One of Klassen’s better novels, Fairbourne Hall is a sweet Regency Romance with a faintly Christian tone. A well-to-do (somewhat spoiled) young woman is forced to flee her home when her step-father threatens to stoop to sordid means to force her marriage to his ne’er-do-well nephew, in order to gain access to her inheritance. She seeks to survive by assuming the role of a maid below-stairs, in what she belatedly learns is the home of an old acquaintance.
As many reviewers have noted, the novel has a strong Downtown Abbey feel in the detailed (and I presume fairly accurate) descriptions of the servants’ activities in a grand estate. The change is understandably a shock for young Margaret Macy, but the seriousness of her situation leaves her no choice but to try to survive. Klassen did not ease her character’s burden by artificially shortening it, leaving her to follow through with her decision and throw herself completely into the role. Neither did Klassen make it so difficult that she fail miserably. Through genuine effort, with some falling into realistic mistakes and facing their consequences, the heroine demonstrates a realistic yet admirable strength of character that enables her to pull through.
A large part of the romance in the novel is the comparison of two different ‘types’ of men. The charming, flirtatious one who attracts the attention of every female is set against his more dutiful and far less exciting younger brother. The comparison continues through the entire story, and we are left with no uncertain picture of them both. The first proves most interested in women when they are out of his reach, that is, when they are courted by or married to someone else, or ineligible as a match, and his actions and their consequences are shown to be quite ugly. The second gradually proves himself the gentleman in his attitude and actions towards people of all classes, as well as an honest worker and capable manager of his own and others’ affairs.
In the romance there is a distinction between passion and love, yet the author does dwell on brief moments of attraction that may not be helpful for younger readers. There is also a lack of refinement in some descriptions of characters’ physiques, and in the blunt depiction of their less than honorouable actions. While this is typical of most new literature for young adults, it is sadly inconsistent with the era described.
While the detail may seem convoluted for those uninterested in Regency Romance, for those who are, it is a sweet, enjoyable read that is perhaps one of the more worthwhile of its type.
Clare Cannon is the editor of www.GoodReadingGuide.com and the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.