Monday, August 15, 2011

My Fair Lady -- the romance novel version

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal
by Meredith Duran

This Victorian romance features Nell Whitby, factory girl and guttersnipe, who goes on a quest for revenge only to find herself mistaken for a missing heiress. The Earl of Rushden, who has recently inherited a title, some lands, and no money to support either, believes Nell is the long-lost heir to a fortune, and proposes (literally) that they marry and split the loot, once they have proven who she is. What follows is a My-Fair-Lady type of love story that doesn't ignore the harsher side of life in Victorian London while telling a tale full of humor and warmth.

Nell's early life in Bethnal Green, one of London's worst slums, is in no way glossed over. She lives in a tenement, has irregular opportunities to wash, has fought rats for food, and watched her mother die a slow death from inhaling the dirty air in the cigar factory where they both work. Nell herself has nearly lost a finger in the cutting machine more than once. When the hero, Simon St. Maur, introduces her to life as a lady, the results are predictable. We see Nell mystified by hot and cold running water and attacking her food like a starving animal. For his part, Simon begins to see the humanity behind "the poor," a group that has always been more a concept than a reality for him.

The grittier aspects of this story in no way detract from the charm and wit that marks the interaction and growing love story between Simon and Nell. It is both funny and touching, making for a very satisfying book. Highly recommended for fans of historical romance.

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