Friday, May 22, 2009
A magnificent tapestry of a grand and glorious era...
As opulent and passionate as the 18th century it celebrates. Through a glass Darkly will sweep you away to the splendors of a lost era. Like Gone With the Wind, it is rich with characters so vivid -- from aristocrats to scoundrels--they create their own immortality. Here is the story of a great family ruled by a dowager of extraordinary power: of a young woman seeking love in a world of English luxury and French intrigue, and of a man haunted by a secret that could turn all their dreams to ashes...
I love great big huge books that you can sink your teeth into. This was one of them, plus it was one of my books that I've now finished for my TBR Challenge. Over 750 pages, it's the detailed and engrossing story of Barbara, the grandaughter of Alice, the stalwart, domineering - and aging -- dowager, Duchess of Tamworth. Set in early Georgian England and Paris, the story is sprawling and majestic, set amidst aristocratic society and the royal courts. Mistressses, lovers, gossip, scandal and secrets all abound in this entertaining piece of historical fiction.
Barbara is a young and innocent fifteen year old who is engaged to marry the handsome and dashing Roger Montgeoffrey, a man much older than she, but who she has always loved since she was but a young girl. Roger is sophisticated, a man of the world, but he is a self made man, once the protege of her grandfather, the Duke of Tamworth who has been dead for five years. Her grandmother still rules with an iron hand at the family estate of Tamworth and has been Barbara's virtual mother, since her own egotistical mother, Diana is more interested in other things, like her schemes and lovers and most importantly - money.
Diana has brokered the marriage between Barbara and Roger with a trump card that makes Barbara irresistible. She brings to her marriage what Roger wants most - land. Not just any land, it is prime acreage in London in which he plans to develop and build a huge house for himself, with a square with shops and buildings, town houses, and the crown jewel - a church designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren himself - a showpiece to last forever. This will be his legacy in which he will be remembered by all. Loads of scheming goes on before the marriage takes place - it almost doesn't - but in the end Barbara gets her way - and Roger. Little does she know what will happen once they're married. I loved the way the book unfolds and I grew to love this young and naive Barbara who only wants to marry the man she loves. I adored her grandmother, Alice as well, who is a tough old woman with still a lot of grit and spunk in her. She helps Barbara get Roger. She is a worthy dowager duchess, I really loved her. Diana, Barbara's mother is also a great character with her machinations and steely desire to get what she wants no matter who dies or lives in the process - or gets hurt by it. I loved to read about what horrible thing she'd do next. All the characters are written well, they have their own interesting personalities and backstories, even down to the servants like Therese and Annie - all were superb.
Once Barbara and Roger are married, he whisks her off to Paris and she is immediately introduced to the gossip and scandalous society of the Parisian court. Much of it is decadent and debauched and Barbara is out of her league at first, but soon she learns the way of life in Paris. She is relatively happy, yet is disconcerted that she if often neglected by her new husband, a popular man in town who spends all of his time with his old "friend" Phillippe, a french nobleman. Roger has a dark secret he keeps from Barbara which will ultimately devastate her. It was fascinating reading about Parisian society and the scheming and back stabbing involved - I loved every bit of it, all the while knowing that the proverbial shit would soon hit the fan when Roger's secret gets out. The question was: how?
The second part of the book takes place four years later, after Barbara learns the truth about her husband's lifestyle. She is back in London with a lover of her own, yet not divorced. In my mind, this was the weaker part of the book. Who was this lover of Barbara's all of a sudden? He didn't have the same depth as the other characters. I didn't feel like I knew him the same way I did with the others, except that he bore a striking resemblence to Roger. Roger still supports her in the lavish lifestyle she is accustomed to, yet they live apart. But soon Roger and many others in her life are affected by the financial imbroglio known as the South Sea Bubble that ruins many in London during this time. Much of this part of the book involves the financial ruin of many and I couldn't help but think how similar the South Sea Bubble was to the internet bubble in the late 1990's on Wall Street, and the latest financial credit debacle that occured last Fall. Barbara is now a little older, a little more mature, but still in love with Roger, and not much wiser. She finds herself in the midst of a huge scandal involving a duel and her current lover, Charles. I found it disconcerting to see what had happened to Barbara over the years. She's still incredibly young - only twenty, but much happens to her and her family. Much of it is sad. But, she always has her grandmother at Tamworth to go back to and find her strength.
Throughout her ups and down are her loyal servants and friends, as well as her brother, Harry and cousin, Tony, who I grew to really like. I'd like to think that Tony, who is the present Duke of Tamworth will one day win Barbara, since he fell in love with her almost on sight when she first came to London before her marriage to Roger. Tony blossoms through the book, I felt sorry for him and I hope something good happens to him in the sequel.
I highly recommend this book, I grew to love the characters in it and was sorry to finish it, I can't wait to read the sequel Now Face to Face and the prequel about Alice, the Duchess, Dark Angels before she marries her beloved, Richard, Duke of Tamworth during the time of Charles II.
A great read, you won't be sorry!