Weldon’s second installment in the Edwardian trilogy (Habits of the House, 2013) again revolves around deciding who is to receive prized invitations, this time to Edward VII’s 1902 coronation.
Robert, Earl of Dilberne, and his wife, Lady Isobel, again hold center stage. Son Arthur is now happily married to Chicago heiress–with-a-past Minnie, who has not quite adjusted to British aristocracy. Suffragette daughter Rosina, a spinster at 31, is still hobnobbing with intellectuals and idealists. Having recovered his fortune with the help of his Jewish financial advisor Mr. Baum, Sir Robert has become prominent in ruling circles and will participate in the coronation being organized largely by Lord High Steward "Sunny" Marlborough, nicknamed for his unsunny demeanor, and Lady Marlborough, nee Consuelo Vanderbilt. When Consuelo offers Robert three extra tickets to the big event, Robert plans to give two of them to Mr. Baum and his cultured wife, Naomi (who talks about Zionism with Lord Balfour), evidence that the Baums are rising in society since it was a mere dinner invitation that Isobel resisted offering last go-round. But in a fit of jealous pique over Robert’s apparent intimacy with dashing young Consuelo, Isobel rashly sends the tickets to Robert’s estranged younger brother Edwin, an eccentric minister who lives in miserly religiosity with his wife and ethereal 15-year-old daughter, Adela. Isobel regrets her decision immediately, but the invitation has been mailed. Meanwhile, tragedy befalls Edwin and his wife, Elise, and Adela, scheduled to enter a convent, disappears. As the coronation approaches, Isobel struggles to cover her mistake.
Weldon plugs in historic figures like Lord Balfour and Lady Marlborough and some interesting bits of Edwardian social history and manners, but as a work of fiction, this entry is less than compelling.