Her Secret Guardian

The Maiden Bride

My Wicked Earl

The Pleasure of Her Kiss

A Scandal to Remember

The Wedding Night

 
Marry the Man Today
by Linda Needham
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-051414-0
***
Had I been born into an earlier generation, I can easily envision myself marching in tandem with my suffragette sisters, holding a VOTES FOR WOMEN! banner up high, climbing into a paddy wagon for my principles. So whenever a book’s heroine is a suffragette, she’s got me on her side from page one. But she’d better act like an intelligent, committed woman right up until the last page. Likewise, I expect a romance heroine to end up with the right man and a happily ever after whatever her political stance but not at the cost of her cause and her intellect.

Elizabeth Dunaway marches into the opening scene of Marry the Man Today as an ardent Victorian-era suffragette, but by the end she’s undergone a meltdown into just another “love means acting like a ninny” character. The book’s strengths – an appealing hero and some clever dialogue – can’t compensate for a plot that betrays the heroine’s character.

Ross Carrington, Earl of Blakestone, first glimpses Elizabeth Dunaway as she leads a band of women demonstrating for women’s suffrage. Intrigued, he leaves his meeting at the Admiralty to follow her even as she and the others are loaded into wagons and carted off to jail. When he is admitted to her jail cell, she mistakes him for a journalist and launches into a passionate defense of her position. Raised by two maiden aunts, she intends never to marry because a married woman loses all her legal and property rights to her husband.

Ross arranges for Elizabeth’s release from Scotland Yard. While he’s still at Scotland Yard, the Lord Mayor asks his assistance in investigating the strange disappearance of three aristocratic women. The only clues left behind are a chloroform-soaked handkerchief, a man’s glove, and a battered hat. After further urging, Ross agrees to look into it.

Elizabeth resides at the Abigail Adams Club, a club for women she founded that’s modeled on the many popular men’s clubs. Women meet to socialize and take classes, among them classes to improve marital relations. An excursion to the visitors’ gallery at Parliament is designed to educate women as to the workings of government.

Ross turns up a disturbing connection in regards to the women’s disappearance: they had all been members of the Abigail Adam’s Club. He decides that the kidnapper is targeting club members and as the owner and manager Elizabeth must be at increased risk. He moves into the club to protect her and posts guards around the club.

In fact, the women have not been abducted – they have escaped. All were trapped in abusive marriages, and with the aid of Elizabeth and several of her closest associates, they have slipped away while out in public and eventually sailed to America and a new life.

Ross is also involved in diplomatic negotiations with the Austrians over Russian threats. His thoughts, however, are increasingly taken up by the beautiful and desirable Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is helping yet another woman to escape and encouraging other women to set up their own bank accounts.

Marry the Man Today is the third in the author’s Gentleman Rogues series. Characters from the earlier books (The Pleasure of Her Kiss and A Scandal to Remember) play significant roles in this one as well so while being third isn’t fatal to the story, the book does not stand completely on its own.

With so many historical romances being set in Regency-era England, it’s nice to have a book set in another time period. Unfortunately, Marry the Man Today plays fast and loose with Victorian attitudes. The sexual repression and societal restrictions on women of the era are brushed aside. The women in this story are eager to learn how to be sexually aggressive, and their menfolk are relishing it. And talking about it. Everybody seems to want to get in on the act. What would the Queen think?

Elizabeth is a contradictory character. She’s supposed to be twenty-two, but she is well-established as the club owner and a leader in the suffrage movement. She’s a virgin, but she’s very knowledgeable about male and female sexuality. She’s committed to remaining unwed for solid reasons, but she gets flustered like a silly schoolgirl when she receives a little masculine attention. She would be more credible if she were a decade older and more experienced.

Ross is a more believable character except for his unlikely rise in status from the slums to the nobility. His interest in and pursuit of Elizabeth explains his leap in logic when he concludes that she’s in danger rather than suspecting she might be involved in the disappearances. Early scenes between him and Elizabeth feature some entertaining dialogue and personality clashes.

By the middle of the story, Elizabeth begins to undergo transformation into just another brainless ninny who needs a man to save her, and the story line goes down with her. By the end, the ardent, independent woman of the early chapters has disappeared without a trace. She doesn’t need independence, she doesn’t need to own property, she just needs the hero and her life is perfect.

Poor Elizabeth. She got her man but she deserved more.

--Lesley Dunlap


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