Sara Seale does Rebecca and it’s glorious. It starts off a little bit These Old Shades with surgeon Adam Chantry, 38, rescuing a “young boy” from a fairground. The boy is, of course, 19-year-old destitute waif Miranda, who was raised in France (and thus has the same exotic speaking patterns of Vicky and her siblings in These Delights).
Adam, a widower with a young daughter, proposes a mariage de convenance [translation: no sex] and Miranda accepts. She does find him very attractive from the start, which is nice to find in a Sara Seale.
Adam brings her to Wintersbride, his home. It’s practically a shrine to Melisande, the “late Mrs Chantry”. I spent the entire novel with “the first Mrs de Winter” ringing in my head. It is constantly mentioned by nearly every character how beautiful the late Mrs Chantry was, and there’s a great big painting of her hanging in the dust-sheet covered drawing room. All the servants are obstructive and hostile to Miranda, but it soon turns out which one is the evil freak.
Of course, we eventually learn that the Beautiful Melisande was an “incurable dipsomaniac” (=hopeless alcoholic) and adulteress, whom Adam didn’t actually love, but only felt some transient “passion” for. “Had I loved her she might not have desired other men and, failing that, the final solace. Once can’t know.” Evil Mrs “Simmie” Danvers was also supplying her with booze, though it’s not quite clear why, and apparently Melisande’s beauty eventually “distintegrated into total ruin”. So that’s all very nice, and clears the way neatly for Miranda to be Adam’s One True Love.
As mentioned, it’s great to see Miranda as the one trying to provoke some kind of sexual response from Adam (not that Sara Seale would ever describe it in such shocking terms!) There are a few rather amusing bits where Adam gets angry and warns her to “lock the door” and cautions that he is “only flesh and blood” – and we tear our hair in despair, because Miranda is gagging for it.
“Yes Adam,” she said, and lay back on her pillows, very still. “You would not” – her voice was almost a whisper – “you would not think of – altering the terms?”
He stood looking down at her, hands thrust deep in his pockets, but there was no tenderness in his sudden smile.
“That is always possible,” he said, “but in the meantime you’d better take to locking your door. Flesh and blood takes little count of contracts or obligations if tried too highly, and I don’t think you would care for a marriage consummated in that spirit, Miranda.”
It’s at this point that the reader wishes they were in an Anne Mather novel, because we all know how THAT would go. But since we’re in a Sara Seale, Miranda “turns her face away from the light” and says that she “should not care for it at all”, and we have to wait another fifty pages for Adam to finally get a clue. But it’s very sweet when he does.
This is one of the best Sara Seale novels – I highly recommend it.