy she need never marry but does so a bit reluctantly to help out a man in debt.

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