A Hitch in Time

A Time for Us

Dearest Beloved by Christine Holden
(Jove, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13228-4
When I put down Dearest Beloved for the last time, it was with great joy in my heart. Sadly, the feeling was not because I had enjoyed the book but because I had finally finished and would never have to read it again.

The book is built on a thin premise and only gets more and more unbelievable as it goes on. Dearest Beloved is the story of Arielle Stanford, a pretty debutante who dreams of becoming a doctor. Of course, this is the Regency era and women just did not dream of such things. Adding to the obstacles is the fact that now all physicians must be licensed by an accredited medical school. Arielle is desperate to find a way to attend one of these schools.

Her fairy godmother comes in the form of Hunter Braxton. A war hero and eligible bachelor, Hunter is touted as being a man who helps people achieve their dreams. So Arielle writes him a letter asking him for his assistance. Thus begins the correspondence to tie this book into the Love Letters series.

Hunter agrees to help Arielle assuming she is some homely, unmarriageable spinster. When he meets Arielle, he realizes that she's a stunning beauty and cannot bear to see that loveliness wasted. Not too shallow, is he? The correspondence continues, with both Arielle and Hunter taking extreme liberties with social customs of the day. They are on a first name basis by the second letter, and signing them "Yours Always" not long afterward.

The book moves awkwardly along, with Arielle and Hunter falling in love, but neither admitting it because they think it's futile. Arielle knows Hunter would never let his wife be a doctor, and Hunter knows Arielle would never give up her dream to be a wife. Much angst ensues.

Tossed into the mix is Hunter's illegitimacy, which serves not only as an obstacle to his possible marriage but as fodder for blackmail. Arielle's father Lord Stanford finds out about Hunter's secret and threatens him with exposure unless Hunter marries Arielle. You see, Stanford needs Hunter's money to pay his creditors (isn't that always the motivation?) Through various deceptions, Stanford convinces Arielle to marry Hunter.

For no apparent reason, other than it sounded good on paper, Hunter decides that Arielle knows all about the blackmail. He deems her a manipulative gold digger and unworthy of trust. This gives Hunter the excuse to treat Arielle coldly, which in turn gives the authors the excuse to have them communicate primarily by letter. The letter writing, which was strained to begin with, becomes tedious and awkward. You'll have to excuse me if I like my characters to actually communicate with each other and not hide behind notes.

There is no real explanation behind Arielle's burning desire to be a doctor and why she is willing to give up so much to achieve it. She is friends with a doctor, Quentin DeVries, and assists him on his rounds. It is explained however, that although this friendship has intensified her dreams, it is not the cause. So what was the cause? Was it because her mother died when she was young? Is it because she was illegitimate? The reader never really knows.

Finally, just when I thought the limit of my suspension of disbelief had been reached, Arielle performs an emergency appendectomy on Hunter. This convinces him of her medical skill and he decides to build her an infirmary. That did it, there was no saving this book.

In an author's note at the end of the book, the reader is told that women really didn't start making forays in to the medical field until approximately fifty years after Dearest Beloved took place. They also mention that unlike Quentin, the male-dominated profession was very closed to women, seeing them as weak and hysterical. To me that author's note was like an admission that Dearest Beloved was the most far-fetched piece of nonsense ever cooked up.

--Anne Bulin

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