Here we are in the third book of the Bridgerton fairy-tale. Yes, I am one of the late-comers to the series, having become sucked in by the Netflix series. It was so good, I think I’ll read the books! And yes, this is reminding me why I never read Harlequin romances in my younger days. If the first two books were pretty much the same store, duplicated, this one is a Victoria-era take on Cinderella.
An Offer From a Gentleman is Benedict Bridgerton’s story. He’s the second son in the Bridgerton line, and currently the Ton’s most eligible bachelor. At his mother’s Masquerade Ball, he dances with a most intriguing woman, who promptly disappears at midnight. He’s so smitten by their brief interlude, he’s determined to track her down despite having no clue as to her identity.
Enter Sophie Beckett. She’s the bastard daughter of an Earl, who provided for her, even if he didn’t give her his name. When he marries a woman with two daughters, then promptly dies, Sophie is relegated to the role of housemaid by her step-mother. Sophie doesn’t know that her father provided for her in his will by giving Araminta, her step-mother, a larger allowance if she cares for Sophie in his absence. To Araminta, letting her live in the house as a maid qualifies as “caring for.”
The situation at home becomes intolerable for Sophie following her encounter at the Ball, and she leaves, taking employment elsewhere. Her path crosses with Benedict’s again as he saves her from being raped by a bunch of drunken Lords at the new house. He brings her to his mother, Violet, intending her to work in their home and be protected from such treatment. However, there is an attraction he can’t deny. How can he continue to search for the mystery woman he’s fallen for while being distracted by the maid at his mother’s home?
There’s a lot of discussion surrounding social class in An Offer From a Gentleman. Sophie herself was the product of an implied consensual relationship between the Earl and one of his housemaids. As a child she is sent to live with him, and she is treated as his ward instead of his daughter. That is the social constructs of the time to prevent any claims to the estates from outside of the bonds of matrimony and lineage. It may seem unfair and ridiculous to those of us nowadays, but even in my younger days there was still a stigma surrounding being a “bastard” born outside of marriage.
Although the Bridgertons are more noble and understanding than others in their social circle, this social order doesn’t bypass them. As he becomes more smitten with Sophie, Benedict offers to make her his mistress. For most maids, being a “kept woman” is a step up. For Sophie, who knows what it was like to be the result of an illicit affair, it’s a situation she can’t tolerate. There’s some flexibility in what his family will accept for him to marry, and his mother urges him to find someone he loves, not who is just convenient and proper according to society.
Unlike many who reviewed this book, I can’t criticize the depiction of the social mores of the time period. The rules of society were clear about social class and social order. Yes, it seems ridiculous to us that Benedict would ask the woman he’s fallen for to be his mistress and not his wife. He’s already planning to cheat on a woman he hasn’t met yet. It was fortunate that Violet and her late husband have a love-filled marriage, but that hasn’t seemed to make an impact on Benjamin. However, it’s the reason Violet counsels him about marrying someone he loves.
Sophie is an excellent character. She’s not had an easy life, but she’s had more opportunities than most of her status. She’s not bitter about it, but accepts it as a matter-of-fact and does the best she can. She’s also true to her ideals. This means she’s a challenge for a male of high-society who enjoys his conversations with the thoughtful house main. It was nice to see their relationship, built on a brief infatuation, grow to love. I liked that both of her step-sisters weren’t unnecessarily cruel and she develops a sisterly relationship with Posy, the younger one, helping her to chart her own course in life as well.
However, the story was terribly predictable. There were no surprises at all in An Offer From a Gentleman. Each scene that opened I pretty much knew the outcome and could see the writing on the wall for the whole book from the beginning. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that these stories aren’t normally my kind of reading. If you’re looking for some light summer romance reading, this one is fine. If you’re expecting something more compelling like the television series was, you’ll be disappointed.
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