|For the second time recently I have been assigned to review a very short book by a favorite author. I found Linda Howard’s Ice a disappointment and could not recommend that readers pay a hardcover price for what was a slight book. I found Mary Balogh’s A Matter of Class simply delightful. It is clever, entertaining, and enjoyable and I read it in one sitting. That this “sitting” lasted only ninety minutes almost kept me from giving the book five hearts. But since I will certainly hold on to this book and have already revisited it, I feel compelled to award it keeper status. Still, I am a Scot, and asking readers to pay $15.95 for 190 pages of large type seems excessive.
Like the book, this will be a very short review. Describing anything except the original set-up of the plot would border on spoiling it for the reader.
Mr. Bernard Mason is a very rich coal merchant. Like many who made their fortune in trade, he had hopes of achieving respectability. Thirty years earlier, he had bought a large estate in Wiltshire and sought acceptance by the genteel folks of the neighborhood, especially its leading light, the Earl of Havercroft. The latter, a proud and haughty fellow, would have nothing to do with a man who had coal dust under his fingernails. So for three decades, the Masons and the Ashtons had lived in a state of cold war, each ignoring the other. Still, Mason had educated his son to be a gentleman and Reginald had gained a foothold in the ton. Indeed, said son in the past year had become too much of a gentleman to Mason’s mind, wasting the ready on fashion, horses and clothes. As the story begins, Mason is taking his son to task for his frivolous and expensive ways.
In the course of this unpleasant discussion, Reginald suggests that his is not the only father with a problem child. It turns out that Lady Annabelle Ashton, the earl’s only daughter, has disgraced herself by running off with the family’s coachman, thus ruining herself and preventing her father from marrying her to the very rich Marquess of Illingsworth. This duke’s son had been willing to help the earl with his current financial embarrassments.
Mr. Mason sees opportunity in Lady Annabelle’s unhappy situation and informs his scapegrace son that he will propose that Reginald marry the earl’s daughter. Reginald demurs; why would he want to tie himself to a haughty miss whose family regards his family with disdain. But Mr. Mason is adamant. If the earl accepts his offer, Reginald will marry Annabelle or be cut off without a penny.
Of course, the earl accepts, although it wounds his pride to the quick. A swift marriage will restore Annabelle to a modicum of respectability and will solve his pressing financial difficulties. Annabelle likewise demurs, but given the choice of marrying a man of such suspect antecedents or being exiled to a dreary manor in Yorkshire, she has no choice but too accept. Thus, these two people from very different classes find themselves betrothed and having to make the best of it.
As she has done so often in the past, Balogh uses the social strictures of Regency England to create an entertaining and interesting tale. How Reginald and Annabelle negotiate the “matter of class” which shapes their relationship is the crux of the story. The book is short, but not slight. It is, as I said above, simply delightful.