Jo Beverley – “The Fortune Hunter”

12 Aug

GENRE: Romance / Regency
PUBLISHED: in: Lovers and Ladies; NAL; 2008

WHY THIS NOVEL: I liked other novels by Beverley, I wanted to read one of her traditional regencies but they were oop + it was a good bargain

The back blurb:
“Amy de Lacy and her brother and sisters face poverty. There is only one thing for it: One of them will have to marry money. And Amy, the family beauty, is the obvious choice. Amy’s willing to try, even after she meets a handsome, charming stranger. Harry Crisp might attract her, but he’s not rich. Amy takes her quest to a London Season, but when she meets Harry again, she’s torn between her duty and her heart.”

The Fortune Hunter is one of Jo Beverley’s traditional Regencies. It was out of print for a long time and now is published again in an omnibus edition together with Deirdre and Don Juan. I enjoyed reading it very much. It is a subtle story and I thought it witty and smart. I also liked the sense of friendship and connectedness that came from all the other characters in the story.

The title refers to the heroine of the novel, Amy. Amy is an exceptionally beautiful woman and since her family is on the brink of poverty, she has to marry a rich man to be able to help her family. She’s also very unhappy, disgusted even, about her exceptional beauty and the effect this can have on people (men and women alike). I think in some way that her wish to “sacrifice” herself for her family is motivated by that.

I liked Amy’s matter-of-fact approach to the situation. Amy isn’t happy about the things she has to do but nevertheless is determined to see them through with grace. Her no-nonsense character is established from the beginning. She’s the one to remind her family that just because they have now some money (won in a lottery) it doesn’t mean they can spend it on everything they liked. There are still debts to be paid and even with the money, their home is far from what is once was.

Complications arise when, due to a storm, Amy’s attempt to meet the richest man in their area goes wrong and instead she ends up at a farm with Harry Crisp, a young gentleman. It’s a nice first meeting and I thought their immediate attraction was done well. It’s also one of the few times that Amy feels her beauty doesn’t interfere with how she is treated and she enjoys that a lot. She’s attracted to Harry but she suspects that he isn’t wealthy enough to also help her brother and two sisters if they would marry. Her feelings for him frighten her, and Amy knows that seeing and meeting Harry isn’t good for her because it might very well lead to her giving up on her goal to marry for money and letting her family down as a consequence of that. So she tries to push him away. Her refusal of the hero’s marriage proposal is very blunt (after he wouldn’t listen to her before):

“Very well, sir,” she snapped. “If you want logic, you may have it!” She looked him straight in the eye. “I am holding out for a better catch. I plan to marry a fortune, and you are nowhere near rich enough.” She laughed at the shock on his face. “I could be wrong, of course, our acquaintance being so slight as to be nonexistent. If you are a regular Croesus, pray tell me now and I’ll say yes, and thank you, sir, and be as grovellingly grateful as you clearly expect me to be.” (p. 93)

For me, Amy’s characterization worked. I didn’t read her as a martyr, intend to sacrifice all for her family, first probably because her brother and sisters are not like the gambling/drinking father/brother often used in this kind of story; it’s not their fault that the family is struggling with poverty. And second, an important point in this story is Amy’s realization that there is more to marriage and that it shouldn’t be just a bargain.

She found her mind dwelling on the kind of parties that had doubtless been held here in his bachelor days, with the ladies and gentlemen finding and losing each other in these dark green passageways, feeling alone together here, apart from the world and all the burdens of responsibility and correct behavior.
There would me none of that for her. No teasing romps, no romantic trysts. Amy allowed her mind in a direction she had never permitted it before. She knew, in general terms, what marriage involved. She imagined her marriage bed when Sir Cedric joined her. He would kiss her, and then do what he had to do. She supposed he would enjoy it, for men apparently did, but it was hard to imagine Sir Cedric looking at her with the hunger she had seen in other eyes today.
Having opened her mind to these thoughts, they could not be shut out. She saw new dimensions to the world around her. She had thought Lord Templemore’s gaze at his wife heated, but now she recognized hunger. It was decently controlled by maturity, civilization, and, she supposed, the expectation of satisfaction, but it was hunger all the same. She remembered the way Sophie had said, “Married life is so exhausting,” and the gleam in her husband’s eye. Hunger again.
It had been there in Harry’s and, she suspected, in her own. She sighed. Was she to go hungry all her life? (p. 192/193)

Of course, right after that she comes face-to-face with Harry.

Compared to Amy, Harry is a rather stock character. He’s nice, falls in love with Amy at first sight, then proposes on their third meeting. There is something sweet about Harry’s misconception about Amy. He sees her as some kind of Cinderella, mistreated and exploited by her family, and he wants to help and rescue her. It’s quite a shock for him when he realizes that it is actually Amy’s own doing and Amy doesn’t want to see him as Prince Charming. But he also calls her a bitch after her blunt refusal of marriage and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her after that despite his continuing attraction to her. When they meet again, they, or more precisely Amy, have to figure out what’s more important: love or duty.

So on the whole, The Fortune Hunter is Amy’s story, IMO. There’s a strong focus on her and in contrast, the romance, while convincing for a love-at-first-sight story and nice, seems to take second place, especially since there is no contact between Amy and Harry after she refuses his marriage proposal. It’s only when Amy goes to London for the Season that they meet again. And there, Amy avoids Harry as much as possible. In that way, The Fortune Hunter is perhaps more a story about a woman than a romance, but I liked to read about Amy, thought the romance worked for the story and I had fun while reading it.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably yes.

Grade: 4 + / 5


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