The Amorous Education of Celia SeatonBy Miranda Neville
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Things look bleak for Celia Seaton when she’s an unemployed governess without recommendation or reputation, but worse turns to worst when she finds herself kidnapped, robbed, stripped to her skimpy shift, and left alone in the attic of a moorland cottage to think about what her captor’s return may mean. But with a little prayer, a lot of daring, and a new determination to end her people-pleasing, rule-following ways, Celia escapes. When she tries to get inside the cottage to search for something to cover herself, she finds the doorway blocked by the unconscious body of a man wearing only breeches and boots.
To her surprise, the body is that of Mr. Tarquin Compton, “the ton’s most fashionable gentleman,” equally famous for his “exquisite taste and poisonous tongue.” When she realizes that a blow to his head has left Tarquin with no memory of who he is, the temptation to wreak revenge on the man who publicly compared her to a cauliflower is irresistible. She tells him he is Terence Fish, a clergyman and her betrothed. What follows is a delightful journey from the Yorkshire moors to the world where Tarquin belongs and Celia decidedly does not. “Terence” turns out to be a man with a kind heart, a sense of humor, and some surprising skills. Tarquin’s proximity, a novel (The Genuine and Remarkable Amours of the Celebrated Author Peter Aretin), and growing intimacies with her “betrothed” begin Celia’s “amorous education.”
Celia thinks of her time with “Terence” as an idyll, but idylls by definition are brief and episodic. Tarquin recovers his memory and his arrogance, and pastoral bliss is replaced by civilization. Life becomes complicated by social realities and determined villains. Can love triumph over social realities, interfering relatives, and pride? Since this is a romance, we know the answer to that question; but the journey to this HEA is well worth taking,
Why did I love this book? Let me count the ways, five of them at least.
Strength in heroines can take many forms, and Celia’s stout heart, ready sense of humor, and refusal to be daunted by all that life throws at her make up a strength I can believe in and relate to. A lesser person would be paralyzed by self-pity, but Celia soldiers on through dismissal, kidnapping, hunger, and heartbreak. I especially love the divided Celias. Sensible Celia and Besotted Celia pull in opposite directions: “Sensible Celia wanted Tarquin only if she could be sure their marriage wouldn’t leave her a sad neglected shadow in his godlike glory. Besotted Celia just wanted him, at any time, under any conditions.”
He is a dandy, an aloof soul, and a wit who is carelessly cruel, but there are reasons for the image he presents to his world. When the garments that define him are stripped away, a very different man emerges. And even when he becomes Tarquin Compton again, he is not the man he was. I fell in love with him when he looked at Celia, found her “neither plain nor pretty,” doubted that he could ever have fallen in love with her at first sight, but acknowledges that he could have fallen in love with her after knowing her long enough to appreciate her courage, her quick wit, and her humor. That sounds to me like a much more promising foundation for a lifetime together.
3. The humor
Some books give me the feeling that I can almost see the author’s smile beyond the pages. This was such a book. I felt as if Miranda Neville had as much fun writing the book as I was having reading it. Much of the humor, like the novel itself, is character-driven, my favorite kind. For example, Celia, having great fun with Terence Fish, cries, “Can you have forgotten the sweet moment when I promised to be yours?” Tarquin thinks, “Good God. Could he possibly be the kind of man who went in for sweet moments?”
4. The epigrams
I’m not a big fan of prefatory matter for each chapter. Sometimes they add to the story, but more often I just find them distracting. But I loved the twisted proverbs that Neville uses. From the first one, “Never get into a cart with a strange man,” they had me chuckling. My favorite is for chapter 31: “When it comes to a book, the good bits are always worth reading again.” That just works on so many levels.
5. The title
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton reminded me immediately of the movie The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), based on Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722). Moll’s story is far more scandalous and adventure-filled than Celia’s, but both characters engage in activities forbidden rule-following women, both rise from humble origins to a much higher social station, and both eventually find happiness with their one true love. What can I say? You can take the English professor away from literary fiction, but you can’t take allusion hunting away from the professor.
This is the third book in Amanda Neville’s Burgundy Club series, following The Wild Marquis and The Dangerous Viscount. The three books are connected by the role of books and by recurring characters, but each is distinctly its own tale, well able to function as a stand-alone book. The Burgundy Club has become one of my favorite series because of Neville’s superb characterization and her ability to bring a freshness to a subgenre that often suffers from the affliction of sameoldness. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton—it is funny, tender, with the spice of difference—and did I say hot? I give it a bells-and-whistles recommendation.