skygiants: (wife of bath)
[personal profile] skygiants
I feel at this point that I'm sort of playing a long-term drinking game with Joan Aiken: every time an inexplicable Arthurian reference shows up out of nowhere in her fiction, immediately go to the nearest repository of alcohol and grab a bottle!

...although to be honest last night was just a really good night for drinking a beer and reading an entire [personal profile] rachelmanija-recommended Regency Gothic on the porch, and I didn't think of the drinking game angle until this morning. Also, the Arthurian references in The Five-Minute Marriage pretty much limit themselves to unusual naming conventions and are honestly the least weird I've ever encountered in Aiken. The Five-Minute Marriage overall is really only about as weird as, say, a particularly madcap Georgette Heyer. Not a murderous beehive, exploding can of soup, or immortal Queen Guinevere in sight!

Our Heroine is Philadelphia Elaine Carteret, an impoverished Regency music teacher struggling to maintain herself and her ailing, amiably confused mother, who of course happens to be a DISINHERITED DAUGHTER OF THE GREAT HOUSE OF PENISTONE.

Unfortunately, when Delphie turns up at Penistone Manor (it has a name, but I've forgotten it) to try and claim some financial support for her mother, she is met by a plot twist: there's already a Philadelphia Elaine Carteret in the family and the current lord has been supporting her for the past twenty years.

ARROGANT ALPHA HERO GARETH PENISTONE (current heir): However, imposter, you have turned up just in time! Because the current lord is DYING and he's going to disinherit both me and Elaine if we don't get married before he dies, which everyone expects to happen, like, right now, today.
FRIENDLY MORDRED PENISTONE (illegitimate relative, definitely not a villain, why would you think that?): It's OK! We'll get a FAKE bishop to write a FAKE marriage certificate and in exchange for this DEFINITELY FAKE MARRIAGE we'll slip your mother into the will. OK? OK.
DELPHIE: Every proper feeling is mortified by this offer! ... but it's true I could use the cash, and it's not like I ever actually want to see any of you again.

So Delphie and Gareth get fake married, just until the current lord dies, which is almost certainly going to happen right that night!

24 HOURS LATER, in a TOTALLY SHOCKING twist:

FRIENDLY MORDRED PENISTONE: Oops, I accidentally forgot to tell the definitely real Bishop to perform a fake ceremony, so ... congratulations on your marriage! Also, the current lord has made a miraculous recovery!

So now of course Gareth and Delphie have to be pretend-fake-but-actually-real-but-actually-fake married for long enough to fool the lord! WHILE ALSO thwarting various murder attempts from Friendly Mordred and Fake Elaine.

Fortunately, Delphie is way up on the 'chill and adaptable' end of Gothic heroines. She's great at rolling with it. Weird Regency Gothic things start happening, and Delphie's just like "OK! Well, we're in a runaway carriage and the horses are definitely not going to stop by themselves, so let's just steer into the water and then at least we'll have a soft crash-landing, sound good?" while Gareth is stuck on "AHH! AHHHH!!!!! WE'RE GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!"

Meanwhile, it turns out of course that while Gareth might seem like an asshole, in fact he is only curt and unsociable because...

......he's super stressed-out from constantly babysitting his TEN ADORABLE NIECES AND NEPHEWS (Tristram, Arthur, Percy, Helen, Gawain, Iseult, Lionel, Lance, Morgan AND Melilot) while his sister languishes and his brother-in-law sits in Dickensian debtor's prison writing poetry!!

DELPHIE: Oh lord. TEN? OK, now I understand everything.
STRESSED-OUT BABYSITTER GARETH PENISTONE: They're the best kids, though, right? Like, super cute, very friendly, you definitely wouldn't mind living with them forever in the totally-wacky-definitely-not-going-to-happen-why-would-you-even-think-I-was-suggesting-that event that we stay for-real married?
DELPHIE: Sure, I mean, they seem like good kids?
STRESSED-OUT BABYSITTER GARETH PENISTONE: I desperately need another adult

The side cast is rounded out by:

Delphie's enthusiastically supportive boss Mr. Browdie, who's one of those amiable middle-aged Regency gentleman benefactors who just wants to marry you and take care of you in a deeply uncomfortable daughter-wife sort of way and it's weird UNTIL he gets a glimpse of your HOT MOM and immediately redirects his attentions and then suddenly it's no longer weird??

Delphie's favorite neighbor Jenny, who is very proud to help Delphie break her way into the Penistone house by accidentally-on-purpose falling into the miniscule moat and then dramatically pretending to be dying of a tragic Gothic cold all over the mansion.

Jenny's boyfriend the locksmith, a Great Lover of Literature who Just Wants to Make Himself Useful by, for example, helping ten adorable children illegally and ill-advisedly break a great poet out of debtor's prison

(STRESSED-OUT BABYSITTER GARETH PENISTONE: oh my god, turn around and take that poet back to debtor's prison RIGHT NOW or SO HELP ME --)

Prissy Privett the dairymaid, who kicked off all the inheritance complications and subsequent villainy by marrying more than the usual number of people. Look! stop judging! just let her live her life!

Anyway, everything comes to a head when Delphie accidentally gives the old lord a heart attack, following which there's a dramatic breakup FOLLOWED BY a dramatic carriage chase back to the ancestral mansion FOLLOWED BY a dramatic drunken murder duel between Gareth and Mordred FOLLOWED BY a night of huddling for warmth on a rooftop FOLLOWED BY triumphant confessions of love --

ROMANTIC HERO GARETH PENISTONE: "But do you love me?"
DELPHIE: "How could you conceive of such a notion! Why, I came to Chase -- walked five miles in a downpour because that odious Mordred made off with my carriage -- followed you up onto the roof -- clambered over I do not know how many obstacles -- dragged your lifeless corpse back from the chasm's brink -- all from motives of the calmest, most phlegmatic neutrality and altruism --"

-- FOLLOWED BY happy ever afters for everyone! Huzzah!

Why Mordred's sinister plan kicked off with accidentally-on-purpose fake-real marrying Gareth and Delphie is never actually explained. Unless he just thought it was funny, which admittedly is entirely possible.
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