by Victoria Alexander
narrated by Susan Duerden
Ⓟ 2011, Brilliance Audio
When Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in 1813, she created a template for many future romance novels: The male lead would be wealthy, powerful, respected/feared and, would be eventually brought to heel by someone beneath him socially; and the female lead would be a person whose attempts to cultivate a shred of dignity would be humbled. Somehow, defying accepted social norms and taking each other down a peg in the process leads to a HEA ending
This romance novel differs from the P&P template in that the author has chosen instead to model the tone of His Mistress by Christmas on the 1777 Sheriden play, A School for Scandal. In fact, the farce is mentioned in the context of the story, foreshadowing the comedy of the scenes leading up to the denouement. Lady Veronica Smithson is a wealthy, sexually savvy widow who wants to be a mistress, not a wife. Her intended protector however, is Sebastien, the fourth son in a respectable family. Sebastien craves credibility in his family’s eyes and one way to get that is to get married. Having met Lady Veronica, and liking what he sees, he decides that he would like to marry her. Set in 1833 and in London, His Mistress by Christmas features characters who are socially progressive which sets the stage for interesting discussions on the changing roles and identities of the early Victorian woman. The female characters are strongly opinionated and vocal while the men in the story tend to more reserved; but steadfast.
Susan Duerden gives the female characters clear, distinct voices; but the men are less carefully delineated. There is one scene in particular, between Sebastien and his best friend, the American Sinclair, where the listener may be uncertain as to whom is talking. Also, there is not a significant parenthetical drop in tone (or textual indicators like: “he thought to himself”) that differentiates between interior thought and that which is spoken aloud. Susan Duerden, does however, pull off the sex scene without any noticeable self-consciousness or hitch; But the passage does use the word “cock” rather artlessly which is a slight jolt to the listening experience.
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