The book description and other reviews for this book were misleading. It wasn't at all charming, delightful or romantic. It was deeply depressing actually. Looks matter and nothing else. Women are entirely to blame for a bad marriage and men are virtuous and deceived by ugly wives.
The icing on the cake was the story Susanna shares with her friend Alice about a buck-tooth girl who tricked a poor guy into being saddled with her. They bemoan the fate of the poor men with bad wives.
Right. I think it's time to put that myth to bed. Some men cheat on lovely, honest and decent wives who are often pretty. Even the villainous Egger's wife wasn't spared despite his "Nasty habit", bad business practices and other despicable qualities. She was ugly
and plain! Even if the wife is "plain" by Susanna's eye people do honestly have a myriad of reasons for being married.
This was the two women's nasty way of excusing that they are other women without showing in the novel that most "kept woman" aren't really loved by these men at all. It reminded me of two different miniseries about hookers, Band of Gold
and The Secret Diary of a Caller Girl
which pity the poor men whose wife won't do this or that. In this case the wife is just ugly or has interests outside of her husband.
I don't fault that Susanna wasn't perfect [her petty feelings for a rival dressmaker] since Ibbotson's other heroines are ridiculously forgiving... but Susanna placed too much stock in people's appearances. For a thirty-six year old woman she ought to have learned her dead mother's remark "Pretty equals goodness" is not true. She never sees beyond that even after her 'match-making' of poor Edith and Herr Huber. He wasn't a good looking bloke but spent the majority of the book expecting to get the hot girl. Magdalena.
The Magdalena/Edith storyline contradicted her argument with Huber. Magdalena wanted a sexless marriage but was sooo pretty. Now there was a marriage that would have ended in infidelity had it happened.
Susanna should at least hold men to these same standards. She does tell him off but only for thinking he could have a marriage without sex. It could just be that people end up not being compatible but the poor men who have wives that don't understand them. She also picked on the women for having ugly daughters. Gasp, the worst thing a wife could do to her man.
This book was filled with women hating other women. It didn't have a cozy, magical and feel goodness when the book lambasts you with appearances are all that matters in a relationship when the book is a romance. Connections with people for more than surface reasons are what sells a romance or makes you give a damn what happens to them.
This read like a kiddie pool version of Nancy Mitford's "The Pursuit of Love". Only partly none of the good stuff of that book. That book was sublime and true to real romance in that most love is all in ours heads and how we ourselves feel about the other person is what most love is. There could have been a way to tell Susanna and Alice own romances without blaming women in general for not understanding poor men. This book was just all the lies women in affairs tell themselves without exposing the lies.
It failed as a romance for real life love for failing to expose those as lies and it failed as a fantasy because it was too cold.
This is a book written for adults unlike Ibboton's other novels but with the exception of her heroines and their love interests the other novels involved complex characters.
This book might be for immature adults who don't understand how bad these sort of relationships are for everyone involved. At best it's just someone who doesn't know what they want and flitters between two women who offer something of what they want but not the complete package. Some men have a Madonna/Whore complex and want two women.
Not this line from the book that had me laughing a loud. "It isn't warm, passionate women like you who make the Great Lovers of this world. It's coldhearted devils like me who are generally bored or discontented and frequently both."
This is why this failed. He was bored. I was bored as a result. That was all her Field Marshall ever got across was boredom.
The first few pages were the old stock unrealistic "Those flowers are so beautiful la di da".
The best aspect of the book was her pain over giving up her daughter but then she experiences no growth whatsoever. She learns she's pretty and is happy.
That was all that mattered. Not who she was a person. No relationship forged.