Who’s That Girl?

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.
“Miss Who?”

“Grey,” said Amy, herding Henrietta into a small drawing room at the front of the house. “She was a governess. “

If you look at all the Pink Carnation books you will notice a trend. The hero or the heroine, or in some cases both, have been known to us for a while. They might be bit players that slowly started to inveigle their way into the plot, or, if they were very demanding, their own book. Culled from the ton, they were all part of the existing world Lauren had built. And then came Laura Grey. Never before or since has a book hinged on an almost unknown entity. This, more than anything, is what draws me to The Orchid Affair, this departure away from English aristocrats. While being a part of the larger whole, it is also its own little microcosm within this bigger series. If not for the Eloise and Colin chapters it’s almost a fresh start for the series, and it’s all because of Laura.

So why is it that I am so drawn to a heroine who had quite literally the least amount of time previously on the page? I think it just comes down to the fact that she’s a clean slate. With series you can get bogged down in extensive character histories. There’s a reason that series like Outlander end up having companion books or need to be continually re-read, one brain can only hold so much. Also, there’s so much time recapping and going over the same ground to catch people up to speed that as a reader you’re either bored or lost. By having Jaouen and Laura both be almost completely self-contained within this one volume it creates a more individual book. Yes, the appearances of old friends and foes in cameos are nice, but the book would still work without them.

So who is Laura? To Jaouen and me, she is a fascinating subject. Her outward appearance is nothing more than a well-constructed lie that she has been forced to live for sixteen years. Laura is the perfect governess in every way, because she’s made sure that’s how she looks. She then was approached by the Pink Carnation and enrolled in the Selwick’s Spy School where she perfunctorily played the piano at Henrietta and Miles’s ad hoc wedding. But as we and Jaouen are starting to learn she has amazing hidden depths. Raised in the salons of Paris she had a famous sculpture for a father and a famous poetess for a mother, her life was free. Her life was the exact opposite of the life she has to create for herself. Her parents died in a boating accident during a squall and I imagine that they would have gotten along quite well with Byron and Shelley as they experimented artistically and sexually. Laura is so far removed from the heroines we are used to I ask you this question, is she your type of heroine or would you prefer what we’re used to?

34 thoughts on “Who’s That Girl?

  1. I am so glad you wrote this post!
    I loved Laura because she wasn’t a featured character. I remember her from Hen and Miles wedding. I thought it was cool that a student from the Selwick Spy School was given both a “job opportunity” and a leading role. The story between Laura and Jaouen is a stand alone in a series. I am enjoying my reread of Orchid Affair and will catch up over the weekend.

  2. Laura is definitely my type of heroine in that she has had to be a survivor. Coming from the life she grew up in, she has become self-sufficient and able to take care of herself. That is amazing considering the young age at which she had to begin this journey. Now, she is being bold once again to look for more of a future for herself instead of settling into life as a spinster governess. These were dangerous times, so she is certainly a character to be admired.

    I hadn’t thought of this book as sufficient unto itself, but it very much could be a stand alone story.

    • Seeing as I view books so much as miniseries or movie potential (that pesky dream casting addiction) of all the books I always thought this one would make a great movie! This and Pen’s actually.

  3. I think one of the reasons I love Laura is that she really is quite similar to Miss Gwen, who is hands down my favorite female character. Both are older than the other heroines, both had hidden tragedies in their past that forced them to leave the life they knew. Both act as governesses of sorts. Both start off as curmudgeons and then defrost into wonderful, strong, loving women. I hadn’t thought of this until just this minute, but the similarities really are rampant.

  4. I really like Laura! She and I think Arabella are the two heroines that I most identify with, perhaps its because I’m an educator myself, and they are almost both stand alone characters. I see, especially in Laura, that need for affection but being afraid to accept it. I may have to go back and check again, but wasn’t there a line about loving her charges only to watch them grow up and not need her?

    She does live in a world of limbo…Not a servant, but not a part of the family either, really having to suppress the warm loving woman that she is in order to survive never showing the hurt she feels when she is left adrift…in this incarnation, she really is Miss Grey – colorless, tasteless, no fire or passion all for her own self preservation.

    I love watching Laura evolve into the warm loving woman who is just who Jaoeun and his children need. Having her “first life” restored to her bit by bit really changes her for the better…I love that Andre is just the right sort of man to crack her shell. He’s as complicated as she is, and I’m glad for it.

    • And that Andre loves finding out the mystery of her, like a slow seduction. I think the story also perfectly captures what it is to be a governess, that limbo state. And yes, there is a line about her charges growing up and not needing her! Because her most recent charge just got married, and if you read the extras in the paperback edition, it was at that wedding where Jane and her met!

      • Wow! I didn’t know that Miss Eliza since I have the hardback copy – very interesting addition.

      • Must admit I have read very few of the novels…which is SAD because I’m a librarian!!! I’m also a mom of 4 beautiful children…which means my time to just sit and read has been whittled down to almost nothing…when do I get my reading done??? Audiobooks on my commute!!! Kate Reading does a great job on everyone’s voice EXCEPT for Miss Gwen…I always pictured her as 60 not just barely 40.

      • Since I LOVE Miss Gwen’s book – I agree…Kate Reading’s portrayal of her changed dramatically in that book! (Audio) the only print book that I actually own is Garden Intrigue…I need all of them. When I do have time to read them, I always find something I missed at some distracted time in listening to them.

    • Really enjoying your comments Patricia, and I can tell you’re an educator – “she really is Miss Grey – colorless, tasteless, no fire or passion”. It seems like there are a lot of educators who are Willig fans. I love how much Lauren puts into her writing – the literary style, quotes referencing different works – all bring a smile to my face and many ‘aha!’ moments.

      Also, the comment about watching her charges grow up must be exceptionally hard from a governess point of view since she is with them for so long. Although I did sense her disillusionment also at the fact that this was her only life. I retired from teaching last June, and I know from year to year it was always hard to see my students move on, so from a governess standpoint the bond would have been stronger. I always loved it when my students would return to let me know what they were doing as they grew older.

      • I’m a foster/adopt mom…I have had children in my home for over a year only to be removed and sent to family members or reunified…I also have one who is staying forever, and my current placement (a sib group of 3) looks like they will be forevers as well…The governess standpoint hits me hard in this book because I too have poured my all of my heart and love into children only to be told they don’t need me anymore. This is always hard…not as hard if they are going to something good, but DEVASTATING when they go to something unhealthy…I wonder if Laura feels this…to me its almost like a death.

      • Not as awesome as the kids…My husband and I decided if we get to “pound the gavel” on these three…we’re done.

      • Patricia,
        Kudos to you! Definitely a wonderful thing for you to take children into your home. Under the foster care system it can be truly devastating to have them taken away – and it happens so often. I could write a book on the number of bad situations many of my students found themselves in – so heartbreaking, especially when there is very little to do to help them. And each year there were more and more situations. What powerful role models I am sure you and your husband are. Best wishes and prayers that all will work out for you and the children that are so special to you!

  5. I also have always identified with Laura, since I too am an educator, but this rereading has really had me paying attention to the spaces between Laura’s (and for that matter, Penelope’s or Arabella’s or Miss Gwen’s) outer, survival shell and her own warmth and curiosity and sense of humor. I’m now in the final stages of being a tenure track professor and this has required suppressing the often goofy (to quote one of my students in an evaluation) teacher who sometimes shows up to class in eighteenth-century clothing and uses novels and movies and period music and art alongside the historical documents in favor of the scholar whose language is carefully measured and footnoted so that it fits in with all the other academic monographs around it. I know that tenure means I’ll be able to go back to being that teacher, but this has been one of the weeks when it almost doesn’t seem worth it!

      • And I would love to have both of you as students! One of the things that has always drawn me to the Pink Carnation series is Eloise’s own navigating of the balance between loving history and doing historical research and the very tightly conscripted world of academic historians. The latest reader report came back on my book this week and Monday morning is going to find me removing every single line or reference in the manuscript which suggests that the author has a sense of humor or ever left her office for anything other than an archive.

        By the way, Patricia, once the tenure process is over, my husband and I are planning on adopting a child from the foster care system in our state and wherever our future daughter is now, I hope her foster parents are as caring as you are.

  6. I’m going to second what Susan said – I really like that we get to see a student of the Selwick spy school get a real life assignment. So many of our other heroines were kind of thrown into the “spy game” but here we get to see Laura who willingly goes into France with the sole purpose of spying. Also it’s nice to know that Richard and Amy’s efforts are not in vain 🙂 I never saw this as a stand alone before it was mentioned here but re-reading it I can definitely see it. Even Colin and Eloise’s story goes somewhere completely different so it’s easier to jump into without having read previous books.

      • Yes, I would love to see some of the other spies, now that you mention it.

        I have been thinking, and in some ways, I find that Laura is similar to the other heroines. I don’t think I can pick which I prefer. I am going to say that it is not because I am wishy-washy. They all have that same inner resourcefulness and strong core, pluckiness, if you will. Their personalities are all unique, but despite their different life situations. I find them more alike, once you really get down to it, than different. I like them all. I have to say, though, that I would profoundly miss the aristocratic backgrounds of most of the characters. It sets up the premise for the series and I do love that aristocratic element.

      • And the fact we don’t have to choose one or the other and can love them all is what is wonderful about Lauren’s books! Also, yes, they do have a pluck that most likely the other women of the ton lack. Hence they can succeed in this situations!

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