I finished it some weeks ago, and it gave me a very mixed impression so I really had to think about it for a while. It is not the quite easy, half romantic historical fiction I thought it was. It was quite something else.
It starts when Mary Showler elopes with a young noble man to get married. However, somehow, when they end up in an inn for the night, she realises that he never intended to marry her at all. She is a girl from a French noble family which was impoverished when Napoleon fell from power, and she is now working as a teacher in a school in England. Once she realises that he does not want to marry her she leaves him to go back to the school. Too late to have her job back she supports herself as a governess. She changes work frequently since she normally gives the mother in the family unpleasant vibes, although the children always love her. Now, she gets the opportunity to go back to France to work in an aristocratic family.
But Mrs. Coombe Wade felt a certain responsibility that urged her to make further enquiries.’An exceptional person is required - there are five children and the mother can do nothing, social obligations, you know, and ill health, then the establishment is really magnificent! One requires someone with authority-’’Mademoiselle Debelleyme has that - she is very good with servants, a wonderful gift for keeping order and discipline - with children, too - she really takes all the trouble off one’s shoulders!’Mary Showler has changed her name back to Debelleyme, and as such she comes to the Duke and Duchesse du Boccage. She takes hold of the household which is in array due to the lack of management by the duchesse and she makes herself at home and takes care of everything in the household. The Duke is happy to have a functioning house and someone to deal with the children. However, soon the Duchesse sees that the little power she had is gone and her estranged relationship with her husband is even more estranged, when he tends to spend more time with his children under the auspices of the governess.
I will not reveal more of the plot here. However, it is a very strange story and I don’t really know what to make of it. Most characters are unsympathetic, and the character of the ’heroine’ Mlle Debelleyme turns out to be not that nice. Or is she? This is the question? Is she as manipulative as it seems, or is she just very honest? She has had to take care of herself from a very young age, and she is trying to find a place in the world. It is not easy for a woman on her own in those days.
The story takes a turn and a turn again. I don’t want to reveal it here since it would spoil the story if you want to read it. However, if someone is reading it I would love to discuss the actions of Mlle Debelleyme. All in all a fascinating read with characters not that easy to understand or love.