First things first: I can’t get to every error in this book. There are just too damned many. I realize this book was published toward the end of Signet’s life, and that is what I had to keep reminding myself as I read (screamed) my way through LADY LARKSPUR DECLINES.
The other reason I can’t get to all the errors is that it would require a reread of the novel and sweet baby Jesus, I can’t. My head would explode. The minor errors demonstrating historical tone deafness (wanting to dance all the dances with one man, removing a coat in a ballroom, inaccurate honorifics, and so forth) are completely overwhelmed by the big ones. Like, you know, England losing her American colonies over the Brighton Pavilion. (#facepalm)
Without further ado, at some point in the 1820s, to the best of my ability to surmise (but more on that later):
Lady Larkspur is one of five daughters of Lord and Lady Leicester, all of whom are named after flowers. (Delphinium must have had a hard go of it, but at least Rose got off lightly.) The other four are married and Lady L is the last — no great surprise, given she has the social grace of a toddler at a tea party. The nominal family crisis: unless one of the daughter produces a son before the death of their father, the title will go to a distant cousin. (#facepalm)
Of course the cousin, Lord Raeborn, is elderly and creepy and EW. He has the good sense to have a kinsman of his own named Benedict Queensman (if there was ever a worse name for a hero in a romance novel, I’ve never seen one), who is a physician who is very close to the king, as it turns out. What? Is he a mad doctor? Oh, no! The king in question is George IV. (Regency? We don’t need no stinkin’ Regency.) But I digress.
Lady Larkspur is jilted the very night the book opens and because of the great scandal and shame it casts upon her and the family (wait, what?), her father decides she must be married at all costs — and conveniently, he has the money to throw behind it, to lure a husband. (#facepalm)
Enter creepy Lord Raeborn. Well, if the title’s going to go to him anyway, why not? Lady L’s father decides this is a grand idea. Because if you have plenty of resources and four married daughters and one toady daughter, the smart thing to do is marry the headstrong toady daughter off in a disastrous fashion. Because that will never lead to scandal. Oh, no. Never happen.
In any event, Lady L does not think this is a grand idea. She decides to fake being deathly ill, in order to drive Lord Raeburn off.
But remember, there’s a physician on hand! After an examination (featuring his “most useful of instruments” — unspecified, but as described most likely a monaural stethoscope, invented in 1816 and almost identical to an ear trumpet), Queensman sees she’s faking, but despite Lady L treating him abominably, he tells her family she should go to a sanitarium (#facepalm) in Brighton. Since he has his own little hospital there, he can keep an eye on her for his kinsman. So convenient!
And so they go off to Brighton, along with an unmarried friend of Lady L’s for propriety’s sake. (#facepalm)
“There is little artifice in the small community of Brighton, and one may freely speak one’s mind without generating undue suspicions.” [Says Queensman]
“Can such a thing be possible? Has not our king built a great palace there and made the place his home?”
Benedict Queensman laughed and his whole face seemed transformed. He looked approachable, his guard let down. “What you imply is perhaps treasonous, my lady, but I must admit you are absolutely right. Since the completion of the Pavilion, a continuous caravan of royal followers has entered Brighton, building there own monstrosities along the beach and changing the temperament of the town. The locals have gained much by the sudden influx of wealth and demand for products, but there is growing sentiment that much has also been lost.”
That sound? My head hitting the desk. Repeatedly. So let’s get this straight. You can speak your mind freely, but if you imply something negative about the Regent — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING — you can’t. And then the guy who says you can’t…goes on to voice criticism.
Besides, that’s only barely seditious, not treasonous. Treason involves taking up arms against the government.
Also, Brighton became popular when Prince Henry of Cumberland and Strathearn started going. Prince Henry died in 1790 — at least thirty years before the book opens.
Because depending on what we think of as “completion” of the Pavilion (Nash’s work was done in 1822), the book is set at least in 1822 but before 1830 (when George IV kicks the bucket).
In any event, Lady L goes to the sanitarium (another vocab fail: the word is a pseudo-Latin invention of the mid-19th century). She meets some people that we identify right away as suspicious and obnoxious. Lady L thinks they’re charming. Go figure, because she has no judgment to speak of.
There is a lot of back and forth about whether or not she’s really ill and the Catch-22 that is if Queensman outs her, she has to go marry his icky kinsman, but if she continues to be a faker…well, I’m not sure what the downside of being a faker is. She has a lot of secondary gain in this illness nonsense, what with being doted on and carried everywhere and not having to marry the icky cousin.
Queensman turns out to be a personal physician to the Regent — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING — and it’s clear he does some secret secret stuff, too, although we never really find out what. Secret physician stuff, maybe. This might have been interesting, if it had been developed. It wasn’t.
There is a SAIL-BY SHOOTING. There are hints that one of the inmates of the sanitarium (cannot type this word without grimacing) is some sort of spy or agent provocateur, although Lady L is far too self-absorbed to realize it, even though all signs say BAD GUY HERE. RIGHT HERE. DO NOT LOOK FURTHER.
How do we know? We can tell he’s bad because he doesn’t know his American geography and he’s supposed to be a big war hero. Queensman knows he’s phony baloney because Queensman was in the Americas “during one of the conflicts.” Which one? I CAN’T TELL AND I HAVE A DEGREE IN HISTORY. Looks like researching this was on the author’s list and she figured, Meh, who cares? One of them. Readers won’t know the difference.
(The War of 1812 was called “the American war” to distinguish it from the continental Napoleonic conflict. But since there’s so much talk about loss of colonies and since Britain didn’t do much losing of colonies during the War of 1812, it’s all rather confusing.)
And you see, the Regent — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING — “beggared his colonies in America to finance” the Pavilion. What? You mean that wasn’t in your history text, either? But it’s okay, you guys. Because according to Queensman, “I believe the king himself is somewhat regretful of the folly of it all.”
Even if it had caused the loss of major British revenue sources, I don’t remember much expression of regret in the biographies of George IV I’ve read, though I will admit it’s possible. Highly unlikely and if said, only for political reasons, but possible.
I could have forgiven this American colony blunder once (oh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t). But over and over again?
Here’s the heroine eating the dust of the Regent — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING: “In a moment, and in a whirlwind of white dust, his carriage was gone, quickly on its way to the extravagant palace that had cost England her rich American colonies. Perhaps it would prove the most costly pleasure palace in history.”
Dude. Way to put down the Indies and Canada.
In any event, there’s a plot on the Regent’s life — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING. I don’t really get why this is there. Why would anyone want to kill the Regent? It’s not sporting, since he couldn’t run very quickly. And pretty much any of his brothers would have done a better job. What on earth would be the point? But apparently these Frenchies are very bitter about that defeat in 1815 (which is now at least seven years old).
Conveniently, Lord Raeburn’s old flame is also at the sanitarium, and when he comes for a visit, they fall back in love. Aw. Isn’t that convenient?
Needless to say, Lady L saves the day by overcoming her bogus illness and dressing in male clothing. And they all live happily ever after (except the Regent — whoops, sorry, I mean the KING — who only has eight or fewer years left to live).
I’m stopping here. This book should be used as an editing test for would-be Regency editors. It should be a book club drinking game. It should be an initiation into a secret society. If only.
I do like that the hero is not a peer. So there’s that.
Take away messages and honorable mentions:
- This is technically not a Regency. I wouldn’t care, but it’s really not a Regency.
- England did not lose her “American possessions” over the construction of the Brighton Pavilion. Sure, it’s ugly as fuck and if we were still attached to England at the time we’d be embarrassed by it, but no, that’s never been cited as a root source of revolution. At least not in any book I’ve read. I mean, would it have been worth a revolution over? Nah. Maybe paying back the colossal debt of the Seven Years’ (French and Indian) War would have been worth it. Brighton? Not so much.
- A dowager is not a synonym for “widow.” In Regency romances, readers will assume a dowager is both the widow of a peer and the female ancestor of the subsequent peer. You can make yourself crazy over this. Or you can read Burke’s.
- A ballroom isn’t a cloakroom. You’d take off your coat before getting there. Because, you know. Servants.
- Unless a title was created in heirs of the body, ordinary primogeniture meant inheritance through the male line. A daughter popping out a male son? Doesn’t inherit. Now, it’s possible that the land could be tied up six ways from Sunday involving daughters, although it would be highly unusual because women lost most of their property rights on marriage and what father wants to give his son-in-law that kind of control? (In any case, I’ll stop. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in my Property class who really loved fee tails and reversions. I pestered my professor during breaks with “what if” Regency property conveyance scenarios. After looking at me like I was crazy, he started getting into it. “Oh, and you could have a baron that did this and conveyed that to this heir but kept a reversion in this unless this condition precedent occurred and it reverted to…” It was fabulous.)
- Generally speaking, physicians were called “Doctor” and surgeons were called “Mister.” Physicians had formal education, while surgeons did not (They were a tiny step up from barbers: why does a barber’s pole have white and red? Blood). Throughout the book, Queensman is called Mister, but is referred to as a physician.
If you want to read a great book on Georgian medicine (and mad-doctoring, which is what the heroine really needed), George III and the Mad Business is awesome and is about much more than simply the mad business.