FAIR AS A STAR
From the Victorian Romantics series, Vol. 1
Beryl Burnham suffers from clinical depression, or “melancholy,” as it was known at the time. Though she keeps busy to hold the sadness at bay, Beryl can never fully escape it. After an overdose of sleeping powder, she is whisked off to Paris with her aunt to rest and recover.
Beryl returns home to her small English village and must face her fiance, Sir Henry Rivenhall, a wealthy man who is ruled by practicality. He has no tolerance for Beryl’s silly “emotions” and believes bearing children will cure her of her selfish sadness. While Beryl struggles to cope with Henry’s accusations and ideas, her one refuge is her friendship with Mark, Henry’s brother, and a curate at the local church.
Mark sets out to better understand Beryl’s depression and tells her that he has “no expectation of curing” her. He just wants to help Beryl cope and, in modern parlance, give her the necessary tools to succeed. But as the days pass, it becomes apparent that Beryl and Mark have feelings for each other. Beryl accepted Henry’s proposal because it was practical. But she soon realizes that she must find a way to extricate herself from the arrangement and embrace her feelings rather than push them aside. Matthews constructs a romance that is built on empathy and trust, demonstrating that it’s not just brute strength or power that might attract a person.
In addition to offering a sweet romance, the author deftly addresses the importance of bringing mental health treatments out of the shadows. And just as she explores the depression that underlies Beryl’s need to stay busy, Matthews exposes the darker side of a pretty English village where malicious gossip and unrealistic expectations can render incredible harm.