Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: July!
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Zebra Books (Regency Romance), 2004
SERIES: related to The Ideal Bride
AVAILABILITY: no longer available
PERHAPS YOU’VE HEARD OF ME?
The Duke of St. Fell, at your service. The women of the ton call me cynical, accuse me of gambling, drinking, seducing, and wanting to marry only for money. Guilty as charged. As for romance? Pure twaddle invented by brooding spinsters. Thank heavens for Arabella Swann. With her sharp wit, strong will, keen intelligence, and utterly delightful fortune, she’ll make a perfect wife for me–as soon as she gets over her ridiculous notions of romance and realizes it. After all, I am a duke and devastatingly handsome and charming. It’s not as if she could possibly find a better suitor than me.
Except for that pestilential Lord Stonecraft. The sap remembers Arabella’s favorite flowers and perfume. He even writes epic poetry. He’s everything she’s ever wanted, damn him. Now that he’s wormed his way into her affections, how can I possibly compete with such romantic perfection? And how will I ever prove to Arabella that this cynical duke no longer cares a whit for her fortune (heaven help me)…but only for her heart…
Nonnie St. George wrote (afaik) two novels. Both are regencies, both are very funny (IMO), and I like both a lot, Courting Trouble maybe a bit more than The Ideal Bride. At least, Courting Trouble is the one I’ve re-read more often.
For this challenge, I’ve read Courting Trouble for the fourth time and I still find it as laugh-out-loud funny as the first time. Actually, I think Courting Trouble is one of the funniest romance novels I’ve ever read. It’s fast, it’s sparkling full of wit, it makes me laugh no matter how often I’ve read it, and it does it all without throwing in a dog. It reminds me of old screwball comedies or modern sitcoms.
Of course, as with all stories that rely heavily on humor, the humor in this story either works for you or it doesn’t.
If the humor doesn’t work, you see a simplistic plot, no real conflict, slightly exaggerated characters bordering on clichés (especially the secondary characters), a too modern tone (regency in disguise), and on the whole, a story that seems unrealistic and is over after three meetings between the heroine and the hero.
If the humor does work, you see a masterfully written comedy based on a three act structure that has sparkling dialog, good timing, is tongue in cheek, and laughs at itself and the genre. By chapter two, I had already more slips of paper sticking out of the book than I needed to illustrate why I think this novel is wickedly funny. Sentences, paragraphs, whole scenes, chapters, well, the whole novel – on every level, intricately linked, you find something witty.
The plot: Arabella comes to London looking for a husband. Her father promised her complete freedom in her choice, but he also wants a titled son-in-law. So he takes care that Arabella doesn’t meet eligible gentlemen despite her being in London for two weeks now. When he meets a likely candidate, the Duke of St. Fell who’s in dire need of money, at one of his business meetings, he goes behind Arabella’s back and makes a deal with said candidate. Of course, Arabella can’t have that!
The conflict: Arabella doesn’t want to marry a fortune hunter. St. Fell freely admits that he is just that. Arabella wants courting, romance and love. St. Fell doesn’t see the point in that. The trouble, eh conflict, is, they fell in love with each other at first sight but both are too stubborn to admit it.
And that’s it.
But oh, how St. George uses this to have fun, skewering romance clichés left and right.
The fortune hunting business? (Apologies, several quotes follow to give an idea how this novel works.)
Arabella’s heart began to hammer. She was going to have her first private conversation with a gentleman! And heaven only knew the kind of conversation a fortune hunting rake would get up to. Not that he would admit that he was a fortune hunter or a rake, of course. No, she had no doubt that he would try to convince her that he was truly interested in her for herself. […]
As soon as her family reached the far wall, the Duke of St. Fell leaned across the sofa toward her. His lips curved into a smile and he looked deeply into her eyes.
Arabella held her breath.
“What the devil is your aunt’s name?” he asked. (40/41)
“I am not going to marry you just because that is what you and Papa want!”
“Then marry me because that is what you want,” he said.
“I do not want to marry you!” Arabella said. “I barely know you.!”
“You know everything of importance. I am a duke. You are a rich heiress. We are a perfect match.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “To think that in all the years I dreamed of coming to London, I never dared hope I would receive so romantic a proposal.”
“I thought you said you didn’t read Minerva Press romances?” He had the nerve to sound injured.
“That does not mean I want to be married for my fortune!”
“But you have such a fine fortune!” he said. “Why not use it to acquire the best husband you can.”
“Which would be a duke, I suppose,” she said dryly.
“It is hard to do better than a duke. We are as scarce as hen’s teeth , you know.” (46/47)
I do not know what my father has told you, but I’m going to choose my own husband.”
The duke shrugged. “Choose me.”
“I want to marry for love!”
“I want my husband to love me!”
“I love you.” (48)
A bit later:
“In any event,” he continued, still merrily smirking, “it doesn’t matter if I love you. You don’t marry someone because they love you. What matters is whether or not you love me.” (48/49)
Romance clichés, conventional views and perspectives of the characters and reader get turned around all the time in this novel. There are lots of references to Minera Press romances throughout the story. The thing about dukes being scarce as hen’s teeth? Arabella’s aunt made this comment prior to Arabella meeting St. Fell for the first time. Then there are the bonbons the characters eat (they come with meaning – sugared almonds are dull and by implication if someone picks one…), the ongoing discussion about rakes (St. Fell), rogues, rascals, or for example St. Fell’s mother who has a lorgnette and isn’t afraid to use it because that’s what Arabella and her family expect of her, a duchess. Her qualifications to become a duchess: intelligence, determination, firm opinions, and a monkey; which she amends to any unusual pet or cursing.
Arabella curses. She’s also of the firm opinion that she’s just infatuated with St. Fell (any guesses what’s his given name?) and not in love. After all, she wants to beat the smirk off his face whereas her sister Diana says she knows she’s in love because she wants what’s best for Belcraven, her suitor. Never mind the fact that Arabella’s thoughts often wander off to St. Fell while she’s in conversation with other gentlemen and that she pants whenever he is around.
St. Fell knows that Arabella curses just from looking at her face. Because she does it frequently, Arabella’s cursing turns into a constant element of their meetings and it’s one of the main inducements that brings St. Fell to his knees and close to kissing Arabella whenever he dares her to curse aloud. Despite the fact that St. Fell is smug, smirking, and so self-assured that he seems rather full of himself, he nevertheless tries to give Arabella what she wants because he knows its important to her: he lets her be courted by other gentlemen (though of course he’s sure she’ll pick him at the end). He also does the St. Fell slink whenever he catches sight of her.
While both Arabella and St. Fell might be too stubborn to admit it, it’s clear that they are perfect for each other – with or without St. Fell’s slink/hitch and Arabella’s panting – because they understand each other.
Verdict: 5/5 for the sheer hilarity and fun. It hardly gets better than that.
(If I slightly take into account how realistic this story is – not that I do because that’s not its point – 4,5/5.)