The Reluctant Madonna by the late English author Marguerite Steen, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature whose works enjoyed a period of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s, is her vintage standalone literary personal drama novel with f/m romantic elements, free for a limited time courtesy of publisher Endeavour Press’ The Odyssey Press imprint.
This was originally published in 1929 by Cassell & Co.
The story takes place in London during the 1920s and explores tensions and expectations in an aristocratic woman’s personal and family life, as an isolated “perfect” wife estranged from her husband finds herself being targeted by her son’s ambitious love interest, a sometime artist’s model who sees an opportunity to secure her future when the mother becomes attached to painter commissioned to produce her portrait.
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Lady Miranda Beauminster is placed on a stiflingly ascetic pedestal by her husband and her son.
Famous for her beauty and for being a ‘silent wife’, Miranda is isolated by both her social superiority and elegance.
Her husband, Earl Jervois Beauminster, is forever punishing himself for one hour of weakness: the moment when he gave into Miranda’s charms before they had been pronounced Husband and Wife.
The consequence of this lapse of morality? Their dear son and heir to the peerage, Herbrand Malstrom.
Dedicated to a life time of penance, withdrawn into a religious fervour, Jervois grows distant from his wife, who exists only to care for her son.
After coming down from Eton and Oxford, Malstrom is unaware of the burden of his title and the niche he places his mother in.
As he enters London society, he attempts to steer clear of Vere Tenby, a young lady his grandmother Laura Beauminster is trying to fling towards him.
The match-making plans do not run smoothly and instead Malstrom falls into the traps of Rima, a woman more suited to be his mistress than his betrothed.
Rima, a model who sits for Andre Dorival, who has been commissioned to paint Lady Beauminster, is an ambitious opportunist.
Having glimpsed a private conversation between Dorival and Miranda, Rima finds the weapon she needs to secure her future happiness.
Miranda is stuck between the ideal the men in her life impose upon her and her true identity; will the façade fall?
When she’s Dorival who’s the only person in her life that challenges her and is rude to her even, she feels alive.
But how will the expectations of the Beauminster titles burden Miranda and Malstrom?
Will responsibility and duty trump love?
The Reluctant Madonna is an impressive work of literary fiction which focuses on the constraints of aristocracy, the devotion between a son and a mother and the expectations of a woman.