Love and Literature

Written by Aviva Orr
Review by Beth Kanell

This first historical romance from Anglophile and Brontë enthusiast Aviva Orr offers fresh twists on the plot of “orphaned girl forced to become a governess to the wealthy.” Arriving from Dartmoor at her aunt’s London home in 1861, Violet Greyson imagines she’s been summoned to wait on the older lady who’d never written to her before. Her aunt intends a far more generous lifestyle for her, but Violet declines—she’s determined never to act as a “poor relation” and instead takes a job as assistant to the literature tutor at a newly established college for young women.

Though well educated in the classics, Violet can’t figure out the man she’s supposed to assist, who veers from gentle and informative to sardonic and distant. She’s strong but naive, and only the passionate commitment of another older woman, the headmistress, keeps her engaged in learning her new trade. Romance readers will not be surprised to find her suddenly in the arms of the handsome schoolmaster, Byron Thomas, although the speed with which they reach their first embrace is startling. Lively and well written, Orr’s narrative whips both lovers through despair, with the drawback that Violet doesn’t actually do much of the work to parse Byron’s emotional maelstrom—his thoughts instead are revealed through his own point of view, so the reader is far ahead of Violet most of the time.

There’s little Regency-style language here, a minor disappointment. On the other hand, an unexpected twist that involves a scandalous novel of the time, Fanny Hill, lets Orr convey Violet’s daring and dimensionality. This is a good start in a planned series.