By Day 8, the True Love is getting more ambitious and, frankly, a bit cracked.
Today’s gift embraces both livestock and human trafficking. This is seriously dodgy territory now. He’s clearly into all things quaint, traditional and with just a hint of the Good Old Days. Maybe even Heritage.
I feel we’re beginning to detect some disturbing undercurrents in these so-called gifts. Are they not just another way of tying his Beloved to endless cleaning and animal husbandry? Only now she’ll have staff to placate as well. Not a good outlook.
DAY 8 BOOK
I admit I struggled with milkmaids.
I tried desperately to convince myself that the seminal Cold Comfort Farm would provide the designated dramatic personae. But, while the novel gave freely of cows – Graceless, Pointless, Aimless, and Feckless; I remember them all with affection – they were tended by a love-sick elderly cowman. The only maids in sight – Flora Post and the ethereal Elfine – were not in the milking business.
Thinks: could Old Adam possibly be some sort of relative of our rhyme’s True Love? He’s certainly a died-in-the-wool traditionalist with a bad case of Quaint.
I rummaged further and my memory muttered vaguely about a Georgette Heyer heroine who thought she would like to be a milkmaid.
Clearly a frivolous chit with a Marie Antoinette complex, said my left brain, acidly. Possibly not too bright. I pondered The Foundling. But no, the angelically beautiful but dim Belinda liked the farm kittens, not milking cows
The associations started to tumble into place. Kittens.
No. One particular kitten.
Called Joseph by our youthful heroine after its impressionable donor, farmer’s son, Joe Ninfield.
And there she was, Heyer’s milkmaid. For Day 8, I give you Sprig Muslin.
Amanda is very special. She is young and determined, resourceful though inexperienced, reads (and plagiarises for her own purposes) highly coloured romantic novels yet, underneath it all, is profoundly practical.
Sometimes she is as heedless as naughty schoolgirl. Sometimes she is very wise. She probably saves our hero’s life, in fact.
Above all, she is brave. I can’t think of another Heyer heroine quite like her.
After her third flight, Sir Gareth asks a farmer wearily: is she trying to get a job as a chambermaid? “‘No, sir,’ grinned Mr Ninfield. ‘When last I see her, she was making my Joe teach her how to milk the cows, and just about as happy as a grig.'”
When I first read Sprig Muslin I thought it was a bit unsatisfactory. The two main characters, handsome thirty-something Corinthian Sir Gareth and runaway teenager Amanda don’t fall in love.
The first time I read it, I spent far too much time investing in the wrong expectations, and hoping that they would. In fact, Amanda is in love with someone else, though he only appears much later.
Fashionable Sir Gareth’s story is more complicated: as a younger man he loved a wilful beauty who was killed in an accident which her headstrong courage provoked. He has never recovered from her death.
And then his brother is killed in the Napoleonic wars. So, in the belief that it his duty to provide an heir to his title and estates, Sir Gareth proposes a marriage of convenience to a quiet spinster of 29, “past her last prayers”, who was a friend of his lost love.
His sister, who loves him, is in despair at what she interprets as resignation to a second best life.
ON RE-READING FOR DAY 8
This time, I found this story delightful and entirely satisfying. Basically, Sir Gareth needs a good emotional shake-up, and within a couple of hours of encountering Amanda in difficulties, he has embarked on just that. Yes, she reminds him of late fiancée. But he wants to protect her as, of course, he failed to protect Clarissa.
There is romance here, in fact two. They are subdued but heartfelt. But they are not the main objective of the plot. Basically we have here two decent, warm-hearted people who somehow need to be brought back to life.
And Amanda, entirely without meaning to does just that. She is a catalyst, not just for Sir Gareth, but also for Lady Hester who, to everyone’s astonishment including his own, rejects his civilised proposal outright. During Amanda’s subsequent adventures, she earns the respect of both of them and, in so doing, breaks them out of their bloodless good manners into fun, vitality and deep feeling.
WHY READ DAY 8 BOOK?
Because the darkness of the back story is wholly confounded by life-affirming adventures and self-discovery by Sir Gareth, not as entirely in control as he thought he was, and Lady Hester, far more of a free spirit than anyone thought she was.
Indeed it’s some people’s favourite Heyer, as Elizabeth Hawksley uncovered earlier this year.
Because in places it’s very funny.
Because there’s real, delightful female solidarity in this story.
Because the pompous get their comeuppance.
Because the good end happily – and you believe it will stick, too.
Because of joyous, determined, courageous Amanda.
And Joseph the kitten doesn’t hurt, either.
Ahhh. I do like Sprig Muslin. It was one of the first Heyers I read. At that age I wasn’t expecting a romance in every book, so I read it as an adventure. Nevertheless, as soon as Hester appeared on the page I knew she was The One for Gareth and hugged myself reading it because I knew something that the main characters had yet to find out. And yes, Amanda is glorious.
You (and Elizabeth Hawksley) were both more alert readers than I was that first time I read it. I’d got used to the Duke of Avon and Leonie, I suppose, so was quite willing to swallow both the age gap and the love interest as dictatorial Mentor. But somehow they never seemed to have the right spark.
On re-reading I found Lady Hester more compelling because of the pain of unrequited love. But I have to admit that until I re-read it this time, I didn’t truly fall in love with the story. Which I now have. Unreservedly. My Rediscovery of 2017!
I’m a huge Heyer fan but Sprig Muslin has never been a favourite. In the light of what you both say, though, I think I should reread it. Maybe it’ll be my Rediscovery of 2018?
I was like Jan – I got it first time round, too. Not sure it was one of my favourites, but then as I re-read every one I decide that this one is! If that makes sense.
I never wanted him to marry Amanda, as she was really a spoiled brat, though only on the surface. Hester’s line when Gareth asks if being his wife wouldn’t be better than her present life just about breaks my heart. “No. Anguish.” And he doesn’t understand. Later he does, of course. It’s not one I read often, but I do enjoy it.