Lindsey Althorp, the only son of a wealthy baronet, has never worked a day in his life. Aubrey Warren was born in a workhouse and hasn’t stopped working since.
When Lindsey wins a textile mill in a game of cards, he falls at first sight for the assistant clerk, Aubrey. Lindsey is certain that Aubrey is the Achilles to his Patroclus, the David to his Jonathan. Yet Aubrey, unaccustomed to affection, refuses to be a kept man-though he isn’t immune to Lindsey’s considerable charm.
Buoyed by Lindsey’s optimism and fuelled by Aubrey’s industry, the two men strive to overcome the class gulf between them. But a horrific accident reveals a betrayal that threatens to tear them apart forever.
For the Tales of Old prompt, I went for the obvious and picked up an historical romance I’ve been meaning to read for ages. Mr. Warren’s Profession is set at the end of the nineteenth century and is as much about the difficulties of two people from very different ends of the social spectrum being together as it is about the problems inherent in a relationship between two men at that time. It’s well written – despite a few Americanisms – and obviously well-researched, the wealth of background detail carefully integrated into the story in order to create a wonderfully strong sense of time and place.
Aubrey Warren works as a clerk at a textile mill in Manchester. He’s very good at his job, extremely diligent and hard-working – and used to doing the work of two since the other office clerk is lazy and only has the job because of his family connections. But Aubrey is at least content – and doesn’t expect happiness. He’s come from nothing – he was brought up in the workhouse – to a responsible position that provides him with income enough to live decently, if not well, and has dreams of one day becoming an engineer. His quiet and unassuming life is suddenly blown apart by the appearance of Lindsey Althorp, the son of a baronet, who has won the mill in a card game, and who actually takes an interest in the place, much to Aubrey’s surprise.
Lindsey had no idea of becoming involved in the business of the mill, but that changes the moment he lays eyes on the beautiful, dark-eyed clerk sitting at a desk in the office and is immediately smitten. It’s a defining moment for Lindsey; for the first time in his life, he feels a true and strong desire for another person, and like a bolt from the blue, it crystallises the truth – that he is, and always has been, attracted to men. He’s well aware that’s something that must be hidden, but in the first flush of infatuation, in his overwhelming desire to see and spend time with Aubrey, Lindsey behaves less than discreetly – requesting several tours of the factory and anything else he can think of that will put him into Aubrey’s company.
While Aubrey is every bit as attracted to Lindsey as Lindsey is to him, he tries hard to distance himself, and it’s easy to understand why. He knows full well that Lindsey’s marked attention to him could have serious repercussions and knows how easy it would be for him to lose even the little he has should anyone suspect where his interest lies. The precariousness of his situation as someone of lower social standing, without family or other support system is well articulated and well-contrasted with Lindsey’s; a relationship with another man would be risky for both of them, but Lindsey has the ‘safety net’ of family, wealth and title that Aubrey does not. But Lindsey’s warmth, enthusiasm and sheer joy in their connection are hard to resist; it’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to feel just about anything – and before long, Aubrey can’t find it in him to deny himself the happiness he longs for.
While Aubrey and Lindsey get together somewhat quickly, there’s still plenty of relationship development going on and there’s no denying the strength of the love and affection they find in each other. They’re from completely different worlds, but Lindsey is so wonderfully supportive of Aubrey and wants the world for him; and Aubrey, once he allows himself to love Lindsey, does so with his whole heart. As I said at the beginning, the historical context here is well-done, with full acknowledgement of the risks of pursuing a homosexual relationship at this time, and the class difference between the two principals just makes things even more difficult. Men of equal status spending time together in public would not have been looked at askance, but a baronet’s son and a lowly clerk? Very suspicious indeed.
So there are, of course, a lot of obstacles in the way of their HEA, from interfering and well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends, to a jealous and ill-intentioned colleague to a villainous blackmail plot. There’s loss and heartbreak, but the author pulls everything together with great skill to reach a very satisfying conclusion in which Aubrey and Lindsey get their well-deserved HEA (and the villain gets his equally deserved comeuppance!)
There’s a strongly characterised secondary cast and lots of fascinating historical detail, ranging from the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Post Office boys, to advances in engineering, the work of the mill and incipient worker’s rights, in such a way that it never feels didactic or info-dump-y. However, there were a few things that stretched my credulity a bit – for example, Lindsey’s father and sister realising he was an ‘invert’ before he did and his father’s plan to ‘protect’ him from that knowledge by not sending him off to Eton, and his sister’s habit of employing handsome, similarly inclined footmen so Lindsey could, er, sow his wild oats discreetly! Then there’s the ease and frequency with which the characters travel between London and Manchester by train, seemingly just to spend the day there (Google tells me it takes between two and two-and-a-half hours now, but it must have been more than that back then?) and not only that, but surely Aubrey couldn’t have afforded to travel between Manchester and London and Wiltshire (where Lindsey owns a house) so often.
In the end, however, those are fairly minor concerns, more ‘things I noticed’ than ‘things that spoiled the book for me’. Mr. Warren’s Profession is an enjoyable historical romance filled with interesting period detail, and Aubrey and Lindsey are a likeable couple who are easy to root for. I really enjoyed their growth as characters and as a couple, together with the story’s focus on their deepening emotional connection and how they surmount the obstacles on their path to happiness. If you’ve enjoyed books by KJ Charles and Joanna Chambers, I’d definitely suggest giving this one a try.