|Judith Ivory: The Proposition|
Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-380-80260-0
Prim linguist and speech instructor Edwina Henrietta Bollash cannot sit idly by when an over-zealous London bobby clubs a bound and helpless man simply for using the Cornish locution for "yes." Edwina's defense and ready translation of the captive's cant attract the attention of two wager-mad brothers, Emile and Jeremy Lamont.
"Nice brother" Jeremy, bets Edwina could turn the scruffy Cornishman into a gentleman capable of passing himself off as a viscount at the Duke of Arles' annual ball. "Snide brother" Emile insists it can't be done, and he's willing to pay for the privilege of proving his brother wrong.
Edwina, the duke's disinherited niece, cannot afford to refuse the Lamonts' offer. Mick Tremore, transplanted ratcatcher extraordinaire, accepts the Lamonts' money on behalf of his dogs and his ferrets and the more than a dozen siblings he left behind in Cornwall.
Mick suspects the brothers' motives and their all too ready way with the cash. The ratcatcher knows more of the ways of the gentry and their parasites than he pretends. But he keeps his own counsel, if only to spin out the Lady Edwina's lessons as far as the thread will stretch.
Never as blind as propriety demands, Edwina glimpses Mick's many facets and gradually falls under his spell. A 30-year-old spinster, Edwina knows she's too old, too tall, too sharp-tongued for a "suitable match." But caste is destiny. Even if Mick attains a valet's post following the duke's ball, would the aristocracy permit a duke's niece to marry a servant?
Ivory understands the social issues underlying the Victorian period like few other writers, and uses them to craft convincing internal and external conflicts. At the same time, she's not afraid to prick the balloon of her own scholarship with sly references to G.B. Shaw and American silver.
But much more importantly, Ivory knows how to create characters that read true in their context yet remain appealing and admirable in our own. She doesn't write stupid virgins. Inexperienced Edwina certainly is, and sometimes her ignorance translates into foolishness. But more often than not, Edwina catches herself in misstep. And she doesn't repeat her mistakes.
Mick's natural nobility mirrors Edwina's own; you want him to win the lady and the day. Like Sir James Stoker in Ivory's Sleeping Beauty, good guy hero Mick glitters and fascinates as surely as the most arrogant alpha male. After five pages in Mick's company, the reader knows exactly why all those highborn ladies suddenly developed a "yearning for the mud." Who can resist a man ready and willing to exterminate all the two- and four-legged rats in the vicinity -- and who comes equipped with a ferret in his pocket?
Jean Marie Ward
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