From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen’s greatest gems, yet one of her most underrated novels. It is a coming-of-age tale of Catherine Morland, a comedy, a romance, and a commentary on the Regency-era literary scene. In all of that, it is both a down-to-earth study of real-life and a beautifully plotted promise that even the most mundane of circumstances hold a glimmer of heaven. In Elizabeth Rasche’s Regency debut, Flirtation & Folly, these same ingredients are bound together in the endearingly flawed, eternally hopeful heroine, Marianne Mowbrey.
Marianne Mowbrey is a dreamer. Fresh from the country to visit her aunt in London, she believes with all of her heart that she will become a heroine just like those in her favorite novels. As she soon discovers, wishing is not the same as getting. Under her aunt’s disapproving gaze, Marianne tries to learn the skills needed to be a society darling from her new “friends,” the beautiful yet mocking Stokes’ sisters.
No matter if day after day proceeded with the same rise and fall of expectations. For Marianne, the morning always burst with the fresh, flowering hope of the charming young lady she would become by eventide. (78)
Robert Hearn arrives in London not knowing where he belongs anymore. Originally from Ireland yet raised in England, he has spent his adult years in India and beyond. All that is left of his home are memories of an idyllic childhood. With the desire to win his estate back from the hands of another, Robert has no time for social graces or flirtations. What slips past his guard, however, is a newfound friend who might be as lost as he.
The man’s face turned from the smooth flow of water to Marianne. The gaslight cast a haze around his figure that ought to have graced an angel, all golden and sparkling, but the expression on his face was far from angelic. It looked wretched and desperate. It was the same face she had seen earlier in the evening, only now it had been driven into a wild sorrow. (136)
Because of her social faux pas and her bizarre choice of dresses, Marianne soon begins to see her dreams float away. Yet it seems that the more she tries to win approval, the more she horribly fails. When an unlikely ally appears in the form of the much-too-honest-to-be-tactful Mr. Hearn, Marianne discovers that what she wants may not be what she’s wanted all along: to fit into society and its rules. What she may want—may need to truly live—is to stand out.
Flirtation & Folly is a Regency romance that kept me on my toes. With echoes of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (a novel easily in my top three favorite Austen novels) running alongside entirely original character and plot developments, this is a novel that contains both familiarity and surprises. Marianne and Robert had much to learn about who they were and their places in the world. Rather than detract from my experience, this added depth, and subtle beauty. Marianne’s observations of life in London were also fascinating, as they gave a look into daily life that’s often-left unseen in Regency romances. A footman’s mannerisms, the view of women as healers, the lower class of apothecaries, the physical toll unhealthy beauty creams had on hair and skin, the prejudice against people from Ireland—these and more were canvassed delicately but honestly.
As a coming-of-age novel, Flirtation & Folly carried this genre’s strengths and weaknesses. Marianne was identifiable, especially in her desire to both fit in and stand out at the same time. However, the way she did it was often exasperating. She spent many pages of the novel disillusioned about herself and about who she should go to for advice. Thankfully, Robert came onto the scene! He brought out Marianne’s honest, wild side, and their relationship was blunt and free from fake flirtation. This was something I enjoyed and was also sad over, as the romantic side of things was much less developed than I hoped. Their ending was rushed; ultimately, they deserved more pages spent on their relationship.
2021 has been a difficult year, but it has also been one of hope and self-reflection. With its honest look at the reality of mistakes and disappointments, Flirtation & Folly shows how joyous it is to overcome, how beautiful it is to find one’s own path, and how lovely it is to gain a hand in which to hold along the way.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Flirtation & Folly: A Season in London (Book 1), by Elizabeth Rasche
- Quills & Quartos Publishing (September 4, 2020)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (326) pages
- ISBN: 978-1951033583
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Cover image courtesy of Quills & Quartos Publishing © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2021, Austenprose.com