Last year I loved Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. When the sequel, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows became available on NetGalley I was so excited. I enjoyed it tremendously. I received this as an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
Like Lady’s Guide, Care and Feeding focuses on the hidden life of women in late Regency England. Agatha Griffin was a minor character in Lady’s Guide, the sharp-eyed and unsentimental printer of Lucy’s book. When the book opens, she has been widowed two years and is struggling to keep her printing business going until her son Sydney is mature enough to take over. Her son is more interested in going to the speeches of political firebrands and making eyes at her apprentice, Eliza. Agatha despairs. She meets Penelope Flood when a swarm of bees is discovered in her printworks library. Penelope is married to a sailor who is often gone for years at a time. Theirs is a marriage of convenience.
Griffin and Flood (as they refer to each other) begin their very slow burn relationship as a correspondence. Having a friend for the sake of friendship is outside of Agatha’s experience as an adult. As she somewhat reluctantly continues the correspondence and builds the friendship, she begins to consider what she wants, just for herself, not for the business or for her son. Both women are middle aged and they live in a society that is essentially uninterested in them. Together, as friends and then as lovers, they begin to consider their own dreams.
A lot of historical romances are set during the Regency era (thanks, Georgette Heyer). Waite upends the conventions of Regency romance by setting here story entirely outside the Ton, weaving in the political and social upheaval of the time, and placing the romance between older, queer women. Waite uses some of the secondary characters to explore the disadvantages to women who marry. Marriage and babies are often part of a Regency romance’s happily ever after, but in fact, married women had no legal rights.
Kindness and cruelty are also central to the story. Agatha and Penelope lack the wealth and rank that insulated Catherine and, by extension, Lucy. Agatha is in tune with the political climate because, as a printer, she could be liable for speech suddenly deemed seditious. Penelope is more dependent on the tolerance of her community that the wealthy Countess of Moth. There are some scenes fraught with an underlying homophobia that is more frightening because it is silent.
Homophobia and misogyny are not solved in the book, but Agatha and Penelope do get their happily ever after. Most assuredly a lot people thought they were just two good friends living together for the rest of their lives.