Hmmm... I am not really sure what to say about this book except that it wasn't really my cup of tea. Maybe if I liked really boring tea...Well, no. That's not entirely fair. There is ONE interesting thing about this book at that is the fact that it is set in 1890s England - a really interesting time - well after the Regency period, late into the repressive Victorian era, and right before "Modern" Britain. Change was afoot and some of that change was reflected in this book.
Economically, Britain was booming - there were the Railways, international trade and imperialism; even telephones and electric lights in some households. Culturally, women had a smidge more options. The heroine of this story, the delightfully Victorian-ly named Emmaline Dove, for example worked for a living as a secretary. She had independence and respectability and although she lived modestly, she wasn't in the kind of desperate circumstances of any of the unmarried, un-dowered Austen heroines of the Regency.
Sexually however, the Victorian period was a bleak time for ladies. Not that any time in the past seems to have been particularly breezy for women, but the Victorians seemed to take special delight in removing any thought of pleasure or fun for the fairer sex. Like a good Victorian lady, Emma, begins as a rather mousy sex-less creature, who is taught early on by her aunt to suppress any baser instincts.
Aside: Recall that this was a time that sexual frustration in women was referred to as "hysterical mania" to be treated by doctors providing "pelvic massage" to induce "hysterical paroxism" in order to relieve the patients hysterical symptoms.
Another aside: There was this lovely movie called "Hysteria" (trailer below) that I watched a while back starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal which tells the story of Dr. Joseph Mortimer's 1880s invention of the electromechanical vibrator. The hilarious-but-also-kinda-sad reason for mechanizing the vibrator was basically because the good Doctor Mortimer's wrists starting hurting from giving so many women pelvic massages that he needed good old technology to help a brother out. The obvious question arises - how the hell many massages was this guy giving anyway? Can you get carpal tunnel from too many pelvic massages? Have All the Women been informed? Because it seems like that would be information ladies would like to have.
I seem to have digressed far, far off the garden path.
Anyway, my POINT is, that while this story was incredibly tiresomely AND pedantically dull, it was set in a cool period in history.
I should outline the He/Her/Conflict of the book so at least you have all the facts to decide for yourselves:
He: Viscount Marlowe, or Harry, is one of the modern haute ton who actually works for a living. This was a time when the aristocracy was broke and had to either marry rich American heiress (Downton Abbey, Season 4 Coming Soon, what whaaat!) or actually work for a living <gasp!> Harry chooses to work and runs a successful publishing enterprise.
She: Emmaline Dove is the quiet, spinsterish, plain, humorless secretary who keeps Harry on schedule and is the silent force behind everything at the company actually getting done. She keeps working for him even when he asks her to do stuff like buy "going away presents" for the mistresses he ditches and even though she knows he's selfish and a faithless rake, because he is fair minded enough to pay her what he would pay a male secretary, and because she dreams of one day being able to publish her own book.
Conflict: He never wants to get married again because of a whole thing with his previous wife who was in love with someone else and ran off and now he's scarred for life and feels guilty for subjecting his family to the stigma of his divorce. There's some sexual chemistry between Harry and Emma, they embark on an affair, he unveils the hedonist beneath her starchy, repressed exterior, she knows he's a love-em-and-leave-em kinda guy but she falls for him anyway, he skirts the issue of commitment until there's a whole Grand Gesture event (which wasn't that grand, honestly - he bought her a bunch of books) and boom they live happily ever after.
Basically the plot of Any Romantic Comedy Ever. But this wasn't really that funny. It was just sort of obvious and un-funny. And I found Emma incredibly tiresome and unsympathetic. She just caved. Like in 2 seconds under his smoldering gaze, she CAVED and gives everything up. It just felt like all her snippy attitude and sense of independence and moralizing were nothing more than a cloak to hide her sexual frustration. She didn't really seem to have a personality except "sexually frustrated spinster" and then when she finally gives it up (and oh, of course HE'S the one who is responsible for all this flowering and passion, right? Honestly, it could have been ANY DUDE, she was THAT wound up) she's all hedonistic and sexual. Please.
Anyway, the writing wasn't bad. I mean, I liked it but I wasn't transported. Maybe I was in a bad mood because I thought she was lame and he was a selfish jerk and I just hit a wall. As I said, not my cup of tea.
But I leave you with the trailer of Hysteria which WAS my cup of tea. Really funny tea.