I write reviews about both new and older novels. Julie Klassen’s “The Maid of Fairbourne Hall” is no exception in that it was published in January 2012. It is a Regency romance novel that starts in August 1815, a time in English history when social rules guided just about every aspect of life, particularly between those who lived upstairs versus those who worked downstairs.
Of course, while females in the lower classes were ruled by their fathers, oldest brother or step fathers, just as they were in the upper classes, they could at least could go into service to get away from abusive situations. Females in the aristocracy, the “ton,” had only marriage or spinster-hood. And, for those who did not marry, they continued to be under the control of the men in their lives for life — unless they came into an inheritance of some kind.
In this story, Margaret Macy is a “lady” of twenty four who has turned down offers of marriage. After her father dies, she finds herself controlled by her mother’s new husband, Sterling Benton, a man who is a gold digger and gambler. His motivation to marry Margaret’s mother was a fortune that gossipers alleged was to have been left by a Great Aunt. As it turns out, the money is only designated for Margaret on her wedding day or 25th birthday — which is several months away as the story opens.
So, Sterling’s plan to get his nephew Marcus to marry Margaret and give him the money he needs to pay off his gambling debts and allow him to live as he likes. Luckily, Margaret overhears a conversation between them when Sterling tells Marcus to compromise Margaret so she will be forced to marry him.
Margaret knows she has to somehow run away but has no money. So, when she sees some money in Sterling’s room, she takes it. Unfortunately, her lady’s maid Joan is blamed and subsequently fired. Together, Margaret and Joan hatch a plan to run away together. After a couple of nights with Joan’s sister in the London slums, and only a small amount of money between them, they eventually end up travelling a short distance from London to where there is a job fair.
Through circumstances, Joan and Margaret end up at different manors with Margaret being hired as a maid at Fairbourne Hall. Unfortunately, Margaret knows the two aristocratic brothers who frequently live there — Nathaniel and Lewis Upchurch. The oldest, Nathaniel, had actually had his marriage proposal rejected by Margaret some years before. Meaning, he knows Margaret very well. So, Nora, the name she uses as a maid, not only has to learn how “downstairs” operates and the work skills of a housemaid, but how to successfully hide in plain sight from both Nathaniel and his older brother Lewis.
While the ending is not entirely unexpected, I loved the story because Margaret, as Nora, has guts and determination. I have read other Klassen books of course, yet somehow missed Fairbourne Hall. You should not.
I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5.
Bethany House Publishers, January 2012.
414 pages including discussion questions.