A Chance Encounter

Harriet's Beau

Lord Ware's Widow

Miss Timothy Perseveres

The Unexpected Wife

An Uncommon Bequest

Miss Haycroft’s Suitors
by Emily Hendrickson
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19834-4
Emily Hendrickson undoubtedly knows a great deal about Regency society. Why, she can include more arcane jargon, more accurate details about clothing and musical instruments and decor and, well just about everything, than any other Regency author. Unfortunately, in the case of Miss Haycroft’s Suitors she is unable to provide a compelling story or create interesting characters upon which to hang all the period detail she has so painstakingly accumulated.

The story makes little sense. Miss Anne Haycroft is under the guardianship of her nasty uncle who has decided to marry her to an unattractive nobleman for his own advantage. She seeks a few moments of solitude by sneaking into a church where a wedding is taking place and proceeds to fall asleep. She is awakened when Justin Fairfax, the Earl of Rochford, “places a gentle kiss on her tear-stained cheek” and then to forestall her quite understandable scream, “hurriedly sought her lips, taking his time to sip from lips too tempting to ignore.”

Miss Haycroft does respond indignantly: Were I less sensible I am sure I would have swooned. How dare you Sirrah!”, but then proceeds to tell her assailant her sad tale. The earl, much taken with this beauty in distress and somewhat surprised at his own out-of-character actions, decides to come to her assistance.

He does this by spiriting her out of her uncle’s house, taking her to his aunt’s, and deciding that the solution to her problems is to invent a phantom betrothed as well as encouraging other men to pursue the beauteous heiress. Why he decides that this is going to deter her uncle or her nasty suitor, I was never sure.

The uncle ripostes with a lawsuit against the earl, a “suit of seduction,” a most unusual legal ploy. He also demonstrates his willingness to use foul means to reclaim his errant niece.

Of course, Miss Haycroft falls for the earl, although she is convinced that he cannot love her because she has caused him so many problems. And of course, the earl falls for Miss Haycroft (although it takes him an amazingly long time to realize his feelings) but can’t let her know how he feels because he is responsible for her safety. (I didn’t quite understand this rationale at all.)

Perhaps I might have been more accepting of the plot and the rather dim characters were it not for the fact that Hendrickson’s writing has all the liveliness of a dead fish and her dialogue is stilted beyond belief. Let me provide an example of the former taken more or less at random:

The days slipped by one after another. It rained and they played cards and Anne entertained at the pianoforte, an elegant instrument made by Broadwood. (Bet you didn’t know that Broadwood made pianofortes during the Regency!) The chair before it was the latest in Greek revival and covered with the countess’s favorite violet.

No one appreciates a Regency author who gets all the little details right than I do. But all the details in the world and all the research imaginable cannot make up for a dull story, dull characters and dull writing. If I had not agreed to review Miss Haycroft’s Suitors, I would not have read beyond the first chapter. The first page?

--Jean Mason

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