I found myself waking this morning with a sudden craving for a ride in the country, or a lesson in pruning roses, or even the prospect of attending a ball. Miss Delacourt and her companions have crept into my thoughts and decided to stay for awhile, and you won't find me objecting.
When my husband saw me standing in the middle of the kitchen reading this book, as I simultaneously made lunches for the kids, he knew something had reeled me in and was insistent on finding out what. Being an English professor he loves a good teaser, so I told him I was getting acquainted with a Spencer Tracy/ Katherine Hepburn duo in Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind.
One of the things I appreciate about this genre of British-set romance or parlor writing is the banter between the characters. It seems to be an art form that is lost on current writers, in general. But Heidi, or in keeping with the code of her characters, Mrs. Ashworth, gets it right in her book, without the dialogue ever seeming too stiff or forced. In Chapter Four there is a slight disagreement between the two main characters of Ginny (Miss Delacourt) and Sir Anthony when Ginny finally blurts out her distaste for her traveling companion. Anthony replies, "It does feel good to express one's feelings, does it not, Miss Delacourt?" And I found myself thinking Why yes, it does.
Mrs. Ashworth's sense of humor also shines through as she incorporates moments of hilarity. The one in particular that I found myself reading twice is found in the tenth chapter, when the romantic foil, Lord Avery, accidentally catches his golden locks on fire. I am using real restraint here in not quoting more from this passage. The beauty to Ashworth's humor is that it is not there solely as entertainment, but it is a clever way to develop her characters, which she does so well.
And what woman does not want a little Petruccio in her man? We see it here in Sir Anthony as he secretly begins to appreciate the Kate in Ginny. When he jerks her into his arms and she gasps in protest, only to find herself melting into him, I admit I put the book down to go and get a cold glass of water. And Anthony never feels overbearing, because we are also allowed to see his more tender side when he struggles with feelings of jealousy or regret. The romance is sweet, and each person involved gets to be true to themselves.
The supporting characters in Miss Delacourt were also very enjoyable as they became an important engine to the forward movement of the story. The Barringtons jumped off the page with their high drama and demanding personalities, and I enjoyed seeing the way that they incidentally, through their own character flaws, helped the story get where it needed to be. When Lucinda complains about her fat suitors sweating and creaking in their corsets it says so much more about her than it does about them. This is what supporting characters should do, and Mrs. Ashworth nailed it.
I enjoyed this book tremendously, and, as the dowager duchess says toward the end of the book, I never repeat myself. So let me say that Heidi Ashworth has had her own coming out party in Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, and it is a coming out that even Miss Lucinda Barrington would be proud of.