TSTL, that is Too Stupid To Live, is a phrase used by the romance community to describe really annoying heroines. Gwendolyn Townsend, heroine of Love with the Proper Husband, is the poster girl for TSTL.
Gwendolyn ran away to America when she was 16 to avoid becoming a penniless relation after her father dies. In British tradition, since her father had no male heirs, his estate was left to Gwendolynís cousin. In America, Gwendoyln becomes a governess, albeit not a very good one. Five years later, she is summoned back to England to find out there has been a mistake. Seems her father left her a small inheritance that will become a significantly larger one should she marry on Earl of Pennington.
Gwen has no interest in being married. Marriage and love are traps, and men are stupid imbeciles not to be trusted. She bases this attitude on the fact that her mother died trying to have a male heir, she got disinherited because she was a female offspring and the married fathers of her charges used to hit on her. A stretch, but one a reader is willing to go with for sake of plot.
The Earl of Pennington turns out to be Marcus Holcroft, who himself has just found out that he will have to forfeit his entire fortune should he not marry Miss Townsend by his thirtieth birthday, an even only three months away. Marcus has never been in love, but he doesnít despise the idea. Itís just the few times heís actually felt himself going over the brink, the woman in question picked someone else. Rather than become a bitter love sucks type of hero, Marcus just figures thatís his luck and still holds out hope that it may happen some day.
At first, Gwen refuses Marcusí offer, but when she suddenly finds herself with three young nieces to take care of, she realizes she needs the money the marriage will bring her. After exacting a number of self-centered conditions from Marcus, they marry. Of course Gwen does not tell Marcus about the girls. She canít trust him because heís a man.
Never mind that Marcus has treated her with nothing but fairness and respect. Here is a man who agrees to every selfish condition and rule she demands. Marcus even goes so far as to agree that they have a solicitor put it all in writing so itís legal. At one point Marcus jokes about whatís hers being hers alone, but what ever is his must be shared. Itís the honest truth and he still agrees to it all. But he canít be trusted, heís a man! Even when the poor guy confesses his love for her, she canít even give him that much. Love is a trap, marriage is a trap, blah blah blah.
Marcus is such a nice guy that one canít help pitying him for falling for such an idiot. One almost wishes heíd ditch Gwen and run off with his best friend Reggie, another nice guy who gets the shaft.
In fact one feels sorry for every man in this story. Each chapter is begun with a quote from one of the female characters that are, almost without exception, derogatory toward men. Things like:
ďOn occasion men, and what they provide, are a necessary
evil that can be borne as long as a woman expects nothing
more than what is offered.Ē
What these women have against men is beyond me. Aside from the jerks Gwen encountered as a governess, the men in this book seem decent enough fellows. Yet theyíre all treated like theyíre somehow defective. Perhaps Iím missing some sort of humor, but I found the quotes to be very annoying. When one of the quotes turns out to be by one of the young girls (something along the lines of Uncles are very helpful, but since theyíre men, you canít expect too much from them), it makes you wonder what kind of warped attitude these girls are being taught.
The only conflict in this story is complete contrived. Its sole source is Gwen and her insistence on keeping non-essential secrets. She bases her idea that Marcus will hate her nieces on a conversation they had regarding heirs. Of course he said he wanted sons first, but Gwen does what she always dose and propels that into the conclusion that heíd hate daughters. Later, when Marcus says he loves the idea of a gaggle of daughters running around his estate, Gwen still hesitates to tell him about the girls. The only explanation for this is to generate a misunderstanding that acts as some more lame conflict.
This continues until the reader reaches what appears to be a satisfactory, if bland, happily ever after ending. For some strange reason, however, the story continues with a couple more chapters of contrived and pointless conflict. It is in these chapters that any chance of forgiveness for Gwen goes straight out the window. She does something so ridiculous, so utterly stupid that I actually cursed her out loud while reading.
The big shocker revelation regarding the marriage codicil at the end of the book will only come as a surprise to readers who were in a coma during the first chapter. It is just one more awkward moment in this mess of a story.