Charlotte Anne Hamilton: Of Trust & Heart

Title: Of Trust and Heart
Author: Charlotte Anne Hamilton

The Great War changed everything for Lady Harriet Cunningham. Instead of being presented at eighteen, she trained to be a nurse and shared forbidden kisses with her colleagues.

But now in 1923, at the age of 24, Harriet is facing spinsterhood.

It’s not such a ghastly prospect to her, but as the daughter of the Earl of Creoch, there’s a certain expectation that she must meet. So, in a last attempt to find a match for their daughter to see her safe and secure, they send her to her aunt and uncle in New York.

Only when she gets there, she and her cousin, a man who, like her, suffers from the weight of expectation from his father, decide on one last hoorah as a memory to hold close to their heart in their later life.

But when they arrive at the speakeasy hidden beneath a small bookstore, Harriet finds herself entranced by the singer. No matter how hard she wants to please her family and do her duty, she finds that there’s something about the woman that she can’t stay away from — that she can’t ignore her heart. Which is loudly calling for Miss Rosalie Smith.

This book just didn’t work for me. One reason was that I couldn’t really buy the romance: Harriet goes to a speakeasy gay bar and hears Rosalie singing. They exchange a few sentences and the next time they go there Rosalie has already written an entire song about her and after that Harriet’s heart aches when she thinks about Rosalie and that she can’t be with her, because her family expects her to marry.

That brings me to the second reason the story didn’t work: I also couldn’t really buy the conflict. Because Harriet’s family knows she’s lesbian and doesn’t judge her for it. They still want her to marry because a single woman would be eyed suspiciously and if she is then also frequently seen with another single woman that would cause such a huge scandal that it would dishonour her cow entire family, and would even ruin the marriage prospect of her nieces and nephews. Because it’s not like something happened shortly before the 1920s that seriously decimated the number of young men, no famously there were a shitton of surplus men in that time and if any woman couldn’t find one there had to be something seriously wrong with her.

So Harriet keeps talking about her loving family who only wants her to get married for her own good and all the fault is with the evil society that makes her hide her true self and would make her face horrible consequences if it came out. Now that’s true in theory…but also Harriet drags her prospective fiancee in the mixed-race speakeasy gay bar because she just has a feeling that he would be fine with it so it doesn’t really feel as if she is actually that worried about consequences. (And why would she when even her stuffy conservative aunt goes “Get that hot lady singer’s ass before you get married because nothing a lady does before her wedding should matter”). So the conflict/danger/tension/however you want to call it never feels present. Harriet is surrounded by people with fairly progressive views – which itself isn’t bad because not every historical novel featuring queer characters needs to cause tension with “my loved ones would despise me if they found out who I really am” but…then it needs a different conflict because people in pretty dresses standing around isn’t a story. But that’s how this book felt.