Pam Rosenthal’s The Edge of Impropriety felt more like a historical novel and less like a romance novel to me–not that this is a bad thing, it was actually a nice change of pace!
Jasper Hedges is a scholar and when we first meet him, he’s visiting his brother and his brother’s wife, Celia. He’s about to repatriate some Greek sculptures to their home when his brother and his wife perish in a boating accident–leaving Jasper as guardian to his nephew and niece and their impoverished estate.
Marina, Lady Gorham, is the widow of an earl who comes from a mysterious and somewhat questionable past and who writes popular novels in order to maintain her lavish lifestyle. She’s friendly with Jasper’s nephew, Anthony, and while the ton believes they are having an affair, they are not–but they encourage the appearance of such to spur on sales of Marina’s most recent book (there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?).
It is in this context that Marina and Jasper’s paths cross–there is an immediate attraction between them and they begin a clandestine affair. There’s blackmail and a mysterious death and the realization that there may be more to their relationship than just a secret affair behind closed doors–they both desire true intimacy with a partner but they both need to overcome their internal obstacles if they are ever going to get to that point with each other.
I loved that both Marina and Jasper are older–Marina’s in her mid-3’s and Jasper’s probably a few years older than that. They’re both mature and settled in their ways and I loved that they weren’t perfect. I also loved Marina’s frank acknowledgement of her past and the way she admitted she did things that she wasn’t proud of in order to survive. I also found her change in writing direction really fascinating and I found myself wishing that Rosenthal had continued their story into the future so we could have seen what happened with her writing about the conditions in Ireland and if she’d been able to convince Jasper to look to solve problems closer to home than Greece. I’m really glad I read this book, although I’m not sure I’ll read any of her other romances.
I feel like the title of Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal is a bit deceiving. The Guttersnipe and the Lord Who Loved Her would be more accurate, I think. I know that titles are a marketing tool, though, so I’ll let it slide. FOR NOW.
And oh, this book. I loved this book.
I am normally not a big fan of the whole lost heiress restored to her birthright story but it really worked for me here. And I think the reason it did was because Nell, the lost heiress in question, never lost sight of where she’d grown up and had explicit plans to exert her new-found power in a way that would hopefully help raise up everyone in Bethnal Green. There’s something to be said for a social justice minded heroine. Especially one with as much agency as Nell has–Nell knows her own mind and she is more than capable of making her own decisions, even when they’re distasteful or unpleasant.
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those do-gooders.” She was done with them. Blooming hypocrites! Come to Bethnal Green with concerned little frowns, luring girls with promises, when all they had to offer was snobbery and those bleeding blankets. God help her if she ever laid eyes on another one–all the same, dull gray wool stamped with Lady So-and-So’s Relief Fund, because heaven forbid a girl should try to pawn it, and buy herself something a little more sightly than an ugly rag that screamed her poverty to anyone with eyes.
Nell’s not stupid and in some ways she’s much more savvy about how the world works than Simon, Lord Rushden is. She sees right through the sham that is high society and is really resistant to Simon’s insistence that she try to fit in until she figures out that if she wants to achieve her goals, she has to play the game.
Simon, of course, isn’t restoring Nell to her rightful place in society out of the goodness of his heart–he’s doing it because he needs the money and since she’s naive about how his world works, he talks her into marrying him–he knows that if she turns out not to be the lost heiress, he’ll be able to annul the marriage (by claiming she tricked him, false pretenses, etc.) and give her a settlement and her life will still be better than it was before–even if he is still dead broke.
There need to be more books out there that examine the issues that this book did–the power differentials between the classes, the way that the 19th century was not a wonderful place to live for most people–I especially appreciated the depiction of the grinding poverty in Bethnal Green and the appalling working conditions that people labored under in order to make a living. I do wish that the villain of this novel had been less mustache-twirlingingly obvious and that Nell had more female friends other than just her friend Hannah from the slums. But those are minor quibbles in a book where the hero makes sure that he has the heroine’s full consent before having sex with her (it is to squee!) but also one where there is explicit acknowledgement that love and trust are two separate things–and it is the moment where Nell admits that she trusts Simon that they get their happily ever after, not when she admits she loves him.
“Simon,” she said through her fingers. “I can’t leave. I love you. I can’t go.”
He nodded, his lips white. “But do you trust me, Nell?”
She was too full of feeling to even fathom the meaning of doubt. “Down any road, as far and as long as we travel. You’re mine and I’m keeping you, Simon.”