Lately, Carrie Scott has been having some very unladylike thoughts. She despises the strictures that society places on women and longs for freedom and independence. Years ago, when Carrie was just a girl she fell for her brother's best friend, Matthew Gibson, but Matthew went away to college, never leaving any indication that he thought of her as anything more than a friend. During the intervening years, she endured a parade of suitors at her door and eventually became engaged to a man with whom she shared a deep friendship but not love. The young man was tragically killed and to avoid having to court again, she has hidden herself behind her mourning garb. All the pressure has taken it's toll though and just when Carrie thinks she might go insane, her best friend mentions having been treated for a condition called female hysteria by none other than Dr. Gibson, Carrie's girlhood crush.
Matthew has held a tendre for Carrie for many years. He returned from college to find the sweet girl he had known was now a beautiful woman but engaged to another man. When her fiancé died, Matthew thought that he might finally have the chance with her he had craved for so long, but for two years she has continued to wear black. Believing that she was still in mourning, Matthew has kept his distance, but when Carrie comes to him, asking to be treated for female hysteria, it is impossible for him to see her as merely his patient. Could Carrie ever think of him as anything more than her doctor?
Being Improper is an enticing novella-length story with a rather unique premise. It centers around the Victorian-era diagnosis of female hysteria and its prescribed treatment of pelvic massage. When Carrie, the heroine, hears of this treatment from her best friend who is receiving it from a doctor who Carrie has known and been attracted to for years, she decides to seek him out. Our hero, Matthew, is more than happy to help out and even gives Carrie special "hands-on" attention. At first glance this might sound like a really spicy story and it does appear to be billed as erotic romance, but in my opinion, the actual sexual content is fairly tame. There are only three steamy scenes in the entire book and all are sweet and tender. None of them are wild or contain anything of a kinky nature, and Matthew and Carrie even wait for their wedding night to fully consummate their union. True erotic romance fans might be a little disappointed by this, but I found that it lent more authenticity to the time period. The only thing that might be a bit eyebrow raising to more sensitive readers is the use of a small amount of frank language that is typically reserved for the erotic sub-genre, but that alone does not make an erotic romance in my estimation.
Carrie is a young woman who feels trapped by the fact that she was born a female. She despised the endless parade of suitors lining up at her door, but she eventually met one who was sweet and unassuming. They hit it off, became close friends, and eventually became engaged. Carrie didn't truly love him, but knowing that many marriages were based on far less than deep friendship, decided it would be a good match. Unfortunately, the young man was tragically killed. Unwilling to put herself back on the market, she has stubbornly continued to wear her mourning clothes for two years. Carrie feels stifled, constricted and about to loose her mind if she can't break free and gain her independence from her strict father. When a friend tells her about having been treated for female hysteria, Carrie think she may have the affliction too. She can't bear the thought of talking to the older doctors about such a thing, so she goes to a young doctor who is a long-time, family friend. She has also had a crush on him since she was a girl, and quickly finds herself falling in love and wanting more from him. I thought it took some courage on her part to ask for what she thought she needed, and she was very responsive to Matthew when he gave her the slightest hint of interest. I think having these two be friends for years made the rapid development of the relationship more believable.
Matthew had been attracted to Carrie too, but at the time he went away to Harvard, he knew she was still too young for him. Once he returned, she was wrapped in mourning garb, and he has been patiently waiting for her to shed the widow's weeds and come back to life. When Carrie comes to him seeking treatment, he can't bear to let a machine perform such an intimate task for the woman he's loved for so long. Matthew was a sweet, kind and gentle man who would do just about anything to win Carrie. Aside from when his protective instincts kicked in, he was definitely a beta hero. He is certainly a man who respected Carrie although almost to the point of loosing her. He kept his distance when he knew she was too young, then continued to keep his distance while he thought she was still in mourning. When the opportunity to get closer to her finally presented itself, he wouldn't let go, but even still he exhibited a great deal of self-control and respected her enough to wait until they were married to make love, which was very romantic to me. Matthew was just an all-around wonderful hero.
Between the likable characters and the enjoyable and steamy premise, Being Improper could have been a fabulous read, but the reason I couldn't give it a higher rating is because the author made some glaring technical errors. First was her repeated use of the word petticoat (which is a layered underskirt) when I know she meant pantaloons (the ladies undergarment). Next, there was a scene where the hero was driving himself in a hansom which is highly unlikely given that a hansom was a carriage for hire and the equivalent of a modern-day taxi cab. Lastly (and this isn't even a historical authenticity issue), the author apparently does not know where the hymen is located. Having just recently taken a workshop on writing love scenes, I know it's something I'll never forget, and once the hero is three inches inside... sorry, hon, but it's long gone.;-) Normally, I'm not a huge stickler for historical details and can usually allow a lot of leeway for the sake of literary license, but these mistakes were so elementary (even my husband who knows virtually nothing about historical romance knew these things), that I couldn't help knocking a few points off for them. All three together would have taken less than ten minutes to research for accuracy, and I can't believe they not only got past the author but also the editor. The overall writing could have used more polish as well. There were lots of little things like grammar, punctuation, incomplete/run-on sentences and clunky word choices that really should have been cleaned up before publication. However, if these things won't bother the reader overmuch, I would definitely recommend this novella. Being Improper was a sweet, tender romance that had some decent character development considering its short length. This was my first read by Alexandra O'Hurley, and overall, it has left me open to the possibility of trying something else by her. I just hope she'll try harder to get her facts straight next time.
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