Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: A Christmas Kiss

A Christmas Kiss
Author:  Elizabeth Mansfield
Mass Market Paperback, 263 pages
Published December, 1990 by Jove Books (first published April, 1978, by Dell)
Reading genre: Christmas Regency romance




This is a wonderful, very sweet, feel-good comedy of errors, reminiscent of Shakespeare's own comedies, that had me glued to the page, so I breezed right through it, even chuckling aloud in some places as I read.

The characters are certainly unforgettable, so real that, once the book is closed for the last time, the reader feels bereft, wishing that the story could go on and on...  At least, this reader did.  I shall have to re-read it at some time in the near future.  And here I thought I wouldn't find anyone to compare with Mary Balogh!  

The plot immediately starts off on a humorous note.  Two young aristocrats, Reginald Windle, who has the title of Viscount Farnham, and his friend, James Everard, the future Earl of Gyllford, are quietly having a drink in the library at Carbery Hall, where they are guests, when they hear a body rolling down a nearby staircase.  It's Geoffrey Carbery, who has just been hit on the head with an Atlas!  The two friends arrive on the scene just in time to see the governess, one Miss Evalyn Pennington, still holding the book in one hand, come calmly down the stairs to make sure that Geoff, who had been accosting her, is all right.

When Geoff's tyrannical mother discovers what has happened, she promptly dismisses Evalyn, even refusing to give her a letter of recommendation.  James and Reginald -- who has a lisp and is affectionately known as "Reggie" -- come to the rescue.  They manage to get Evalyn invited to the Christmas festivities at Gyllford Manor.  Their plan is to allow Clarissa, Jamie's aunt, to get to know Evalyn, and thus recommend her for another position.

The comedy of errors begins when Philip, Jamie's father, misunderstands his son's explanation for the invitation, believing instead that Jamie, as he calls him, intends to marry the hapless young girl.  Thus, he feels honor-bound to deny his growing feelings for Evalyn.

Philip himself reflects the author's modern concerns with class discrimination.  He writes political books under a pseudonym, and has such radical -- for the time -- notions as the enfranchisement of all social classes.  He refuses to consider Evalyn beneath him just because she's a governess.  He sees her true worth, her inner spirit, irrevocably falling in love with her without any thought for the class difference between them.

Humorously complicating the plot are the love stories of four minor characters -- Reggie, Marianne, Joseph, and Annette, who happens to be Sally's personal maid.  These stories, too, are resolved by the end of the book, and, as I pointed out above, are related to that of the main characters.

In short, this book, while seemingly "just" a romance, is also a comedy and a critical review of the social customs of the time.  The author's skillful storytelling makes all these elements fit together seamlessly, while the tale unfolds without a hitch, amidst the vividly depicted merriment of the season.

This is my first Mansfield romance, which I recently acquired on eBay as part of a used Regency book lot.  It most definitely won't be my last.  This novel not only provided a good dose of the holiday spirit, but was a delightfully entertaining read, as well!









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