The Matchmaker Trilogy – Jane Feather

Jane Feather has written more than fifty romance novels, most of them trilogies, and she works outside of the Harlequin juggernaut. I’m reviewing:

The first two are available in a 2-in-1 edition, which I found in the break room at work. I was sufficiently hooked by series-long plot arcs to obtain the third one from the library.

The stories tell of the nuptials of three noble sisters, living in London in the early 1900s. Their mother died three years ago, and the family finances are in poor shape, though for comedy reasons the sisters have protected their somewhat dim-witted father from that reality. The sisters are the definition of strong female characters.

Raised by a suffragette mother, they have resurrected and enlarged the free political newsletter their mother wrote, and started to sell it anonymously. Their mix of society news and radical politics proves popular, and they decide to expand into an advice column and discreet matchmaking. As for themselves, as one of them says, “I am not looking for a husband, but I’m not actively against the idea.” These are thoroughly modern women, including their attitude towards sex. All three are sexually experienced, having enjoyed some friends with benefits, and for all three their central relationship dilemma seems to be “Should I marry this person who I enjoy having sex with?”

Which brings me to one of the flaws of the series. The three sisters are a little too similar, and the three relationships develop along similar lines. First, the oldest sister begins dating an MP she dislikes. She hopes to influence his attitude towards votes for women, while he hope to learn more about how to defeat these radicals. Second, the middle sister begins dating a lawyer she dislikes, to encourage him to defend their newsletter against libel charges. Finally, the youngest is attracted to matchmaking client, a doctor she dislikes because he wants a rich and well connected wife to benefit his practice.

The first story is the most satisfying, due to the battle of wills, though history warns us the woman is destined to lose, at least in the short term. Women in her class did not get the vote until at least ten years after the time of the story. The third story is the grittiest, with some scene in the slums, and celebrating the best of the doomed British country estate life.

I usually don’t like romances where lust is the primary motivation for the relationship, but I admire these characters for their independence and envy their enlightened attitude to sex. Although lust propels the relationships, the plots are much richer than a series of sexual encounters, the encounters themselves are well told, and comic situations and witty dialogue abound.

Among the standout scenes is the first sexual encounter between the oldest sister, Constance, and her MP friend Max. He’s joined the family at their country estate for the weekend, at the invitation of her father. Constance is planning to take advantage of the proximity to seduce Max, but he’s figured out why his guest bedroom is in an isolated area of the house. As Constance bathes, she tries to decide what robe she should be wearing when she shows up at his room. When there’s a knock at the bathroom, she assumes it is a sister, and says “Come in.” Max enters. Neither of them speak as he explores her body with his fingers, kisses her, and thoroughly washes her breasts with a sponge. Then he says “Shall I do your back?” When he leaves the bathroom, the only thing he says is “Don’t be long.” She’s still trying to figure out what robe to wear, though conscious of the fact that it doesn’t really matter.

Perhaps more sex farce than romance, but a fun light read, and one that celebrates liberated women. The happy endings are not just marriages, but ongoing independence in a changing world. My bubble bath rating is Strawberry Milkshake.