The Jewelled Snuff Box by Alice Chetwynd Ley

Alice Chetwynd Ley is an author whose name was completely new to me when I came across this book on NetGalley a while ago, but seeing it described as “an intriguing Regency romance, perfect for fans of Georgette Heyer and Jane Aiken Hodge” made me both curious and wary. I love Georgette Heyer and enjoyed the one Jane Aiken Hodge book I’ve read (Watch the Wall, My Darling), so I hoped the comparison would be accurate. My verdict, having now read The Jewelled Snuff Box, is that there are definitely some similarities and although Ley’s writing is not as good as Heyer’s, this is an entertaining novel in its own right.

the-jewelled-snuff-box Our heroine, Jane Spencer, is a young woman who has fallen on hard times since her beloved father’s death and, determined not to be a burden on her relatives, she has decided to find work and support herself. She is on her way to London to take up a new position as a lady’s companion when her coach is forced to stop during a snowstorm. Getting out to walk, Jane discovers a man unconscious in the snow and believing him to be the victim of an attack, she and her fellow passengers take him to the nearest inn to recover.

When he regains consciousness, the stranger claims to be suffering from amnesia and can’t remember who he is, the only clue to his identity being an ornate snuff box covered in jewels which had been found next to his body. After the weather improves and they can resume their journey, Jane, who is beginning to form a bond with the mysterious stranger, offers to see her lawyer in London on his behalf in the hope that he will be able to help. Once they reach London, however, Jane is disappointed to find that her new friend has disappeared, leaving her in possession of the snuff box – which contains a compromising letter from a lady hidden in a secret compartment.

Sorry that her relationship with the unknown gentleman has come to an end, Jane leaves the box with her lawyer and continues to the home of her new employer, the Earl of Bordesley, where another shock awaits her: the Earl’s young wife, for whom she will be working as a companion, is none other than Celia Walbrook, a girl Jane knew at school. Jane remembers Celia as a snob and a bully and it seems that nothing has changed. It’s through Celia, though, that the stranger comes back into Jane’s life – but not in the way that she would have hoped!

With a plot based heavily on misunderstandings, the reader is always one step ahead of the characters. I never doubted how the book was going to end – the question was not so much whether our hero and heroine would get together, as when they would get together and how. And as with most older romantic novels (The Jewelled Snuff Box was published in 1959) there’s an air of innocence surrounding Jane’s relationship with her mystery man – nothing graphic or explicit!

The pages of The Jewelled Snuff Box are filled with men with quizzing glasses and (obviously) snuff boxes, people riding in carriages, mentions of the Bow Street Runners and Beau Brummell, but on the whole I didn’t find the recreation of the time period quite as convincing as I do when I read a Heyer novel. The dialogue lacks the sparkling wit and humour of Heyer’s too, but the plot and characters feel similar – Francis, the Earl of Bordesley, made me think of some of some of Heyer’s ‘older husbands with younger wives’ such as Rule from The Convenient Marriage and Cardross from April Lady. Jane, however, is more like a Mary Stewart heroine: sensible, intelligent, brave and resourceful – and used to making her own way in the world.

The Jewelled Snuff Box was a short, quick read, written in a style I found very comforting and easy to read. It’s the sort of novel which sweeps you away into its world without requiring too much concentration or effort from the reader. It’s not a particularly deep or insightful novel and not a particularly original one, but not all books need to be, do they? I enjoyed it anyway and would definitely consider reading more of Alice Chetwynd Ley’s books.

My Commonplace Book: August 2016

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

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Margaret Beaufort

She could have asked, of course, but she would not get any answers. She thought of all the words that went unspoken in the world, throughout time: what happened to them, where did they go? What would happen if they were all spoken? How different would the world be then?

Succession by Livi Michael (2014)

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“Molly, I cannot have you speaking so to Lady Harriet,” said Mrs. Gibson, as soon as she was left alone with her stepdaughter. “You would never have known her at all if it had not been for me, and don’t be always putting yourself into our conversation.”

“But I must speak if she asks me questions,” pleaded Molly.

“Well! if you must, you must, I acknowledge. I’m candid about that at any rate. But there’s no need for you to set up to have an opinion at your age.”

“I don’t know how to help it,” said Molly.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1865)

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I know very little about my mother, and have no family to help me fill in the gaps. I am an only child and my father’s two elder sisters died several years ago. I am intrigued by this photograph and would like to find out more about the people in it…I hope you don’t mind me asking all these questions. Any information you could offer would mean a great deal to me.

The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern (2011)

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Penny dreadful

Since cheap magazines were traded on street corners, in playgrounds and factory yards, each issue could have many readers. Penny fiction was Britain’s first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young, and was often held responsible for the decay of literature and of morality.

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale (2016)

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It can’t have been much of a life, can it? for a woman of over seventy, living alone in lodgings, in debt to her landlady, wearing our cast-off clothes, trotting round after jobs that never materialised, writing articles that nobody would publish, and eating bread and margarine for supper. There really was something rather pathetic about that awful room of hers – crowded with papers full of impossible schemes…I don’t suppose there can ever have been anyone whose life was much less important, or who had less influence on anybody else.

Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby (1931)

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It was something he’d learned in the war: only think about what is directly in front of you. No, that wasn’t quite right. He’d had to plan ahead all the time…but not to feel ahead. For a man of Giles’s far-seeing, intricate temperament that had been a hard lesson. But Simon, he could see, knew it by instinct.

Exposure by Helen Dunmore (2016)

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Red Cocker Spaniel

Hers was the pale worn face of an invalid, cut off from air, light, freedom. His was the warm ruddy face of a young animal; instinct with health and energy. Broken asunder, yet made in the same mould, could it be that each completed what was dormant in the other? She might have been — all that; and he — But no. Between them lay the widest gulf that can separate one being from another. She spoke. He was dumb. She was woman; he was dog. Thus closely united, thus immensely divided, they gazed at each other.

Flush by Virginia Woolf (1933)

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“I play,” he once said to me, “for the best musician in the world – he may not be there, but I play as if he were”. I thought to myself that he was always there when Sebastian was playing, but I did not say so, for that was the kind of thing which did not please him.

The Little Chronicle of Magdalena Bach by Esther Meynell (1925)

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It is quite beautiful, a metaphoric triumph over adversity, with every millimetre of its gnarled trunk proudly displaying its struggle.
I wonder now why humans hate the map of their life that appears on their own bodies, when a tree like this, or a faded painting, or a near-derelict uninhabited building is lauded for its antiquity.

The Olive Tree by Lucinda Riley (2016)

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I cannot say – I had misjudged him before – yet I do think, in that moment, he had his battle to fight – one fierce as his fiercest charge. Cosmas waited, devouring him with his eyes. And I waited; a sudden, amazing sense springing up in me, that if he yielded, as I had so desired him to yield, this King who might be would never be the Prince whom I had served and loved.

Rupert, by the Grace of God by Dora Greenwell McChesney (1899)

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louisedelavalliere

“Life, monsieur,” said Planchet, laughing, “is capital which a man ought to invest as sensibly as he possibly can.”

Louise de la Vallière by Alexandre Dumas (1850)

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Hélène wondered whether the lady was protesting a bit too much in order to convince her, or to convince herself. Could she start a new life at her age? You can start a new game of cards or redecorate the living room, but life itself, can you do that again?

The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat (2013)

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And now? Overseas in England, his brethren in the faith were fighting, were dying, to achieve the freedom which he had sought. Before his eyes rose the grey, thronged sea-port town he knew, the richer fields, the narrower skies; and yet here, in this strenuous bleakness, he had found his soul.

Cornet Strong of Ireton’s Horse by Dora Greenwell McChesney (1903)

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Love for her was to be a slow, ripening process, the fruit of many meetings and mutual interests. She had never believed in love at first sight. That surely, she told herself, was an invention of novelists, whose business it was to make everything slightly larger than life.

The Jewelled Snuff Box by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1959)

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Fountains Abbey 1

The queen responded a week later. “We are sending a young gentleman up to Yorkshire to resolve the matter. We do not wish to hear from you again.”

It was a measure of Mr Aislabie’s poor standing at court that I was the young gentleman in question.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson (2016)

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Favourite books this month: Wives and Daughters, Flush and Exposure