May 24 2011 10:30am

The “You are the Only Thing in My Life That Makes Me Want to Live It” Scene in Mary Balogh’s A Precious Jewel

A Precious Jewel by Mary BaloghOne of the most serious compacts between the reader and the author is the Happily Ever After (HEA). When I pick up a romance, I know that no matter how tortuous the pathway to true love, that there will be an HEA. But there are a few books, usually seared into your consciousness, that test that theory to the limit; A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh is one.

Ask about A Precious Jewel and you’ll get a lot of feedback. It was first published in 1993 and republished in 2009. Here’s the description from Mary Balogh’s website:

Sir Gerald Stapleton takes Priscilla Wentworth out of a brothel to be his mistress when he discovers that she has been abused. He does not understand quite what she has come to mean to him, though, until she leaves him one day to marry someone else—and then simply disappears beyond trace.

The feedback centers around Priscilla’s profession: she’s a real working girl and has been working in a high class brothel for months before she meets Sir Gerald Stapleton. After Priscilla disappears, Gerald looks for her to make sure that she has married happily and although he does not find her, he does uncover her past, learning that she was gently reared and that poverty drove her to her decision to become a prostitute.

Gerald asks Kit Blythe, the owner of the brothel and Priscilla’s former governess, how this could happen:

“A lady?” he said. “But why?”

“For the same reason as a girl from the gutter,” she said. “From a desire to live a little longer in this wonderful world, Sir Gerald.”

It takes Gerald a long time to process information, a rather 21st century way of saying that he is not particularly quick witted, but eventually, four months later, he realizes that Priscilla left him not because she now longer cared for him but because she was pregnant. Gerald finally convinces Kit to tell him where Priscilla is living.

"She is like the daughter I never had,” Miss Blythe said rather sadly.

He lifted his eyes to hers. “She is like the wife I have never yet had, ma’am,” he said. “I suppose the fact should make us allies, not enemies.”

We know how this ends; Gerald goes to Priscilla’s side, tells her he loves her and—insert chords of romantic music—the book closes with them in a loving embrace. But that’s not what happens.

When Gerald sees Priscilla, “He had difficulty catching his breath for a while. She was huge with child.” She is a “glowing, vital creature,” contented with her life and looking forward to the imminent birth of their child. Gerald explains to her that he had just figured out why she left (her pregnancy). He says that he thought “you had grown tired of me after all and wanted to leave. So I let you go.”

Cut to the chase. Gerald asks if there’s a clergyman who can marry them, saying, “I don’t want my child to be born out of wedlock.” Priscilla refuses, stating that because of how they met and what she was, that a marriage is impossible; Gerald protests that that’s not how it is and he even shows her the special marriage license he has obtained. One of the most endearing features of A Precious Jewel is the honesty and self-awareness shown by Gerald. He tells Priss that it was not easy for him, a mere baronet, to purchase a special license but she says no, again….We have arrived at the blackest moment.

Heroes don’t often cry, but Gerald is blinded by tears when he leaves Priscilla’s cottage. Cut away to me sniffling, too. This is not supposed to happen; the hero has found his heroine, after months of separation, marriage license in hand and she refuses him, even though we know she loves him and she’s just about to give birth. No, I wail inside my head.

Never was the certainty of an HEA more necessary than in this bleak moment: Gerald, stumbling towards the cliffs of the seaside town, his eyes filled with tears and Priss, sitting at her kitchen table with tea cups growing cold, her barely healed heart now cracked and bruised again.

But then there’s a knock at her door. Gerald is back. Mary Balogh says it all so perfectly. Gerald tells Priscilla that she must not have believed that he loves her,

“It was because you weren’t convinced, wasn’t it?” he said. “You thought it was just because I knew who you were and because of the baby. You did not quite believe it was because I love you, did you?”

Priscilla says, “You did not mention love, Gerald.”

And then Gerald tells Priscilla he loves her in heart-breakingly sincere words. First he admits the depths of his despair after Priscilla left him,

“I wanted to die. [] It makes a pathetic story, doesn’t it? [] … this is the reason. That you are the only thing in my life that makes me want to live it, Priss. Like some priceless little jewel in the middle of the desert. Or something like that. I never was good with words.”

Gerald then asks Priss to look, really look, at the special license, and see the date it was issued. He got it four months earlier, after Priscilla left him, saying that she was returning home to marry a former swain.

At last Priscilla believes that Gerald loves her, and when he says,

“And you can see that I had the license long before I knew about the child,” he said. “I got it for only one reason, Priss. You must see that now.”

When Priscilla finally says yes, even though the marriage of a former prostitute and a baronet means they most likely will never be received by society, it’s one of the most delicious moments imaginable, after months of despair.

He smiled at her suddenly, more radiantly than she had ever seen him smile before. “You are going to say yes, aren’t you? [] I have dreamed of this moment for months and never believed that it would really come. Say it. Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” she said.

And they lived happily ever after. Oh, I know that readers everywhere, if they’re suspicious and worried like me, won’t quite believe in Gerald and Priscilla’s HEA and for us, Mary Balogh, wrote A Christmas Bride. But the love displayed here is love that is hard-won and hard-fought and even now, after countless re-reads, I’m reaching for a tissue. It’s like crying at a wedding.


Janet Webb, Book Lovers Resource

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Victoria Janssen
1. VictoriaJanssen
I confess I have a soft spot for Gerald. He's not your usual hero, not at all.
Cheryl Sneed
2. CherylSneed
Dear Gerald, he's always so muddled. I love when he finally figures out what he did wrong - "Oh, I didn't tell you I love you, did I?" He's slow, but he eventually gets there. Great scene, Janet - delicious, indeed. ;-)
3. Magdalen
Like Victoria, it's Gerald that made this book for me. He is the essence of a beta hero (he even has a full-time job as the "beta best friend" to a dashing earl) and while he's not clueless, it takes him a long time for the light to dawn on Marblehead.

Which, for me, blunts the emotional impact of the HEA. If I contrast it with the HEA for Slightly Dangerous, the ending to A Precious Jewel seems nice but not essential to the happiness of both parties. Priscilla is managing reasonably well, and if Gerald is lonely and miserable, well he kind of had that coming as his karmic payback for the way he treats her earlier in the book.

The very thing that makes him deliciously different as a hero cuts against the depth of his emotional attachment -- Gerald says she's the only reason he wants to keep on living, but I could just as easily imagine him being mopey for a year and then gradually moving on.

By contrast, Wulfric, Duke of Bedwyn, is so powerfully alpha that when he falls for Christine, he's done for. He'll marry her or he won't marry. And in his case, I really really believed that.
Janet Webb
4. JanetW
Thank you Victoria, Cheryl & Magdalen, for sharing your impressions of Gerald, a hero for whom I too have a "soft spot". I'll be forever thankful to Mary Balogh for continuing Gerald and Priss's story somewhat in A Christmas Bride ... because it did complete the circle and answer some lingering questions for me.
Donna Cummings
5. Donna Cummings
Janet, this is a wonderful post, and it gave me chills when I read it. But I have to admit, I am too fainthearted to read a story with so much angst in it. LOL I don't know that I could have made it to the HEA without falling into despair, not finishing the book. You may have to hold my hand through future readings. LOL
6. Lavinia Kent
I've always loved this book -- and mostly for that oh, so touching -- oh, so real black moment. And thanks Miranda Neville for retweeting and bringing me here.

7. Janga
Ah, Janet, your post made me long to reread A Precious Jewel. It's not surprising that it's one of Balogh's most popular books. I don't have any problems believing Gerald means what he says.
Louise Partain
8. Louise321
I remember Mary Balogh saying somewhere that this was her experiment or something to that affect with writing about a "beta" hero. He was clueless, bumbling, heedless and, to the end, slightly dim. I mean, he didn't tell her he loved her after searching for her for so long?

Nonetheless, he is exceptionally sweet at the core, which is the only reason Priscilla could have loved and left him and taken him back.

Always a satisfying read! Thanks for reminding me to look in my stacks for a re-read - at least after I get all the summer reads out of the way!
Janet Webb
9. JanetW
@Louise321 You'd certainly get no argument from Gerald in your description of him -- he tells Priss that had circumstances been different, that she could have done so much better for herself. But somehow I think Balogh convinces us that Priss sees beyond the surface to Gerald's loyal, warm and kind heart.

@Lavinia @Janga & @Donna Since I wrote this piece, very much from the heart, because it really is a book that I never tire of, I hope you will pick it up again. Just have A Christmas Bride on hand if you're not quite a believer in their HEA.

Because Priscilla is so resilient and composed, in the face of the really difficult circumstances that life has thrown her way, I wonder if perhaps her unhappiness at having to leave Gerald isn't quite recognized. Everyone copes with misery and loss differently and she rallies and Gerald, well, perhaps he does mope about a bit, but both of them were nursing broken hearts. It's a rare hero that talks of wanting to die rather than to live without the woman he loves.
10. etv13
I don't think Gerald is "dim" so much as just very unsure of himself. That he had a terrible father, bordering on abusive, is hinted at in A Precious Jewel and made clearer in A Christmas Bride. His stepmother didn't help, but is not as much to blame as she thinks she is. I disagree with Magdalen about his deserving some kind of karmic "payback" for his treatment of Priss earlier in the book; he is always courteous and gentle, and the fact is, she is a whore.

I do have some issues with the plot contrivances that get her there: she has an inheritance coming in a few years -- can't she borrow on the expectations? From Kit, if not from an actual banker? Balogh tends to present us with heroines who have "no choice" but to prostitute themselves, but for young women from the gentry, was that really true? Kit's view that getting pregnant is somehow the girl's fault also annoys me, although I suppose it's possible someone in the early 19th century could actually believe that douching is an effective means of birth control.

That said, this is maybe my favorite Balogh. I often find her sex scenes kind of clinical, but they work for me here. And Gerald really is just that sweet.
Janet Webb
11. JanetW
@etv13 A friend very kindly ran her eyes over my blog prior to publication and she shared with me that she might have quietly muttered something like stupid ho a couple times ... as in, really? Really Pris (and Balogh and Kit), had she really exhausted all her options before deciding to join the ladies at Kit's finishing school? I just let that one slide -- but it is a plot contrivance, you're right. And I'm with you on not thinking that Gerald deserves karmic payment: don't make me list all the Balogh heroes who had mistresses and how all that worked out. Going to a high class brothel, having a mistress: seems like fairly conventional actions of the time.

For an amazing analysis of the sex scenes, because they are very significant in A Precious Jewel, http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=1976 * I can't come close to matching the masterful review from All About Romance.

* Edited to say I'm not sure the All About Romance link is live: just go to their site & search on Precious Jewel.
12. Keishon
I thought I wrote a comment to this post. It's gone I guess.
Janet Webb
13. JanetW
http://www.readreactreview.com/2012/06/01/review-a-precious-jewel-by-mary-balogh/ What a joy to include a review of A Precious Jewel by @readreactreview aka Jessica Tripler ... enjoy everyone.
14. Cabepfir
I am reading A Precious Jewel right now and I'm enjoying it immensely. The thing I like the best is exactly that they aren't alpha-type heroes - I much prefer normal types. Sir Gerald is so nice in his hidden hurt and insecurity. I genuinely feel sympathy for him.
16. MFOB
Lovely review, Janet. Although I tried to review the book objectively when I read it several years ago, this book is special to me because my guy is a beta male, not always very articulate, and sometimes a little slow on the uptake. But oh, his heart, his kind, gentle, loving, funny, loyal, brave heart!

Now, like others above, I want to read the book again.
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