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Lucas Malet called The History of Sir Richard Calmady a romance, but it’s a romance like none other.

One of the early Calmadys fathered a bastard by his forester’s daughter, calling down a curse on the family: All the male heirs would die young until a fatherless, shoeless, only child breaks the spell.

In 1843, Sir Richard Calmady dies after losing his legs in a steeplechase accident. His son is born a few months later, with feet attached where his knees should have been.

How the young Sir Richard, who is otherwise a handsome specimen of manhood, copes with his deformity and the effect it has on those around him make riveting reading.

Lady Calmady devotes herself to her son.

Fortunately the hard-bitten doctor and equally tough stable master make sure Richard learns gentlemanly arts of riding, shooting, driving a carriage.

His tutor makes sure he’s well prepared for Oxford.

Nobody prepares Richard for women.

But perhaps no boy could be prepared for the women of this novel: Richard’s beautiful, sadistic, and wonton cousin Helen; his best friend’s sweet, bidable, and dumb sister, Constance; Richard’s feminist cousin, Honoria, who Lady Carmady fears may be a lesbian; and Lady Carmady herself, lovely and loving and lonely.

Malet combines lovely prose passages with crisp dialogue. He shifts focus from chapter to chapter as naturally as the observer on the street shifts attention from one window of a house to another.

You won’t be sorry you picked up this hefty novel.

The History of Sir Richard Calmady: A Romance
by Lucas Malet
Dodd, Mead, 1901
roughly 700 pages
1902 Bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg ebook #23784

Photo credit: Racehorse 2 by Nick Pye http://www.sxc.hu/photo/745098

 © 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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