Jennifer Purchas has had the misfortune of her father and both brothers dying during the Napoleonic wars. Her acquistive uncle, Mr. Gurning, has seized control of her inheritance, and to make matters worse, he’s planning to marry her off to Mr. George Ferris, a friend of her late brother whom she’s never even met. Determined to take the reins of life into her own hands, Jennifer runs away to become a governess. But after a string of mishaps, she ends up in London under the nom de plume Miss Fairmont and under the protection of Lord Mainwaring’s grandmother. Jealous of her redheaded beauty, Jennifer’s rivals construct scheme after scheme to destroy her reputation, and it is only the timely intervention of the blunt and forceful Lord Mainwaring that saves her from becoming the scandal of the year.
George Ferris is an up and coming leader of the Whig party. He needs a society wife to help him advance his career, but he has made a promise to his dying friend Richard Purchas to look after his seventeen-year-old sister. When Ferris makes an offer for the girl, she has the temerity to run away rather than meet him. Meanwhile, at the death of his own father, George becomes Lord Mainwaring. Through a collection of inharmonious circumstances, when visiting some family friends, George becomes saddled with an unsuitable governess and foists her on his grandmother to save the girl’s reputation. But when the dowager duchess decides to launch the girl into society, it is all George can do to keep up with Miss Fairmont’s faux pas and stop her from ruining herself in front of the watching world.
This novel by Joan Aiken Hodge was originally published in 1976 and was re-released this month. The style is almost a direct copy of a Georgette Heyer romance, and Lord Mainwaring with his abominably bad temper and bullying ways fits nicely with Heyer’s “Mark 1” heroes. The inclusion of many famous society characters (Lady Caroline Lamb, Lady Cowper, Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, etc.) also mirrors Heyer’s work, as does the re-creation of nineteenth century dialogue (instead of using modern parlance). The plotting of the book was not quite as neat as the the inimitable Heyer (is it possible to believe that Jennifer went out in society and never realized that George Ferris and Lord Mainwaring were the same person?), but if the reader can suspend disbelief a little, this novel is a fine diversion in the style of older Regency romances.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.