One thing I love about Ibbotson’s characters is the time and space she devotes to her male leads. No Elizabeth Bennett + Ken here. Why, the first 40 pages of The Reluctant Heiress are devoted to Guy Farne, and Guy Farne alone. For Ibbotson, and for the real world, romance means two complete persons. A timely lesson, as I percolate the star-crossed lovers of my own novel.
The Reluctant Heiress may not toe Ibbotson’s high water mark, but when I count the ways I love her, the quotes are endless:
On a skull found by our heroine as an adventurous child, on the south face of their castle’s crag: “She believes it’s a Turk and we never had the heart to contradict her, though it is most unlikely. The Turks were all impaled on the eastern wall.” “We think it was probably a commercial traveler who came to see her great-grandfather.” “About saddle soap,” put in the Margravine. “He came by the front entrance, you see. And poor Rudi was always so impulsive.”
On our heroine’s duties as an under-wardrobes mistress: “Quickly she sorted the mail into the appropriate pigeon-holes, took the director’s letters upstairs to his office, emptied the mousetraps under his desk, riddled and filled the ancient, rusty stove. Then downstairs again to the front of the house to turn on the light, admit the cleaning ladies, and ring the police to inform them that a handbag containing three thousand kroner and a ticket to Karlsbad had been left in row D of the stalls.”
On our villain’s self-sacrifice: “While shopping, she was patient, dedicated, devout. Standing in lace cami-knickers did not chill her, nor did she become overheated when swathed in furs. The distractions that troubled lesser ladies as they stood captive in cubicles—the thought that outside the birds were singing, the glorious summer day passing unseen—never troubled Nerine nor forced her into a hasty choice.”
As the beauty of Mozart washes over an audience: “Darkened by trombones, by muted trumpets and muffled drums, the music spoke now of the poetry of man’s existence, of the necessity of suffering and endurance in the creation of a perfect love. I will be nicer to Mother, thought the Countess Waaltraut, and the acid-penned critic Mendelov, who had come from
On a smultronstalle: “Only it isn’t just literally a wild strawberry place,” Tessa went on. “A smultronstalle is any place that’s absolutely private and special and your own. A place where life is ... an epiphany. Like that very quiet room in the
On life: “When I was little,” she said, “I used to try to stick the leaves back on the trees. I couldn’t bear autumn. I couldn’t bear them to fall.” “And now?” She shrugged. “Look,” she said. “Look what people have to bear.” She led him a little way down a mossy path to a plain green grave with a simple headstone.... Together, they looked at the inscription.
In loving memory of
Bertha Richter, died 1896 aged 75 years
And of her children
Hannah Richter, died 1843 aged 1 year
Graziella Richter, died 1845 aged 6 months
Herrman Richter, died 1846 aged 1 year
Brigitta Richter (Bibi), died 1849 aged 3 months
Klaus Richter, died 1865 aged 24 years
Also of her husband
Johannes Richter, 1st Hungarian Jaeger Regiment, killed in action at Konigsberg, July 1886
“When things get bad,” she said, “I think of Frau Richter, who just went on living and living after all those children had died. Look, she lived to be seventy-five! Think of all the Bertha Richters in here ... you can feel their courage, somehow, coming up through the ground.” She turned and led him slowly back to the bench. “These are the people I come for when I’m down, not Beethoven or Schubert. The great people are for the times when it’s good to be alive.”
Also, the hero’s secretary is named Thisbe.