MISTRESS NANCY by Barbara Bentley

MISTRESS NANCY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A spirited and resourceful period drama based on the real ordeal of Nancy Randolph--who, in post-Revolution Virginia, stood trial for infanticide, along with her brother-in-law Richard. In Bentley's ingenious version Nancy's predicament devolves from overheated passions and cold circumstances in the aristocratic Randolph family, but also from 17-year-old Nancy's own rocketing loves and hates. Storming out of her widowered father's house in a rage because of his remarriage, Nancy lives at the home of sister Judith and husband Richard--where she consummates her love (really just restless loneliness) for Richard's consumptive, wastrel brother Theo. But Theo dies--and Richard, who's finding life a bit severe with grimly religious Judith, finds a hungry soulmate in Nancy: ""against their conscious will. . . they fell on each other like two starving people brought to a banquet board."" So it's only a matter of time then before that strange night of Nancy's ""illness,"" which is chronicled here--steps on the stairs, rumors of a tiny corpse--with tantalizing mistiness. Scandalous gossip ensues; a trial is sought by the Randolphs to publicly establish innocence. And Patrick Henry--a frayed, testy, wickedly shrewd ""old man with country ways""--is the successful defense lawyer. But acquittal only deepens Nancy's troubles as she is effectively isolated from the family and entirely dependent on guilt-ridden Judith (who told lies at the trial) after Richard's death. She'll escape, however, eventually to become the happy wife of Gouverneur Morris, a N.Y. diplomat and Declaration signer--and it's only years later that widowed Nancy will learn the truth about the mystery of her first infant's birth, Not period-perfect, perhaps, but it's tidily researched, swift, and brightly inventive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill