What if you thought you were dying? What would you do? Rosellen
Lockhart chooses to write letters to the all too many people who have
made her young life unhappy, leading to her sad end alone and dying of
influenza at the girl's school where she serves as a miserably paid and
miserably treated junior teacher.
While the plot device of letters from a dying person is not new, I have
never seen it used in a Regency. And, of course, Metzger gives the tale
a neat twist. Rosellen doesn't die and thus gets to see the impact of
her letters. Indeed, those letters, written when she was nearly
delirious, change her life.
The recipients of Rosellen's letters include: the nasty cousin who
arranged for her to be socially ruined because she didn't want to share
her season; the uncle who abandoned his sister when she married a poor
cleric and sent his niece away without hearing her side of the story;
the man who stole a kiss and her reputation; the twins who helped the
nasty Clarice to pull off her scheme; the mean and dishonest owner of
the girls' school where Rosellen has been teaching; the local landowner
whose relations with the schoolmistress are closer than they should be;
the school mistress' lecherous clerical brother. She informs all these
assorted folks that she forgives them their mistreatment.
Rosellen also writes letters to two former students at the school,
encouraging each to stand up for themselves. She has particularly fond
memories of Susan Alton, who had proposed to save Rosellen from the
horrors of Miss Merrihew's academy by employing her as a companion. But
the one person whom Rosellen refuses to forgive is Susan's brother,
Viscount Stanford, who had thoughtlessly destroyed Rosellen's hopes of a
better life by telling his sister not to be foolish, she didn't need a
companion. Rosellen's letter to Stanford chides him for his selfishness
and his lack of empathy for others and blames him for her death.
Of course, the rub is that Rosellen doesn't die! Instead her letters
set off a whole train of events. Mistress Merrihew, her brother and
paramour realize how much Rosellen knows about their illegal and immoral
behavior, and determine to rid themselves of her. They might well have
succeeded were it not for the fact that Susan has shamed her brother
into investigating dear Rosellen's fate, a feat made easier by his own
guilt for his role in her calamities. And so, it's Viscount Stanford to
the rescue, and suddenly, Rosellen finds herself dependent on her
nemesis. And Stanford finds himself coming to admire the plucky,
outspoken and determined Rosellen.
There is more excitement before the denouement. Stanford is unwilling
to believe that Rosellen's life is in danger until it is almost too
late. His obtuseness seems a bit overdone. And the final unmasking of
the villain is perhaps a bit too pat. I do like brave heroines, but
Rosellen's behavior approached foolishness.
But all in all, Miss Lockhart's Letters provided me with an
enjoyable read. Metzger has a way of creating humorous secondary
characters who enliven her story. I particularly enjoyed the twins who,
threatened with haunting and feeling guilty about their part in
Rosellen's disgrace, become her champions.
I didn't want to put Miss Lockhart's Letters down, so it clearly
passed my most important test. Thus I can recommend it to Regency fans
with a clear conscience. A fun book which displays Metzger's way with
the lighthearted Regency. She is one of the authors who is endangered
by Fawcett's decision to drop the Regency line. So don't forget to keep
those cards and letters heading towards the publisher. Maybe we can
change their minds.