Dear Ms. James:
You have an immense talent and I love your writing style. I particular love how you show that women are a community of individuals rather than separate and alone. Josie has been a favorite of mine since the very beginning of the Essex sisters. She’s a little bit of each of her sisters: a bit of a pragmatist (Tess), a bit of a dreamer (Imogen), a bit of a fatalist (Annabelle); but she also wholly her own creature. I tend to think that Josie could have carried this book on her own without Mayne as she is just so delightful. For the readers’ benefit, Mayne is 34 in this book and Josie is 18. You engage in a little writer cheat here as in previous stories, Mayne was 34 in Your Wicked Ways which took place two years earlier than Pleasure for Pleasure.
I was not bothered by the May/December aspect of Mayne and Josie’s relationship. I thought that Mayne, after years of dissipation, needed the love for life that Josie had. Josie, after being thought of as the least desirable Essex sister, needed the love of a famous connoisseur of women to show that she was beautiful and luscious in her own way.
You wrote beautifully rendered scenes. Loving scenes, tender scenes, funny scenes, and heartbreaking scenes. Yet, once again I have come away wondering whether there was an equality of feeling between the main two characters and bewilderment over the pairing of the secondary couple.
The problem is that for most of the story (right up to the point that he proposes to Josie), Mayne is affianced to Sylvie de la Brodierie, a well set beautiful French woman. He proclaims that he is in love with her. He is described as looking at her the way that Rafe gazes at Imogen. He spends half of the book internally and externally proclaiming his great love for Sylvie, cataloguing why he loves her.
To say that his turn about is quick is an understatement. I practically suffered whiplash from his switch from Sylvie to Josie, if there ever really was a switch. Oh, I know you say that in the end Mayne loves Josie but I can’t really tell at what point that the “love” meter was moved from Sylvie to Josie in Mayne’s mind. Mayne reminded me of the Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothng
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
The thing that made me the most befuddled and frustrated was the secondary romance. Josie is launched into society but spends 6 weeks being shunned by the young men in society. She is called the Scottish Sausage and no one crosses the invisible boundary for fear of ridicule. There is a heartrending scene that is described wherein Josie is sobbing to Lucius after a ball questioning why she is such a pariah.
The sobriquet was made up by Lord Charles Darlington, 3d son of the Duke of Bedrock. Darlington provided a wonderful nickname for a previous debutante called the Woolly Breeder who also went unromanced during her first season. Of course, you provide an explanation for Darlington’s despicable actions but you NEVER ONCE have him apologize to Josie. The rest of my rant may be spoilerish so I am going to hide it. You try to pass it off onto another character and have the other character be the villian, but it was Darlington who made up the nickname and set the standard for all the other young men to follow. To give Darlington a happy ever after in this book, with Griselda no less, was an affront to me. Further, Darlington never stopped being mean. He only passed on his cruel observations to Griselda instead of the entire ton. You did a great job of showing how emotionally destroyed Josie was by Darlington but then you never redeemed him. To think that the Essex sisters and Josie would accept this ass to be Josie’s bloody brother in law was beyond the pale. The men in that family should have beat him to a bloody pulp and then he could marry Griselda.
It’s hard to grade this book. Your prose is beautiful. You are able to capture the little idiosyncrasies that make characters individuals. You have great scenes. The entirety of the story, though, like the last one, left me bewildered and dissatisfied. I just wonder if there is something that I am missing as a reader that I can’t enjoy the stories more because you are such a good writer. Dunno. C+