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We often think that virtue and beauty as things to aspire for -- that they are means towards a certain end.
We often see in romance novels that it is the hero who is in need of redemption, and, like Dante's Beatrice, it is the heroine who guides him towards salvation.
But, what if this wasn't the case? What if we flipped everything over its head?
This seems to be Mary Jo Putney's intention when she wrote Daniel and Jessie's story.
Daniel Herbert lost his one and only love to fever when he was a younger man, and he has devoted his life to his medical practice -- saving as many lives as possible. He wasn't certain he would fall in love again, but, when he meets Jessie Kelham, something that he had thought had died all those years ago sparks back to life, and he wants Jessie.
But Jessie would not have him, because he is, literarlly, too good for her. Daniel has lived a saintly life, and he's about to realize that being virtuous isn't always it's own reward.
Jessie, Lady Kelham, was born too beautiful (if there is such a thing). Her father, a minister, had thought Jessie's looks to be too sinful and punished her accordingly. While many ladies would wish for half of Jessie's looks, Jessie, herself, does not.
Between the two, Jessie's journey was more arduous -- out of spite and (misplaced) anger, her father named her Jezebel. It's difficult to explain, but I thought it was tragic how Jessie was left with no other recourse in life and ended up living up to her historical namesake. At a young age, she married an abusive Ivo Trevane, then escaped that marriage and became an actress and kept woman, then became the wife of a much, much older gentleman. From the outside, it seems that Jessie had manipulated and slept her way to the top -- but there is always, always more to the story.
We see how loving and devoted Jessie was to her late husband. We see how terribly she suffered under Ivo. We see a woman who is just desperately trying to live a good and quiet life with her daughter. I thought it was sad how the world never gave Jessie a chance and looked beyond the surface. I thought it was sad how Jessie was quickly pegged into a category and never given a chance to be anything more.
It's strange, and a bit curious, how Mary Jo Putney decides to highlight the negative aspect of such positive traits. Daniel is too good and too kind. And Jessie is too beautiful. In themselves, they are wonderful, but, viewing it from a more global perspective, Jessie's beauty makes it difficult for her to relate to other people in an authentic way, and Daniel's goodness is too much for Jessie.
Putney does an amazing job of juxtaposing lives:
Daniel vs Jessie --
Daniel and Jessie have, surprisingly, similar family backgrounds: Daniel's parents had wanted Daniel to enter the Church and (forcibly) drilled into him the need for goodness and moral rightness. Daniel tried his best to abide by his parents' wishes, and even got ordained. But, he found the breaking point and walked away from his family's suffocating rule.
Jessie vs Mariah, the Golden Duchess --
Once again, there are similarities between Jessie and Mariah, and, it was, I think, comforting for Jessie to discover that she wasn't the only one who thought her appearance was a problem -- that there was someone in the same position, and had found a way to handle it
Daniel vs Frederick, Jessie's nephew by marriage --
The whole double-edged sword theme is amplified when Daniel discovers he has inherited a title, an estate, and a fortune -- in contrast to Jessie's nephew by-marriage (and former lover), who would, literally, lie, cheat, steal, and kill to inherit his uncle's estate, Daniel doesn't know what to do with his new-found position and wealth. He is happy to continue his simple, comfortable practice. Daniel had never expected to be anything more than a small-town doctor, so, when he inherits the title, Lord Romayne, and the barony, it confounds him -- and Daniel wishes, more than anything, to be released from such a "gift." Frederick, on the other hand, had expected to inherit his uncle's title -- had lived his life towards it. When he discovers that his uncle, Jessie's late husband, had found a loophole and transferred the title to his daughter, instead, it enrages Frederick -- and he threatens Jessie.
"I feel as if Atlas just dropped the world on my shoulders. You were raised knowing you were the Kirkland heir, but I barely knew Romayne existed, much less that I had any chance of inheriting." His father would have known, and would have been delighted if the inheritance had fallen to him.
- loc 176
Daniel vs Jessie's father --
Both are ordained by the Church of England, and both have a very good knowledge of the Holy Book, but one uses it to help and heal others -- and the other uses it to persecute and torment those who believes are morally less than he is (= everyone else).
There are two obstacles in the story: the minor one is that Daniel must overcome his reputation, and the major one is Jessie must resolve the loose ends of her past. (There's the
This novel starts and develops really well and Putney really made a compelling, compelling case for why Daniel and Jessie should be together, and why they should not. It's when Daniel and Jessie decide to take the risk and be together that it loses momentum (and direction) -- I still don't understand what Jessie had hoped to accomplish when she decides to return home and confront her father. I felt the ending didn't match the intensity of the rest of the story.
Final note: I loved when the boys from Westerfield all come together.
Not Always a Saint is Book 7 in Mary Jo Putney's Lost Lords series. To find out more about Mary Jo Putney and her books, click below:
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