Lady Bridget’s Diary by Maya Rodale
Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #1
This first book in Rodale’s new series introduces the Cavendish family: the three girls and the son, who has just inherited an English dukedom. Their arrival in London creates speculation and stir because, like the heroine of Eloisa James’s latest novel, this family, and therefore the heroine of this novel, are American.
You can also tell by the title that there is definitely a Bridget Jones connection here. While I’m not hugely into very light romance, Rodale hits exactly the right tone and right balance of fun and serious for me!
Bridget, the middle one of the Cavendish sisters, resembles in many ways her predecessor, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: she’s curvy, a little ditzy, kind-hearted, and plainspoken. This works wonderfully well with an American heroine in Regency setting, as the mores of the two places around this time – the book is set in 1824 so it’s actually extended Regency – were vastly different. Not only does the stuffiness of London high society give a nice contrast to Bridget’s liveliness, but it also allows Rodale to explain some conventions and the general attitude of the ton. So many things are “just done”, as Darcy and Bridget’s sponsor, aunt Josephine, frequently point out. Among other things, Bridget is put on a strict “reducing diet” to fit the English beauty ideal, and I mention this detail mostly because I think it’s a very interesting variation of what Bridget Jones does: the 90s Bridget imposes diets on herself, affected by society, whereas Lady Bridget doesn’t really care herself, but understands that society cares. (Not that that makes much a difference for her in the end; the Cavendishes seem to have a habit of foraging the kitchen for cake and tea in the middle of the night.)
It is impossible, of course, to discuss such heavy Bridget Jones influence without also discussing Austen influence. So many layers of reference! Rodale has drawn from Fielding’s book (we see snippets of Lady Bridget’s diary every chapter and the tone is unmistakeable, down to counting random things) as well as the Zellweger-starring movies (especially one line that I’m sure everyone will recognise immediately), and Pride and Prejudice is visible in several plot points – both the book and the two most famous adaptations, the 2005 film and the 1995 miniseries (yes, the wet shirt makes not only one but TWO appearances, and there is a gazebo in the rain). On top of this, we get some excellent Mean Girls references! This book gives so much to the friends of chick lit and flicks that I can hardly put it to words. I could write essays on this book, let me tell you.
The reason I needed to bring up adaptation is to give you an idea of how complex these relationships are, before I turn my attention to the Darcy of this novel. In this novel he gets a title – Lord Darcy is an earl, and just wait when he tells you what his given name is – and broods in the most magnificent way. He’s clearly more in the mold of Mark Darcy, as there is less awkwardness than in Austen’s Darcy, and oh, what a difference having his point of view makes! This is possibly the best thing this book gives to those extremely familiar with Bridget Jones or, indeed, Pride and Prejudice: in neither of these works do we get an expansive look into Darcy’s head, and Rodale offers it up on a silver platter here. He’s stuffy and restricted, but we get the whys of that, and we see him ponder those reasons, and we see that he actually has a sense of humour. I was in love with him the moment he lets slip a glimpse of his sense of humour, and Rodale keeps giving the reader these small moments until they get frequent enough to prove to be character development.
Although heavily influenced by all the different works mentioned above, Lady Bridget’s Diary still manages to be an individual and original work of its own, which is no mean feat. The plot certainly borrows, but is not constrained to the Pride and Prejudice form. It’s compact and in control without losing vivacity, and it’s not TOO tightly regulated: Rodale retains a sense of fun and shenanigans without overdoing it. I found the pace in general very good and well balanced.
There are other little things in this novel that are worth mention. This Darcy has a brother, Rupert, and he also has my heart, although in a different manner (my small sunshine son!); there is a Caroline Bingley figure, Lady Francesca (and you know how much I love Caroline); one of the most important themes in the book are family and identity, some of my favourites. Also Chapter 7. You will know what I mean when you get there, but that chapter has so much going on. It’s just so good!
Five out of five stars to Lady Bridget! I found it hard to put down at all and stayed up way too late to finish it. The characters are delightful, references abound, heartstrings are pulled among the laughs, and there’s just the right amount of steam for me – sex is certainly not the point, but it’s explicitly there. Let it be mentioned that I would very much like to see Rupert’s story as a novella!
The next book in the series, Chasing Lady Amelia, gets prepped in this one, and is due publication in late June this year! Definitely an insta-buy!