Season for Scandal
Zebra / October 1, 2013 / $6.99 print, $5.99 digital
Jane Tindall has never had money of her own or exceptional beauty. Her gifts are more subtle: a mind like an abacus, a talent for play-acting—and a daring taste for gambling. But all the daring in the world can't help with the cards fixed against her. And when Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, unwittingly spoils her chance to win a fortune, her reputation is ruined too. Or so she thinks, until he suggests a surprising mode of escape: a hasty marriage. To him. On the surface, their wedding would satisfy all the demands of proper society, but as the Yuletide approaches, secrets and scandals turn this proper marriage into a very improper affair.
The first thematic analysis of a text that I remember writing centered on the theme of appearance and reality in Hamlet. I thought about that long-ago experience as I considered what I wanted to say about Theresa Romain’s third holiday Season book, which not only once more makes rich use of the appearance and reality theme that this author used to good effect in the first two books of the series but in which she also alludes to Hamlet.
One of the first things readers learn about Jane Tindall, heroine of Season for Scandal, is that she is accomplished at creating illusions. In reality, she is a virginal country cousin to Alexander Edgware, ninth Earl of Xavier (Season for Surrender, 2012), but the reader first encounters her masked and bejeweled and gambling in a smoky card room. When the situation becomes more dangerous than she expected, “She summoned the wispy impressions of a decade of house parties and a dozen bawdy novels, and she used them to become beautiful. Noble. Seductive.” A few minutes later, when the jewels she is wearing are recognized as the Xavier rubies, she claims to be Lady Xavier. Before the evening is over, the hero, in an effort to rescue her from a potentially ruinous situation, identifies her as his betrothed. A single evening, a first chapter—and Jane has already been three different people, none of whom she really is.
Soon that false and impulsive betrothal turns into reality as Jane agrees to a marriage of convenience with her rescuer and old friend, Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick. Theirs is a marriage that requires preserving secrets and maintaining appearances from the moment Edmund asks for Xavier’s approval of the match through their daily life played out in private before servants and in public before the ton. Truth threatens the finely balanced illusion, and the seed of the marriage’s destruction and its eventual resurrection is sewn their first night as husband and wife when Jane confesses her love for Edmund. Her emotional nakedness ironically occurs following physical nakedness and intimacy. The confession destroys Edmund’s belief that he can control what their marriage will be. He is a man whose life has been devoted to protecting family secrets at all costs, and he cannot risk full frontal truth.
Clothes are an important part of appearance, and Romain provides telling details of clothing throughout the novel. For example, the villain is introduced not only under a false name but also with a description of his clothes that are necessary to create the false impression crucial to his plan.
Bellamy looked elegant but old fashioned. His silver-shot dark hair was tied back in a queue, and his tailcoat was accompanied by knee breeches. Above a snow fall of lace at his throat, his deeply tanned face broke into a smile so bright that it was impossible not to reflect the expression.
The reference to his smile foreshadows Edmund’s later recollection of Hamlet’s reference to his traitorous, murderous uncle: “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”
This scene occurs about halfway in the novel at a masquerade ball that serves as backdrop for a number of pivotal disclosures. Again, Romain provides careful details about costumes, this time those which Jane and Edmund put on for the ball. Edmund is dressed as a naval officer, but his costume is not “a perfect simulacrum.” In a time and place where one of the nation’s legendary war heroes is a naval officer, Edmund is “no hero . . . just a man in a costume.” Jane is dressed as a serving wench, “a study in gold and copper and wood-dark brown.” Yet even as Edmund admires his wife, he recognizes that she is “no precious metal, to be hammered into a delicate form” but rather “vivid and strong, like earth itself.” A private moment during the masquerade brings the opportunity for the two of them to drop all their pretenses, but it becomes just another lost moment. It ends as they put their masks back on and return to the masquerade. Jane regretfully acknowledges, “There were masks aplenty on display . . . no matter what one wore.”
The next day Jane refuses to play the baroness any longer. She leaves Edmund and returns to her cousins’ home, explaining her decision to Lady Xavier in these words: “My marriage feels like . . . a house with no furniture in it. . . . It’s enough to keep me safe. But it doesn’t feel like mine. It’s my marriage, but I don’t belong in it.”
When Jane and Edmund finally discard all the pretenses and opt for the emotional openness that paves the way for reconciliation and a happy ending, it seems the perfect touch that they, for a final time, use role playing, deception, and hiding to defeat the no longer smiling villain. The difference is this time they share their knowledge and plot their strategy together.
Learn more or to pre-order a copy of Season for Scandal by Theresa Romain, out now:
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.