A Lady Without Illusions
Miss Clara Danford had no illusions about Frederick Sullivan. She knew that this magnificently handsome gentleman was a rake whose women were legion and whose gambling debts were staggering. She also knew why he wished to wed her. It was not for the beauty and grace she did not have, but for her fortune, which would rescue the dazzling wastrel from ruin. Should she refuse and lose her one chance to have such a splendid mate? Or should she accept a proposal made with lips that lied as skillfully as they kissed? One thing was sure. Clara might have no illusions to lose--but she would have to be careful not to lose her heart.
I have to begin by saying that I really love this book, it still amazes me, after having read it a few times, that from such poor premises – Poor Little Plain Cripple Rich Girl meets Best Rogue in Town Prince Charming, they get Married, and Every Problem / Character Flaw is solved and they live Happily Ever After. I honestly didn't believe a book like that could work, and I only read it because it was written by Mary Balogh and because the heroine was crippled – something not so often encountered in romances.
But hey, this time I was proved wrong! The heroine did NOT inspire pity and the hero did not abandon his rakish ways after spending 5 minutes in the heroine's sainted company.
So, the heroine, Clara, is a girl who spends all her time in a wheeled chair because of a grave illness that left her with very little power in her legs. The lack of knowledge at the time about this type of affliction caused an aggravation of the problem, and she is presently incapable to walk. On top of it, she doesn't boast of the best of looks, she's very pale and ill looking. Not a beauty. But lucky for her, she has money. So, when the very beautiful rake of a hero comes her way, she takes the opportunity and accepts his proposal of marriage. She knows he has not even warm feelings for her, he is a gamester, a drunkard now and then, he is even lying in her face when proposing, there is nothing to recommend him except for his looks. But this is exactly why she wants him, she wants a little beauty in her life, she is conscious of her needs as a woman and intends to act upon them by marrying this handsome man. That's something I really liked in the heroine - she treats all this like a fair trade: she gives the money he needs for his debts and she receives a little of his time and company.
The hero is not quite such a blackguard as we are let to believe. I could not see him as a villain even in “Courting Julia”, but it's true that he does not behave in a gentlemanly way, he sort of knows it, and he's ashamed of it. I think this is the central drama of the book, and the story is more about him, than about the heroine (despite the title). He was once just a careless youth who started living a little too wild, started having many debts, and tried to solve his problems by doing something he should not have (can't write about it, it would be a spoiler for “Courting Julia”). And now, because he is basically decent at heart, he suffers for it, thinks of himself as a villain, and keeps living in a wild way. So I see the story as the classical plot – Redemption of the Rake, but done in a very nice, believable way. Freddie is in a deep pit, and the process of redemption is quite slow, and evolves in a credible way. He does not abandon his ways at first sight of the heroine, and not even after they get married, he keeps drinking, playing cards and he is even an adulterer (which by the way, seems to be quite a taboo in romances, and I don't why since extra conjugal sexual relationships were in full bloom in that period!). But he does get better eventually, and to witness it step by step is truly a nice reading experience.