1995, Regency Romance
Fawcett, $4.50, Amazon ASIN 0449223396
It seems that every light Regency Romance that I pick up describes itself on the back cover as "delightful." If you would like to refresh your memory as to the true meaning of this word, I heartily recommend that you find a copy of The Mad Miss Mathley. You will smile from the first page to last and eagerly await the day when you have forgotten enough of it to read it again.
The Mad Miss Mathley is like a Billy Wilder comedy set in the Regency age. Not long after I finished the first chapter I started envisioning Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in the lead roles.
The plot is classic screwball. A spirited, albeit somewhat dizzy heiress traps a charming, devastatingly handsome, but cautious hero into assisting her in a madcap scheme. In this case, the heiress is Melinda Mathley, daughter of a family so wealthy and well connected that it is virtually "scandal proof." To her father's disgust, the plain looking and equally plain speaking Melinda has turned down six offers of marriage from a variety of fortune hunters. When Melinda refuses her seventh suitor, who just so happens to be one of her father's friends, Papa becomes so furious that he insists that she accept her next proposal, regardless of who has made it. Unfortunately the next suitor could well be the repellent Basil Hollis, Melinda's rude cousin.
Upon meeting the notorious and devastatingly handsome Lord Peter Carlton at an assembly, Melinda hits on the perfect way to escape Hollis's clutches. She suggests to Lord Carlton that they enter into a false betrothal. This will serve them both. Melinda's father will be so appalled by her engagement to a rake that he will rescind his command that she marry. In the meantime, Lord Carlton will have the advantage of being connected with the distinguished Mathley family. This will help him to repair his unsavory reputation.
After a bit of hesitation, the astonished Lord Carlton agrees. What he does not anticipate, however, is Melinda's capacity for getting into trouble. She may be scandal proof, but he is not. While Lord Carlton is desperately trying to behave respectably, Melinda is rescuing an unwed mother, enlisting his help in preventing a duel and helping a friend to elope.
The dialogue in this book makes it a joy to read. From the first conversation you realize that it is Melinda and Peter's intelligence that makes them perfect for each other. In lesser Regencies one reads a lot of forced repartee. The dialogue in this book is the real thing and it is as delicious as could be. There is a scene early in the relationship when Melinda bursts in on Lord Carlton as he dines with his former mistress, Mrs. Hill. Far from being offended by the situation Melinda is immensely curious, "How do you do Mrs. Hill," she says. "I'm so glad to meet you at last for I've heard so much about you and I knew it couldn't all be true."
Melinda Mathley is the kind of young woman I've been dying to read about. She isn't pretty. Her mind is so far superior to those around her that she takes it for granted that she will need to take care of everyone she knows. Melinda takes responsibility for her own happiness in a way that few heroines do. At the start of the book she asks Lord Carlton to dance. Unusual though this may be in a Regency, the act rings true. Melinda Mathley is a true eccentric who would go her own way in any age.
Peter Carlton is a man trapped by the silly excesses of his youth. Like Melinda, he is far more intelligent than people give him credit for. Peter's underlying concern, that in the end he has nothing to offer Melinda, is very touching. Regardless of his reputation, the reader knows that the world will see little beyond the fact that a devastatingly handsome man has paired himself with a rather plain woman..
The Mad Miss Mathley is the kind of wonderful story that I look forward to giving to my daughter someday. In Miss Mathley, she will find a heroine whose most appealing feature is her own uniqueness and determination to be herself. In Peter Carlton she will find a man who appreciates her value. Oh, and she'll laugh an awful lot too.
-- Robin Uncapher
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