Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.
Ridiculous, she said.
Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.
Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?
As a literary character, Lydia Bennet of Pride and Prejudice has never been one of my favorites. She hasn’t even risen to the level of “love to hate”, as some characters come to stand in my mind. Lydia is immature, selfish, short-sighted and “the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.” In Maria Grace’s The Trouble to Check Her, Lydia’s new brother-in-law Mr. Darcy would have none of her foolishness. After the tarnishing events with the cad George Wickham, Darcy packs Lydia off to a reform school for girls. As expected, Lydia reacts as a petulant child, not wanting to face the consequences of her choices.
On some level I enjoyed watching Lydia’s frustration as she began her time at Mrs. Drummond’s School for Girls. She is finally forced to roll up her sleeves and do some work. She is not allowed any foolishness whatsoever. This is true for all the girls—young ladies from high society are not permitted to even mention their lofty stations in life, for example. In this home, there is much equality, and any privileges (such as going without a mobcap) must be thoroughly earned. Association with young men is strictly forbidden, especially in the case of the new music teacher, Mr. Amberson.
Lydia takes quite a journey in The Trouble to Check Her, and it was fascinating to watch. She eventually became a more sympathetic character in my eyes. I saw her insecurity and her self-loathing come out on more than one occasion. Because of her past and her general inclinations, she often saw herself as unworthy of true love or affection. At first her only friends are more akin to “frenemies”, and it takes a while for her to finally discover who truly cares for her and to accept those relationships.
Maria Grace also brings in another character to share the literary spotlight, a young lady named Annabelle, who had also been disgraced in her time and had been at the school for a while. At first she seems cold and unfeeling, but eventually the layers peel away and she becomes one of Lydia’s dearest friends. I loved seeing her emerge from her shell, and I also enjoyed her storyline in general. She must face a difficult decision more than once, and she handles it with aplomb. I very much enjoyed this character and hope to see more of her in the future.
The villains of The Trouble to Check Her emerge mostly from the student body itself. Lydia does manage to get herself into a bit of a pickle all on her own, but forces from within the school use her mistakes to make life more than interesting on occasion. I particularly “loved to hate” Amelia, a young woman who seems to be even more flawed than Lydia, and also less willing to be molded as Lydia is. Her fate was bittersweet, as I relished her final placement in society, but also came to feel sympathy for her as well.
Within Lydia’s storyline is much discussion of the arts. Music and drawing become like second languages with her, helping her to communicate her feelings and to process the trials going on around and within her. She creates with her fingers in multiple ways—both on the piano keyboard and on her sketchpad. From the deep beauty and sadness of a harrowing medical situation, to the emotions conveyed between Lydia and her music teacher, the arts are very much a part of this novel. As a musician I especially enjoyed the passages regarding the piano pieces. My personal interest lies in the French Horn, but I studied piano at one time and require that my children do as well. Music conveys feeling like nothing else, and Lydia very much tapped into that as she communicated with Mr. Amberson. Maria Grace did a fine job with this, as well as in her descriptions of Lydia’s sketch art as well.
While Lydia Bennet may not be my favorite literary character of all time, Maria Grace has improved her in my eyes through The Trouble to Check Her. I was surprised at how riveted I was with the story, and found myself turning pages much faster than I’d anticipated that I would. It is somewhat of a sequel to her title Mistaking Her Character, and there are a few references to that work within this novel, but I believe that anyone who is fairly familiar with the events of Pride and Prejudice would more than enjoy this next volume. It’s important to know that in Maria’s world, Mr. Bennet is a doctor and can be very cruel and unfeeling to Lydia, thereby encouraging some of her insecurities. This is explored more so in Mistaking Her Character, but knowing these facts should keep new readers informed if they begin with The Trouble to Check Her from the outset.
Maria Grace should be applauded for her work in The Queen of Rosings Park series. In both cases I have found enjoyable, clean and well written works of Austenesque fiction. The first two titles are very different in pacing and tone, but I heartily recommend them. And in The Trouble to Check Her, I believe that Maria has improved as the series has continued, bringing a sequel that in my mind is better than the first!
About the Author
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.
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