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A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde > Prologue thru Ch. 11

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message 1: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (last edited Oct 06, 2016 08:01AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Welcome to our discussion. This thread is for comments on this section of the novel. Please try to avoid spoilers that give away the ending early on... or eliminate suspects!

The story so far: Rosalind Thorne is 5 years into a situation of reduced circumstances in London due to a scandal involving her father. She is living on her own and has a few close friends, her reliable housekeeper, and keeps afloat in what we would nowadays call a Public Relations position -- working as a personal secretary to several ladies of high social rank. Some have power within Almack's Assembly Rooms and some are striving to get within its doors. Being accepted to the social scene of Almack's can make or break a family. We are introduced briefly to Lady Edmund Aimesworth and her troubled son and daughter, Jasper and Honoria, and we learn their connection to Rosalind's former love Lord Casselmain. One of these characters is found dead during the off-hours in the Almack ballroom. Rosalind happens to be there, as well as several others. After the death, Rosalind finds a letter the victim previously sent to her and also a request from Honoria to help find out what happened. A professional detective, Adam Harkness, is introduced into the story.


message 2: by Emilia (new)

Emilia Barnes | 257 comments I finished the book a few days ago, and enjoyed it. I have a few thoughts, on this part of the book, and a few questions I hoped someone might clear up for me.

First, Rosalind keeps referring to 'mother' and 'father', but wouldn't it be more accurate for her to use 'mama' and 'papa'? I keep thinking back to Little Dorrit, where Amy is constantly corrected on this point, so I'm wondering.

I like Rosalind as a character. So often resolute, independent women in historical romance novels become unrealistically and anachronistically fierce and independent, which takes me right out of the story. But you can see Rosalind struggle because of her circumstances, and still maintain dignity and a resolve to make the best of her situation. She is clever, but not unrealistically so. She is resourceful, but within reason. She makes use of the advantages of her position in intelligent and believable ways.

I have to confess that I am not a fan of Devon. I hoped throughout the story that he would not be the love interest.

I am in love with Harkness. In fact, I liked him from the moment he came onto the page.

If Darcie Wilde does respond to questions, I would be curious to know how she got all the details about Almack's Assembly Rooms and Bow Street. Are they from historical sources or are they made up? Maybe someone else on here knows something about this, and can enlighten me. Either way, I really liked those details, I thought they were well done.

So, I am super excited to hear everybody's thoughts!


message 3: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments At first I was struggling because the book wasn’t meeting my preconceived notions—it isn’t Austenesque at all, it isn’t particularly Heyeresque despite the setting. But by the end of chapter 6 (the discovery of the body) I was beginning to settle in. It is, first and foremost, a detective story, and it hews closely to the rules of that genre.

As I suspected from the time I first saw the title (being also a “useful woman” in a similar socially ambiguous sense), I like the heroine very much. I like her control and self-possession (though I’m waiting for those to break down under stress as the story goes on), and I like the way she hews to her own ethics.

The author seems to have thought very carefully about the progress of the story, and I like how the rules of society drive the plot, even when the mere existence of Rosalind problematizes those rules. Is she a smoother or a disrupter of the status quo? That dilemma builds the suspense in my reading. The author successfully invests the minutiae of social interactions with layers of meaning far beyond the surface—as we all know is the case with most social interactions.

The dialogue is quite good, but I wish the author had made more effort to use Georgian/Regency period language in the narration. The modernisms jar on my ear and take me out of the action, though I’m starting to adapt to it as I move further into the book.


message 4: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (last edited Oct 06, 2016 04:59PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Emilia wrote: "I finished the book a few days ago, and enjoyed it. I have a few thoughts, on this part of the book, and a few questions I hoped someone might clear up for me.

First, Rosalind keeps referring to ..."


I enjoyed your thoughts on the character of Rosalind. I noticed this most of all things in this novel -- that we are seeing the evolution of a lady begin to deal with these things -- death and the unimaginable details behind this death. She is confused and not believing this could even be more than an accident or mistake. Even though so many mysteries are enjoyable that feature an unlikely detective, Wilde make Rosalind realistic in her hesitancy about all of this -- she is a woman who, up until a few years ago, was a protected genteel girl. So yes, I like the character starting out this way too, I agree. And several of the other characters too -- the story makes it clear that the solving of the mystery can only take place within a network of people -- none of them have complete, free access to all the places, people, details. I like this as an atmosphere of the story. Yours are very good questions for Darcie Wilde's upcoming input too.


message 5: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "At first I was struggling because the book wasn’t meeting my preconceived notions—it isn’t Austenesque at all, it isn’t particularly Heyeresque despite the setting. But by the end of chapter 6 (the..."

Yes, I like the preface that Rosalind is playing a part that is always on thin ice with the people of this social class. How much do they bend the rules to declare association with her acceptable? How much do they look the other way, or convince others to look the way if they may gain help from Rosalind in future. She starts out as a character who lives under a lot of tension and has to keep her antennae up all the time -- kind of a blessing and curse at the same time. Rather than the story, setting, etc. being visibly Austenesque, could the character of Rosalind herself be a credit to Jane -- a bright woman who either seeks and/or is forced into self-actualization in the context of society's rules?


message 6: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments SarahC wrote, “could the character of Rosalind herself be a credit to Jane . . .?”

Great thought! I hadn’t seen her that way, but now you mention it, that makes a lot of sense.


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ I'll just mention the letter arrives in Chapter 11! :p

I'm liking this so far. As Abigail says this book isn't particularly Austenesque of Heyerish - but the back cover does say inspired by not in the spirit of or something like that.

I didn't like Rosalind's dithering after the body was found - but totally believable & important for her character development.

Did they have female journalists in Regency times though?


message 8: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments There may have been some female writers for newspapers, but not under their own names (even Alice uses “A. C.”). Alice Littlefield seems to me like just one of many anachronistic elements. She feels like she’s taken straight out of the tabloid “journalists” in The Philadelphia Story.


message 9: by Emilia (new)

Emilia Barnes | 257 comments I am not sure about there being female "journalists", in the modern sense of the word, but it wasn't entirely unusual for women to write for the public. In the early 1700s, for example, Elinor James owned a printing shop, and printed over fifty pamphlets as well as a broadside.

According to Wikipedia, "the first female full-time employed journalist in Fleet Street was Eliza Lynn Linton, who was employed by The Morning Chronicle from 1848."

But let's remember that Alice didn't report on politics or engage in any polemical writing, but reported on social issues, which she'd be in a good position to know about. It doesn't seem too anachronistic to me. She is depicted as having fallen from her station in an irredeemable way, and of being in such financial straits that she could believably turn to any available profession.


message 10: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Carol ♛ Type, Oh Queen! ♛ wrote: "I'll just mention the letter arrives in Chapter 11! :p

I'm liking this so far. As Abigail says this book isn't particularly Austenesque of Heyerish - but the back cover does say inspired by not in..."


Thanks, my messy notes! I will bump this discussion section to include ch. 11. Trying to include certain progressions in the plot to kick off our conversation.


message 11: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
I like that the character of Alice has introduced a look at when/how women may have come into the field of journalism. I love learning things from period fiction. Alice's work may not fit recorded historical timeline exactly, but it does add understanding to readers about the social change that was beginning to be possible, if not already there. (I like the George/Adam conversation that follows in Ch 13 that allows us to learn more about the family/friendship histories of these people - and describes how much money did have a part.) Think how, without society's total permission yet, these capable women were working women. Due to incorporating these elements within reason, we will read a more more interesting story throughout this Rosalind Thorne series I think.


message 12: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "There may have been some female writers for newspapers, but not under their own names (even Alice uses “A. C.”). Alice Littlefield seems to me like just one of many anachronistic elements. She feel..."

You mean the Ruth Hussey and Jimmy Stewart characters?


message 13: by QNPoohBear (new)

QNPoohBear | 582 comments Abigail wrote: "At first I was struggling because the book wasn’t meeting my preconceived notions—it isn’t Austenesque at all, it isn’t particularly Heyeresque despite the setting. But by the end of chapter 6 (the discovery of the body) I was beginning to settle in. It is, first and foremost, a detective story, and it hews closely to the rules of that genre."

I agree 100%. I had the same problem. It was Heyer's world but without the humor and with some made up elements.

Alice and the modern language also jarred me out of the story. Alice seemed more Edwardian than Regency. A woman might write the gossip column. They usually wrote just initials like Lady D. or Mr. M. but everyone knew who the scurrilous gossip was about anyway.

I did get caught up in the mystery for the most part.

The information about Almack's usually comes from the world according to Georgette Heyer. She probably read the memoirs of Captain Gronow, which were written multiple decades after 1814 and I'm told contain misremembered information.
Candace Hern has a page on Almack's as do other Regency romance writers. The information may not be 100% accurate.

That info is corrected at Britain Express

and more in-depth at Jane Austen's World

More accurate history and an image of an Almack's voucher at Regency History

Also interesting is Almack's Not What You Think

The outside from Wikimedia Commons
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Inside (note the musicians gallery)
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Info on the Bow Street Runners can be found online as well. The Proceeds of the Old Bailey

London Lives (crime and punishment)

or in print The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 by J. M. Beattie


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ You have given me a lot of reading material for later QnPB!


message 15: by Kirk (new)

Kirk (goodreadscomkirkc) | 84 comments I enjoyed the book. I certainly would have given up on the book if it had been more to a Heyer vain(although I've only read one). In these chapters I was certainly looking to see if I'd be drawn in. I was!


message 16: by Emilia (new)

Emilia Barnes | 257 comments QNPoohBear wrote: "The information about Almack's usually comes from the world according to Georgette Heyer. She probably read the memoirs of Captain Gronow, which were written multiple decades after 1814 and I'm told contain misremembered information...."

Wow, thank you!


message 17: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
QNPoohBear wrote: "Abigail wrote: "At first I was struggling because the book wasn’t meeting my preconceived notions—it isn’t Austenesque at all, it isn’t particularly Heyeresque despite the setting. But by the end o..."

Yes, thank you for the resource information!


message 18: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
I am not finding any connection to this novel and Georgette Heyer, but I have only read her main Regency novels and not her mysteries. I am trying to remember one of a Regency mystery series that I read, but did not add here in Goodreads. Maybe that will pop to mind. Among my favorite mysteries of any setting are the Julian Kestrel mysteries by Kate Ross, but they too have a different feel. I hope, too, we can talk both about choice of setting and the mystery genre when we schedule some exchanges with the author.

We are all strong Austen fans in our group here. Do we have group of readers who are also dedicated fans of mystery? If so, do you lean more toward early mysteries or recently-written historical mysteries? Both? or not at all? I am not a widely read mystery fan, but I do like them. I have read more written in the 20thC. And I am just as influenced by mystery tv series as novels for sure. And I am an absolute fan of the modern retelling "Sherlock" series.


message 19: by Andrea AKA Catsos Person (last edited Oct 08, 2016 03:42PM) (new)

Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 169 comments I'm going to comment here before I read everyone else's reactions.

This book wasn't Austenesque in the slightest. I think this was a marketing strategy by the publisher.

BUT, I really, really liked it.

Rosalind was smart and independent, but DW did not descend into something I've been ranting about in GR HR groups-- a 21st C heroine in 19th C clothing!

DW managed to create a strong, smart heroine who has made a way for herself with out annoying anachronisms that I hate so much! Rosalind was a "woman of her times." I appreciate that.

Rosalind managed to carve out an acceptable niche for herself, yet managed to retain something that she values, her gentility.

There were some improper forms of address for peers. Devon, Duke of Castleman way my lord a couple of times instaed of "your grace," and someone who was not a duke was called "your grace."

I'm not British, so in RL I don't care, but for a book like this, I think it's important to get that right. I didn't jot down the examples that I referenced.

I'm definitely going to look around for more DW titles.


message 20: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments I was bugged by the incorrect form of address (and referral) of the duke as well, Andrea! (Was saving that remark for a later thread . . .)

SarahC, yes indeed, I did mean the Ruth Hussey character! Couldn’t remember the actress’s name. And as for the period mystery—were you thinking of one by S. K. Rizzolo? Hers are very good, I think, especially the most recent one, On a Desert Shore.


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ SarahC wrote: "I am not finding any connection to this novel and Georgette Heyer,

This is a plus for me as I rarely like GH's imitators. I recently read The Jewelled Snuff Box & liked that. It was free on kindle at the time.

We are all strong Austen fans in our group here. Do we have group of readers who are also dedicated fans of mystery? If so, do you lean more toward early mysteries or recently-written historical mysteries? Both? or not at all? I am not a widely read mystery fan, but I do like them. I have read more written in the 20thC. And I am just as influenced by mystery tv series as novels for sure.

My reading tastes were heavily influenced by my father & BBC dramatisations!

So Austen, Dickens & lots of mid 20th century works. While I love Golden Age mysteries, really until quite recently I hadn't read many of the authors - just Christie, Heyer & Ngaio Marsh - & a lot of Marsh's works I don't like. Josephine Tey is love or loathe for me.

I tried Dorothy L Sayers again this year - can't believe I didn't like her when younger! She has the wit of Heyer & plotting of Christie. I've only read a couple so far though.


I read the first Stephanie Barron Jane Austen mystery & really didn't like it. It felt like she lifted sentences from both Austen & Heyer & "crafted" them into a story.I'm told her books get good from the third one, but the idea of reading another bad book before getting to a decent read doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.

In spite of the huge info dumping I liked The Hanover Square Affair That was free on kindle. Some day I may get back to the series.


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 169 comments Did anyone notice how little power or authority the Bow Street officers have?

They seem to be able to make arrests, but they have no power/authority to compel people who are possible witnesses, or those who may have knowledge/information to speak to them or answer questions.


message 23: by Megan, Moderator & Ardent Janeite (new)

Megan | 724 comments Mod
I read a lot of mysteries and I really enjoyed this one. I like the historical details and personalities and the depiction of the social pecking order.

Rosalind as a character has an echo of Persuasion - her first love is ended by others actions and she has to make her way on life as best she can and where she can. Women have always worked - but their work was often not recognized or acknowledged.


message 24: by Gretchen (last edited Oct 09, 2016 03:50PM) (new)

Gretchen | 37 comments I love this book! I started reading it and read the first 7 chapters in one night and the next 6 chapters the next night. I like the fact that the main character Rosalind has to make her own way one reason is that I like stories of people making their own way,making their dreams happen and I like the fact that Rosalind has to make her own way within society's social conventions. She isn't a rebel that destroys everything and everyone around her to make it happen. It is easy to tear something down but it is harder to work with what is already there and have success. And the author points that out. And oh! One more thing i could not believe what the father and older sister did ! I felt some anger after i read that that was something


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 169 comments Megan wrote: "I read a lot of mysteries and I really enjoyed this one. I like the historical details and personalities and the depiction of the social pecking order.

Rosalind as a character has an echo of Persu..."


Wow Megan! I like your comparison to "Persuasion."


message 26: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments Certainly Rosalind has dysfunctional enough parents to qualify as Persuasionesque.


message 27: by QNPoohBear (new)

QNPoohBear | 582 comments I love Regency mysteries! I enjoyed the Jane Austen mysteries. If you're into Adam and want to know more about the Runners in a fictional setting, try Sheri Cobb South's John Pickett mysteries. I also love the Kurland St. Mary Mysteries by Catherine Lloyd.

The Dido Kent mysteries by Anna Dean are similar to the Jane Austen mysteries but lighter.

I need a little humor and a good dose of romance in my mysteries. That's why I didn't really enjoy the Julian Kestrel mysteries. Those were a little too dark.


message 28: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "I was bugged by the incorrect form of address (and referral) of the duke as well, Andrea! (Was saving that remark for a later thread . . .)

SarahC, yes indeed, I did mean the Ruth Hussey character..."


I had in mind one of the Madeleine E. Robins books, but it has been a while so I may be remembering it more closely to these other mysteries than it really was. I have head good things about S.K. Rizzolo's work and have chatted with her here in GR also.


message 29: by Louise Sparrow (new)

Louise Sparrow (louisex) | 300 comments I am lagging behind here but it's not because of the book, which I am definitely enjoying.

I wouldn't call myself a dedicated fan of mysteries, I grew up on BBC Agatha Christie adaptations and watch a lot of murder mystery and police procedureals but I don't tend to read that many.

There have been moments in this when I have wanted Rosalind to be stronger but I agree that she is coping much better than many women of her time would have with her circumstances, and she is definitely likable.

Being a Heyer fan I had a very different impression of the ladies of Almacks, Sally Jersey especially, is anyone else finding that?


message 30: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments Hi, Louise, yes, I would agree that I had a very different perception of Sally Jersey, formed from the vivid characterization of her in Heyer novels. I remember her fluttering hands and endless talk, and that her nickname was Silence. I haven’t done any research to find out what the patronesses might really have been like!


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ Louise Sparrow wrote: "Being a Heyer fan I had a very different impression of the ladies of Almacks, Sally Jersey especially, is anyone else finding that?

I know from reading GH that I had the impression that the Patronesses were older than they actually were. Darcie/Sarah makes it clear the Mrs Drummond Burrell was very young.

I found Sally Jersey more likeable in the Heyer novels.


message 32: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Zettel (DarcieWilde) | 28 comments *sneaking in* Without question, Heyer was a lot nicer to the memory of Lady Jersey than I was. *sneaking out*


message 33: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
lol! I like how that comment was just dropped in....


message 34: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 475 comments Who was that masked author? ;-)


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