Books Read in 2016: ‘A Noble Masquerade’ by Kristi Ann Hunter (3.5 stars)
Book Summary from Goodreads:
Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother’s old school friend, the Duke of Marshington. Since she’s never actually met the man she has no intention of ever sending the letters and is mortified when her brother’s mysterious new valet, Marlow, mistakenly mails one of the letters to the unsuspecting duke.
Shockingly, this breach of etiquette results in a reply from the duke that soon leads to a lively correspondence. Insecurity about her previous lack of suitors soon becomes confusion as Miranda finds herself equally intrigued by Marlow, a man she has come to depend upon but whose behavior grows more suspicious by the day. As the secret goings-on at her family’s estate come to light, one thing is certain: Miranda’s heart is far from all that’s at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.
My GR Status Update(s):
05/03 . . .marked as: currently-reading
05/04 . . .49.0%: “Ugh–another book with the characters dancing a waltz in 1812!”
05/04 . . .marked as: read
When I saw this available as an ebook through the library, because it had just been announced as a finalist in 2016 RITA awards (which it just won!), I decided I really needed to give it a shot—both for personal interest and for market research, since I’m also currently writing something set during the Napoleonic war and dealing with spies.
While I was able to zip through this book in just two sittings, after I put it down, I had a hard time remembering much about it. Technically, it’s well written—the tone and the prose were well done. I just never really connected with either of the main characters much beyond the surface level. My one status update while reading this which warranted the addition of a note was “ugh–another book with the characters dancing a waltz in 1812!” While, yes, technically the waltz had been introduced in England by 1812, it was still considered vulgar in polite society, especially outside of London; and even in London, one had to have gained special permission from the matrons of the Ton to dance it.
(This was once again a reaction I had to a scene in a book I read shortly after this [Mary Balogh’s Only Beloved], which is set a few years later . . . but then, shortly thereafter, Balogh has the characters discuss this very thing—that in 1816/17, it was still not common/done).
I will probably pick up at least the second book in the series to see if I connect with other characters of Hunter’s any better, because she is a good writer.
And just in case you’re questioning my reaction to having characters dancing a waltz in 1812, here’s an excerpt from Cheryl A. Wilson’s article “The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812”:
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- Most dance historians pinpoint its inclusion in the 12 July 1816 Regent’s Fête at Carlton House as the moment when the waltz became truly integrated into London society. Reactions, of course, were swift and strong, and the response of the London Times (16 July 1816) is worth quoting in full:
- We remark with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe, for the first time) at the English Court on Friday last. This is a circumstance which ought not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies, in this dance, to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so foul a contagion. Amicus Plato sed mogis amica veritas. We pay a due deference to our superiors in rank, but we owe a higher duty to morality. We know not how it has happened (probably by the recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing-master) that so indecent a dance now has for the first time been exhibited at the English court; but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never again be tolerated in any moral English society.
This was in London that they had this reaction, four years after this book is set. At this point in the culture, while the waltz was danced at Almacks, both the man and woman had to have received explicit permission from the society matrons in order to be able to participate in the dance. And it was usually the prologue to the announcement of an engagement, if the couple dancing were not already married.
- Further reading on the waltz in England in the Regency period:
“Waltzing during the English Regency? Preposterous!” by David W. Wilkin
“Lady Caroline Lamb, Highbury, and the Waltz: Regency Dancing” by Vic on Jane Austen’s World blog (according to this, the waltz wasn’t sanctioned at Almack’s until 1814)
“Ask the Expert: The Waltz in Jane Austen’s Time” by Allison Thompson on Austenblog
My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)