I was driving to work one day thoroughly out of sorts, pissed off and bitter, bitter, bitter. The Redneck was out of town, we had his brother living with us and we’d taken in some people to “help them out” that turned into a six month nightmare. As I was driving, I was revisiting all my complaints, muttering and generally being resentful when all of a sudden, this voice popped up and said “ME TOO”.
That was my first introduction to Lady Elizabeth Arundale. Her story was similar. Her husband, without communicating with her, left her in charge of his large estates, his brother, and his female cousin. In the time after Joshua left, his brother began to drink and gamble, his female cousin had a child and Elizabeth found out the reason he’d left in the first place.
Elizabeth’s childhood was miserable and in sharp contrast to Joshua’s early years. Her father, a poor baronet, was deeply disappointed he’d had a girl. He was a selfish drunkard who punished Elizabeth for being a daughter, rather than a son. Her mother was almost a non-entity, completely withdrawing from life and from her family. This was Elizabeth’s beginning. Her friendship with Joshua starts when she steals an apple from his estates and he demands payment in the form of an innocent kiss. Joshua, of course, with all the advantages of a happy family and impending title, draws to Elizabeth.
What’s interesting about Elizabeth (and something I love) is that she never allowed her mother’s neglect or her father’s cruelty to shape her. She observed the world around her and discovered very young that other families were NOT like hers. Her response was to become a strong, respectful person and that is amazing considering what she goes through. It is Joshua who has an innate shyness that prohibits him from that natural social intercourse that denotes “charm”. And it’s Elizabeth who draws him out and gives him the confidence to speak up. In that way, the two of them are like tuning forks that strike each other and harmonize together. They needed each other as children.
And when Joshua’s parents die, it’s Elizabeth who comforts him. What isn’t revealed in the story is that the two friends are separated when Joshua is forced to live with Lady North. For three years, Joshua and Elizabeth missed each other and thought of each other. When Joshua returned, their friendship was the same even though he was a teenage Earl and she was a young girl approaching womanhood.
Then, Joshua bids for his independence and marries Elizabeth. She is his closest friend and he loves her dearly. Their courtship was gradual and the result seemingly inevitable.
But then, Joshua leaves her a short time after their wedding night. What is she to think? Not to mention that her first letters which reflected the closeness they’d always had, were rejected and criticized as “too personal” by the man who had become a stranger at the same time he became her husband.
He viciously and intentionally stiff arms Elizabeth and she is left to believe that she somehow disappointed him, wasn’t good enough for him. She resigns herself to the life chosen for her by fate and takes on the responsibilities he left for her.
Within a year of her marriage, her parents die, Joshua’s cousin has a child and Elizabeth is overwhelmed with worry. Perry, now fifteen, looks to her for guidance but soon, he is drinking and carousing in a manner that had to bring up painful memories of her childhood.
What I love about Elizabeth is that she doesn’t let it beat her down. She might be rejected by her husband, but she doesn’t seek comfort outside her marriage. Throughout the ten years he’s gone, she remains loyal and steadfast. And she doesn’t hang onto some fantasy of Joshua that comforts her. Her eyes are clear of deception. She sees him for what he is. And when he comes home, she doesn’t try and force him into the boy he’d been. She deals with the man he’s become.
How she became so function in the face of such insanity I don’t know. Some people are just built with a core of strength that adversity only hardens. Elizabeth is one of those. She deserves happiness because she isn’t afraid to fight for it.
And if she occasionally aims a pistol at her husband who abandoned her to his family? Well, he lives to the end of the book, so no complaints.