After being abandoned at the alter by Oliver, Viscount Elmont, Rebecca Creighton supports her family by writing penny tracts that sing the praises of a moral life. Then, her former suitor reappears, proposing marriage again. Little does Rebecca know that he has offered for her only because his estranged father has promised to pay Ollie’s debts if does so. For him, it’s Fleet, France, or shackling himself to “the Paragon”–a fate almost worse than prison. Curious, Ollie’s best friend, the poet and philanthropist Sir Michael Fairgrove, disguises himself as a valet to see the plain little shrew for himself.
When Rebecca’s lecture on the evils of blue ruin turns into a riot, she and Michael flee into the streets. In a long evening of walking, talking, and trying to find a way to get Rebecca home with her reputation intact, the pair make discoveries about each other. Michael learns that Rebecca’s reputation for starchy morality is perhaps not so strict as rumors would suggest, and Rebecca finds a surprisingly appealing sparring partner in the rough-clad Michael.
How can they help but fall in love? And how can Michael ever reveal who he is without betraying his best friend and condemning him to prison? Inevitably, Rebecca discovers his true identity–and the reasons he didn’t discourage her from marrying without love.
In The Poet and the Paragon, Rita Boucher does something unusual: the greatest part of her book unfolds during one long conversation–and one even longer night. In some ways, her strategy is effective: the hero and heroine have far deeper conversations than is typical in a romance novel. In other ways, it is a detriment. It is hard to believe that Rebecca and Michael could develop such strong feelings for each other in such a short amount of time.
Another flaw in the writing is its repetitiveness: Rebecca is insecure and considers herself plain, and Michael continually reassures her that it isn’t true. Since she is unable to believe him, the conversation repeats ad nauseam.
On the bright side, their interaction is vivid and interesting, and the passionate kisses they share are memorable. Both have their reasons to treasure their few moments together: Rebecca, because she faces a future of spinsterhood or an unwanted marriage, and Michael, because he foresees a lifetime of loving his best friend’s wife.
The threads of the story are, of course, tied up in the final third, but Boucher does not do it in a convincing fashion. Some of the circumstances seem forced, and the behavior of the protagonists–especially Michael–are rather extreme.
Boucher’s secondary characters are almost non-existant. Ollie, a mere sketch, transforms from dissolute rake to hopeful husband without much explanation. Rebecca’s sister suddenly pops up in full bloom in the latter part of the book without having had much development in the first third. The villain is cardboard, though at least his crime is one that is more believable than kidnapping.
With compelling characters like Rebecca and Michael, and a beautiful extended scene such as the protagonists’ all-night stroll, I would have hoped that I could give The Poet and the Paragon higher marks. I enjoyed it, but I still find it lacking. Recommended for the middle third–but with reservations about the rest.