The Morland Dynasty: The Tangled Thread by Cyntha Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1987
Warner Books, 2000
Genre: family saga, historical fiction, romance
Synopsis & Review: (jacket copy)
1788: the bloody revolution in France causes upheaval in the Morland family.
Henri-Marie FitzJames Stuart, bastard offshoot of the Morland family, strives to protect his daughter Heloise, his mistress, Marie-France, and their son, Morland. To this end, he binds Heloise to a loveless marriage with a Revolutionary, and allies himself with the great Danton. But in the bloodbath of the guillotine and the fall of Danton, Henri-Marie loses his head and Heloise flees to England.
She is welcomed with open arms by the family, and in Yorkshire Jemima proudly witnesses three marriages amongst her turbulent brood. At last there may be an heir to Morland Place, but the seeds of disaster have already been sown.
Holy crap, I hadn’t read the jacket copy for this volume (I rarely bother anymore with this series), and so did NOT realize there was a major spoiler right there. I mean, I kept thinking Henri-Marie might escape the Terror and see England at last. But no. Oh well, for me, the perennial peeker and spoiler extraordinaire, not knowing that sustained some of the suspense in this very entertaining continuation of the Morland Dynasty. HOWEVER! The jacket copy is seriously lacking, covering only one of The Tangled Thread’s storylines. After all, it concerns Jemima still, one of those Morland matriarchs in the vein of Annunciata (though considerably less flashy). Her beloved husband Allen finally kicks the bucket, and Jemima is terribly concerned about her children: eldest son Edward is decidedly gay and remains unmarried, second son William is definitely married to the sea, and third son James is an unequivocal rake, tearing from one affair to the next, all while nursing a tendre for a married woman. (Youngest son Henry is too young to be of much concern yet; look for him in later installments.) Her elder daughter Mary is also troublesome, living with Flora (Countess of Chelmsford), traveling about England with Society as part of her establishment, and never considering any proposal of marriage. BUT! It gets better! Youngest daughter Lucy is one of the Morland tomboys, studying medicine under a former sailor and local horse doctor, Morgan Proom. Her interest in medicine and fixing broken bodies eventually leads Lucy to RUN AWAY TO SEA AS A SHIP’S DOCTOR ON A ROYAL WARSHIP. HOW RAD IS THAT? Have I ever mentioned my love for women going out into the world in disguise, to live the lives they were meant to lead but couldn’t due to their sex and society’s unfortunate strictures? Have I? Well, I do love such tales, hearkening back to elementary school and I’m Deborah Sampson by Patricia Clapp. (I read that like, seventy times in second and third grade.) (Also, Patricia Clapp wrote the super-excellent Witches’ Children, with which I was also obsessed.) (I love parenthetical remarks.) There are a remarkable number of authenticated tales of women in disguise, at times serving in very close quarters with men; some are found in Battle Cries and Lullabies by XXXXXXX. Unfortunately, Lucy’s adventure is cut entirely too short, and Harrod-Eagles disposes of her in a very cursory and somewhat unsatisfactory manner. MORE LUCY ON A SHIP, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
The Tangled Thread finds a number of its women struggling with their places. Heloise’s marriage turns out to be one of convenience rather than mutual friendship, and then deteriorates as her husband shows his true colors. When her father offers her an opportunity to flee, however, Heloise must decide what loyalty is owed the man to whom she is tied. Mary Morland, beautiful, prosperous, and sought after by many, refuses to settle on a life less rich than the one she already lives. Why lessen her happiness with marriage? By only considering a marriage that will actually increase her happiness, Mary risks censure. Jemima struggles to let her children live their own lives, and to trust their decisions, balancing that need against the needs of the Morland family as an institution. And of course there’s Lucy, who risks danger to live out her dreams and ambitions. This falls into the unnerving mini-challenge I inadvertently created for myself just in time for the wedding, and which I will explain in more detail soon.
The usual sort of Morland Dynasty fun, The Tangled Thread offers both fulfillment and disappointment to characters and readers alike. Just when one storyline seems to be happily resolving, H-E likes to yank that rug out from under her characters and spinning them into depths of misery or poverty (or both) or even death. But! (I’ll try to stop doing that) As I’ve previously mentioned, it just adds to the complexity and enjoyment of the Morland stories. Besides, it also draws storylines out, giving readers more time to enjoy favorite characters. Recommended!
Read also: I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution by Patricia Clapp, The Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, London and Sarum by Edward Rutherford
Cover: The usual.
I’m sorry, I forgot to grab an excerpt before I had to return this one to the library. I am a very bad person. But it was one of my honeymoon books, and let me tell you, reading this while lolling about in fragrant sunshine and snacking on fresh papaya and poke? Sublime!
26 January – 28 January