Mullany, Janet. 2007. The Rules of Gentility.
I was on my way to check out at the library when my eyes happened to catch this title: The Rules of Gentility. I took it off the shelf and read, "Mullany is clearly the witty, secret love child of Jane Austen and Lord Byron." Interesting. Very interesting. As you can imagine, that alone was enough to make me bring it home. Though I didn't know it at the time, the back cover also reads, "A delightful marriage of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones's Diary." That also would have helped persuade me to give this new-to-me author a chance.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of fortune and passable good looks amuses herself in London with fashion, philanthropic works, and flirtation, until a suitable gentleman makes an offer. I consider the pursuit of the bonnets and a husband fairly alike--I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out, or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well. And although I have several gentlemen who have expressed an interest, I find all of them lack a certain something; and of course, with a gentleman you cannot replace the trim from another to make the perfect object, as tempting a thought as that might be, although indeed it would be an interesting experiment.(1-2)
Our heroine is Miss Philomena Wellesley-Clegg. When our text opens, we find Miss Philomena on her way to visit her good friend, Julia, Lady Terrant. On the way in, however, she first bumps into a strange man. A man she mistakes for a servant. His name? Inigo Linsley. And, of course, he is no servant. He is the brother-in-law of Julia. A man who stands to inherit quite a nice bit of property if and only if he agrees to settle down and marry a nice girl. (Of course, our heroine doesn't know this last bit quite yet.) The novel alternates between those two narrators: Inigo and Philomena. Philomena, Julia, and several other young ladies (mostly single ladies I believe) have formed a philanthropic club called the Association for the Rescue and Succor of those in Extremis.
It is obvious from the beginning that Inigo has captured her interest, her attention. (I won't say heart. It's simply not true.) She has a list of eligible men. And she deliberately keeps trying to keep him off her list. But he always has a way of popping right back on her list. He intrigues her much too much.
I shall be wise and virtuous concerning Mr. Linsley. I may practice flirting with him, and I may even dance with him at the ball tonight, but I shall certainly not allow him to take liberties of any sort whatsoever, even if I think no one would find out. Absolutely not. Besides, it is as Hen says--his family, who are proud and haughty, would never allow even their youngest and most insignificant son to marry into Trade, and I am sure Mama and Papa would not allow me to form an alliance with a man of such bad reputation. Not that I should wish to do such a thing. I do hope he will wear the dark blue satin coat and breeches tonight, but I resolve to think no more about the latter, which are pleasingly tight, and where, for some reason, I cannot help looking. (34)
Soon the two are courting in jest--a "false engagment" for her to discourage a bothersome beau and for him to get his meddling and nagging brother to leave him alone. But as can be expected, this false courtship soon feels all-too-real to both parties.
The text is fun and flirty in that giddy girlish way. The kind of book that makes you feel good when you read it, a big grin, a few snickers and giggles, but the kind that you feel a bit guilty or sheepish about as well. It isn't your stereotypical bodice-ripping romance novel with a half-naked couple on the cover. It's higher quality than that by all means. It definitely falls into the category of chick lit. Historical chick lit. (You don't often find that!) The concerns are shopping and partying and dating and love. On the sliding scale of if it is 'clean' or 'smutty' I'd say it was PG-13. Not R. Not X. But definitely full of flirtatious innuendos. (Not as clean or as appropriate as Georgette Heyer's novels. But definitely way cleaner than your average romance novel.)
Those familiar with Regency romance novels know that one of the standard story lines is that of a Rake who becomes quite reformed and quite a good husband because of the love and care and devotion of that one, sweet, charming, unforgettable girl. Meeting "the one" makes him forget all the scores of women he's bedded and makes him quite the catch. These heroes are always "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" (Byron) but always reform-able.
While the story might not be that original, the characters, and certainly the writing style are enjoyable. I would describe this one as definitely fun. Pure fun. Not "pure" pure fun. I loved every minute of this novel. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one. But I would imagine it's not for everyone. If the idea of a "witty, secret love child" of Austen and Byron intrigues you, I'd encourage you to pick it up.