With The Silk Merchant’s Convenient Wife, Elisabeth Hobbes has shown that she is just as at home writing a Victorian romance as she is with the Medieval period. In this, her tenth novel, we meet Jonathan Harcourt and Aurelia Upford. Both of them have their own reasons for wanting a purely business-like marriage, and Hobbes develops the relationship between the two very convincingly. As a child, Jonathan had witnessed the effect of a loveless marriage on his mother and has vowed to avoid the state himself. Aurelia has been in love before, disastrously, and is very much aware of the opprobrium heaped on women who make wrong choices. Jonathan is now the younger partner in a successful silk mill in Macclesfield. When Jonathan approaches landowner Sir Robert Upford with a business proposition, he is taken aback to discover the aristocrat has other intentions.
‘I am reluctant to lose my ancestral home.’ Sir Robert sighed in what Jonathan thought was an overly theatrical manner as if he were in a melodrama. ‘If the land were part of my daughter’s marriage settlement, I dare say I could come to agreeable terms.’
Jonathan hid his surprise well. Sir Robert was not only intending to saddle Jonathan with an unwanted wife, but also to still extract the money from him. Really, he had to admire the man’s cheek.’
Aurelia is keen to leave her parents’ home and so their marriage of convenience begins. As we’ve come to expect from Hobbes, her attention to detail is superb. What I loved about this one is that her characters are vivid and believable in their responses to each other, but Hobbes doesn’t ever let us forget the Victorian context in which they live – their burgeoning relationship is brilliantly done, but their attitudes and social expectations never slip into the anachronistic. This is a world of constraint and strict social conventions, where sexual desire and love is kept hidden (Hobbes has fun with Sir Robert’s Greek vases) which makes for a wonderful contract between the public and private worlds. Another excellent read from Elisabeth Hobbes here!