Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58618-1
Historical Romance, 2004
Jane Feather’s new trilogy, of which The Bachelor List is the first book, centers around three sisters that run Mayfair Lady, a newspaper for the ladies with a subversive suffragist agenda, while trying to keep a roof over their head. There are several reasons that this trilogy is interesting: one, it is set in the early 1900’s, and two, none of the heroines are virgins. Unfortunately, it takes a strident but overly-dumbed down approach to the suffragist movement and the heroine has an exasperating inability to give back as good as she gets from the hero.
Constance Duncan and Max Ensor are enemies in doctrine. She is a suffragist, although her need to keep her family finances in order means that she has to remain an anonymous suffragist operating through Mayfair Lady and its matchmaking spin-off enterprise. She decides to be very sneaky and show that exasperating Max a thing or two about women power when they cross paths one time too many. Max has a secret agenda – he suspects Carol of being connected to the troublesome Suffrage Movement and worms his way into her good graces (and other places if necessary) to learn what the movement is up to next. Love is inevitable, surely?
Max is a typical Jane Feather hero – very stubborn, very arrogant, and in the case of Max, very disrespectful of Constance from start to end. Constance may be brimstone and hellfire in everything else but when it comes to Max, she is no match at all for him. Every verbal sparring of theirs end up with Constance retreating to sulk or be turned into a quivering pudding of heaving bosoms and sexual desires. I find this aspect of the relationship problematic not only because I dislike a relationship that takes place on unequal footing but also because I fail to see any chemistry or foundation for a relationship between those two outside the bedroom. Even by the end, Max isn’t going to be supporting the suffragist movement any time soon. Since throughout the story his opinion of women’s rights rank down there with the birth control methods for earthworms, I fail to see how he can claim to respect Constance when he doesn’t even try to see her crusade – which is a big part of her life, mind you – as something of worth. And to make things worse, Max and Constance are more in lust than in love. I close this book wondering whether Constance would be forced to give up her crusade soon after their dubious happy ending, especially since she is no match for him in any way.
Not that Constance is a likable heroine. She is the epitome of the ridiculously overzealous feminist stereotype – to her and the other suffragists in this book, anyone that disagrees with the suffragists even a little is ridiculed and made out to be monstrously bigoted or ignorant cartoon characters. At the same time, Ms Feather is inconsistent – Max doesn’t agree with Constance but I don’t see him getting the buffoon treatment from the author. In fact, there’s a joke in here that Constance doesn’t hesitate to sniff at anyone that dares disagree with her but in the end she fails to stand up for women’s rights where it counts the most by shacking up with the biggest misogynist of them all. The joke will be amusing if it isn’t so pathetic.
Ultimately, this book’s biggest flaw is that it preaches a lot about women’s rights but ultimately fails to put its bite where its bark is and ends up making Constance betray what she believes in by succumbing to her sexual desires for a man and entering a relationship with him where there is a high chance that she will have to compromise every principle she believes in to keep him happy. Is that what women’s rights are all about at the end of the day, really?