A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, by Sophie Irwin.
What enormous fun this story is, similar as it is to the product of all the august lady-novelists of yesteryear – you could say that it is Jane Austen-Lite but, whilst it follows all the rules of their choosing (independently-minded heroine, haughty but noble hero) Ms Irwin’s research paints a sad but true picture of just how important it was to make an advantageous marriage – for either sex – in 1818.
Kitty Talbot is the oldest, at 19, of five sisters when she and her 17 year-old sister Cecily journey to London from Dorsetshire to stay with Aunt Dorothy Kendall, with the sole objective of finding a rich husband for Kitty during the Season – rich enough to pay off the debts their dead parents have left, and kind enough to continue the education of her younger sisters. They have two months for Kitty to snare herself a gentleman of independent means, and no-one is more determined to succeed. Fortunately, she is of handsome looks – and a shrewish tongue, but no-one need know that till afterwards.
Aunt Dorothy is a staunch friend and conversant enough with the foibles of High Society (thanks to employment of doubtful origin when she was younger) that she can advise the girls of correct behaviour and address, and it is not long before the young sisters are launched into the lower echelons of polite society, soon rising to higher levels, thanks to Kitty’s quick thinking loss of her shoe in the park, requiring the assistance of Archie de Lacy, younger son of an Earl, and about to come into his majority – and inheritance! Kitty loses no time practising her feminine wiles (she discovers it’s very hard to look upwards through one’s eyelashes but gamely tries, anyway), and Archie is soon In Love, the silly boy. BUT!
The only fly in the ointment is his elder brother, Lord Fairfax: he sees effortlessly through Kitty’s blushing ardour and calls her out on her behaviour. After several pages of wounding wordplay, he agrees to give her information as to the income and reputation of the gentlemen she meets at the various balls and functions they attend during the Season – as long as she leaves his brother alone. Naturally, his brother is heartbroken, and finds other, more dangerous pursuits to console him.
We all know what will happen next, and there’s nothing like a happy ending in these troubling times, but Ms Irwin has given us a very clear and damning picture of the strata of society in that era – and the hypocrisy. This is a most charming story. Book Two is on its way! FIVE STARS.