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The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library Classics)
Thorstein Veblen, Alan Wolfe
A Cousinly Connexion - Sheila Simonson Julian Stretton was shipped off to live with his grandparents at a very young age. Years later, while recovering from being badly wounded at Waterloo, he recieves word that his father and older brother have died within weeks of each other. He is now Lord Meriden. He has seven younger siblings to take care of, and a histrionic step-mother to deal with tactfully. Luckily, he also has the assistance of the children's cousin, Jane Ash.

There isn't much of a plot to this story; it is entirely about the characters and their interactions with each other. But we get rather more nuanced moments than in Heyer, for instance. Heyer mastered all the details of the Regency, but somehow her Society always seemed like a role-playing game, with specific slots for each person. The step-mother is classic--always retiring to her rooms and using her tears as weapons. But then, while talking about her manipulative hypochondria, Jane says, "Five stillbirths" and Julian, about to say something cutting, stills. Or Will, who nurses Julian back to health but gets stiff and angry when Julian becoms a lord. Not everything is as cut and dried as in Heyer. Class is not the determiner of character--the lower class doesn't have country wisdom; the upper class isn't naturally prettier and smarter. Simonson is clearly aware of some of the darker aspects of the Regency period--she understands where the money comes from, for instance.

The characters are wonderfully drawn, and their relationships are no less engaging. Julian is kind and empathic with his new-found family, and most of the plot is about his rehabilitation of them. But when thinking about why she fell in love with him, Jane realizes it was not his kind actions or way with children--it was his sharp tongue and sarcastic quotations. What a terrible person I am! she thinks, yet the reader utterly understands. His proposal is one of my favorites--the scene is so perfectly described.

Now that I've read one of her regencys, I absolutely must track down Simonson's others.