by Julia Justiss, historical (2001)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29167-1
Be warned: The Proper Wife, like its title suggests, is a morality play. It's a story of how propriety, white-gloves and eyes-down-in-deference-to-your-hubby style, rules at the end of the day. Heroine Clarissa Beumont, the more adventurous best friend of Sarah (the heroine of The Wedding Gamble), gets the schooling of her life and turns into clone of dull, brown cow Sarah by the end of the story.
Okay, not exactly a complete replica, as she is indeed a woman bubbling with too much joie d'vivre to be like Sarah, but close enough to make me feel sad for her.
Clarissa is called by her duty-lovin', responsibility-gives-me-orgasms friend Sarah to find St John "Sinjin" Sandiford, Sarah's anal-retentive husband's friend, a proper marriage candidate. Of course, in this type of story, we all know who Sinjin will go crazy over and end up marrying, but Clarissa and Sinjin don't know that. Along the way, the author puts Sarah through a series of reckless misadventures, including one truly stupid one early on that almost got her raped (the hero in a great stroke of coincidence happens to there to save her, wowee), just to prove how Willfull, Reckless Clarissa needs our Sourprune Daddy Sinjin's schooling and guidance.
Put in the usual villain-in-the-guise-of-heroine's-male-buddy, the final save-her rara fest, and the education of Clarissa is complete. She's useless, she's hopeless, she best submit to her hubby's guidance and advice. Sinjin, a man who has to nerve to scream about Ton hypocrasy even as he judges and condemns Clarissa as a brainless chit at first sight, is Professor Higgins on Pepto-Bismol. His attraction to Clarissa is one more akin to a frigid, horny schoolteacher tempted by that flirty cheerleader in high school. The thought of Showing Her The Way gives him the ultimate erection. And of course, since the author never lets Clarissa be right even once, in the end she humbly submits to Sinjin's guidance and manly wisdom.
I like Clarissa. She's an unusually cheerful heroine, free from the usual guilt/duty/regret/more guilt Prozac-fest that are most Regency-era heroines. But what do you know, she is Wrong, So Wrong. Sarah is the woman to emulate.
And since we are talking about books catered to ye genteel readers, we don't get a spanking/disciplining session. How sad, how sad. A scene where a drooling Sinjin spanks our Clarissa's bare buttocks as he leers and sneers, "Who's the Daddy? Who's the Daddy?" to which Clarissa screams, "Oh, discipline me, teach me, you're the Daddy, YOU'RE THE DADDY!" will do wonders for my mood.
And to top off my irritation, the "Yes, my husband, anything, my husband, you are always right, my husband" Sarah and the "My wife will do what I say, including not seeing her friends if I forbid her to" Nicholas hog as much of the limelight as Clarissa and Sinjin.
So, what can I say? Obviously I am not on the same wavelength as the characters in this story. Because if I'm Clarissa, trust me, the one who will get a spanking before the last page will be Sinjin. Duty, obedience, and submissiveness - how dull. Mind you, The Proper Wife is very well-written and always readable. But I'm just too bad to appreciate this story.
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