I've 'read' another James novel, 'An Affair Before Christmas', which I couldn't hold interest in (funny bit about the itching wig power, though); but even as I skimmed the book, the characters stayed with me. While 'Midnight Pleasures' wasn't a resounding success with me, it left an impression; A wanting to explore more of James' works for the book that will click for me; because I know its out there.
Read an excerpt: here
Our story starts off with Sophie reminiscing about a (in her opinion) half-hearted proposal of marriage from Patrick Foakes. She had recently been caught in his embrace; and honor dictated a proposal be made. Sophie had feelings for Patrick like none other, but if he was only going to propose for the sake of propriety, she wouldn't have him.
She ended up engaged (the next day) to chubby, dull, dim-witted (sorry for being so judgmental) Braddon Chatwin, Earl of Slaslow. She believes she will be contented with the union, and taking ques from her mothers follies with marriage, will act as the Countess she is destined to be and NOT take exception to the Earls inevitable mistress-taking. She could handle Braddon, there was no fear of falling 'in-love' with him. But she knew that Patrick could do things to her heart she would never be able to rebound from.
As Sophie is preparing to attend the Dewland ball; where she will be announcing the impending nuptials to Braddon; she receives a routine 'tongue-lashing' from her mother whom thought her a light skirt, provocative flirt. She holds back the tears her mothers words induced, and promises herself that she would NOT be reduced to the bitter life her mother was living; tortured and acrid because she allowed years of her husbands blatant escapades to influence her attitudes towards him and thus put even more distance between husband and wife.
Patrick was visibly irritable at the prospect of following through on the pretenses of being happy for his friend, Braddon. Patrick wanted Sophie and had no idea why she didn't want to marry him; title shopping probably, he thought. Because Braddon was an Earl and Patrick was a second son. Little did she know he was recently called in by Lord Berksby, Secretary For Foreign Affairs, to act as an ambassador next year at the Selim III the Sultan's title exchange for Emperor. Patrick would be given the title of Duke of Giles to further aid in his efforts.
After the ball, Braddon brags to Patrick and his twin Alex about his finding the perfect mistress. He wasn't even married yet, but he believes he's found the mistress he will keep on as a permeate fixture in his life (and Sophie's too). Patrick becomes enraged and takes up Sophie's cause, but quickly must back-peddle because he holds no clout in the situation at all.
When Sophie demands an immediate elopement which is to be done in dramatic fashion (climbing up a ladder at midnight and racing off to Gretna Green),after sharing a kiss with Patrick that makes her almost-taken so still-vulnerable-to-Patrick status unbearable, Braddon comes up with a scheme to get out of it and avoid the ultimatum of elope-or-bust. He fakes a broken leg and has Patrick act in his place to climb the ladder and take Sophie to the Earl's grandmother's house to dissuade her there. Patrick ends up giving into temptation and after Sophie reveals (under the pre-text that Patrick is Braddon under a deep-hooded disguise) that she doesn't want an elopement or marriage after all, Patrick (revealed as Patrick by this point) takes her virginity and lets her know he intends to marry her instead.
Slyly avoiding complete social scandal, Patrick and Sophie enjoy a languorous wedding trip and explore the wonders of the marriage bed. The only damper, which is prevalent throughout the majority of the book, is that Patrick thinks Sophie was/is in-love with Braddon and he try to keep his distance so neither will get hurt (but, like in all romances, he only succeeds in causing more pain than good).
Sophie goes on weekly jaunts with Braddon; which are really conveyances to a neutral place where Sophie can teach a stable-master's daughter, a.k.a Braddon's old prospective mistress but now love-of-his-life/future betrothed, how to be a proper lady and fool the ton of her ladies status. The trips wear heavily on Patrick's mind and have him seeking refuge in his warehouses and solitary walks till the wee hours of the morning; also leading Sophie to believe he has taken the mistress' she swore she wouldn't take exception to.
Soon Sophie discovers she is pregnant, and an indifferent (but really terrified) Patrick continues (and even strengthens) his distance. Patrick has always had aversions to child-birth, having lost his mother (a very important figure in his life) to it; so hearing of Sophie's condition is traumatic on him and he wrestles with the right way to act with her.
Everything comes to a head when after a particularly one-sided argument between husband and wife ends with a seven-months-pregnant Sophie toppling down the stairs and suffering a miscarriage. Sophie was already informed that the baby wasn't going to live before she took her tumble, but Patrick didn't and becomes beside himself with grief and guilt.
They work through the bereavement, talk through their misunderstandings and settle into agreeable, incomparable, exquisite and all encompassing marital bliss.
My Favorite Part of the Book: Is when we learn of Sophie's pregnancy. It adds another layer to the story that I appreciated. I always feel compelled by novels that explore that element thoroughly. Most novels just focus on the feelings and the misunderstandings, but babies represent something divine and incomparable that make the relationship of the hero and heroine more real and compelling. Its different, reading about babies in 3-paged epilogues and then reading the detailed account of their effects on the parents before actual birth. I always love a book that can explore that aspect, even though in this book we had an unfortunate ending.
Rating: 3 Aww's
As I've said before, Miss James is a most curious author for me. I hate to love her work. Its a new style for me; the many multi-view points. I sometimes find that way of writing tiresome, unnecessary and boring. But I got to the meat-and-potatoes of the story well enough to know its got solid likability. The characters were endearing and their struggles became my struggles (the purpose of a well-written novel). I felt Sophie's pain at trying to hold on to herself while her heart reached for something her mind wasn't quiet sure about. The anguish and emotion that was felt in the subsequent scenes of the miscarriage truly ate away at me. My advice is to give it a read and see if it floats your boat. This isn't the last I've read of you, Miss Eloisa James!
*The stories in this particular series (the Pleasure Series) have interlocking characters. Throughout 'Midnight Pleasures', Alex (Patrick's twin) and Charlotte (Alex's wife and Sophie's best friend) are prominent characters. Little backtracks and hints make you privy to the previous book's storyline in the series (which I haven't read, but now MUST). Check out 'Potent Pleasures', Alex and Charlotte's story!; which has some good adulation and reviews.