From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Who has seen the 1999 Wives and Daughters miniseries, adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian classic? It’s a powerful study of 19th-century life in a small English village, played by a phenomenal cast. Because of the miniseries, I recently devoured the 720-page volume and subsequently forced a family member to read it (which was a heroic accomplishment, because this specific family member has “Large Book Phobia”). Who can forget Squire Hamley, the character who acts like a character? To him, the Hamleys of Hamley Hall have a long history of honor to uphold…but they never quite live up to his expectations. In Matchless Margaret, Christina Dudley’s fourth addition to “The Hapgoods of Bramleigh” series, another family in a small English village has honor to uphold. This time readers focus on the now-adult Margaret as she navigates family expectations and her own uncontrollable heart.
A Capable Heroine
“All who knew her agreed: Miss Margaret Hapgood would never marry.” (Location 145)
There is no one more focused on taking care of her family–body and soul–than second-youngest, Margaret Hapgood. With a father healing from a stroke and a mother who has blatantly refused to take on any responsibilities for over a decade, outspoken Margaret is the only person capable of taking charge over the Hapgood estate. Unfortunately, that also includes traveling to Bath to help her irresponsible uncle with his matrimonial pursuits.
After his two-year service in His Majesty’s Peninsular Army is interrupted by a blasted leg injury, Dashiell Waite arrives back in England with more on his to-do list than recovery. His fiancé, Charmaine, has shown no warmer feelings toward him in their letters than the merest commonplace phrases. His mother is involved with a man who comes from a relatively respectable family in Somersetshire, but who has scandals connected to his name. When Margaret and Waite cross paths in Bath–literally and figuratively–their connection is brief (and in the case of Waite) negative. But the plots and escapades that one uncle, one mother, and one cold, calculating fiancé drag them into give Waite and Margaret no choice but to become allies, friends, and possibly something more.
“He had not looked at her; his mouth had scarcely moved. And yet she heard him. Unless she had imagined it. Imagined him saying: “If any man loved you, Miss Hapgood, he would require no prompting.” (Location 3391)
Charming & Endearing Characters
The entire “Hapgoods of Bramleigh” series is truly reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell’s work. Wives and Daughters is a novel about people–their foibles and strengths; passions and fears. Moreso even than Jane Austen and certainly more than Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell gilds this clear-sighted honesty with kindness. Even the blustering squire and the flirtatious Cynthia are written with a compassionate pen. In the same way, Christina Dudley has created a cast of characters–all realistically flawed–who reveal what families, friendships, and romantic love is all about. It can include accidents and arguments, heartfelt apologies and hugs that turn into more. Margaret is quick to speak without thinking, but also quick to own up to her own mistakes. Waite’s ability to skillfully lead at times and to also follow Margaret’s leadership was lovely.
“A masterful plan, Miss Hapgood. One you arrived at with dispatch and expressed clearly. It is our country’s loss that, not only do we balk at allowing young ladies to wander Bath by themselves, but we also discourage them from purchasing arm commissions, for you would make a very good general….I am a soldier, you know–or I was–and am used to following orders. A confident commanding officer inspires confidence in his troops. Lead the way, Miss Hapgood.” (Location 1484-1494)
Untangling the Hapgoods
The caution I have for potential readers is that, unlike other series, Matchless Margaret really cannot be read as a standalone. At 473 pages, a prior knowledge of the Hapgood family and their extended relations is needed to really enjoy what this novel holds. Otherwise much of the read will be spent in untangling the Hapgoods from their various cousins and in-laws.
High Praise for the Series
In this much-anticipated addition to “The Hapgoods of Bramleigh” series, Christina Dudley continues to enchant readers with her memorable characters and her Gaskell-esque writing style. Readers returning to the series will be satisfied with yet another strong addition to Dudley’s star cast of heroines: Margaret! For newcomers, I recommend starting with The Naturalist and proceed from there. Trust me – it will be worth it.
5 out of 5 Stars
ADDITIONAL BOOKS IN THE SERIES
READ OUR REVEIWS
- Matchless Margaret: The Hapgoods of Bramleigh (Book 4), by Christina Dudley
- BellaVita Press (October 20, 2021)
- Trade paperback & eBook (473) pages
- ISBN: 978-0983072164
- Genre: Historical Romance, Regency Romance
We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2021; text Katie Patchell © 2022, austenprose.com
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the novels in The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series?
If you enjoy historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, and endearing characters, Austenprose highly recommends them.
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Laurel Ann Nattress, editor