Rake's Progress: A Novel of Regency England - Being the Fourth Volume of A House for the Season by Marion Chesney
Reading Level: Regency Romance
Release Date: March 31, 2011 (originally published in 1987)
Publisher: Rosetta Books
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This is the fourth of six books in the Regency-romance series, "A House for the Season." The complete series is:
- The Miser of Mayfair, the First Volume
- Plain Jane, the Second Volume
- The Wicked Godmother, the Third Volume
- Rake's Progress, the Fourth Volume
- The Adventuress, the Fifth Volume
- Rainbird's Revenge, the Sixth Volume
The central core of this series is a group of servants who, for various personal reasons, are miserably bound to their employment at Number 67 Clarges Street in London's Mayfair, a house notorious for being unlucky and haunted because a past owner, the Duke of Pelham, hung himself there, and a woman who lived there was murdered. The current extremely wealthy Duke of Pelham pays no attention to this property, leaving its disposition--including the salaries of the servants that go with it--completely at the discretion of Jonas Palmer, the duke's agent. Unfortunately, Palmer is a bully and an embezzler. He tells the duke he is paying good wages to the staff, but actually gives them barely enough money to survive on and pockets the difference. Across this series, Palmer has also several times stolen money from the staff that they received as "vails" (tips) from people who rented the property, making it impossible for them to fulfill their heart's desire. They want to buy an inn and run it as a group.
This plan feels quite workable to the staff because over the years they have banded together and formed a family of affiliation, headed by the 30-something butler, Rainbird, a former acrobat, magician and juggler. Rainbird is clever, kind and helpful to every decent person who comes into his orbit, not merely the staff, but tenants of the house and, in this case, the romantic heroine, who is a neighbor.
The rest of the staff include a housekeeper named Mrs. Middleton, whose "Mrs." is an honorary title since she is a middle-aged spinster born to an impoverished curate; a brilliant chef who is a barbaric Scotsman named Angus MacGregor; a handsome, vain, and cowardly footman named Joseph; a chambermaid and skilled seamstress named Jenny; a beautiful, languorus, blond housemaid named Alice whom Rainbird frequently has to protect from lecherous guests; a sweet, innocent, teenage scullery maid named Lizzie, and the preteen pot boy, Dave, a former climbing boy whom Rainbird rescued from a cruel chimney sweep.
The newest resident of 67 Clarges Street in this installement is a rich, handsome rake named Lord Guy Carlton, who is the 35-year-old younger son of an Earl. On leave after many years in the Napoleonic wars, Guy is determined to pursue every form of dissipation. But after only one wild party filled with drunken gentlemen and naked, high-class prostitutes, Guy's pursuit of hedonism hits an unexpected wall in the form of a straight-laced neighbor. Miss Esther Jones is the most beautiful, enticing woman Guy has ever encountered. A tall man himself, her Amazonian height of 5'11" doesn't faze him, nor does her strong-willed disposition intimidate him, and unlike most people of his class, he's not impressed with the fact that she has one of the biggest fortunes in England since he has plenty of money of his own. What he is attracted to is her her beautiful face, flaming red hair, and gorgeous figure, as well as her intelligence and strength of character. Any woman he marries will have to "follow the drum" and come with him as he returns to war. Few women of his class would be capable of handling such a demanding marriage, but he is confident Esther could.
Though most women of the aristocracy consider rich, handsome rakes intensely desirable, Esther does not share this outlook. She is from the gentry, and her father disgraced her family with his rakish ways. In reaction, 26-year-old Esther has no plans to ever marry and is as prim as a Pilgrim. Her whole life is dedicated to raising her 9-year-old twin brother and sister, as well as teaching her servants to read and write, and conducting daily Bible studies for the entire household. She considers Guy a disgrace, and it takes all of Guy's ingenuity--with a big dollop of help from the intrepid Rainbird--to convince Esther that marriage with him would be an excellent idea.
As always, this book, like all of Marion Chesney's Regencies, has a strong touch of the bizarre in its comedy, which can be quite startling to the uninitiated, and quite funny when you get used to it. Also, in spite of the many oddball events in her romances, Chesney does a great job of authentically portraying the Regency era, and her main characters are always sympathetic. In this series, the family of servants led by Rainbird are a terrific throughline linking it together. Every one of them, even vain Joseph, grows across the series, and each is lovable in his/her way. And the two lovers in this particular book are a dynamic pairing. Every time they are on stage together the sparks fly, and both are equally strong and fearless.
No Regency author, anytime, anyplace, writes romantic comedy like Chesney. She is one of a kind, and an experience not to be missed if you love to laugh.
I read this book as a Kindle edition. It is well formatted and edited, making it easy to read.
I rate this book as follows:
Rainbird and Crew: 4
Historical World-Building: 5
Romance Plot: 4