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Love In the Balance: A Novel

de Alice Wilson Fox

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Eighteen-year-old Lesley Davenant, an orphaned heiress, finds she must decide between two suitors in this early twentieth-century English romance by Alice Wilson Fox, whose other work consists largely of children's novels such as Hearts and Coronets and A Dangerous Inheritance. Taken under the wing of her aunt, Lady Davenant, Lesley is introduced to baronet Sir John Crauford, whose mother is one of Lady Davenant's oldest friends. Soon winning over the reserved sportsman with her sunny, friendly ways, Lesley also catches the eye of his half-Italian cousin, Claude Crauford. Both men propose to her, but Lesley asks them to wait, as she is not sure of her mind. The solidly worthy John makes her feel comfortable and safe, but the handsome, musical Claude suits her idea of the romantic hero. In the meantime, melodramatic incidents abound, as a murder attempt is made upon John by a former servant of Claude's, and a trip to Sicily leads to members of the group being kidnapped by the Mafia. Not unexpectedly, when danger threatens, each suitor's true character is revealed, and Lesley realizes which has truly captured her heart.

There are no surprises here, as Wilson Fox leaves the reader in no doubt as to Claude's character flaws, even going so far as to comment on her heroine's naiveté in the narrative, drawing the readers' attention to their own superior understanding of what is transpiring, and hinting at the eventual (and inevitable) outcome of the love triangle. Unfortunately, Claude's flaws - he is indolent, weak in moral character, prone to resentment - are laid at the door of his half-Italian parentage, in ways that put me in mind of L.M. Montgomery's Kilmeny of the Orchard, published just one year before Love in the Balance, in 1910. That story too had a character whose Italian heritage was something of a taint, something that made him not quite the equal of the Anglo-Canadian characters. Of course, with Alice Wilson Fox, it is not merely merely a question of ethnicity, but also of class, as Claude's mother was an opera singer. There is a suggestion that noble Italians are more acceptable - towards the end of the novel, there is a hint that the Crauford daughter, Vivien, might marry an Italian prince - but Claude's mother, as the reader is often reminded by both narrator and characters, was one of the sweaty masses. This sort of classism can also be found in the scenes involving the poachers who are foiled toward the beginning of the novel, as Sir John, in a classic case of blaming outside agitators for class unrest, accuses a London Cockney of coming down to the country and "stirring things up" with the locals. Anyone who has read the author's children's novels will know that class is an important issue in her work, but it seems particularly prominent here, often in ways that seem ugly or ludicrous. At one point the narrator informs the reader that the company at Lady Davenant's house was "irreproachable," with names to be found in Debrett or Burke (reference works documenting titled families in the UK).

Long out-of-print and difficult to track down, Love In the Balance is a book I might never have encountered, were I not interested in the author's children's novels. I found it fascinating, in some ways - it opens a window into ethnic and class prejudice in early twentieth-century England - but cannot really recommend it to a general readership. The central plot line is never that engrossing, precisely because the author signals well ahead of time how it will all work out, and the characters never really involve the reader in their world. I'm glad I've had a chance to read it, along with Alice Wilson Fox's other romance for young adult readers, Charmian: Chauffeuse, but think the author is best remembered for her children's books. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Nov 29, 2014 |
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