Book Review – Cavendon Hall – Edwardian England at it’s most mundane

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This Christmas my Mother gave me a copy of Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford. When she gave it to me she exclaimed, “I got one too! We can read it together! We will both just love it!”

“That’s odd,” I thought as I unwrapped the book, “Since when have our tastes ever matched?” I love Star Trek, she hates it. She loves Clint Eastwood movies, I can’t sit through them. We don’t agree on food, clothes, art, politics, religion or child raising. But she had high hopes for this book and I tried…I really tried!

Spoiler Alerts!!! Turn back now!!! It’s not going to be pretty!!! You have been warned!!!!

Cavendon Hall is the story of a Downton Abbey wanna be big house complete with wealthy family and devoted servants, the Ingrams(wealthy family) and the Swanns(devoted servants.) The Swanns have served the Ingram family like blind sheep for hundreds of years with no thought of ever leaving.
“Loyalty binds us.”
It’s the motto of the Swann family and boy, get more then two of then together and they start spouting off “Loyalty binds us,” every third sentence. The job of the devoted servant family is to solve all the problems of the Ingram family and keep the beds made and the chamberpots clean. And that’s just fine with them! Yep! It’s all good!
Just keep those problems coming Ingram family because the Swanns, who are clearly 10 times smarter than the Ingram family will just solve them left and right with no intention of every saying, “Maybe I could have a life of my own away from you morons!” No way! Instead the Swanns will gather around holding hands and drinking a bit of Scotch-(the Swanns often have a snort when they meet to discuss the moronic Ingrams) and repeat our sacred oath, “Loyalty binds us!” over and over and over again!

Now to the Ingrams–God give me strength!

So the Ingrams have this beautiful daughter Daphne, who is brutally attacked in an early chapter, but she keeps it to herself because she doesn’t want anyone to be ashamed of her -the girl who was brutally attacked, which of course makes perfect sense, right? She becomes pregnant from the attack, protects the identity of her attacker and basically puts up a stiff upper lip because she is a true Ingram! (They are pretty moronic!)
Daphne marries Hugo, the most perfect man in the whole world. He’s handsome, rich, kind, considerate, understanding, forgiving, brave, and wonderful in the “marriage bed.”

Sidebar- “the marriage bed?” This along with several other terms really dates Barbara T Bradford. I googled her and she is 81 years old. This is actually a wonderful thing, to be in your eighties and still churning out bestsellers, but I think she has lost a bit of her edge. We’ll get back to this…

Hugo and Daphne go on to the most boring couple I can imagine. They are happy, happy, happy, every day, they look wonderful every day and they give the child Daphne conceived during the rape four names to honor four women they are so grateful to, two of them are Swanns by the way, but they continue to call the baby, Baby. Probably because remembering all those names is just too difficult for them. Snooze! Wake me when Hugo has an affair with a maid or Daphne gets menopausal.

Charles Ingram, Daphne’s father and the current Earl, is just laughable. “Good morning, Daphne! By the way your look wonderful today! Charlotte! You look lovely today. Alice! My goodness, you look quite striking today!” Shut up!!!!! Every time he shows up he has to comment on how someone looks! It’s maddening! Trust me, every time there is a Charles scene you will chuckle out loud.

Here are a few of my personal favorites-

Adam- “We’ll be in a war before you can blink!”
Charles -“You’re referring to the assignation by the Serbian nationalist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, aren’t you Adam?”
What!! He can’t just say, “The assignation or the recent assignation? Who talks like this!

Charles musing on his wife’s reluctant to flop around in the marriage bed.
“He had no idea why he couldn’t achieve an erection. He was impotent now. Felicity had ruined him.”
Oh my goodness! Charles has no idea? The man has six children and he can’t figure out what’s going on? Charles must have always had exceptional luck with his equipment because I guess it has never failed him before. And what about being ruined? I have never been impotent, but does it really work that way…one failed erection and that’s it, benched for life? Oh, and I love how it’s Felicity’s fault. BTB keeps implying that she’s gone insane because she can’t stand him anymore and wants a divorce. Makes perfect sense to me!

There are countless other Charles moments which have left me giggling with delight, but I must share two of my favorites!
1) He finally gets it on with Charlotte Swann – solving a lot of problems aren’t we, Charlotte, dear!
“Might we go find a bed, Charlotte?” She had to take him by the hand and lead him to the bedrooms because I guess he’d end up wandering around for several hours knocking over vases if he turned too quickly.
2) After they join together “like a velvet vise,” (EWWWWW!) good old Charlotte reveals what we have long suspected. “Charles, I did your father too.” Charles, “Cool!!!”

But where is our villain? Surely Cavendon Hall has to have a villain?
There he is–hiding out in the Bluebell Woods, the older brother of the decease fop who Daphne inadvertently pinned the rape on, his name–RICHARD TORBERT!

Richard spends most of his time creeping around outside Cavendon Hall, peeping at servants making out, trying to abduct maids, firing off shots at random causing horses to bolt and break the necks of their riders and stalking children and raping and threatening young women. You know, the usual EVIL hobbies of really EVIL people. Lucky for him, Cavendon Hall has never heard of the police! Right after the little five year old was almost abducted they discuss having more of the help wander the grounds. Call the police!!! You have a phone! You used in Chapter 5! Call the police!

But don’t worry gentle reader, Richard gets it in the end. He shows up under the command of Hugo during the war. Hugo suddenly either figures out it has been Richard all along or had known it for years but I guess was too lazy to do anything and he threatens to shoot Richard. However, Hugo’s notorious good sense prevails and Richard gets killed in the war by the Germans. Perfect! That story line is tied up with a bow!

Most everyone comes back from the war with no scars. One of the Ingram son’s does get killed and Charles is bummed out for like a page, but then he remembers he had two sons, so he’s fine again. The book ends with the only two halfway interesting characters, Miles and Cecily in a bad predicament. They love each other, but are being kept apart. Yes, finally faced with a problem that is halfway interesting, BTB ends the book!

Cavendon Hall reads like a thirteen year old girl wrote it. The characters are flat, stupid and predictable. Even the villain is lame. Story lines make no sense and just because you come up with a motto- it doesn’t explain asinine behavior.

However, my mother didn’t like it either – so I guess that’s something!

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