Sir Justin Keighley was everything that repelled Margaret Mayfield in a man. He was shocking in his opinions, arrogant in his manner, rude in his actions, and completely without respect for the common decencies of civilized society.
Margaret was everything that Sir Justin detested in a woman. She was shy, retiring, obedient to her parents, almost embarrassed by her own beauty, and ignorant of virtually every phase of real life in the real world.
Needless to say, they both did everything in their power to escape being matched with each other. Somehow everything was not enough….
Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, August 2015 (Reissue of a title originally published in 1983)
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Wendy
Jane Ashford’s A Radical Arrangement was originally published in 1983 and is a gentle, if thought provoking, Regency romance. I wasn’t surprised to read at the end that the author had been inspired by Georgette Heyer.
The title pretty much sums up the book – for once a title that actually describes the book! Sir Justin Keighley is extremely radical in his politics, so-much-so that he is a terrifying prospect to the gently reared Miss Margaret Mayfield, who has been brought up to obey her rather overbearing parents without question. Her father, an eminent politician, holds views in direct opposition to Sir Justin who is admired and revered by certain factions of society, and has a certain magnetism which means that although the local gentry doesn’t approve of him, they dare not ignore him and he is therefore invited to events for politeness sake. It is at one such event at her parents’ home, that Margaret first encounters him.
Margaret is a pale, insipid example of her upbringing, brought up to believe that she must always do as she is told, that she is female and men always know best. Sir Justin is the product of forward thinking parents who questions and actively works to improve the lot of the working classes – and he despises the sort of young woman that Margaret is, a young woman quite unlike his mother who takes part in political debates and thinks for herself.
Through a comedy of errors Justin and Margaret end up in a compromising situation, but she refuses to marry her nemesis and he flatly refuses to marry her. Margaret runs away when her mother tries to force the issue and Sir Justin feels honour bound to pursue her and bring her back, although he still has no intention whatsoever of marrying her even if she should change her mind.
When he finally catches up with her she ends up shooting him accidentally, and they explaining it away to locals by saying that they have been attacked by a highwayman. Sir Justin is insensible so Margaret takes the decision for them to pose as brother and sister and accepts shelter at the local inn where, with the help of the local midwife, she nurses him back to health. Through all that has happened though, there is no burgeoning attraction between the two, no connection, despite the fact that Margaret has performed the intimate tasks necessary to nurse a man back from death’s door. It just didn’t seem as though Justin actually liked her.
Up until now I have probably described Sir Justin as a perfectly wonderful man, albeit a rather arrogant one, but this is not so! He comes over as a sarcastic, judgemental and unlikeable person. I’d like to have given the wishy-washy Margaret a damn good shake. She doesn’t have an original thought in her head to begin with but eventually, after the break from her parents and being subjected to the overbearing and opinionated Sir Justin and his radical views, she starts to think for herself. He gives her a book to read which sounds fascinating – An Examination Of The Need for and the Principles For Political Reform of the British Governmental System! He takes her on a tour of the area to meet a number of poor families living on the breadline, something she had never ever known about in her sheltered life. At this point I had to question how he knew about all of these poor families since this is far from his own home and lands and he has been bedridden for weeks! Still at least Margaret starts to think for herself, becomes more interesting and starts to see a side of life she had never known existed.
There’s an awful lot packed into this fairly short novel, but it’s a nicely written story and to begin with I thought I would love it. But as I read on, I became disappointed as I really think the author missed an opportunity to rework the story (I’m assuming she looked at it again after more than 20 years) to develop the romance between the protagonists, give Justin a bit of a makeover and instil a little “oomph” into Margaret. For whatever reason, she didn’t do so.
A lot of thought and research has gone into the writing of this story, although a few little modernisms and Americanisms slipped in. I liked Justin’s take on life and his desire to ‘do’ something; I just wish he had been more likeable before we got to the last chapter! A Radical Arrangement is an entertaining read, but ultimately, the romance leaves a lot to be desired.