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Topic: Oct BoM: A Breach of Promise Discussion pgs. 1-92

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Subject: Oct BoM: A Breach of Promise Discussion pgs. 1-92
Date Posted: 9/30/2008 1:52 PM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2008
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My Observations:

1.  I wish my clients came to me with such an amazing grasp of both sides of their legal situation, as is evidenced by Melville in his initial consultation with Rathbone about the likelihood of his being sued. Totally unrealistic---clients usually want to give you all the micro-details about what happened and never appreciate the legal ramifications. I was LOL as I read this section.

2.  I find myself thinking in the back of my mind as I read about what the secret that Melville is withholding could be---and my thinking is that he's gay and finds the idea of marrying a woman and living with that level of constant deception for the rest of his life un-doable.  Just a guess---I'm hoping for more clues along the way, because I definitely agree with Rathbone that he is withholding something significant.

 3.  I am wondering if anyone could just be as absentminded as Melville seems to have been, if the appearance of his relationship to others simply did not occur to Melville until it was too late----I know people who simply do not see what is not important to them, and maybe Melville is one of these types--his passion for architectural beauty is not just what he does but what he is and that that's all he sees---?

4.   In 1977, when I was 16, my blueblooded grandmother insisted I participate in Baltimore's annual society events--a coming out ball sponsored by the batchelor's cotillion, a formal white dress debut, presentation to society, and a season of formal parties and events.  Such events do still occur around the country--New York, Philly, Baltimore, Charleston, Atlanta come to mind as places that still have debutantes and cotillions and society registers, and the experience that I had does not feel like it was much different than Zillah's experience in 1860's London.  I went to law school and did not marry until I was 27--and many of my aunts despaired of me as a 'failure' in society.

5.  Why does Hester make an appearance? What does she have to do w/ the story? Nothing so far.

Discussion Questions: (in addition to your observations, please share your thoughts on these in your posts in this section)

Is the notion of a breach of promise suit (which in the legal profession does only mean 'promise to marry', by the way) at all relevant to life in 2008? I flip through the multitude of reality shows on TV anymore and all the girls refer just to 'my baby's daddy' anymore and marriage is no longer a necessary precursor to parenthood--is the institution of marriage dying? How have we gotten to there from the 1860's notion of the maiden meat market described in the book?

What could Melville's 'secret' be? Zillah by all accounts appears to be quite the 'catch'---for Melville to refuse flatly to marry her, which would secure his professional future, his financial future, and his social standing, he must have some big issue--what could that be?

Can Melville really be so unaware of how his actions towards Zillah would be perceived?

 

 

 



Last Edited on: 10/1/08 11:49 AM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 10/1/2008 7:14 PM ET
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I hope I'm doing this right--it's my first time to do BOM with you ladies! I'll do what Colleen did, and hopefully it will make sense.

My Observations:

1. I'm wondering when William Monk will come into the story (this is a William Monk novel). He's been mentioned by both Rathbone and Hester, but that's it. I'm also wondering how Hester's story is going to connect with Rathbone's. Both stories are very interesting and have got me hooked.

2. I'm feeling much the same as Rathbone regarding Killian--trying to figure out how he let everything get this far.

3. I am amazed at Athol's insensitive attitude towards his brother's physical and emotional experiences in India. I also wish he would butt out of Perdita and Gabriel's business in how they will work through their feelings and emotions. He thinks he is helping but he's just interfering.

-----

Discussion questions:

1. Breach of promise suits don't really seem relevant to modern life. Society and age are not very important for marriageability these days, and women are much more able to live comfortably without men--they can have great careers, have children, their own homes and possessions, the respect of the community without being married.

2. I have three hunches regarding Melville's secret. Either he is gay, there is some kind of threat to him and he doesn't want to get her involved or hurt, or he is truly married to his work and doesn't want marriage/wife/family to interfere with his passion for architecture.

3. I'm starting to think Melville may actually be a bit clueless when he is caught up in his passion for architecture. He certainly seemed single-minded and wrapped up in talking about it at the end of chapter 3. And considering that he isn't that active in society (he doesn't attend balls and parties very often), he might not have been very aware of just how things were looking to the people watching them.

Date Posted: 10/2/2008 12:39 PM ET
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HI - first time for me posting to HF BOM. This is the first Anne Perry novel I have read. Over all, excellent suspense. By the time I got to the end of this section, I thought I had figured out Melville's secret, and couldn't stand the though of almost 300 more pages of courtroom drama. I was glad I kept reading! What makes this book stand out in its time period, is how women are depicted as weak, or unworthy of needing to have any knowledge of "the real world." Athol is the primary male character that portrays this image; he has such an unrealistic view of the world. I don't remember mention that he is married either.
Date Posted: 10/2/2008 12:43 PM ET
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Deb N. said:

I don't remember mention that he is married either.

Good point! The man is trying to enforce his ideals about things he knows nothing about! Marriage, women, and severe emotional and physical injury! It would be very frustrating to be married to such a man.

Date Posted: 10/3/2008 8:22 AM ET
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Katy and Deb--welcome! great posts and thoughts---there's no right or wrong in our BoM's, just honest sharing of thoughts on a common read.  I hadn't observed that Athol didn't seem to be married---that does make his behavior both more understandable and less tolerable at the same time!

Date Posted: 10/3/2008 2:19 PM ET
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This is my first-ever BOM discussion too. 

I'll tackle some discussion questions:  (Since I gather you are an attorney, Colleen, jump in and correct me anytime I mess up on law.  I'm in PA, although that shouldn't make a difference.) 

Breach of Promise suits today:  I think this subject came up on CMT quite awhile ago and I did a little searching on it.  Since most states no longer have breach of promise laws, it seems as though the law agrees that they aren't relevant.  Some states still have them and I believe there are times when you can make a case for them. 

A marriage proposal is still viewed as a contract and, if the woman (does this work for men too?) can prove that she incurred damages because the man broke the contract, then she should be able to recover something.

I found a recent case where the woman was awarded $150,000 because she left her high paying job, relocated, and "gave up a lot of things" based on her fiance's promise to marry her.  He then broke off the engagement 3 days before the wedding by leaving a note in the bathroom.  (For the purposes of this discussion, I'm just going to take her at her word since she was awarded damages.)

Marriage still offers legal rights and protections; women are usually the ones with the children and because of pay discrepancies, these issues are still important.  I do agree that marriage is certainly not as important as it was in some other eras and that breach of promise isn't the kind of offense it was in Victorian society.

Melville's Cluelessness:  A lot seems to rest on this and while it might be plausible, then, as Colleen mentioned, his grasp of the situation in his consultation with Rathbone seems out of character.

I am almost through this book and I still can't quite see why this went to court.  Maybe somebody can enlighten me eventually.  Of course we wouldn't have a book if it hadn't  :-)

The Other People:  Oh, I hate books that jump around like this and I absolutely slogged through the chapter with Hester, et al.  I think Athol is basically a caricature, "typical Victorian blowhard, spouting typical Victorian dogma."



Last Edited on: 10/4/08 3:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 10/4/2008 1:27 PM ET
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I am getting more and more curious about what Melville's secret could be. I don't think he's gay, nor do I think he has another wife somewhere. The idea of him being in love with the mother is kind of intriguing, but I don't think that's it either. I'm almost feel he is just indignant at finding himself bamboozled into a marriage when he was naively enjoying the company of this family without fully realising what the time spent with the daughter actually meant. He seems too clever to be so naive though.

The way women are sheltered bothers me too. I think the not knowing would be so much worse than finding out the truth, even if it is ugly. My mind would surely be imaginings things far worse than the reality if I were sheltered in this way.

I feel Athol's character is a bit of a Victorian exageration too, although I know they had the whole "stiff upper lip" mind-set at the time. It seems strange to me that he shows no curiosity at all about what his brother experienced at war. That seems to go against what I know of men, Victorian or not. It does seem though that he cares for his brother and he may just not feel he can bring it up without hurting him. Plus, there is the extra stigma as not being seen as useful in society when you have been maimed in some way. Athol almost acts a bit embarrassed about the whole thing.

I was glad to finally see Monk at the end of this section. I enjoy the character of Hester and I was hoping she and Monk would come together, but it seems as if Rathbone has some designs on Hester. It will be interesting to see if Hester ever falls in love with either man and would be willing to let go of a bit of her independence in order to marry. I think Perry did pretty well in making this series book into a standalone, but I feel like I'm missing something with the relationships between Monk, Hester, and Rathbone. I guess I'll be reading the previous books. ;-)

Now, I'm ready to begin the second section. Over all, I'm enjoying the read and curious about the mystery, but I could use a bit more action or some new information regarding the mysery. I'm sure that is coming soon.

Date Posted: 10/4/2008 2:02 PM ET
Member Since: 9/23/2006
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I had read a couple of Anne Perry books before but one was the Pitt series and if the other was a Monk book, it was a later one. 

If I had been reading this as part of a series, the transition to Hester and the other household wouldn't have been so jarring.  As it was, I was "who are these people and what are they doing in my book?"  I did like Hester immediately and Perry's future transitions were much smoother.  A reader of the series wouldn't have had as strong a reaction as I did. 

ETA:  As a side note, as I was searching for something else, I discovered that Michael Crichton's "The Great Train Robbery," which is set in 1855, is nearly contemporary with this book.  It's been years since I read it but if anyone else is familiar with it, it may help with the era.



Last Edited on: 10/4/08 3:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/6/2008 9:25 AM ET
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Well, I've now reached the point where a witness is called and he is supposed to be Melville's lover. Maybe I'm wrong, but I still don't think Melville being gay is the big mystery. For some reason, I keep thinking it has to be something more than that. I guess I'll have to keep reading.

Diana, I read Crichton's The Great Train Robbery a few years ago and thought he did a great job with it. It was an exciting read and he presented the Victorian times accurately and with vivid detail. Considering that he normally writes thrillers, I was really surprised at just how well done this book was.

Date Posted: 10/6/2008 11:24 AM ET
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I think that The Great Train Robbery was the only Michael Crichton book I read and it was probably about 1977, lol.  I gathered from the Amazon reviews that it wasn't typical of most of his books.  Perhaps I'll re-read it  when I get some of these other ones out of the way.

Edited because I can only re-read it once at this point - not again :)



Last Edited on: 10/6/08 11:26 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/8/2008 8:17 AM ET
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I'm finally through the first section - work has been a bit crazy since I got back from vacation, so I haven't been able to get into this as quickly as I'd hoped.  I'm pleased to find it's a quick read, however, and holding my attention thus far.

The idea of a breach of promise suit seems completely removed from today's society, in my opinion.  I do recall seeing the case that Diana mentions on TV awhile back.  I suppose if such a concept were still viable, it would now need to apply equally to men and women.  Speaking from my own bad experiences, I learned this the hard way when I was divorced.  Not to get into too much detail, but I made quite a bit more than my ex-husband and ended up owing him quite a bit in the final settlement.  So, certainly, the laws now work both ways in regard to the sexes.  My thought is that in respect to a prospective marriage, men and women are now on such equal footing in society that such a concept of protection in regard to breach of promise is no longer necessary at all.  But I can see how in this time period, where women were so sheltered and marriage determined their place in society, there could be some necessity.

Like others have said, I found the section on Hester to be distracting and irrelevant so far.  I assume this will get tied to the plot at some point later in the book.  And since we are jumping into a series, maybe it would have made more sense in the context of the series.

I really can't imagine what Melville's secret is, but I'm assuming it must be something shocking.  I can't imagine how someone could be so clueless as to what was going on around him to "accidently" find himself in such a position.  No matter how distracted and in love he is with his work!!  He did say that whatever it was, it was specific to not being able to marry Zillah.  She seems wonderful, and he did appear to cherish her friendship, so my thought is he has something in his past that he feels is too horrible to place as a burden on her as his husband. 

Date Posted: 10/8/2008 10:22 AM ET
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The only relevance I can see for a breach of promise suit in today's society would be for someone who has planned and spent a lot of money on a wedding and is then dumped, right before the wedding is to take place. In that case, I think it would be entirely fair to be reimbursed at least half of the expenses. Of course, a case like this today wouldn't be called a breach of promise suit and it wouldn't be made to protect the female's reputation, but to protect her pocket.

Date Posted: 10/9/2008 7:43 AM ET
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I finally just started reading the book. Given the times, I think Melville's secret is that he's gay. Hester sounds like a very interesting character. I wonder if she'll be present throughout.

Date Posted: 10/9/2008 10:48 AM ET
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Valli,

I hope someone corrects me if I'm wrong, but I think what is being broken in the 'breach of promise' is an oral contract to marry and before a court takes that seriously, the Plaintiff has to show that there have been damages.  In Victorian times, I believe it was generally the woman's reputation or perhaps she had become pregnant.

Suppose a woman had quit her $100,000/yr job and moved to another city to be with her fiance.  She may have had thoughts of starting a family and/or making a home together and it would be easier for her her to find a new job in his city than for him to find one in hers.  However, she would have to start over and lose her old job.  She moves, maybe even gets a new job but it doesn't bring in as much (or maybe she sold a home she owned in the other city, etc.)  Has she suffered damages now?  Is this covered in some other way or is it just tough luck?



Last Edited on: 10/9/08 11:27 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/9/2008 12:16 PM ET
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Suppose it was the other way around?  I tend to think breach of promise suits do still have a place--just that the reputational damage and the assumption that it is brought by a female are anachonistic. My husband did just what you describe above,Diana, when we married--shouldn't he have been entitled to those damages if I had broken my promise to marry him once he got to me? It's truly a societal value decision.

These are actually a fascinating group of cases to read in law school--you cover them early in the required courses on Contracts law. Most are not actually about the reputational damage, but about keeping the ring---who gets it? They are interesting and funny cases, and provide a factual look at the mores of those days.

The legal definition of a 'right' is somthing for which the law provides a remedy. It is this definiton that sometimes gets the legal profession in trouble on the moral side--a client may be outraged by something that has happened to him or her, but the law may not provide a remedy--ie, a grounds that is recognized as a legitimate basis for suit by the courts--and therefore be told he cannot be helped legally. By this defintion, I would think that we today would still deem it of value to recognize the right to damages that the woman in Diana's hypothetical should have.

Date Posted: 10/9/2008 8:11 PM ET
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The legal definition of a 'right' is somthing for which the law provides a remedy. It is this definiton that sometimes gets the legal profession in trouble on the moral side--a client may be outraged by something that has happened to him or her, but the law may not provide a remedy--ie, a grounds that is recognized as a legitimate basis for suit by the courts--and therefore be told he cannot be helped legally.

This is an excellent distinction. Twice a year, I get to explain the differences between morals, ethics and law to journalism students.  It's in the context of investigative research so it gets real complicated. I might steal borrow from you.

Date Posted: 10/9/2008 8:29 PM ET
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Borrow away! It's not mine, that's truly a 1L concept.

Date Posted: 10/11/2008 2:24 AM ET
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well, I just finished the first section....hmmm a lot to think on!

1. I think that this is a series that it's important to read what comes before. I'm thinking that Hester is going to help out because she was mentioned in connection with Monk (who I expect to turn up at any moment as we are 100 pgs in and he's no where to be found!). However, I feel like the section regarding her, Gabriel, and Perdita, while very interesting, has nothing to do with the story. I expect it will tie in later.

2. Melville's Secret: Here's my guess: I think he is related to Zillah in some way. Like a long lost brother or something. Possibly an illegitimate child of Lambert.  I thought that maybe this could be why he was so interested in getting the contract for building the house and then why he would seek to become so familiar with the family. And this could also explain his "brotherly" affection for Zillah and why he wouldn't pursue it further. If he knew that she was his sister he most likely wouldn't look at her as anything else. I'm very anxious to see if I'm right! (my other thought was that he was already married, but he said he's free to marry so that kinda killed that)

so far I like this. I'm off to read the next section!

 

Date Posted: 10/11/2008 2:01 PM ET
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The Secret:  I agree with Hannah; I believe Melville is related to Zillah in some way like a half brother.  He does seem to display what I would consider to be brotherly affection for her.  He also says he is free to marry but not Zillah Lambert.  To me that seems like a clue!

 

Given the times this book is written about I do have a couple of questions mainly pertaining to Zillah's father.  It was the accepted custom of the day for a man to ask the young lady's father for her hand in marriage.  Now, Barton states that Melville did not do this.  Wouldn't he as a father think this odd and especially as a father with one child and that a daughter, wouldn't he take it upon himself to have this conversation with Melville?  I would think Barton would do this if only to discuss dowry accomodations etc since the husband becomes the owner of the wife's wealth upon marriage.  This young lady is an heiress.  I find it hard to believe that parents of this era would plan an elaborate wedding without the conversation having taken place at some time!  They would certainly want to know about how Melville planned to support their lovely young lady.

 

I had never read any of this series before and I kept wondering who is William Monk?  I finally meet after this section, but Oliver Rathbone seems the more intriguing character.  I'm sure this will change as the story progresses, but its hard for me to get a "read" on him (pun intended)!

Date Posted: 10/11/2008 2:40 PM ET
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I feel like I needed to read previous books to "get" the Monk character too.  I did enjoy what we saw of Rathbone though, despite my quibbles with some of his actions which I didn't think would be likely. 

Date Posted: 10/11/2008 5:23 PM ET
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Cheryl, I wondered the same thing! I'm also wondering if Zillah told her parents that he asked or something like that when he actually didn't. It is really strange that they would assume and put out an annoucement and all that without actually having spoken to Melville. hmmm intruiging.

I know it was alluded that Melville is gay but I'm not sure I think that's what it is. The fact that he laughed and seemed to find it funny implies to me that he's not. I doubt he would have laughed how the author described if he was...but I could be wrong. It's so hard not to read the discussions from the other sections to figure it out. ahhh!

I'm interested to see how Hester and Monk will fit in. Hester's story is interesting but I can't see how it's going to relate to the story...it must though at some point right? after all there were about 50 pgs of it....that's a lot if it doesn't relate.

I also wonder if this series focuses more on the lives of Rathbone, Hester, and Monk with the cases just being more of a sideline. there is a lot invested in the personal lives of the characters as opposed to the case itself so far.

Date Posted: 10/12/2008 2:54 PM ET
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Ok I am so behind the BOM power curve here but here are my observations (and I haven't read everyone elses yet because I want to type this before the thoughts fall out of my head)

I thought within the 1st chapter when I started reading that these are characters that we should be familiar with already from other books like it is a series you don't necessarily have to read in order (like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels) but that it gives you better understanding if you do.  This is actually the 9th in the Monk series so that would explain why I felt that way.

My second observation is that Hester must have been a popular name in England because this is the second book this month I've read where it was set in England and one of the main characters was named Hester.

The Questions

1. I don't think breach of promise is really relevant anymore.  I mean honestly how many women in today's society compared to when this book was written maintain the glowing reputation that Zillah Lambert has until marriage?  I think with just the way people live their lives now and the general decline in morals that it just doesn't happen that much anymore although I swear I read a couple months back about a woman who was suing her ex-fiance to recoup the costs from the planned wedding but I'm not sure if this counts.

2. Melville's secret- I have let my imagination run wild on this one.  He could be gay, already married, a woman, a convicted mass murdering escapee on the run from the law in another country who has built himself a respectable life in England and is afraid if his past is discovered it will ruin her.  I dunno but it has peaked my interest and I want to find out.  I don't think he had malicious intent with breaking the engagement though.

3. Yes I think he could have been unaware about what was going on.  Some people (myself included) are just that flighty/oblivious/tunnel visioned type people that he very well could have tuned out all the arrangement going on around him and not realized "Hey buddy THIS MEANS YOU".  I'm not really up on this time period and the courting rituals or whatever but the one thing I did think was that if he was really as good a friend to her as he says you think it would have come up in conversation at one point about her upcoming wedding.

Date Posted: 10/12/2008 3:00 PM ET
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I really can't imagine what Melville's secret is, but I'm assuming it must be something shocking.  I can't imagine how someone could be so clueless as to what was going on around him to "accidently" find himself in such a position.  No matter how distracted and in love he is with his work!!  He did say that whatever it was, it was specific to not being able to marry Zillah.  She seems wonderful, and he did appear to cherish her friendship, so my thought is he has something in his past that he feels is too horrible to place as a burden on her as his husband. 

Maybe its because he is somehow closely related to her in a way where marriage would be a big no no like he is her fathers illegitimate child from before he met Mrs. Lambert or something like that.  I'll have to keep reading to find out I guess.....

Date Posted: 10/12/2008 4:12 PM ET
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Hi Holly - I loved your ideas on Melville's secret...especially the mass murder one! I could totally see a movie with that being in it. :)

Date Posted: 10/13/2008 1:13 PM ET
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Hi Holly - I loved your ideas on Melville's secret...especially the mass murder one! I could totally see a movie with that being in it. :)

 

Me, too---that never occurred to me but it's a great thought!