Review/Response/Appreciation: Jo Beverley’s EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, Seeing Lucifer, Finding Michael

Emily_2Jo Beverley’s 1991 Emily and the Dark Angel restores your faith in the genre. That was Miss Bates’s thought as she turned the last page with a satisfied reader’s affection-sigh. Miss Bates is glad she read Emily Grantwich and Piers Verderan’s wooing on paper: a traditional format for a traditional Regency, which never loses its freshness, elegance, or emotional power. What brings about that lift, the reader’s spirit-rise, the recognition of “I’m in the presence of one of the genre’s greats”? It’s difficult to pinpoint, as elusive as catching a sunbeam. It’s trope-manipulation, or gentle tinkering; it’s psychological acumen. It’s the bringing-to-life of time and place; it’s secondary characters who breathe. It’s turn of phrase the reader recalls long after the last page is turned. It’s banter and confession and the fulfilled promises of desire and being understood.

Emily and the Dark Angel contains one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance pairings, opposites-attract: Emily is sensible to Ver’s imprudence, countryside respectability to Ver’s citified worldliness, propriety to his flouting of social conventions, innocent to his debauchery, staid to his temperament, plain to his gorgeousness, and Miss Bates’s absolute favourite, her diminutive stature to his gargantuan. When this yin-yang romance combination is handled as cleverly and sensitively as Beverley’s, the HEA is about the couple’s integrating the best of each other in themselves. Core identity is preserved for tension and interest, but tempered to show us how they will live in harmony.

“On-the-shelf” spinster Emily lives quietly on her father’s estate, managing property, people, and animals since a feud left Sir Henry disabled and Marcus, her brother, absent, MIA spying for British forces against Napoleon. Piers Verderan rides into town on Beelzebub, his horse named apropos of Ver’s reputation, when he inherits Hume House. He and Emily meet when his mistress tosses violet-scented talcum powder over him and the passing Emily, in revenge over his sundering of their relationship. Ver and Emily are throw together again when Emily’s purchase of a local herd of sheep may be jeopardized by the fox covert on Ver’s adjacent new property. Ver and Emily’s duality is apparent to both on the bases of reputation and temperament … and yet, they both leave their encounters with thoughts of the other, with fascination and burgeoning attraction.

Past family offenses and feuds colour Ver and Emily’s courtship. Brilliantly portrayed secondary characters, locals and the bucks who come to Melton Mowbray to enjoy the foxhunt, machinate to bring Emily and Ver together or keep them apart. When Miss Bates first started reading Emily and the Dark Angel, she assumed echoes of Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. She was displeased. 😐 Soon enough, however, Emily and the Dark Angel turned more to Heyeresque farce and, as Rave Reviews wrote when Emily was first published, “comedy of manners.” Miss Bates assures you, dear reader, that Emily and her “dark angel” are, above all, a moving, glorious romance, with Beverley’s signature themes of choosing freedom and love over convention and provinciality.

Beverley often builds her romance with a fine sense of gentle irony. Witness Emily’s thoughts post-Ver-&-violet-talcum encounter, pondering the possibility of marrying the staid, stuffy local vicar: “If the Reverend Hector Marshalswick lived up to everyone’s expectations and proposed marriage, she should surely accept. It was likely the only opportunity ever offered. Emily was a practical young woman; she had lived twenty-six years without any man conceiving a violent passion for her, so it was unlikely to happen now.” Miss Bates loves Austenesque authorial interjection in the romance narrative. The well-versed romance reader knows that these are always “famous last words”!

One of the reasons Emily and the Angel will remain in Miss Bates’s memory is Beverley’s penning of one of the best spinster figures Miss Bates has read. Emily’s Aunt Junia is a feral spinster par excellence, independent-spirited and -minded:

Sir Henry’s older sister, Junia, had lived in the Hall all her life and had no intention of moving no matter what might happen. She also had no intention, short of the direst emergency, of becoming involved in the running of the establishment. She had occupied two rooms overlooking the gardens since leaving the schoolroom. From there she attended to a vast correspondence and painted beautiful flower pictures which she either gave away or sold, as the mood took her.

She organized her life to suit herself as arrogantly as if she were a man and was as likely to wear trousers as skirts, but when the occasional stranger would congratulate or berate her for being a “modern” woman, perhaps even a Wollstonecraftian woman, she would look at him with a blank stare.

Junia Grantwich was an original and Emily thought her delightful.

Aunt Junia’s life of creativity, eccentricity, independence, and “blank stare” destruction of social convention, is enviable. Indeed, Emily stands between two choices: she loves running her father’s estate (and therein has she found the spirit of adventure and daring which will help her choose Ver) and could easily become Aunt Junia, may be half-way there. It takes a character as original and eccentric, and one as able to withstand the stodginess of a rigid society’s judgements, to attract and hold Emily. When Aunt Junia decides to play fairy-godmother to her niece and Ver (she takes a liking to him), the die is cast in Ver’s favour. Spinsters make formidable allies and advocates. You should always try to have one in your corner. 😉

Beverley’s skill for repartee is a sheer delight. It’s light, it’s witty, and it’s memorable. So many times Miss Bates paused and chuckled. A few examples with which to tantalize you, dear reader. Here is Margaret, Emily’s dear friend and neighbour, asking Emily about Ver: ” ‘Not, I gather, flea-bitten and on his last legs.’ ‘Definitely not.’ ‘Seedy? Debauched? Sallow and blood-shot from constant dissipation?’ Emily shook her head. Margaret’s silence demanded an answer. ‘He’s very good-looking,’ Emily said feebly. ‘Details,’ demanded her friend. ‘Tall, dark, and handsome,’ retorted Emily crisply. ‘The man’s a walking cliché.’ ” Beverley realistically recreates a natural, believable conversation between two friends and pokes a little fun at gothic romance’s hero-stereotypes. The stodgy, judgemental vicar isn’t left free of wit’s barbs; hands down, Miss Bates guffawed when Emily reprimanded Hector, the vicar, by exclaiming, “Hector, stop – stop hectoring! You have no right to order me around … ” XD

Equally reader-delectable are the many references to Ver’s darkness, his bad-boy reputation; witness his repartee to Emily’s doubts about him, ” ‘ … I’m certain your spotless reputation can withstand a brief brush with my sooty one. Well, Miss Grantwich?’ ” Add to these figurative bon-bons a running reference to the delights of the marriage-bed as “pudding,” with Ver’s daydreams taking forms like, “Visions filled his mind of setting Emily free and showing her the world, and adventures, and the many varieties of pudding … … And a gentleman couldn’t expect a woman to do all the chasing, after all. The least he could do was woo her a little and put the question. Hope that in her eyes he was something better than sago on the dessert menu of life … ” Ver is trifle, dear readers, delicious, rich trifle, Miss Bates’s favourite dessert.

Emily_1And remember when Miss Bates said that Emily and the Angel is gloriously romantic, sans love scenes too, no mean feat and so refreshing in these days of pages-full of slot-insertion. Once Ver puts his mind to wooing Emily (and with Aunt Junia’s sly spinster’s championing), there are many wondrous moments of tenderness and love and wit. Miss Bates won’t quote them all, but she offers a soupçon. Ver has recklessly followed Emily on horseback at a brisk gallop and the jumping of hedges and fences over land he doesn’t know as well as she. He takes a tumble and Emily scolds him, ” ‘You crazy man! You could have killed yourself!’ ‘Then I’d have died for love of you,’ he said.” Ver’s proposal: ” ‘I can show you delights of mind and body, and learn them from you, too. I will set you free to explore the world, and yourself, and me. And I’ll be a secure haven when you need one. Marry me, Emily.’ ” Le sigh. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, Ver writes Emily a letter to rival Persuasion‘s Capt. Wentworth’s.

Like Emily, don’t leave Beverley’s Emily and the Dark Angel to languish on your shelf. Dust it off and let yourself be immersed in its wit and wonder. With her reading spinster-friend, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Jo Beverley’s Emily and the Dark Angel proves “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.

Miss Bates purchased a paper copy of Emily and the Dark Angel with her meager spinster savings. Beverley’s Emily is published by Signet/Penguin and available in e and paper at your preferred vendors. It’s pricey, but worth every penny.

(Not too long ago, the romance community lost Jo Beverley. May her memory be eternal. If Emily were her only romance, she’d have a place in the genre’s canon. Miss Bates looks forward to reading the entire oeuvre.)

27 thoughts on “Review/Response/Appreciation: Jo Beverley’s EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, Seeing Lucifer, Finding Michael

  1. I read Forbidden (part of the Rogues series) on GrowlyCub’s recommendation when it was on sale not long before Beverley’s death, and it was a delight.

    The better question might be whether there’s any book of hers that’s best skipped.

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    • And I read An Arranged Marriage and knew I wanted to read ALL THE BEVERLEYs … but then, as is our rom-reading wont, fell down a rabbit-hole of “reading other things”. I hope to read another of these early trads soon! And Forbidden is in my TBR too!

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  2. See, I expected to love this one too—I just finished it a few days ago as well, but it felt a bit. . . hasty to me? I think I’d have enjoyed it more if it were a little longer, and I could have seen some more of the process of Ver’s and Emily’s falling in love with each other. The way it happens, it felt like I blinked, and it was done.

    Which is not to say that I disagree with your points—the banter, the secondary characters (I wish there were a novel for Aunt Junia!), the setting sans balls et all, were fun to read. Just that. . . I was left a little unconvinced of Ver’s and Emily’s romance.

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    • Actually, I wasn’t UNCONVINCED of their romance in the sense that I don’t believe that they’ll have a HEA—by the end of the book, it’s obvious that they will. . . . I just feel like there should have been more pages in the middle maybe? Sigh. I’m not sure what niggles.

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      • No, no, there be niggles, there be legitimate niggles. Now, I loved it and was totally immersed in it. BUT I also think you have a legitimate point here: Ver and Emily fall in love without any sense of development or motivation. They just *poof* do. I remember the moment when Ver just says to someone he’s going to marry Emily and surprised himself. I think a part of what is going on, at least in terms of my own response to it, is that I responded to it as I did when first reading Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades btw. I think that our contemporary romance is so much more “psychologized” vis-à-vis the main characters: we tend to want to see development, internal changes and reconsiderations. This can backfire, of course, when we have what I call eternal and tedious “ruminations”. The opposite may happen with older roms: an emphasis on appearance and plot, with a lot less of that internalizing of voice … just a few speculations. Either way, things can go terribly wrong or terribly right, but each reader’s response is valid and interesting, that’s how the genre and our conversations around it grow.

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  3. Miss Bates
    Great review of a classic. I recently read it (it had to have been, technically, a re-read, but as I couldn’t actually remember any of it…) Anywhoo, I really enjoyed it. My only quibble was with the ‘pudding’ joke. It went on for far too long, IMO, and crossed the line into farce. Emily would be well within her rights to box Ver’s ears when he explains all.

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    • Thank you for your kind comments regarding my review. I enjoyed the novel and enjoyed writing it just as much! Ha, the pudding joke! I have a very low form of humour and found that it continued to amuse me. OTOH, I’d love to read a scene where Emily boxes Ver’s ears!!! XD

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  4. I love her books and her writing. I was incredibly lucky to meet her in 2014 at the RNA conference and was able to tell her how much pleasure her books have given me. May her memory be eternal. Her loss is devastating. Memory eternal.

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  5. Ms. Beverley has a talent for creating truly memorable spinsters, didn’t she? Like Francis, Lord Middlethorpe’s Aunt Arabella in AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE. Her introductory words were a BIG clue what to expect from this fierce lady. I loved her!

    “Good morning. I am Arabella Hurstman. I am quite abominable because I always insist on having my own way. My nieces and nephews are terrified of me, which is why they’re trying to fob me off on you. May I stay?”

    She was ornery, plain-spoken, a touch arrogant, but above all she was Eleanor’s champion from the first day they met.

    What a truly, truly lovely tribute to Jo Beverley and a wonderful review! You’ve made me want to pull out my copy and re-read immediately.

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    • Thank you! I hope I did JoB and the novel credit! I loved those lines from An Arranged Marriage, wish I had a better memory of that novel! But she most definitely wrote marvelous spinsters if Junia and Arabella are examples. I love these characters who champion the young! I think that characters like these are indicative of how spinsters nurture the world: you don’t have to be a mother *biological* to nurture. She really shows that and I love it.

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  6. This was my “in memorium” book after she died, too. I met her in 2010, and we had a couple of delightful conversations about tea, English weather, gardening, and historical clothing. She was gracious, charming, witty and completely delightful. Like her novels.

    I enjoyed this book immensely. Your take on it is wonderful; thank you.

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    • Oh, you’re most welcome and thank you for sharing that wonderful memory of Jo and her and your love of all those wonderful things life and England have to offer.

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  7. Hi Miss Bates, I think Jo Beverley is one of the Regency greats, and really enjoyed reading your review. I’ve read a number of her books and enjoyed them all, but since mine usually come from the library book sale, I’ve never seen this one. Will have to buy a copy now after reading your wonderful review. 🙂

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    • Hey, good to *see* you here! And thank you regarding: review! She is one of the genre’s greats and what a tremendous oeuvre to leave behind for our continued enjoyment and frequent pondering. It is definitely worth a copy of your own! Enjoy!

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  8. Lovely review, Miss Bates, you’ve done JoBev proud indeed. She has so many wonderful books, but this series is still my favorite. Before the ebooks and reprints came out, I hunted down all the library copies and read them (out of order, horrors!). This and Deirdre and Don Juan are my favorites, but they’re all worth reading.

    And I hadn’t thought of how well she does spinsters, but of course you are absolutely right! Her secondary characters are always brilliantly done, but she has, I mean had, a soft spot for spinsters, I think.

    *sniffle* May her memory be eternal indeed. Thank you for teaching me that, it’s comforting.

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    • Sunita! *fiercely hugs the corgi* I’m so glad you think I’ve done Jo proud: your opinion means the world to me and I was hoping to convey a little of the wonderful found in Emily and her dark, but not brooding, angel. There’s so much more, isn’t there? Ver’s family sadness; his what we would now call “anger management” issues and how he overcomes them, those stories of how he defended all the fellow schoolboys who were bullied. And Emily too, how she gained in confidence and loved running her father’s estate; even Sir Henry and how his injury has made him a recluse and what joy to see him out and about at the end. How Emily realizes she’s done her father a disservice. All pretty terrific to think about!

      Kathy’s comment about Arabella-spinster in An Arranged Marriage is as great as Junia, don’t you think?! I think she did have a soft spot for them and we are blessed to read her portrayals.

      It is comforting, isn’t it? I cling to that phrase a lot. I’m glad you found it so too. 🙂

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  9. This is such a lovely review! I believe I have a paper copy of this novel, somewhere in the many peaks of the TBR Cordillera. I shall hunt it up and see if this one is more to my liking than Christmas Angel which :wince: I really didn’t enjoy.

    Aside: Many moons ago, through the SmartBitches, I became aware Ms Beverley guide to the English peerage, and have always admired the generosity with which she shared her knowledge.

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  10. A lovely review of a great book.
    “Emily and the Dark Angel” is the last of a quartet of traditional Regencies that Beverly wrote, and I do think it’s the best, although the first one, “Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed” is also very good. That one has a MOC plot, with very subtle humor, as his betrothed inadvertently stymies an enemy who wants to break them up, through her common sense. It’s a sly reversal of that trope where the naive wife/fiance heroine gets herself into all kinds of scrapes and is afraid to tell the hero about it(as in Heyer’s “The Convenient Marriage”).

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