Field’s debut historical novel takes a look at upper-class life in 18th-century England.
Viewers of the hit television show Downton Abbey and fans of modern-day British royalty are certainly familiar with the pressure on aristocrats to produce an heir. Geoffrey and his wife, Anne, Lord and Lady Stoneleigh, adore their five daughters yet worry over the future of their estate, due to their failure to produce a male child as an heir to the family fortune. The story of Geoffrey and Anne’s marriage and daily life introduces readers to their social circle of wealthy men and women, all living on prosperous estates in the English countryside. As Geoffrey and Anne struggle over questions of the future, Geoffrey’s widowed mother delves into her dead husband’s past to find answers regarding the existence of his former lover. The dowager must also decide how she feels about the present-day attentions of her old friend and neighbor, Lord Wortham. Meanwhile, Wortham’s son, Lord Lynnhurst, attempts to win back the affections of his childhood love, Miss Compton, despite her lower social status. These personal conflicts whirl amid a plethora of fancy dinners and extravagant balls, and Field does a marvelous job of sketching out her characters and settings. She beautifully captures the intimacy and mutual respect of Geoffrey and Anne’s relationship and realistically presents the complicated dowager’s many facets and motivations. There are vivid descriptions of sumptuous feasts (“silver trays laden with venison, sirloin of beef…and bowls of steaming buttered potatoes”), and the author revels in bringing ladies’ fashion to life, detailing frocks of “iridescent silk” or a “taffeta brocaded gown interwoven with lace.” In addition, she touches on broader politics and societal trends—such as the controversial Enclosure Acts, which wrested land rights from poor farmers—and the vicious gossip and whims of London society. The work even crosses genres: Field’s detailed research offers a fine contribution to historical fiction, and her passionate love scenes will satisfy those seeking a titillating romance.
A feast for readers looking to taste the luxurious lifestyle of the English upper crust.