This six-book Regency series follows the story of the Hapgood family as several country misses find love amidst unconventional circumstances. With elegant prose and clever dialogue reminiscent of Georgette Heyer, each book is a delight to read. Billed as “traditional Regency romances,” the books contain more realism than many modern-day Regency pastiches, painting the lives of a genteel family of four girls (similar to Jane Austen’s Bennet family) who must find husbands with small marriage portions and their father’s estate entailed to the nearest male relative. Most of the titles do not contain a real “villain,” but the exigencies of fortune and circumstance conspire to throw monumental obstacles in the way of each couple before they can reach their happily-ever-after.
The recurring characters in each book made the series incredibly enjoyable, a family saga of sorts. My favorite book was the fourth of the series, Matchless Margaret, mostly because of the undaunted gallows humor of Napoleonic war-hero Dashiell Waite. A close second was the third book, School for Love, which showed an endearing look at love among an older generation as cousin Hugh Hapgood must remarry to find a mother for his three children.
Book 1: The Naturalist
When naturalist Joseph Tierney comes to catalogue the flora and fauna of the neighborhood, his eligibility as a potential suitor is the talk of the countryside. But while others might care mostly about Joseph Tierney’s handsome face and well-to-do family, little Alice Hapgood is swooning over his interests in natural philosophy. Disguising herself as a boy, Alice volunteers to become his assistant, spending hours each day scouting out the natural wonders of the area and learning to know the real Joseph Tierney in the process. But if Alice’s true identity should be revealed, will Mr. Tierney be grudgingly obligated to offer for her, thus destroying their friendship and any chance at love?
This book does an admirable job making one fall in love with the Hapgood family. Alice is a sweet, sensitive flibbertigibbet with little thought for how the consequences of her actions might impact her family. Joseph is a man of honor, determined to do his duty even to the detriment of his future career and personal happiness…and discovering that he might just be able to have his cake and eat it too. To tell the truth, this novel was my least favorite of the series, but only because some of the subsequent novels were so superb.
Book 2: A Very Plain Young Man
When Frederick Tierney attends his brother Joseph’s wedding, he falls hard for the bride’s gorgeous older sister Elfrida and determines to give up his rakish ways and settle down. But short-sighted and sensible Elfie is not interested in a man with Mr. Tierney’s…cosmopolitan ways. Can Frederick convince Elfie that he is a changed man or will the mistakes of his former life conspire to destroy his future happiness?
This book does an excellent job painting the very real grief caused by immorality to a young man, his family, and his future bride. Frederick’s determination to reform is beset at every turn by former lovers who bring his past to light. Elfie’s sterling character demands more from Frederick than charm, and Frederick must dig deep into his own character to see if there is more there than just dross. Elfie’s need for glasses and the ways she copes with her myopia are charming details that help bring her character to life.
Book 3: School for Love
When Hugh Hapgood’s ill-suited wife is struck down by a carriage in the streets, he makes the difficult decision to remarry in order to provide a mother for his three children. But while twelve-year-old Lionel and six-year-old Rosie are accepting of the idea, ten-year-old Hetty is incensed, doing her best to drive away any prospects. After realizing how unpleasant it is to be sent away to boarding school, Hetty turns her formidable powers to matchmaking, settling on Rosemary DeWitt, a well-educated and well-to-do spinster who, though considered plain, is the soul of kindness. Unaware of his children’s matchmaking schemes, Hugh begins to find Miss DeWitt’s advice about his children’s education invaluable, and discovers that she is not so plain after all. But just when Hugh makes up his mind to propose, events conspire to thrust an insurmountable obstacle between them….
Hugh Hapgood was a delightful hero, dutiful and romantic at the same time. The unhappiness of his marriage with his first wife makes the reader feel deeply for him, and his fumbling attempts to gain the hearts of his children is endearing. Rosemary’s sensible, self-effacing patience reminded me of Anne Elliot from Persuasion.
Book 4: Matchless Margaret
When Mrs. Hapgood’s ne’er-do-well brother Alwyn Arbuthnot falls in love with a wealthy widow named Mrs. Waite, Squire Hapgood tasks Margaret with going to Bath and ensuring that his brother-in-law makes a match of it. Outspoken and managerial, Margaret must match wits with Mrs. Waite’s son Dashiell, an injured veteran from the Napoleonic wars who will not let his mother be taken advantage of. Dashiell himself is engaged to his “perfect” cousin Charmaine, who expects him to jump to her every whim without her having to communicate what those whims are. Dissatisfied with his manipulative fiancee, Dashiell finds much to admire in Margaret’s forthright nature. But how can a man of honor woo a lady when he is engaged to another?
This book was a fascinating contrast of characters. Margaret is capable and assertive but innocent of the ways of the world. Charmaine is spoiled and passive-aggressive, continually needling those around her and annoyed about Dash’s injury which keeps him from dancing attendance on her as she would like. Dash himself is clever, handsome and possessed of a trenchant wit. The struggle of not wanting his mother to be connected with the Hapgood family but desiring Margaret himself is reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s interference with Mr. Bingley’s attachment to Jane while being interested in Elizabeth himself. This was my favorite book of the series!
Book 5: The Purloined Portrait
Lionel Hapgood has been in love with his third cousin Edith Hapgood for as long as he can remember. A budding artist, Edith spends her days drawing and painting, encouraged in her talent by her whole family and by her drawing master Mr. Eldredge Although his stepmother urges him to wait to reveal his feelings, Lionel can’t resist declaring his passion to Edith during the summer holidays after his first year at Oxford. Dismayed at this revelation, Edith rebuffs Lionel and focuses her energies on avoiding his presence and continuing her art.
But when a new painting master convinces Edith to turn a sketch of Lionel into a painting, Edith discovers emotions in her heart that she didn’t know existed, and when the painting–through a mysterious turn of events–makes its way to a gallery in London for the rest of the world to see, Lionel discovers that not all is lost as he had once thought….
This book was well-plotted with the only true villain of the series nefariously seeking to take advantage of Edith and her work. Lionel’s extreme youth made him harder to take seriously as a hero, but Edith’s self-discovery of her own feelings for Lionel was well done.
Book 6: A Fickle Fortune
Harriet Hapgood is all grown up. With Lionel at school and her closest friend Edith studying art abroad, she agrees to experience the London season with her cousin Caroline, and even try to help Caroline get a husband. But when Caroline sets her sights on the newly rich Mr. Rotherwood (Lionel’s former tutor at Oxford), Hetty wonders how an intelligent man like Rotherwood could ever be attracted to an empty-headed chatterer like Caroline.
Bonding with Mr. Rotherwood herself over Shakespeare, mathematics, and their general interests, Hetty finds it difficult to keep herself in the background as her aunt and cousin desire. When a foolish scrape causes Hetty to become the center of scandalous attention, Mr. Rotherwood plays the hero to save her reputation. But Hetty is not interested in marrying a man who is noble when what she wants is a man in love….
This final installment of the Hapgoods of Bramleigh completes the story of the irrepressible Harriet Hapgood who has (mostly) grown out of her hoydenish ways and grown into a vivacious beauty. Mr. Rotherwood is in the unenviable position of being thrust suddenly into the limelight of the marriage mart (after an unexpected inheritance) by a mother determined that her son will have only the best. The Hapgoods, certainly, are not that. Harriet, being a Hapgood, knows the importance of family, and her refusal to drive a wedge between Rotherwood and his mother is endearing.