Tuesday, February 26, 2008
"It Happened One Autumn," by Lisa Kleypas
The Chick: Lillian Bowman - the second-oldest of Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers. She's richer than God, not bad looking, and smart as a whip - so why is she overlooked? Because she's a crass, sass-talkin' American, that's why. She and her younger sister Daisy desparately need a noble sponser to instruct them enough in proper English manners for them to land husbands, but so far, Lillian's hellfire temper sets her apart from her British competitors.
Shady Past: She and her sister invited their Wallflower friends to play Rounders (essentially baseball) with them in the previous novel. In their undergarments. Outside. On Lord Westcliff's estate. On which they were discovered in said undergarments by Lord Westcliff.
The Dude: Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool-aristocrat with ancestry going back practically to the Middle Ages, Lord Marcus Westcliff already knows that the power of the aristocracy is dwindling so he spends most of his time shoring up his noble fortune with actual industries and investments (with the help of Simon Hunt from the previous novel). Despite his liberal policies, he has frankly misguided ideas about sex ("One doesn't need it more than once a week" - words he eventually eats) and very traditional ideas about marriage (both his sisters married Americans, so he's under pressure to produce a proper English bride to continue the family name).
Shady Past: His mean ol' daddy abused him and his mean ol' mummy's a witch.
Lillian: I hate you because you're arrogant and conceited!
Westcliff: I hate you because you're uncultured and chaotic! *sniffs* You smell nice. *gropes*
Lillian: Okay, you're not so bad.
Westcliff: Argh! I'm too full of angst for us to have a happy relationship! I must leave!
Lord St. Vincent, Rake-For-Hire: Hey, if you don't want her, can I have her?
St. Vincent: Too late! *steals*
Westcliff: *ULTIMATE CAN OF PAIN IS OPENED*
St. Vincent: *RECEIVES HEARTY SERVING FROM THE ULTIMATE CAN OF PAIN* Ow...guess I'll just limp my way into the sequel, then...
Westcliff: I was wrong - let's get married.
Westcliff and Lillian: *elope*
Romantic Convention Checklist:
1 Interclass Romance
1 Unscrupulous Sexual Rival
2 Very Bad Parents
2 Very Accepting Siblings
1 Obvious Sequel Setup (St. Vincent + Evie)
1 Ether-soaked Handkerchief
1 Victorian Equivalent of a Vegas Wedding
The Word: Now, I like all the books in this charming quartet, but my favourite by far has to be It Happened One Autumn. It's probably because of all the couples in these novels, Westcliff and Lillian are the most tempestuously matched, to the point where their attractions run far ahead of their own brains. Westcliff seems so surprised and appalled to find himself suddenly making out with Lillian, that it's a terrific scene and one of my all-time favourites. Westcliff and Lillian are both very extreme characters - Lillian is almost anachronistially, violently feminist, and Westcliff is such a strict adherent to the aristocratic code that it sometimes overshades his perception of reality. Lillian hates hates HATES being dominated in any way, shape, or form, but Westcliff is so used to being obeyed that he gives her orders without realizing that's the perfect way to get her to do the exact opposite of what he's ordered. So naturally, when they get together their meetings are destructive.
The story is once again chock-full of wonderful Kleypas details of the scenery, cutlery, food, and humour. Despite the ending which smacks of Pride and Prejudice crossed with Without a Trace, the characters for the most part are fun to read about - especially St. Vincent, who after his disastrous mistake in this book gets a chance to redeem himself in the next one (The Devil in Winter). Basically, the greatness behind It Happened One Autumn lies in how Kleypas creates two vivid, very opposing characters and realistically shows how they could come to be the perfect match - which is what romances are supposed to do, aren't they? A-.