The title: The Last Bachelor
The author: Betina Krahn
Publication: Bantam, 1994
Got it from: Massachusetts, 2013
I don't know what's more of a crime - the fact that Betina Krahn isn't more celebrated and well-known, or the fact that she hasn't written a book since 2009. How is it that she remains in near obscurity despite her wonderful, warm, intelligent, feminist and romantic novels, while other writers who shall remain nameless continue to churn out dreck and are beloved by millions? Case in point: The Last Bachelor was published exactly twenty years ago and even though it was written in an "old school" environment it's practically perfect in every way. It explores, in-depth, the nature of men's and women's roles in Victorian society in a way that's still relevant today, while crafting a deeply romantic and well-rounded relationship between two smart, believable and interesting people. And yet millions of people are reading and buying antifeminist drivel involving airheaded 21-year-olds being spanked by billionaires.
Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyy? There is no justice in this world.
So far I've reviewed three other Betina Krahn books on this blog which I've rated highly because of their original feminist content. Between The Last Bachelor and Sweet Talking Man, I enjoyed Sweet Talking Man more because it was funnier, livelier and I loved the New York setting. But I have to concede that I think The Last Bachelor is the better novel. At over 500 pages it's the longer by far and I read it slowly, over several months, so that I could really absorb the story and the characters.
The heroine, Antonia Paxton, is a young widow who's made a career out of trapping eligible bachelors into marriages with spinsters and widows. While this may seem reprehensible (and based on some of the reviews I've read of this book a lot of readers feel this way) Antonia has a very good reason for doing so. In Victorian society there was really no other option for unmarried women other than being disgraced and destitute.
Naturally, these trapped bachelors are angry about this situation, and set out to get revenge on Antonia, who they call "the Dragon." Their plan is to enlist London's most notorious bachelor, the Earl of Landon, to seduce and disgrace her. Landon is (in)famous for his unconventional views on women's rights. He thinks men are better off never being married and that women should get jobs and work outside the home as men do. He ends up making a bet with Antonia that traditional women's work is easier than men's work. Before he knows it he's wearing a corset, peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors and eating his words.
There's a scene at the beginning - when Landon is playing cards with the disgraced bachelors - that I almost gave up on the book. The way the author painted the scene made Landon seem so repugnant in his views on women, only my faith in the author's previous feminist works pushed me to continue. Boy, was I glad I took that leap of faith. Clever Betina Krahn, writing that scene in such a way to make him seem despicable, but then later revealing him to be entirely reasonable and sympathetic. Giving away the key to the Earl's behaviour would spoil the revelation, but I have to say I've never seen it done better. (No, it's not the usual, "my mother/last wife/last mistress was a horrible harpy and therefore I hate all women!" It actually makes sooo much more sense than that, and anyway Landon becomes a total feminist and also, by the way, I love him so much.)
This book just gave me so much to think about and so many happy feelings. I could go on but I won't bore you, except to end with this. There's been so much said about marriage over the years: who should get married, why we should get married, is it in women's best interest?, etc. This book shows the best of what marriage can be, and by doing so, shows what it should be. It is about sharing your life with a person who loves and respects you, who watches out for you and helps make life easier. Seeing both Antonia and Landon change their mind about marriage and each other is a revelation. This book will be the benchmark by which I measure all other romances.