|"I am adept at various kinds of needlework" says Lauren (162)|
Lauren, however, is not so easy to woo. Raised at Newbury Abbey with cousins Neville and Gwen Wyatt after her mother married their father's brother and left on a wedding trip from which she never returned, Lauren has always felt the need to guarantee her tenuous place in the Wyatt family by behaving with all due decorum. "I shaped my life to the expectation that one day I would be [Neville's] countess," Lauren explains (96). Even after being left at the altar by Neville, Lauren has maintained her poise:
"She was indeed afraid, mortally so [to go out in company], but above all else she had been raised to be a lady. And ladies did not allow fear to master them. Ladies did not abjure society merely because they were embarrassed and unhappy, merely because they felt unattractive and unwanted. Ladies did not give in to self-pity" (21).
When Kit proposes after wooing Lauren for only a few short weeks, he tells her he is drawn to her because of her beauty, and because of her reputation "for unshakable dignity and gentility and respectability. For being the perfect lady, in fact" (90). But Lauren has been through too much to believe that Kit is telling the truth when he claims to be head over heels in love with her. Instead of growing angry, however, she asks him for the truth. Kit, ashamed of treating Lauren like an object rather than as a person, explains his predicament.
|Vauxhall, the site of Kit's halfhearted proposal|
When Kit presses her, Lauren reveals yet another reason for her unconventional offer. She recognizes that her quiet, decorous life, thought it may be dull, suits her, but
"... recently, I have felt a craving to know just once what it would be like to have some sort of adventure.... I just want to know what—what if feels like to throw off some of the shackles that bind me. Just fleetingly. I am not a person made for wild, passionate emotions. Or for vivid happiness. I just want a summer to remember. Can you give it to me?" (99, 100)
Kit, intrigued by the challenge she offers, agrees to Lauren's bargain. During the weeks that follow, Kit introduces Lauren not to the wilds of sexual abandon, but to far simpler pleasures: the joy of learning to swim in a lake; the wonder of climbing a tree and gazing at the world from above; the comfort of sharing ones feelings with a sympathetic listener; the delight in a gradually-awakening sexuality.
|Watching, not playing, cricket, in 1822|
Lauren's training in ladylike behavior, which calls on her to set others around her at their ease, also allows her to see the tension between Kit and his family, a tension stemming from far more than a simple disagreement over a betrothal. Lauren's skill at quietly managing people, and at listening to their concerns, allows her to gradually help Kit overcome his estrangement from his family. She even recognizes how deeply wounded Lady Freyja is by Kit's abandonment, and sympathizes with her, something Kit has not been able to see.
Though quiet, dutiful Lauren and Kit, a dashing, mischief-making charmer, seem to have little in common personality-wise, they gradually discover that their characters complement, rather than contradict. As cousin Gwen tells Lauren, Kit "is such a perfect foil for you.... His carefree, laughing manner balances your quiet good sense and makes for one pleasing whole" (181). Kit respects Lauren's intelligence, and battles for her rights with her grandfather, who has kept an important family secret from her. And he respects her need to make her own choices, even if that choice means leaving him.
Lauren's "summer to remember" does not demand that she abandon her proper self; instead, it allows her to become more herself. She can speak her own truth without fear of being shut out from her family. And at long last she can "embark on the rest of her life. Not a passive observer any longer, but an active participant" (324). And a participant who can choose a life partner not out of fear, or dependence, or need, but out of the freedom of love.
• Rosewood pole screen needlework: Antiques-UK.com
• Vauxhall Gardens: Mr. Phoebus
• Cricket Match 1822: Jane Austen Festival Australia
* Lauren's name evokes the writer Maria Edgeworth, a strong but quite proper lady who was one of the most respected and most popular authors of children's books during the Regency period.
Mary Balogh, A Summer To Remember. Dell, 2002.
Next time on RNFF
Theorizing the male virgin in romance fiction: Some thoughts in response to Jonathan A. Allan