Legacy of Love

I’ve always enjoyed Joanna Trollope’s writing because she captures and portrays the nature of human relationships with accuracy. Writing as Caroline Harvey, the name she used for her historical romances, Trollope provides the reader with a triple dose of her writing style in her novel Legacy of Love.

The story begins with Charlotte, a beautiful, passionate young woman who is dissatisfied with the social conventions of what she perceives to be her uninspiring life. Marriage removes her from Victorian London to exotic Afghanistan where her adventures unfold. Scandal dogs her every step, but Charlotte is impervious and indifferent to the gossip.

Charlotte’s story is told from the POV of her beloved sister, Emily. Although Emily sees Charlotte’s faults, she is devoted to her older sister and can barely contemplate her displeasure let alone express it. Charlotte often takes advantage of Emily’s sweet nature, and in my opinion, her actions come across as bullying . . . in the sweetest of ways.

When Charlotte meets the love of her life, a man as dashing and wild as she, they present an unstoppable pair who surmount every crisis and are the ones to whom everyone else looks for strength and encouragement. Unfortunately, when nothing extraordinary is occurring, Charlotte and her man are rather useless people who are unable to make a home or farm their land.

While Charlotte could have been an example of a strong woman who met every challenge with dignity, she ended up reading like a selfish, self-made legend whose only purpose was to entertain herself and her husband. This is never more clear than when she tossed over her first husband, who naturally expected Charlotte to conduct herself like a Victorian lady, and did nothing to earn her lack of interest or commitment. He was conveniently killed in battle.

The legend of Charlotte continues to cause damage when her own daughter, Iskandara, is born with a twisted leg and average looks. Iskandara cannot live up to the myth of Charlotte, and she allows this to distort her spirit as badly as her leg. Her lifelong disappointment is taken out on her own daughter, Alexandra.

Alexandra holds center court for the middle portion of the novel. She, too, lives in awe of her grandmother, Charlotte, but instead of trying to imitate her, Alexandra flees her grandmother’s larger-than-life persona that continues to haunt the family estate long after her death.

Emily, now a great aunt without children of her own, provides refuge and guidance for Alexandra in what read like classic Jane Austen. A bit of reverse psychology executed by Emily crowbars the backward Alexandra out of her complacency and into the life she’s always dreamed of where she is the rudder of her own ship. Throw in an extremely talented, brooding, and slightly volatile artist whose career is revived when he falls in love with and paints Alexandra, and we have happily ever after à la Austen.

Cara, named after her great grandmother Charlotte, rounds out the last third of the novel. The youngest child of Alexandra, she is as enthusiastic, beautiful, and daring as her legendary great grandmother. Cara commands attention wherever she goes and is a natural born leader, but eventually, all this amounts to is that she is popular.

When World War II disrupts Cara’s plans, her self-centeredness rears its head much like Charlotte’s, however, Cara is also outrageously spoiled, so her obnoxious qualities rise to the surface to simmer most unbecomingly. It didn’t take me long to dislike Cara and realize that most of her problems are self-made.

There’s more predictability in the last third of the novel since the reader has Charlotte’s and Alexandra’s stories as a foundation for Cara, but Trollope infuses freshness and hope into the story by having Cara mature in a way that Charlotte never did. I suspected how things would turn out for Cara, which was extremely satisfying despite the obviousness of it, but counterbalancing this detail is the believability with which Trollope transitions Cara from brat to womanhood.

Cara undoes the harm Charlotte’s influence has over the lives of the women in her family by taking responsibility for herself and everyone around her not just when crises arises but during the drudge of daily life. She leads the life Charlotte wanted with far more grace, and in doing so, she grows in wisdom.

Legacy of Love is historical romance, but I found it to be so much more than simple love stories.  Trollope does a wonderful job of grounding the reader in every era without bogging the narrative down by adding too much detail. Her peripheral characters are expertly woven into the lives of her protagonists thus making them essential to the tale, and her conclusions are pleasurable without being overly sentimental.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read Legacy of Love or any Joanna Trollope novel. I’d love to compare reviews.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Zounds! Zooks! And maybe even a few Egads! Although I may be flashing back to Clarence Day in Life with Father. These exclamations are just one of the many things that make The Scarlet Pimpernel so adorably charming. Who knew that cozy mysteries came in a vintage version? And thank you, Baroness Orczy, for taking only five weeks to transform your well-received play into a novel that reads like it was written in only five weeks.

“This can’t be a vintage cozy mystery,” you protest. “It’s about the Reign of Terror in France.” Yes, well, gentle reader, this version is about the more swashbuckling side of those dark days in the history of France. It features a thinly veiled hero, a beauty in need of rescue, and a villain who rubs his hands in malicious glee all the while laughing, “Bwa-ha-ha-ha!” At least that’s what I heard in my head every time Chauvelin rubbed his hands together. Which he did with annoying frequency. For a more realistic, yet still fictional, rendering of the Reign of Terror, I suggest A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Let’s also not forget to thank the Baroness for failing to consult her thesaurus for alternative adjectives when describing her three main characters. By the end of the novel, if you don’t know that Sir Percy Blakeney is inane, Lady Marguerite Blakeney is the most fêted woman in London, and Chauvelin is sarcastic, then you haven’t been paying attention. Then there is the gorgeous gorgeousness of life for the Blakeneys even though (SPOILER ALERT) they’re going through a bit of marital discord at the moment. In her defense, the Baroness did come from writing plays to novels, and perhaps she forgot that the repetitive adjectives worked better as onstage direction rather than actual words one has to read over and over and over.

Let’s take a closer look at Baroness Orczy’s hero, Marguerite Blakeney. “Wait—Marguerite is the lady in need of rescue. She couldn’t possibly be the hero of this story,” you again protest. Yes, well, since we’re all pretending we don’t know Sir Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel, you must admit the majority of the story is told from Marguerite’s point of view. This small detail is a pleasant surprise as the reader is treated to a transformation in Marguerite’s character. And then Lady Blakeney ruins the ride by falling back in love with her husband and needing rescue herself thus shining the last few moments of glory on Sir Percy AKA the Scarlet Pimpernel. Way to dissapoint the feminists, Baroness.

I would have thought an inane man who kept an extra set of sumptuous clothing on his yacht into which he could change after performing astounding feats of derring-do to thwart a sarcastic villain would gladly have shared the heroic limelight with his fêted wife. As for Sir Percy’s alternate identity, it’s easy to see why he chose the Scarlet Pimpernel over the Red Ninny or the Crimson Fop. Those last two certainly wouldn’t make a damsel in distress tremble with desire.

The brilliant naming schemes don’t end there, dear reader. The worst is given to Mr. Jellyband whose name is so painfully, so obviously not a real name but rather a representation of his jovial character that I’m a titch surprised we weren’t further inflicted with Sir Manly Gorgeousbod, Lady Beauty Misunderstood, and Baddy Badguy. But really, the novel is so stinking precious than one simply cannot help but laugh aloud. To hate it would be like hating kittens, puppies, and babies.

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