KingsmeadApril 13, 2015
I’m so resentful of Bettina von Hutten right now, and it’s ridiculous, because I knew what I was letting myself in for.
Tommy Kingsmead, though. All I wanted was for nice things to happen to him. But at this point, I’m surprised von Hutten even let Pam be happy.
Tommy, the Earl of Kingsmead, first appeared in The Halo as a precocious nine year old who is interested in everyone and everything. He’s absolutely recognizable as the same person when he reappears in Kingsmead as a young man of 23, benevolent, romantic, and honest. In the intervening years, Tommy’s mother has died, his sister Brigit has married, and Tommy has been forced to sell his ancestral home. He’s living fairly happily in a ruined castle in Italy, but he’s suddenly seized with a desire to see Kingsmead again, so he writes to the purchasers–his college friend Teddy Lansing’s family–and invites himself to stay.
The elder Mr. Lansing is a wealthy manufacturer, one of Nature’s gentlemen, but not one of Society’s. His wife is clever and comfortably vulgar, and they’re both completely without affectation. Their children, not so much. Teddy is a good kid, I guess, self-conscious but nice, if unworthy of Tommy’s love for him. Inez is the social climber, and she and Tommy cordially dislike each other. But they also understand each other, and he decides to help her out by launching the Lansings socially. That’s not his only reason, though–one of the others is that he hopes to forward Teddy’s romance with Nanny Gilpin, a young widow who lives nearby.
He enlists the help of the Duchess of Wight, who you may remember for Pam, Pam Decides, and The Halo, and concocts a Christmas house party, which includes his sister Brigit and Pam and her family. And for a while, everything is completely delightful, but I was foolish to think that would last. By the time the house party is broken up by a tragedy, it’s clear what von Hutten is planning to do to sentimental, unselfish Tommy.
It helps that the book gets worse as it goes on. Or, maybe not that much worse, but there’s a point at which the machinery of the plot becomes visible, where von Hutten twists someone’s character in order to get the result she wants. After that the story feels a little less real, so it doesn’t hurt as much when things go badly. And Tommy’s okay, really. I just wanted nice things for him, is all.
Anyway, hopefully this experience will cure me of Bettina von Hutten.