Lady Semple's Secret

The London Belle

The Rebellious Twin

The Selfless Sister by Shirley Kennedy
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20138-8
Lucinda Linley has trouble on her hands. The second of seven sisters, she’s been designated the next to marry. The fact that Lucinda doesn’t want to marry anyone and is quite content to wait for the right man to come long doesn’t signify with her parents. She’s allowed herself to be passed over four times in order to let her sisters marry. Now that the unwed sisters are down to two, Lucinda shall have her turn. And the little dowry money left will be divided between Lucinda and Henrietta, even though the reduced dowry may cost Henrietta her choice of beaux.

Lucinda cannot bear to destroy her sister’s chance at happiness with her chosen suitor, Lord Carlton. Declaring that Henrietta can have it all, Lucinda decides to take herself off to Yorkshire and the Southfield estate to act as companion to an elderly aunt. Her parents, referring darkly to a tragedy which haunts that branch of the family, finally acquiesce.

It soon appears that Lucinda’s parents were right. Southfield is inhabited by a strange family indeed, headed by icy, dictatorial Edgerton Linley - Lucinda’s cousin - and his meek wife and two children. Aunt Pernelia is kind, but unable to stand up to her brutish son. Edgerton’s sister, Sarah, spends most of her time in her room, embroidering.

Lucinda, in order to escape the oppressive household, takes to rambling the nearby woods, sketching birds. On her first trip, she runs into an enigmatic man who calls himself Douglas, Lord Belington. Having already been warned by Edgerton never to associate with a Belington, Lucinda’s curiosity is piqued. What do the Belington’s have to do with the old family tragedy, which appears to center around the long-ago disappearance of a six-year old child?

Matters become complicated when Edgerton’s daughter, Alethea, confides that she has fallen in love with another Belington. Alex. Lucinda and Douglas are drawn to one another. Douglas fights his attraction to Lucinda by returning to London and his mistress. And the child whose body was never found continues to cast a shadow over everyone.

Despite the rather silly title, The Selfless Sister offers an entertaining read. Its Gothic overtones may well please readers who enjoy a bit of suspense with their romance, though the culprit will likely be spotted a mile away. Lucinda is presented as an independent thinker, but one whose maturity allows her to play the games necessary to gain what she wants. Douglas, bogged down in a rather standard “I’ll never love anyone because of the tragedy” mode, is less sympathetic. And frankly, the fact that he spends a great deal of time with his mistress detracts from his relationship with Lucinda. It’s a bit hard to put much faith in their eventual romance.

Douglas does have genuine problems, though. There is a bit of a surprise at the ending which makes his behavior more understandable.

The secondary characters, with their host of problems, add depth to the story. Alex and Alethea have an uphill battle, and their secondary romance ends up being the catalyst to getting Lucinda and Douglas together.

The Selfless Sister deserves credit for adding a tone to Regency romance that isn’t often found anymore. If you like a touch of suspense, it's definitely worth a look.

--Cathy Sova

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