Tuesday, July 6

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander - Ann Herendeen

Phyllida Lewis has few prospects, despite her good birth and curvaceous figure - at her one and only Season she received but one expression of interest, and that from an elderly and on all fronts unattractive, half-hearted suitor. Despite her mother's meddling, Phyllida would far rather in any case continue her writing - her first novel was published, under a pseudonym of course, only a short time ago and she's going through the proofs of her second.
She is, however, aware of her obligations to her family. So when the ton's most eligible (and formerly believed confirmed) bachelor, Andrew Carrington, in line for an earldom, comes courting, Phyllida is interested. His revelation that the marriage will be primarily to guarantee an heir, and will not obstruct his preference for men, provides little impediment - as long as Phyllida may write she's happy. But Phyllida and Andrew have more in common, and more chemistry, than they could have expected.
I came to Phyllida because of Lynn's review, which was intriguing. And, like Lynn, I was a little disappointed, though the cause of my disappointment differs. I haven't the familiarity with and exposure to Regency novels to pick up the same level of era discrepancy as Lynn, though I did feel a little as though the characters had contemporary sensibilities (compared, for example, with the way Greenwood's Phryne Fisher is both of her time yet not confined by its mores). However for me the missing element was all sexual, starting with the ease with which the formerly resolutely homosexual (though that word is never used in the text, as explained in the appendix) hero is robustly attracted to the very feminine Phyllida. I'm happy to accept that the inexperienced, unworldly Phyllida is quickly and (very, very) easily aroused by Andrew, despite his lack of attention to the differing needs of women than men. I also have no trouble at all with the idea that she's even more interested in seeing Andrew with another man. What I found frustrating was that, though both parties were aware of this, that aspect never came into play.
Instead, Phyllida's interest is manifested by her support for the like-minded gentlemen of Andrew's club, the Brotherhood of Philander. And while the novel is not an erotica (though the premise would make for a good one), nor even yet as much a romance as an historical mystery/exploration of the times, there are indicators that a three-way romp is in the offing - a tryst that never eventuates. For example, the first time Phyllida sees her husband with another man, a passionate kiss in a theatre changing room, she:
watched, the blood rushing to her face and her breath coming in short little gasps. She should look away, she told herself, or say something, but she did neither. She was only vaguely aware that her secret place, the one Andrew had brought to so frightening a peak of ecstasy, was again engorged, almost throbbing, just at the sight of her husband and the handsome actor embracing.
But the promise hinted at here is never delivered, as the plot moves instead in pursuit of a Napoleonic, somewhat Byzantine mystery involving ledger books, codes, Franco-American spies, blackmail and wheels within wheels that made (for me, at any rate) Andrew's orientation more a reason for pressure than an integral part of the plot - any other scandal might almost have done as well. That direction takes precedence over not only the sexual side of the story but also the romance, and the whole is then rather hastily wound up in about a chapter and a half.
That said, I did enjoy Heredeen's voice, and have borrowed another of her novels, which I hope will be a little less conflicted about its purpose. - Alex

For Lynn's review of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander click here.

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