It’s important to note that this is the second book in Maria Grace’s “The Queen of Rosings Park” series and that for anyone who hasn’t read the first book in this series, “Mistaking Her Character,”” this review post will contain spoilers.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Is Mrs. Drummond’s school the answer to helping Lydia Bennet redeem herself after her near-elopement with George Wickham?
Source: I was provided an ARC of this book from the author for a fair and honest review.
I have to start this review by commending Maria Grace for writing a story about Lydia Bennet that felt true to Lydia’s character while at the same time telling a story that even someone like myself could truly sit back and relish with delight. Typically, I have a hard time reading about Lydia Bennet in JAFF. She’s the spoiled, reckless sister who nearly ruined the happiness of everyone in her family, and like some other readers, I have difficulty mustering empathy for her character.
That was until Maria Grace’s book,”The Trouble to Check Her,” came along. Maria’s storytelling brilliantly demonstrates Lydia’s evolution from a selfish, thoughtless girl, into a more mature, yet vulnerable and likable young lady, who has come through her experiences at Mrs. Drummond’s school in a manner that feels realistic, as well as quite true to her character. Naturally, this doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s where the talents of Maria Graces’s writing really shine through in this story.
When Mr. and Mrs. Darcy become Lydia’s guardians and decide to check Lydia into Mrs. Drummond’s school after her attempt to elope with George Wickham, she is seething with anger and exhibits none of the remorse that one would prefer to witness in a young lady in her current situation. Yet, why should she be pleased as punch about their decision? She can’t bring all of her pretty dresses to wear, she has to share a room with a rather plump and “prudish” girl, and she has to do chores around Mrs. Drummond’s house that she never had to be part of at Longbourn. So where’s the fun for a girl like her?
Well, Lydia doesn’t really get to have her kind of fun and that’s where the story became really interesting to me. After being encouraged, or rather forced to join into the routines established at Mrs. Drummond’s school, Lydia slowly begins to experience the joys and rewards of these simple pleasures. Once she starts to develop relationships with some of her classmates, she comes to learn lessons that extend far beyond the walls of the schoolhouse. When the new music master comes to teach at the school, he recognizes a talent within Lydia that has been previously neglected. Being surrounded by people who see her outside of the Bennet family allows her to become better acquainted with who Lydia Bennet truly is and this turns out to be the greatest lesson of all for her!
Ms. Grace’s story really shines due to her ability to flesh out a cast of characters that were easy to relate to and who had their own imperfections and challenges to overcome throughout the story. As a group of ladies who find themselves in a place where they have been given one final chance to redeem themselves, there are plenty of opportunities for the ladies to move forward or backward in their “progress” and the difficulties that placed them at Mrs. Drummond’s may prove once again to be their undoing. While the ladies are curious to know about each other’s past indiscretions, they come to gain a sense of compassion for each other in a way that helps them forge special bonds with each other. It’s these imperfections and various struggles of her characters that only made me love them even more!
I also enjoyed the way Maria Grace connected Lydia’s story with the members of her own family. We were thankfully not provided with constant flashbacks of her first book to help readers follow the story since Ms. Grace skillfully included only subtle references to the first book in a way that didn’t bog down the pace of her story. The Darcys play a minor role in this story, yet they are significant to the life Lydia will lead when she does resume her life away from Mrs. Drummond’s school. I encourage any JAFF readers who may have resisted stories focused on Lydia Bennet to seriously consider placing this on their TBR list, as I am confident that they will find this story to be a thoughtful and hopeful journey of Lydia’s formative years.
I was delighted when Maria Grace agreed to stop by on my blog and tell my readers about her behind-the-scenes inspirations for writing “The Trouble to Check Her.”Today I have a really fun post to share with you from Maria Grace’s blog tour for her latest book, “The Trouble to Check Her.”
Maria, I’d like to welcome you to Just Jane 1813 and thank you for stopping by with this special post for my readers. Lydia Bennet is quite a controversial character, and I know my readers would love to hear why you decided to tell us Lydia’s story.
Lydia Bennet is a character that readers (and writers) love to hate. She is spoiled, selfish and immature, ready and willing to make trouble for everyone around her. Personally, she makes me crazy and given my druthers, I’d just as soon ignore her.
I’ve been happy to do just that through a number of books. After all, who really wants to spend so much time in Lydia’s head?
I certainly didn’t.
I really didn’t.
Ok, maybe just once to write a little epilogue to Mistaking Her Character, to let people know Darcy’s plan for Lydia. That wouldn’t be too bad, would it?
Yeah, that was a great idea in my head. But it didn’t work out that way.
My readers got me intrigued by the notion of what would it take to reform—really reform, from the inside out—a girl like Lydia. And when I get intrigued by an idea, I’m a little like a dog with a bone, I can’t let go until I figure it out.
So, I ended up spending nearly a year with Lydia Bennet in my head. She ended up being surprisingly different from what I expected her to be. Her difficult tendencies were rooted in issues I never suspected were there.
It was one of those cases where my character took over the story and started talking to me, telling me things I never suspected.
Most unsettling of all, I ended up liking her for it, really genuinely liking her. That’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say. I really like Lydia Bennet, now anyhow. I’m so glad I took The Trouble to Check Her.
Want to read about Lydia’s first day at Mrs. Drummond’s house? Maria Grace has brought an exclusive excerpt for Just Jane 1813 readers.
Their shoes clattered on the hard wooden steps, clean, but scuffed by scores of footsteps. The banister was worn smooth by many hands. Were they all as shaky and miserable as hers?
The house was larger than any she had ever lived in—but nothing to Rosings Park. A few student paintings decorated the walls and some inexpertly embroidered cushions and screens caught her eye as they hurried past. The furnishings she could make out were what Mama called serviceable.
They may as well have sent her to a workhouse.
“We have twelve pupils, including yourself, at present. All the students reside in the east wing of the house. The teachers and I are quartered in the west wing. You are not to go there, unless in company of the staff. Neither are you to enter another student’s room, except that you are invited by both the room’s residents.”
She had never been forbidden in so many places all at once. Was she to be welcome anywhere?
Mrs. Drummond paused and pointed. “There you see the school room and the music room, both of which you will have free use of. Downstairs, the morning room and back parlor are for students. The drawing room is not, unless you are receiving a visit from someone outside the school, which I think highly unlikely. My study is likewise prohibited unless I have called you there.”
Why would she ever want to go there otherwise?
Mrs. Drummond continued on her way. “The dining room is for meals only; do not linger there. No trays will be sent to your room unless there is verifiable illness. Meals are served promptly. If you are late without acceptable reason, you will not be admitted.”
Mrs. Drummond seemed the type to starve young ladies.
“This is your room.” She pointed to an open door on the left side of the hall.
Lydia peeked in. The chamber was bright and tidy, but colorless. A few pencil drawings and magazine fashion plates were pinned up on stark white walls. What a wonder Mrs. Drummond allowed such a luxury!
Two plain beds filled most of the room, neatly clothed with sturdy coverings. The edges of a thick wool blanket peeked out from the coverlet—perhaps she might not freeze.
A dressing table with a tarnished mirror, a utilitarian chair and writing table near the window, and a chest of drawers near the closet completed the furnishings.
“The room is not to your liking?” Mrs. Drummond glared every bit as imperiously as Lady Catherine might have.
“No … not … it is …”
“Better than you deserve. I hope you will come to understand that soon.” She strode to the pile of trunks near the window. “Now, show me what you have brought. We shall determine what is appropriate for your station as a student here and if there is anything else you might need.”
Now her trunks were to be searched? Would the humiliation never end?
“Do not dawdle girl! You are not my only concern today.” She clapped sharply. “Move along now.”
Lydia jumped and scurried to her trunks. The first held her body linen, stockings, night dresses and dressing gown. Mrs. Drummond inspected every one of the pieces Jane and Aunt Gardiner had carefully packed.
“You are fortunate to have been provided with so much. Fold them and put them in the bottom drawers of the dresser.” She handed over a chemise with a pretty lace trim along the edge.
Lydia laid it on the bed and folded it into quarters.
“Not like that.”
“I see we must begin at the beginning. Your mother truly did you a disservice. I hope you are quick to learn. Watch.” Mrs. Drummond smoothed the linen garment and drew it up into neat, regular folds that no doubt would fit perfectly into the drawer. “Understand?”
Mrs. Drummond shook it out. “Now you.”
Lydia’s hands quaked as she tried to force the stubborn linen into the required shapes. Folding linen has always been a servant’s job.
“Better,” Mrs. Drummond flicked the chemise in the air, shaking out all her efforts.
No! That was unkind!
Three more attempts and the chemise was accepted.
“Now this.” A petticoat took the place of the chemise.
Lydia attempted to groan, but a raised eyebrow from Mrs. Drummond stopped her cold. The harridan would probably not hesitate to beat her for a badly folded petticoat.
It took five attempts to please her captor.
“Finish the rest of your things. I will examine your gowns. Have you brought any other wraps?”
“The … the larger trunk has the gowns and the other has wraps and warm things.”
Mrs. Drummond would probably confiscate her nicest frocks away and leave her with only a single dress. Her eyes blurred, but she blinked fiercely. She would not give Mrs. Drummond the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
A pile of body linen appeared on the bed. Lydia turned her back to the trunks. Watching would only make it worse.
“Day dress, day dress, morning, walking. Whomever packed for you saw you were well equipped. This—” She walked to Lydia holding a white muslin dinner dress.
She would be holding that; Lydia’s favorite garment and the only truly pretty thing stuffy Aunt Gardiner had allowed her to bring.
“—is unnecessary. We do not dress for dinner here.”
She held her breath and fought the urge to snatch the dress away.
“But I shall allow you to keep it, for there is the rare occasion it may be appropriate.”
“Thank you.” She took the dress with trembling hands. Mrs. Drummond would probably not approve if she clutched it to her chest.
Mrs. Drummond carefully laid out her dresses on the end of the bed. “Put these in the closet when you have finished the linens. Now for the rest.” She opened the final trunk and laid out the shawls, bonnets, gloves, spencers and shoes.
A flash of red! What was that?
Her red cloak—the one her Wickham had bought her.
A sob welled in her throat. She stuffed her fist in her mouth, but it was not enough to contain the despair of the day. She sank onto the thin carpet, fighting to silence the cries wracking her chest.
A warm hand soothed her back. “There, there now girl. It has been a trying time for you no doubt. Let yourself have a good solid cry, and you will feel much better for it.”
She could not have done otherwise had she been of a mind to. Gut-wrenching sobs tore through her. All the while, Mrs. Drummond crouched beside her, hand on her shoulder, muttering soothing sounds.
At last, she hiccupped and lifted her head. Mrs. Drummond pressed a handkerchief into her hand. “Dry your eyes now, and we will finish settling you in.”
Lydia folded linen while Mrs. Drummond arranged her things in the closet.
“Finish the rest on your own. The girls will be returning soon, and I shall inform Juliana of your arrival.”
Lydia sniffled. “Yes, madam.”
She pulled something white and fluffy out of her pocket. “One final thing. Put this on. All our new girls are required to wear one.”
“You will have no maid to do your hair. Best you are not distracted by it as you learn your place in our society.”
“Miss Fitzgilbert did not wear one.”
“She did when she first came. She earned the privilege to remove it. In time, you might as well. I very much hope that will be the case. Until such time, you will be addressed by your Christian name, and you will address other girls of your station thus. When you earn release from your cap, you may be Miss Bennet once again.” Mrs. Drummond nodded and left, closing the door behind her.
Horrid woman! Lydia threw the cap at the door. It floated daintily to the floor, well short of its intended target.
Dreadful, awful, terrible place!
She kicked the cap. How could Mrs. Drummond demand she wear such a thing—to dress as a servant, or worse, as though she were on the shelf? She was only seventeen—she was not a spinster, and she would not be one either. But how could she find a husband when she was confined to this … this asylum?
Two years, Mr. Darcy said, two years—that was nearly forever. But he said he wanted to see improvement. If she ‘improved’, perhaps he might commute her sentence. If Mrs. Drummond wrote him of her virtues, he might permit her release.
It would require a great deal of effort to make Mrs. Drummond believe her improved, but it was her only choice. But what did improvement mean?
She snatched the cap off the floor and paced like a caged creature.
A horse wore its traces; a dog wore its collar. She would wear the dreadful thing; slave like a servant over chores; study her lessons and make charitable visits with a smile. That should be enough. Enough to convince Mrs. Drummond anyway. The stupid old cat.
She might not be as clever as Lizzy, but she was determined. That should count for even more; enough that she might even be free in just six months.
She folded the remainder of her linen with great care.
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.
To connect with Maria Grace, check out the links below:
On Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/mariagrace
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
On Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/mariagrace423/
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To enter the giveaway that Maria Grace is hosting on her site, visit her website and leave a comment during the next week.