AN INNOCENT WOMAN by Malcolm Macdonald


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Admirers of Macdonald's portly, likable historical romances may remember the Cornish live-wire Johanna, principal of A Notorious Woman (1989). Here, in another turn-of-the-century tale set in Cornwall, Johanna makes an early, rousing appearance on the highway, ""driving like a demon and blowing a bugle."" The Innocent Woman, Jane--a hothouse flower heavily ruled by others--will learn to blow her own bugle, the torch of freedom, symbolically, having been passed on. Newly arrived from Leeds with her wealthy elderly father, Jane Hervey is charmed to have a brief conversation at the Penzance station with a handsome ""Miss Wilkinson,"" causing Father to fly into a rage and drive her off. Why? This is the first of many rents in the velvet curtain of double standard's purdah revealing a world beyond Society's stifling strictures and labyrinthine lies. Before his death, Father will enlist the help of ever-so-respectable Mrs. Dorothy Lanyon (patiently grim in the marriage bed but a tireless guardian of the modes and mores of privilege) to rein in excesses of behavior due to Jane's shrewd good sense and abundant sympathies. But Dorothy loses her grip. Jane refuses to sign away her dead mother's villa in Paris, where there were adoring men coming and going and tons of parties; she befriends an abused child-wife; exhibits a most unfeminine show of mind; and persists in pursuing the mystery of her parentage, uncovering secrets by the forkful and some volcanic surprises (an old photograph, tea with Miss Wilkinson, and brand-new relatives). Then there's the matter of passion and desire--just what is ""normal,"" and should she have that desire for a brother? All ends satisfactorily in Paris, where a mature Jane sorts things out, a lively friend opts for a marriage-free life, and Dorothy mightily unfreezes. A solid romance, rich in delightful young women, a bitter-sweet humor, scenes of Cornish coasts, gossipy drawing rooms and boudoirs, and an enchanting heroine--an apt companion to The Notorious Woman.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's