“I promise you, she’s the most delightful creature, with a quirky sense of humour very like your own. As for the other qualities you mention – birth, breeding, experience of managing a household of consequence – she has them all, with amiability and common sense besides!”
So Henrietta Melville is described to the Honourable Julian Aldwyn, who is on the look-out for a wife who will prove restful after an earlier, disastrous love-affair.
But there’s much more to Miss Melville than meets the eye. Although she is a spirited and intelligent heiress, at twenty-six and still unmarried, she’s considered to be on the shelf.
Julian is certain his offer will not be refused.
But then comes a whirlwind month in Bath, a dastardly rake, secrets from the past … all calculated to turn any woman’s head.
Could Henrietta become the conformable wife Julian is looking for? Or will someone else catch her eye…?
First published: 1981
This book starts off very promisingly – a gentle hero and a sensible, older heroine are matched by his sister and a proposal ensues almost immediately. She however turns him down and for a very good reason in my opinion:
“For so many years I’ve tried to be what others expected and needed me to be… I should like to have my freedom for the time being, at least to try another way, to discover myself.“
And with that Henrietta heads off to visit a friend in Bath and to discover herself – which is where Ms Chetwynd Ley unfortunately lost me for a bit. Henrietta’s departure occurs at the 20% mark and we don’t see Julian again (who is the hero remember!) until the 50% mark. I’m not a fan of long separations between the hero and heroine – my main reason for reading any romance, let alone a Regency romance, is to see the two main characters connecting and falling in love, which took quite a while to get to in this book.
There’s also a lot going on in Bath that seemed to push Julian and Henrietta’s romance off-stage. There’s a mystery surrounding Henrietta’s widowed friend; a villain from someone’s past that threatens the romantic future of a character (who is not Julian or Henrietta); at least one other romance (and an imagined romance); and multiple points of view.
At times I did wonder when the actual romance would occur but I pushed on and was eventually rewarded. The interactions between Julian and Henrietta are nicely written (some strong referencing to Pride and Prejudice in the proposals and apologies) and I enjoyed the final resolution of their misunderstanding.
It was refreshing too, to not be reading about dukes and earls, and the London Season. A Conformable Wife is primarily set in Bath, with the characters coming from the landed gentry circle of society – again, this is closer to Jane Austen’s mode of writing than some of the newer Regency Romance writers.
And in the end?
Ultimately though I guess you want to know – did I feel the HEA was right? Was I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling or wishing I could get my money back?
I did think the HEA was right. Julian’s journey to understanding Henrietta and acknowledging her as an equal was nicely shown as was Henrietta’s journey to discovering herself. The (second) proposal did leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling with no desire to get my money back.