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Set against the tumultuous background of the First World War, "No Angel" is an absorbing audiobook packed with believable characters and satisfyingly extreme villains, eccentrics, and manipulators. Unabridged. 23 CDs.
Not an ideal condition for a bride to be in, almost three months'
pregnant; but then if she hadn't been pregnant, her father would never
have allowed her to marry Oliver anyway. It had been a fairly drastic
measure; but it had worked. As she had known it would. And it had
certainly been fun: she had enjoyed becoming pregnant a lot.
The blessing was over now; they were being ushered into the vestry
to sign the register. She felt Oliver's hand taking hers, and glanced over
her shoulder at the group following them. There were her parents, her
father fiercely stem, the old hypocrite: she'd grown up seeing pretty
housemaid after pretty housemaid banished from the house, her mother,
staunchly smiling, Oliver's frail old father, leaning on his cane supported
by his sister Margaret, and just behind them, Oliver's two brothers,
Robert rather stiff and formal and slightly portly, Jack, the youngest,
absurdly handsome, with his brilliant blue eyes restlessly exploring the
congregation for any pretty faces. Beyond them were the guests,
admittedly rather few, just very close friends and family, and the people
from the village and the estate, who of course wouldn't have missed her
being married for anything. She knew that in some ways her mother
minded about that more than about anything else really, that it wasn't a
huge wedding like her sister Caroline's, with three hundred guests at St
Margaret's Westminster, but a quiet affair in the village church. Well,
she didn't mind. She didn't mind in the very least. She had married
Oliver: she had got her way.
'Of course you can't marry him,' her mother had said, 'he has no
money, no position, no house even, your father won't hear of it.'
Her father did hear about it, about her wish to marry Oliver, because
she made him listen; but he reiterated everything her mother had said.
'Ridiculous. Throwing your life away. You want to marry properly,
Celia, into your own class, someone who can keep you and support you
in a reasonable way.'
She said she did not want to marry properly, she wanted to marry
Oliver, because she loved him; that he had a brilliant future, that his
father owned a successful publishing house in London which would be
his one day.
'Successful, nonsense,' her father said, 'if it was successful he wouldn't
be living in Hampstead would he? With nowhere in the country. No,
darling,' for he adored her, his youngest, a late flower in his life, 'you
find someone suitable and you can get married straight away. That's
what you really want, I know, a home and husband and babies; it's
natural, I wouldn't dream of stopping you. But it's got to be someone
who's right for you. This fellow can't even ride a horse.'
Things had got much worse after that; she had shouted, raged, sworn
she would never marry anyone else, and they had shouted and raged
back at her, telling her she was being ridiculous, that she had no idea
what she was talking about, that she clearly had no idea what marriage
was about, that it was a serious matter, a considerable undertaking, not
some absurd notion about love.
'Very over-rated, love,' her mother said briskly, 'doesn't last, Celia,
not what you're talking about. And when it's gone, you need other
things, believe me. Like a decent home to bring up your children in.
Marriage is a business and it works best when both parties see it that
Celia was just eighteen years old when she met 0liver Lytton: she had
looked at him across the room at a luncheon party in London given by a
rather bohemian friend of her sister's and fallen helplessly in love with
him, even before they had spoken a single word. Afterwards, trying to
analyse that sensation, to explain it to herself, she could only feel she had
been invaded by an intense emotion, taken hold of, shaken by it; she felt
immediately changed, the focus of her life suddenly found. It was
primarily an emotional reaction to him, a desire to be with him, close to
him in every way, not mere physical attraction which she had
experienced to some degree before; he was quite extraordinarily
handsome, of course, tall and rather serious, indeed almost solemn-looking,
with fair hair, blue eyes, and a glorious smile that entirely
changed his face, bringing to it not just a softness, but a merriment, a
sense of great joie de vivre.
But he was more than handsome, he was charming, beautifully
mannered, clearly very intelligent, with a great deal more to talk about
than most of the young men she had met. Indeed he talked about things
she had never heard a young man speak of before, of books and
literature, of plays and art exhibitions. He asked her if she had been to
Florence and Paris and when she said she had, asked her then which
galleries she had most enjoyed and admired. He also - which she found
more engaging than any of the rest - had a way of treating her as if she
were as clever and as well-read as he. Celia, who was of a generation
and class of girls educated at home by governesses, was entirely charmed
by this. She had been brought up in the only way her parents knew and
recognised: to marry someone from her own social class, and to lead a
life exactly the same as her mother's, raising a family and running a
household; from the moment she set eyes on Oliver Lytton, she knew
this was not what she wanted.
She was the youngest daughter of a very old and socially impeccable
family. The Beckenhams dated back to the sixteenth century, as her
mother, the Countess of Beckenham, was fond of telling everyone; the
family had a glorious and quite grand seventeenth century house and
estate called Ashingham in Buckinghamshire, not far from Beaconsfield,
and a very beautiful town house in Clarges Street, Mayfair. They were
extremely rich and concerned only with running their estate, conserving
their assets, and enjoying what was mostly a country life. Lord
Beckenham ran the home farm, hunted and shot a great deal in the
winter, and fished in the summer, Lady Beckenham socialised both in
London and the country, rode, played cards, organised her staff, and - rather
more reluctantly - saw to the upkeep of her extensive wardrobe.
Books, like pictures, were things which covered the Beckenham walls
and were appreciated for their value rather more than for their content;
talk at their dinner table centred around their own lives, rather than
around abstract matters such as art, literature and philosophy.
Confronted by a daughter who professed herself - after only three
months' short acquaintance - to be in love with someone who, by their
standards, was not only a pauper, but almost as unfamiliar to them as a
Zulu warrior, they were genuinely appalled and anxious for her.
Celia could see that they were entirely serious in their opposition; she
supposed she could marry Oliver when she was twenty-one, but that
was unimaginably far off, three years away. And so, staring into the
darkness through her bedroom window late one night, her eyes sore
with weeping, wondering what on earth she could do, she had suddenly
found it: the solution. The breathtakingly, dazzlingly simple solution.
She would become pregnant and then they would have to let her marry
him. The more she thought about it, the more sensible it seemed. The
only alternative was running away; but Oliver had rejected that sweetly
'It would cause too much anxiety, hurt too many people, my family
as well as yours. I don't want us to build our life together on other
His gentleness was only one of the many things she loved about him.
Just the same, she thought that night, he would not accede to this
plan too easily. He would argue that pregnancy would also cause great
distress; he would not see that they deserved it, her blind, insensitive,
hypocritical parents: hardly models of marital virtue themselves, her
father with the housemaids, her mother with her lover of many years.
Her sister, Caroline had told her about him, the year before, at her own
coming out ball at Ashingham. Caroline had had too much champagne
and was standing with Celia between dances, looking across at their
parents talking animatedly to one another. Celia had said impulsively
how sweet it was that they were still so happy together, in spite of the
housemaids, and Caroline had said that if they were, much of the credit
should go to George Paget. George Paget and his rather plain wife,
Vera, were old family friends; pressed to explain precisely what she
meant, Caroline said that George had been her mother's lover for over
ten years. Half shocked, half fascinated, Celia begged to be told more,
but Caroline laughed at her for being so innocent and launched herelf
on to the dance floor with her husband's best friend. But next day she
had relented, remorseful at disillusioning her little sister, said she mustn't
worry about it, that it wasn't important.
'Mama will always keep the rules.'
'What rules?' Celia said.
'Society's rules,' said Caroline, patiently reassuring. 'Discretion,
manners, those sorts of things. She would never leave Papa. To them
marriage is unshakable. What they do, what all society does, is make
marriage more pleasant, more interesting. Stronger, actually, I would
'And - would - would you make your marriage more pleasant in that
way?' Celia asked and Caroline laughed and said that at the moment,
hers was fairly pleasant anyway.
'But yes, I suppose I would. If Arthur became dull, or found pleasure
of his own elsewhere. Don't look so shocked, Celia, you really are an
innocent aren't you? I heard it said the other day that Mrs Keppel, you
know, the king's mistress, has turned adultery into an art form. That
seems quite a nice achievement to me.'
Celia had still felt shocked, despite the reassurance. When she got
married, she knew it would be for love and for life.
So - Oliver must not realise the full extent of her plan. She knew
exactly how one became pregnant; her mother had instructed her with
great and unusual forthrightness on the subject when Celia had her first
menstrual period, and besides, she had grown up in the country, she had
seen sheep and even horses copulating, had been present at the birth of
lambs, and had spent all of one night in the sweet steamy stench of the
stables with her father and his groom, as her father's favourite mare
dropped her foal. She had no doubt that she would be able to persuade
Oliver into making love to her; as well as being absurdly romantic,
constantly sending her poems, flowers, love letters pages long, he was
passionately affectionate with her, his kisses far from chaste, intensely
arousing - to them both.
Celia had rather more freedom than many girls of her age. Having
raised six children, her mother had become weary of the task, and was in
any case extremely busy and inclined to leave Celia to her own affairs.
When Oliver came for the weekend at Ashingham, invited to join one
of the Beckenham house parties as Celia's guest, they were able during
the day (Oliver being quite unable to join in any sporting activities) to
roam the grounds on their own and after dinner to sit in the library on
their own talking. The roaming and talking had led to a great deal of
kissing; Celia had found she quite literally could not have enough of it,
and was yearning for more - as, quite plainly, was Oliver.
She had not experienced passion before, either in herself or any of the
young men she had met; but she found she could recognise it very easily
now. As easily as she had been able to recognise love. He had been very
respectful of her virtue, naturally, but she was absolutely confident that
she could persuade him to take their physical relationship forwards
without any difficulty whatsoever. Of course he would be anxious, not
only that they would be found out, but that she would become
pregnant. But she could reassure him about that, tell him some lie - she
wasn't sure what; she believed there were times in the month when you
were supposed not to be able to become pregnant, she had read it in
some book in her mother's room - and then when it happened - well
there would be nothing more to worry about.
She was very precise in her plans: she pretended to have acquiesced to
her parents' views, to have come to see that Oliver was not the right man
for her - although not too swiftly, lest she arouse their suspicion - and
stayed at home dutifully for several weeks, while writing to Oliver every
day. Then she went to London to stay with Caroline for a few days,
ostensibly to do some shopping, and it had all been absurdly easy. Caroline
had discovered that she was pregnant herself, and was wretchedly sick,
totally uninterested in what her younger sister was doing, and unwilling as
well as unable to chaperone her. Absences of two or three hours while
Celia was officially shopping, seeing dressmakers, having fittings for the
London Season, but actually discovering the raptures of being in bed with
her lover, went almost unnoticed.
Celia had been right, Oliver was initially resistant to the risks of making
love to her; but a mixture of emotional blackmail and a determined
onslaught on his senses worked quite quickly. She would meet him at the
big house in Hampstead, where he lived with his father, in the early
afternoon; his father still spent every day at the publishing house, and it
was easy for Oliver to pretend to be lunching with authors, or visiting
artists' studios. They would go upstairs to Oliver's room, a big, light
book-lined affair with huge windows on the first floor, overlooking the
Heath, and spend the next hour or so in the rather narrow almost lumpy
bed that swiftly became paradise for Celia. They found a physical delight
in each other almost at once; Oliver was not exactly experienced, indeed
his own knowledge had been gained at the hands of a couple of chorus
girls introduced by his best friend at Oxford, but it was sufficient to guide
him through Celia's initiation.
Excerpted from No Angel
by Penny Vincenzi
Copyright © 2000 by Penny Vincenzi.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 17, 2009
If you enjoy family saga's, you should really enjoy this book. Celia, the main character is facinating. The other characters are interesting and have depth. I have not enjoyed a family saga like this in years. Yes, it is quite a large book - 600 plus pages, but it's like a good movie that is twice as long as the normal movie; you just don't realize the length because it is just so captivating. When I was not reading the book, I found myself wondering about what was going to happen next. I finished this book and am already into the second of the trilogy - Something Dangerous. I am new to this author and so glad to have found her. I highly recommend this book; especially if you like a great family saga!
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Posted May 8, 2012
Posted February 9, 2009
Posted February 18, 2006
When I saw the three books in this series advertised, I thought I would either love them or hate them! I LOVED them!!! The Lytton family comes up with one surprise after another! Thank you Penny Vincenzi and thank you BN for calling my attention to them in one of your ads! A great read - by the fireplace on a cold day (or many cold days)! Don't let the size of the books deter you!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2004
No Angel is a book I s stumbled into. What a lucky stumble. I live in the Midwest and we are seriously into winter as I write. This is THE perfect book to snuggle into a comforter with and enjoy the read and the trip with the Lytton family. Or, it is a book just made for summer, heat, and the beach. Wonderfully long, you enter the world of this English family and all those who enter their lives. Why haven't I found this author before? No matter. I am going to seek out her other works. It is a page-turner in the manner of Gone With The Wind and Ladies Of The Club. Thanks so much Penny V. for this glimpse of England in the late 1890s and beyond, and the people who made up the class structures and the changes that came into English society. Get this one? Oh, yes! Read this one? Absolutely!
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Posted March 21, 2014
I don't know what I'll do when I am finished reading all of her books!
I have read at least 8 and just love the characters. They stay with me for a while .......Especially the No Angel Trilogy.
Keep writing Penny !!!!
Posted August 9, 2013
I rated this five stars in retrospect; wanted to finish the whole trilogy before giving my opinion. Five stars not because this is great literature but because it was so much fun to read. You will not be disappointed with the story of Celia and her family. History background was wonderful; I cannot remember the last time I lost myself in a family saga like this!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 23, 2013
I loved this trilogy. However, it was ironic that the story was about a family in publishing and there were so many editing/grammatical mistakes thoughout the 3 books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 21, 2013
Posted January 12, 2013
This trilogy was one of the best I have ever read--Comparing it with Adler-Archer and Bradford--I think she might come out ahead. Only one problem with this--Each book is about 800 pages--I spent one week reading all of them. I almost could not stop and do anything else until the last word was read. Don't miss this. I am now going on to some of her other works. I hope they are equal--certainly couldnt be better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 4, 2012
Posted May 31, 2012
I had a hard time connecting with the book in the beginning. I stuck with it, and I am glad I did. The novel was not perfect, but had some very good characters. I enjoyed reading about the publishing industry. I wasn't sure if I hated the main character or accepted her despite her flaws. Some of the lesser characters were terrific, including Celia's mother and LM. This is my first Vincenzi book, but not the last. I look forward to reading the others.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2012
Posted April 14, 2012
If you like historical fiction, this first book in a trilogy leads you through the lives of a powerful British family before WWI. Absolutely fascinating. I read all three books in a row, unable to put them down,not wanting them to end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2012
Posted February 24, 2012
Just finished this book, I loved it, well written, couldn't put it down,
didn't want it to end. I just ordered the next 2 books in the sequel.
Can't wait to start reading the next one. Hopefully all of her books are this good. I will buy them all.
Posted December 10, 2011
Posted December 7, 2010
great start to a family saga with well developed characters and good following with history of wwI. it fills in history with survival and strong women and acceptance and positve endings. could end the story or as i will continue with the trilogyWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 6, 2006