Jo Beverley – "An Arranged Marriage"

18 Oct

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Zebra Books, 1991

The back blurb:
“Eleanor Chivenham didn’t put much past her vile brother, but even she had not anticipated his greedy scheme to dupe a rich earl into mistaking her for a lightskirt! With her reputation in shreds and her future ruined, a defeated Eleanor was forced to agree to a hasty wedding. But marriage to the mysterious Nicholas Delaney, with his casual elegance and knowing smile, was more than she bargained for. He doubtless thought the worst of her, but when society gossip soon told her all about his beautiful French mistress, Eleanor tried to act with the cool dignity required in a marriage of convenience. But how long could she hold out against his undeniable charm – or the secret desires of her heart?
For the sake of family honor, Nicholas Delaney agreed to wed a wronged lady. In truth, such chivalry ran counter to his carefully wrought image of a carousing, dissolute rogue – the guise so vital to his secret political mission. He hoped to keep his new wife in the background until a spy was trapped, but Eleanor’s beauty and fighting wit were impossible to ignore. In fact, she presented quite a challenge to his prowess with women – and a test of his formidable will!”

An Arranged Marriage has a lot of plot elements which are right out of the only-in-romance-novels box: the heroine is raped (arranged by her eeeeeevil brother), then married to the rapist’s brother, who then cheats on her with a former lover to get information for the sake of his country.

Rendered this way, this story sounds awful.

But for me, it worked because of the heroine, Eleanor. I thought it interesting to read about a level-headed woman with everything that happens to her. She is raped (conveniently, this doesn’t seem to impact her much; she was also drugged during the rape); her husband cheats on her, she knows it and she tells herself she has no right to be jealous because he was forced to marry her. She thinks about her feelings and emotions and realizes that sometimes her expectations are pretty unreasonable. That’s different than just accepting Nicholas behaviour (letting him walk all over her), IMO, and that I found refreshing. And Beverley shows that, despite Eleanor’s best intentions, the marriage gets more and more strained. Eleanor’s perhaps too level-headed or maybe even too passive to be comfortable if you tend to transfer character behaviour into real life, but as a fictional character, Eleanor worked.

On the surface, it seems as if An Arranged Marriage is Eleanor’s story. There are only very few scenes from the hero’s, Nicholas, POV. But in a not so obvious way, An Arranged Marriage is more Nicholas story. He has the bigger character arc. And in this context, Eleanor’s “passiveness” serves a purpose, IMO. Nicholas is shown, among other things, as take-charge and knowing what to do. In less flattering words, he’s high-handed and arrogant (in thinking he knows what’s best). He’s repeatedly called manipulative. He thinks he has all under control. To pair him with a woman who isn’t as level-headed as Eleanor, who would question him about his behaviour and act very emotionally, would lessen the impact of his revelation that he doesn’t have everything under control, that in trying to protect Eleanor, he hurt her the most. His “fall” wouldn’t be as deep.

That is not to say I had no problems with this novel. In fact, there are quite a few.

The scenes with Eleanor and Nicholas brother (her rapist), needed just a little too much suspense of disbelief for me to work despite Eleanor’s being drugged and her “amnesia.” I can’t believe she could be comfortable in a room with him. There’s no mention of the rape, let alone an apology. It’s mostly treated as if it never happened and that bothered me (on the non-fictional level).

Then there’s the spy plot. I didn’t buy wholly into the idea that having an affair was the only way to get the information. Also, there wouldn’t be much of a story if Nicholas had told Eleanor form the beginning what he did “for his country” because the story, as it is told now, relies on misunderstanding after misunderstanding.

Early in the novel, Eleanor states that she at least can have an honest marriage (she reasons with herself about what to do): “It would be pleasant to be honestly married, the facts of the situation, however distasteful, acknowledged by them both” (p. 33). I would have liked to see this angle more openly pursued in the rest of the story. It’s there, of course, but it’s in the background. The misunderstandings are mostly misunderstandings when they could have been something more.

Also, it’s a bit difficult to believe that these two really were in love with each other. They spent hardly any time together.

Now, how to grade it? There’s a lot to say about Eleanor and Nicholas as characters and, depending on my mood, I tend to view it one way or the other. I enjoyed reading An Arranged Marriage. It is well written and I liked to read something different (and how sad is it that I wouldn’t expect to read something like this in a historical published today?). So, in the end, I’ll settle on the higher grade which reflects on characterization and difference, not moral / ethical quibbles resulting from a mixture of fiction and real life.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably yes.

Would I read this novel again? Yes.

Grade: 4 / 5


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