Korri reviews Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin

pembroke park michelle martin

As an avid reader of historical romance novels and lesbian fiction, I have long known of Michelle Martin’s Pembroke Park; it has a legendary status among readers, which is only heightened by the fact that it is currently out of print. When I got my hands on a copy via AbeBooks, I eagerly delved in.

Published in 1986, Martin’s delightful book (billed as the first lesbian Regency novel) is more in the vein of Jane Austen than contemporary romance novels. The social intricacies of the era are observed: the heroines know each other for months before addressing each other by first name; gossip spread at public balls in the Herefordshire countryside can ruin reputations; and the villains of the story are an arrogant, overbearing brother and propriety rather than some dastardly foe with a complicated scheme.

Amid this simplicity, it was wonderful to read about the growing attachment between new neighbors Lady Joanna Sinclair and Lady Diana March. Though Lady Diana’s habit of riding astride shocks the locals, including widowed Lady Joanna, the two women become close. Who could help but love the unconventional Diana, a woman who is free in her speech, exotic in her attire, and who was once hauled before a court in Alexandria ‘on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct, assaulting an officer of the law, liberating a trader’s camel, and soliciting the English Ambassador for prostitution’? Joanna’s playfulness with her daughter and repressed talent for painting endears her to readers and to Diana.

The slow-building attraction between Joanna & Diana is charming. The secondary characters offer other portrayals of same-sex love and ground Joanna & Diana within a community. I only wish the happily ever after had given us more time with the heroines, showing readers what their life was like as a family with Joanna’s daughter Molly. This novel has earned a place on my keeper shelf next to other Regency romances.

Rachel reviews Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin

pembrokepark Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin is a daring novel for its time. Published in 1986, it is the story of two lesbian women in the regency period of England.

The year is 1817 in Herefordshire, and wealthy widow Joanna Sinclair, one of England’s privileged “ton”, the upper class society of England, meets her new neighbor, Lady Diana March. But Diana is a woman like no other; she rides in men’s clothes, has traveled around the world and puts exotic furnishings in her home at Waverly Manor. At first Joanna is scandalized, but soon befriends Diana, leading them both to forbidden feelings of love. Joanna’s scheming brother, Hugo Garfield, is bound and determined to ruin these women to protect his reputation and keep order in his ever-growing tumultuous household. But he meets his match in his sister and Diana.

Pembroke Park, though not a widely known novel, is one of the better lesbian books out there. The personalities of Joanna and Diana bring them to life. Joanna’s struggle with her feelings of love and Diana’s fight against a sad past are feelings anyone can relate to. Their relationship progresses slowly but realistically, and they are tender and loving towards each other.

The other characters are very well written. Joanna’s daughter Molly is charming, Diana’s friend Hildegard is very blunt and comical, and Hugo is self-righteous and cold. They all add spice to the story and have their own purposes for the plot.

The setting of this novel is beautifully described. I could easily picture the stunningly large homes, the lush gardens and the expensive clothes that the ton in England wore at that time. The presence of the conservative English society back then is portrayed as harsh and judgmental towards homosexuals and outcasts, which is probably not too far off the mark. In such a rigid time, people really were hard on those who didn’t fit their mold of propriety.

The story is engaging, with many obstacles hurled at Diana and Joanna that they must navigate through. It was hard to put down, and many tense scenes made me wonder how they would work things out. Martin also did a good job with the language and things that people in 1817 England would probably have said. These made Pembroke Park seem even more authentic.

Pembroke Park is a great historical novel as well as a tender romance with some comedy added to the mix. In my opinion, the gem that it is, it should be better known and reprinted for more readers. This is one story not to be missed!