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Ward to Andrew by Constance M. Evans

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So this was a strange and uncomfortable novel. Not because of the age gap/guardian-ward theme or 1950s mores but because of the tragic treatment of the Other Woman.

On the face of it, this a conventional vintage romance from 1959, where 18-year-old orphaned doctor’s daughter Jill is sent to live with 34-year-old Harley St doctor Andrew and his family. (He must have had his 12-year-old twins exceptionally young, during his medical training presumably, mind you so must have Jill’s father given she was 18 when he died at 40). There are vibes of Sara Seale but it’s much cosier and far less bleak, and the leads are all exceptionally attractive. Andrew is a widower but doesn’t seem to have any particular scars or secrets in his past, he’s almost boringly normal, happy and healthy. As is Jill.

But the big issue with this book, that eclipses all else, is Juliet. She starts out as a fairly conventional Other Woman. She’s a widow, exquisitely beautiful, older and sophisticated. She’s determined to keep her claws in the hero despite not liking his children. She’s as nasty and manipulative as possible towards the heroine.

And yet…

Firstly, this woman has been playing “wife”-hostess to the hero for some time. Certainly in the 1950s, when this was written, there are questions of propriety over this. Why hasn’t he offered her marriage? Why does he let her stay there indefinitely, hosting his parties for him and running his household. Everyone must presume she’s his mistress. Quite honestly I don’t blame her for having expectations.

Secondly, the young ward moves in. Jill and Andrew have quite clearly fallen in love at first sight – from the very moment he visits her in her home village – and it’s not surprising the Other Woman has already picked up on the vibe by the time Jill arrives.

But before things can develop, the Other Woman is tragically, hideously injured and maimed in a car crash and removed to hospital. Supposedly plastic surgeons manage to more or less preserve her exquisite beauty, but it’s of course not quite what it was, and this is specified: “…the most subtle of differences, but it was there. Perhaps a slight puckering somewhere, a heaviness about the eyes, the very slightest twist to the full mouth, and over it all, a hardness which had not been apparent before.” (She can still look sly, raise her eyebrows and purse her lips).

Because of the car crash, Andrew feels he now must marry Juliet. They nearly do a rush job of this in hospital but Juliet collapses so is deemed not strong enough yet.

After a while Juliet moves back into the household. But she keeps having faints and blackouts and memory lapses. These increase. Finally the wedding is scheduled but she suddenly has total amnesia and walks out. She can’t even remember who Andrew is. So she goes to live with her spinster sister.

Some weeks/months later she has yet another blackout, falls down some steps and badly injures her head/brain, but fully recovers her memory and is desperate to see Andrew. He trots off to her again. Then she dies.

So Andrew goes back to the heroine, and they’re instantly in one another’s arms. “Oh Jill, Jill – and I’m so much older than you are, my dear…”.

It’s not quite as sweet as it could be. Juliet wasn’t a saint, but she was frankly strung along, and she didn’t really deserve to be maimed, brain damaged and eventually killed. It’s hard to celebrate the main characters’ love over such a tragic background.

The other weirdness about this book was the number of servants (and how many rooms the house must have had). It’s a big house in Harley Street, London. For a household of one widowed man and his brother – the children are away at boarding school – there’s Juliet the hostess, Farrow the butler, Marian the housemaid(?) and a full-time cook. When Juliet’s out of action and Jill tries to fill her place, they also haul up her old housekeeper Maggie. When the children are there, that’s a household of at least ten people. I had a google of houses in Harley St and a full townhouse (£7 million in 2024) has six bedrooms. There was a maisonette with eleven bedrooms – rather strange for a maisonette as they’re usually smaller than houses. Perhaps that’s where this enormous household resided.

All in all, a troubling read. Vibes of Sara Seale, so fans of her orphan-age-gap stories may enjoy it. I couldn’t get past Juliet though.