Book Review: The Five-Minute Marriage
Author: Joan Aiken
Publisher: Warner (paperback), Doubleday (hardcover)
Length: 280 pages of text
Quote: “My uncle is so set on the marriage between my two cousins, that he intends to disinherit them both if the wedding does not take place before his death.”
Conrad Aiken, the well-known American poet, had two daughters who grew up in England. Neither tried to write the sort of very very serious and ambitious novels or poems their father wrote. Jane Aiken Hodges specialized in period romances; Joan Aiken (who also married) wrote a few period romances, a few ghost stories, a few murder mysteries, a few contemporary novels, a few imitations of Jane Austen, and one volume of light verse, but was best known for stories about children. Indeed a pair of children, usually a brother and a sister, always “gifted,” emotionally but not physically precocious, are a sort of trademark of her fiction; they’re in this romance too.
The most conspicuous feature of this novel is that Ms. Aiken was obviously playing with the genre. This is a Regency Romance with all the trimmings, the nice but poor girl adrift in a hard world with a mother who’s more of a burden than a protector, the handsome hero who doesn’t seem too promising at first but comes through for the heroine in the end, and all the historical details at a convenient distance from the action…but everybody, arguably including the heroine, Philadelphia or Delphie, has a given name lifted from Arthurian romance, and the hero is burdened with a family name that you’re meant to pronounce like “Pennystone” while you see it as a rude joke.
In the years to come, in her novels for Jane Austen fans, Joan Aiken would really pitch into the bizarre mix of snobbery and misogyny that seems to have complicated women’s lives at the turn of the eighteenth century. In this novel she accepts it. Delphie is obliged to marry Gareth because her uncle thinks she’s Gareth’s first cousin; she consents to the marriage on the promise that it can be dissolved easily once her uncle dies, but the plot thickens…it doesn’t have to make sense, hey? It’s a Regency Romance…Cousin Elaine may be trying to kill Delphie, Cousin Mordred overtly tries to kill Gareth, various other vague and/or illegitimate relatives complicate matters as much as possible…anyway, at the beginning Gareth and Delphie don’t like each other, at the end they do, and all the plot twists tie up in the requisite cellophane-transparent heart-shaped bow at the end.
You won’t believe it. You’re not actually meant to believe it. You’re meant to laugh, and feel relief that your own love life, however messy it may be, is surely less preposterous than Delphie’s. That you will do.
I have exactly one serious objection to this novel, apart from my feeling that editors should have insisted on spelling Gareth’s family name “Pennystone.” The objection is that, if this should happen to be the first of Joan Aiken’s books you read, you might not go on to read and appreciate the books Aiken herself seems to have taken more seriously. This is an amusing romp through the ridiculous, hardly to be compared with the mock-history series that began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the character studies of The Girl from Paris or If I Were You, the nonstop nonsense of Arabel’s Raven, the dreamlike stories in Not What You Expected, the subtle social commentary of Morningquest, or the right-to-death eloquence of Midwinter Nightingale.
Though Joan Aiken no longer needs a dollar, readers “meeting” this writer for the first time should visit the blog about her books maintained by her heirs: https://joanaiken.wordpress.com/. Some writers’ heirs seem to prefer that the writers’ books quietly disappear and stop reminding them of what they’ve lost. Other writers’ heirs, like Walter Hooper with C.S. Lewis and, apparently, Lizza Aiken with Joan Aiken, keep the books alive for one or more generations after the writers are gone. There won’t be any more books by Joan Aiken but there are plenty of them already (she wrote more than a hundred), and many are still in print.
Anyway, to buy The Five-Minute Marriage (and other vintage Aiken books) here, send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you buy four books for a total of $25 that may work out to less than you’d pay some other sellers whose per-book price appears, at first, to be much lower, so shop carefully.
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