Updated: Mar 15
Jane Fairfield has four hundred and eighty days more that she needs to remain unmarried - and her enormous dowry is a prize for any man. She has to devise a way to stave off even the most desperate suitor, and luckily she's found an act that seems to do the trick. Oliver Marshall knows what it's like to be the butt of a joke, and he hates to see anyone be trampled by the ton. He's been biding his time and building favors as he rises to power in Parliament. But one of Jane's rebuffed suitors has taken things personally, and he's willing to trade his vote on a very important bill for Oliver to absolutely humiliate Jane. Will Oliver become the villain in Jane's story or is he actually the villain in his own? **It's like being beaten to death by SPOILERS!!**
Grab your copy of the book we read today, The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 05:29: Intro/History Facts
05:29 - 30:32: Synopsis
30:32- 31:43: Parlour
31:43 - 1:14:29: General Discussion
We include our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
The Heiress Effect Synopsis:
Jane Fairfield is known as the “Feather Heiress.” This is not because her money comes from goose down, but rather, to spend an evening in her presence is like being beaten to death by feathers. The first time she had heard that cruel analogy she had been slightly disheartened, but then she realized that she could use that to her advantage - and so she simply weaponized it.
Oliver Marshall is the bastard son of a very cruel duke, raised by a very caring mother and father. His whole life he’s had to fight for everything he’s done - but now he does it much more shrewedly than with his fists. Instead, he is a political rising star, bridging the gap between the ton and the common man, biding his time, making connections and begetting favors, waiting in the wings for the perfect time to step out into the spotlight.
And Oliver can feel that that time is rapidly approaching. If he can persuade Bradenton (and therefore Bradenton’s cronies) to vote for the Reform bill when it comes up again, he will be credited with its success which will be a huge boon to his political clout.
It is at a dinner at Bradentons that Oliver first meets Jane. He is forewarned with the token “it’s like being beaten to death by feathers” by the other gentlemen, but isn’t ready for the full effect of her, quote
“But looking at her was like picking up a luxurious peach and discovering it half taken over by mold. Her gown was ghastly. There was no other word for it, even that one scarcely did justice to the thrill of helpless horror that traveled through him. A little lace was in fashion. Falls at the fuccs perhaps, or a few inches at the hem. But Miss Fairfield’s gown was lace all over - layer upon layer of the most intricate hand-knit stuff available. Black lace. Blue lace. Gold lace trim. It was as if someone had swept into a store, ordered three hundred yards of each of the most expensive kinds of lace, and then crammed every ell on one dress. This wasn’t a case of gilding the lily. If there was a lily underneath all that, it had long since been crushed to a pulp. The party stopped in its tracks as she took off her cloak frozen in wordless contemplation of a wardrobe that made the word “gaudy” sound sweet and demure by contrast.”
But Jane doesn’t seem to notice anyone’s stares or any awkward silence ever. She is a battering ram of overconfidence, finding no issue with making any sort of social faux paux. She speaks too loudly. She flubs up names and titles. She hands her coat to a guest, not realizing he isn’t a servant. In fact, she is so air headed and completely unaware that she is the butt of jokes throughout the night.
Of course, this is all an act. Though at first she did make many faux paus when she entered society, Jane decided quickly that with just a bit of exaggeration, her flaws could become the perfect defence she needed. Because she had well over 400 days that she needs to keep up this facade. She has to remain unmarried until her sister came of age to keep her safe. And a 100,000 dowry was too attractive a number to keep away most men. She couldn’t simply be ugly or dowdy or irritating or vapid, she had to be unconscionable. Absolutely unmarriageable while at the same time, being perfectly marriageable enough to make her uncle think that she was at least trying her best. So she played into her faults because at least she was good at them.
Unfortunately, her facade was built to crack under men like Oliver. Men who try to be nice were the most difficult for her. Quote
“Poor Miss Fairfield. She had the opposite of good conversation, the opposite of taste. They were going to rip her to sheds, and Oliver was going to have to watch… It didn’t matter how irritating Miss Fairfield was. Oliver had been on the receiving end of those snide comments one too many time to rejoice in making them”
After their first meeting she told her sister Emily quote
“He was quite determined to be kind to me, and he was funny to boot. If I’d let him talk to me much longer, he would have made me laugh. I had to break him before that happened. He’d had the strangest expression on his face near the end, solemn and brooding, as if he wanted desperately to like her and was upset at his own failure…
Jane wouldn’t feel safe until Marshall was actually laughing with the others. She was almost going to regret breaking him. He’d been nice.”
Oliver and Jane are about to be thrust together though, because Bradenton issues Marshall a challenge that evening after the women have taken their leave. It seems that Jane has provoked Bradenton one time too many, and he wants her humiliated. If Oliver does that, he will provide his vote for the reform bill. He tells Oliver his terms as a newly minted earl, Hapford, watches. Bradenton has taken Hapford under his wing to show him the ropes of politics, and this is his first lesson. Quote
“You see Hapford?” Bradenton said. “He wants. I have. The only way to make a deal is if I want something, too.” He leaned forward. “And what I want, Marshall, is Miss. Fairfield.” There was no masking the venom in his voice. “I don’t want to see her or her annoying gowns. I don’t want to hear her thoughtless jibes.” Bradenton’s nostrils flared. “She’s the worst of the worst - a woman with no birth to speak of, who thinks that her hundred thousand pounds makes her my equal. A woman like her, running about, spouting her tripe...She does damage to us all and I want her gone.” “That’s not going to happen,” Oliver said sharply. “I don’t ruin women, no matter how annoying they are.” Hapford was looking between them, his eyes worried. “Well said, Marshall.” Bradenton seemed to come back into himself with one long, slow breath. The hatred in his eyes dimmed to mere amusement. “Oh, look at you two. Ruin her? Goodness, how sordid. I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to kiss her.” “Then what are you asking?” The marquess leaned back in his seat. “I want her to know her place. Humiliate her. Hurt her. Teach her a lesson. You know how it’s done; it took you long enough to learn yours.”
Oliver sits still, and Bradenton tells him not to answer but to work through his principles on his own time quote “It’s one annoying girl against your entire future. Against the future of voting rights.”
And although Oliver hates himself for it, he stays quiet as he begins to consider it.
In typical Milan fashion though, she doesn’t take the story in the direction it’s first headed, but rather, our two main characters have an honest and open conversation much sooner than anticipated. Conflicted over the plight of the greater good and personal success, versus being the villain in one woman’s story, Oliver decides to find out more about Jane before deciding which way to go.
After the dinner party, their next meeting is on the street, and something happens to unnerve Jane. He stopped on the street, tipping his hat to her. And that’s when something awful happened. She looked into his eyes. They were ice-blue and mobile. In the bright mid-morning, his spectacles made him look sharp and intelligent. He didn’t look over her head as if wishing her elsewhere. He didn’t curl his lip in disgust or nudge his companion as if to say ‘That’s her; she’s the one I was telling you about.’ He looked at her straight on, his eyes flickering over her as if he were wondering what lay beneath the blinding orange-and-green pattern of her day gown. And he smiled at her as if she deserved more than a few scraps of surface civility…
She felt something that she’d only read about in the pages of a book. There was a slow prickle in her throat, a flush of heat that slid over her skin. SHe felt a sense of pure awareness. A frisson. She felt a real live frisson just from looking into his eyes. How dreadful.
Although she immediately tries to disarm him using a tried-and-true trick of misidentification, referring to him as Mr. Cromwell, it seems not to unruffle him one bit. And when she tries to find a connection from his cousin and companion on the street, Sebastian to a “famous and disreputable scientist” Sebastian Malheur, she is the one ruffled as his cousin is in fact, Mr. Malheur, and doesn’t mind his disreputable reputation one bit.
But Oliver believes he has seen through Jane’s act and asks Sebastian a simple question to further unmoor Jane quote
“Miss Fairfield,” Mr. Marshall said, “Are you familiar with chameleons?” “I dare say I was just reading about those,” Jane said officiously, trying to regain her balance. “Those are a species of flower.” Mr. Marshall didn’t even twitch at that, and that made Jane feel all the more uneasy. He was supposed to smile at her. Better yet, he was supposed to sneer. “Or maybe it was a hat,” she added. Not so much as a curl of his lip. “The chameleon,” Mr. Marshall said, “Is a species of lizard. It changes it’s coloration so that it hides in its surroundings. When it darts across the sand, it is sand-colored. When it slips through the forest, it is tree-colored.” … “You,” he said, with a small gesture of his hand, “are an anti-chamelon.” “I am an ant-eating what?” “An anti-chameleon. The opposite of a chameleon,” he explained. “You change colors, yes, But when you are in sand you fashion yourself a bright blue so that the sand knows you are not a part of it. When you are in water, you turn red so that everyone knows you are not liquid. Instead of blending in, you change so that you stand out. Jane swallowed hard. “Well Sebastian,” Marshall said, turning back to his friend, “what think you of that sort of adaptation? What kind of creature tries to stand out from its surroundings?” Mr. Malheur frowned and rubbed his forehead as he considered the question. “Poisonous ones.”
Soon, Oliver gives her the opportunity to unburden herself and come clean with her troubles to him. It’s an enticing proposition, because of the attraction she feels for him and her desperation to share her burden with someone who really does appear to understand her so well.
But there’s just one caveat - when she asks him if he is telling her the truth, he admits that it’s ninety-five percent of it. And when she finally does decide to unburden herself to him he says “Never trust a man who claims that he is telling you ninety-five percent of the truth.”
And then he continues with the other five percent:
“I talked to you because Bradenton asked me to do it.” She took a step back involuntarily. “Bradenton! What has he to do with any of this!” “He thinks you need to know your place. He offered me a trade: his vote in parliament if I’d deliver a sharp lesson to you. I talked to you to figure out if I could do it.”
This leads to more conversation where Oliver divulges much of his past and his plans for the future. Although he didn’t go through with this plan, he admits he is the kind of man who considered it, was tempted by it.
Jane considers everything. Quote
“I suppose I should be [angry.] But I’m not, really. It doesn’t surprise me that you’d want to betray me. Everyone else always does...So there you have it. You might betray me, but you're my favorite betrayer thus far.” He made a noise. “You should be angry, Miss Fairfield. You should push me away.” “Mr. Marshall, haven’t you figured it out? I’m too desperate to be angry.”
But with that truce established, the two are now primed to figure out a way to beat Bradenton at their own game.
Meanwhile, we have a few different subplot stories going on. We learn about Emily, Jane’s sister. She has a seizure condition and their uncle Titus, who is her guardian, has subjected her to some barbaric experiments in an attempt to cure it. That’s why Jane has to be allowed to stay in their house - to bribe any new quacks he brings in to treat Emily so that she isn’t subjected to further abuse. Titus believes he is truly doing the best for Emily, but is obviously misguided. Emily though, is an active young woman who can’t stand her mandated bed rest. Eventually she begins escaping for walks during her naps, and on one of these occasions, she meets a young law student with whom she sparks a connection with; a Mr. Anjan Battacharaya.
Oliver also visits with his family in Cambridge. His younger sister, Frederica, known as “Free” is angry at him for reneging on a promise to tutor her in Greek. And when they reconnect she seems like she is bursting for something to happen. Oliver is fearful for his sister. She has so many ideas and such strong ideals and he doesn’t think that the world will be kind to her. Quote
“I worry about you,” he finally said to Free. “I’m afraid that you’re going to break your heart, going up against the world.” “No.” The wind caught her hair and sent it swirling behind her. “I’m going to break the world.”
Later, when in London, Oliver also visits his Aunt Freddy, who is Frederica’s namesake. She is homebound, and doesn’t look well to Oliver. She and Free, who have always been close, have butted heads about her refusal to go outside and are no longer talking. Oliver feels the burden of his family's troubles acutely although he knows there is not much he can do for them all, as they are all adults in their own right.
Another small theme is the Mrs. Larringer books. These books are gothic novels where Mrs. Larrianger takes on the world. Emily is obsessed with them and Jane smuggles her copies of the latest edition. Oliver finds Jane in a bookshop purchasing one for Emily and snags the first volume for himself even.
But back to Cambridge and Bradenton. Oliver and Jane devise a plan to out Bradenton which goes off very well. Bradenton is humiliated and his posse are disgusted and agree to hear Oliver out about why they should vote for the reform bill. They seem very positive for it by the end of the night. This plan does mean that Jane’s cover of being an airhead is blown, but she knows that she will recover and still find a way to repel any suitors. The time with Oliver, the defeat of Bradenton, and the addition of some real friends now that her secret is out, was worth it.
But, all of this does not forge a path to a happy ending for our hero and heroine. Oliver still needs a quiet, fits-the-mold sort of wife, and both he and Jane know that she isn’t that. Their attraction is strong, but the circumstances have been known since the start. And so they part, with Oliver telling Jane to contact him if she ever needs anything, because they are, after everything, friends.
Months pass. Emily’s escapades are discovered and Titus blames Jane. He refuses to let her stay in the house, and Jane shrewdly bargains before agreeing to leave - she will go where he dictates but he may not allow any doctors to experiment on Emily without consulting Jane first, and without Emily's explicit consent. With a little blackmailing, he agrees.
So Oliver is politicking in London broodingly while Jane is repelling new suitors in Nottingham when she hears a whisper. Her aunt has conspired with a particularly repulsive suitor to ‘convince’ but not compromise Jane into marriage, because Titus needs her married fast in order to have Emily committed to an institution.
Jane hops into action, sending a telegram to Oliver, only to be interrupted by one of the players in the scenario. She inconspicuously hands it over to be sent incomplete, deciding that regardless of if Oliver comes, she has gotten what she needs out of it. In that moment, she doesn’t feel alone and she feels emboldened to do what she needs to do.
But Oliver receives the partial telegram and immediately leaves, despite the fact that it is totally not his character to do so. He is also compelled.
What transpires is a topsy turvy trope filled tableau:
Jane gets her suitor to pretend to run away with her to Gretna Green. Once in the carriage, she offers to bribe him with 1000 pounds to continue on by himself so it isn’t known that she is headed to Cambridge. However, the villain can do simple maths, and knows that her dowry is much, much more of a reward.
Oliver was supposed to meet Jane at an inn, so she knows that someone knows a bit about her whereabouts. Luckily though, he had actually bribed the driver of the villains carriage, and after a couple hours drive, he hops down, informs the villain that he will be spending the night in the carriage and aways with Jane to an inn!
That night, they have encounter number one, and the next morning number two, because although Oliver told Jane to get two rooms, she takes matters into her own hands and gets one. She knows they have no future, but they do have a present and she had told herself that if she ever had the opportunity, she wanted a night with Oliver.
However, there is still much more story to be told! When they arrive in Cambridge, it turns out that Emily has disappeared, leaving a cryptic note to Titus that included a hidden message to jane. She said she was going to visit her barrister - which Jane knows to be Mr. Battacharya so she can hunt for him. This leads Oliver and Jane to London.
The reunion and the encounters lead to an expression of feelings. Oliver admits to himself that he’s in love with Jane, but that she’s still his “impossible girl.” Jane is sad, but has known this from the beginning, telling him quote
“I’ve had a long time to think it over. And you’re right. Marriage between us would be a disaster. I know what I can do and what I can’t. I can pretend to be a great many things, but even if I could act the proper hostess, the sort you’d need, I wouldn’t want to do it. I’m done taking on the role of pretender.”
So they form a truce and decide to enjoy each other's company for the time being. They find where Emily is, but before all is resolved, Oliver’s mother finds them at his hotel to tell him that his aunt Freddy has died. Before she leaves she says
“And Oliver, the woman who is staying with you…” Jane froze. “What woman?” “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re here under an assumed name. You’ve never used my soap, and yet someone here has washed with my May blend. I smelled it the instant I walked in. I only wanted you to know...There won’t be many of us present, just family and a few others. If she’s important to you, if she would bring you comfort, you should bring her.”
And Oliver does decide to invite Jane, but he wants to have her come as his fiance. Because he is in love with her, and if he shares her with his family, he doesn’t think he could ever let her go. In fact, he knows that his sister in law, who is a duchess, could train her…
And with that, the spell is broken. quote
“Train me?” Jane said. “What am I, a horse?” “No. Of course not. But a few lessons…” “A few lessons on what?” Jane’s chin came up, but her lips trembled. “On how to act, how to behave, how to dress. Is that what you mean?” He couldn’t say anything. “Tell me, Oliver, how long do you think it will take me to learn to hold my tongue. To talk quietly? To dress as everyone else does?” “I-Jane…” “If you want a wren, marry one. Don’t ask me.” He shut his eyes. “I know. I know. It’s such a horrid thing to ask. But…” He paused trying to regroup. Trying to explain. “I’ve made a career of keeping quiet. Someone from my background has to be particularly careful. My brother can advocate whatever he wishes; I have to be cautious. To make sure that when people think of me, they think of a reasonable man. Someone who is just like them. Someone who…” “Someone who doesn’t have an awful wife,” Jane said. Her voice was thick…. She stood up. “It’s just as well, because I…” She stopped biting her lip and then shook her head. “No, never mind. You’ve just been told that your aunt has passed away. I don’t need to add to your burdens.” “Just say it,” he snapped. “And spare me your pity.” Her chin rose. “It’s just as well you don’t want an awful wife,” she told him. “Because I have hoped for a husband with a little courage.” Oh, that hurt. He wasn’t choosing between acceptance and Jane, between a ballroom filled with happy friendship and that dark road alone with Jane. He was choosing between a dark, lonely road with her, and one without her.
So Oliver attends the funeral alone, and Jane goes to reunite with Emily, who after a couple hurdles, gains permission to marry Anjan. Jane sets herself up in a new residence, rekindles an old friendship from Cambridge, and begins to think about how she wants to spend her inheritance on charity. Perhaps she will establish a research hospital based in scientific principles!
The funeral for Freddy is eye opening. When her will is being read, it appears at first as though she has left Free out of it. Her sisters say they will split their share with her, but the executor stops them, because Free is the last bequest quote
“Lastly, I come to Frederica Marshall, my goddaughter, niece, namesake and scourge of my existence. Several years ago, as I am sure you are all aware, she was presumptuous enough to insist that I leave this apartment - that I go out in the world and have an adventure, even if it was so trivial a one as to buy an apple. After she left, I attempted to do so.” Free let out a broken breath, so close to a sob. “I discovered myself incapable of leaving,” the solicitor read. “For some reason, I could not fit through the door. But I did my best to make do, and so for that reason, I leave the proceeds of my grand adventure and the contents of my trunk to Miss Frederica Marshall. I suspect that she will make better use of them than I did.” Free looked up. “Proceeds?” she said quietly. “What proceeds would she be talking about?” … “Those would be the royalties on twenty-five volumes published to date, not counting the four that are in the process of publication.” Frederica blinked. “Twenty-five volumes?!” she repeated. Oliver felt a sudden, staggering pain. He knew which authoress had penned twenty five volumes , one after the other in quick succession...His sister walked over to his aunt's trunk, flipped open the lid. She reached inside. Oliver knew-he absolutely knew what he would see in those pages. “Mrs. Larriger and the Welsh Brigade,” Free read. She took out another sheaf. “Mrs. Larriger and the French Comtesse. Mrs. Larriger goes to Irelend.” Her voice caught. “Who is Mrs. Larriger”? But Oliver knew. If his sister sifted through the papers long enough, Mrs. Larringer would find her way to China, to India, across all the seas of the world. He remembered mocking these books with Jane, laughing that the author had clearly gone no farther than Portsmouth. He’d been wrong. The author had not even come that far. She had lived the majority of her life in scarcely more than a hundred square feet. And she’d had so much adventure hidden in her that it had poured out once she’d let it loose.”
It is Freddy’s death and secrets that shake Oliver enough to get him to reflect on earlier lessons she told him and on what he really wants with his life. She had told him that he used to be a coal grabber like Free and his mother, reaching into the hot coals without a thought. But now, he had become more reserved and careful like Freddy herself. When had he changed? Why? Quote
How was it that he’d taken the rules that he’d hated and adopted them for himself. He’d chafed when people told him he was a bastard. He’d raged when they’d said he would never amount to anything, that his father was nothing. How was it that he was telling the woman that he loved that she was nothing? That she was awful?
He’d started caring more about becoming the kind of person who could make a change than he cared about the change itself.
He loved the person she’d made of him - a man who could foil abductions and break into houses when circumstances required. A man who could take on Bradenton and see a foe to vanquish, not a powerful lord to be appeased. And he’d wanted to make her into nothing because that’s what he’d done with himself.
And so, Oliver realizes he needs a grand gesture to convince Jane of his change of heart. He begins with a visit to Bradenton for a final showdown of wits, out arguing him and securing his subservience and vote.
Finally he heads to Jane’s new residence, and stuns her upon entry for he is outfitted in a new waistcoat. A bright pink, loud silk. The color of one of Jane’s most notorious dresses. Fuschine. And then he begins the grovel. He tells her that he was wrong for considering her a blight, that she was right to say he waylaid his courage. He tells her the story of exactly where he lost it, and then continues by telling her that’s why he needs her - because she reminds him how to find his voice. And he wants to be the one that supports her magnificence, without ever asking her to be less.
And with all that truth and honesty, there is no reason for them not to agree to be married.
So then we have the epilogue! Oliver and Jane are happily married. Her gowns are still the subject of many conversations, but she is the kind of woman who everyone wants to know. Her hospital has gained much acclaim. Jane is considered an asset to Oliver’s career, and he knows how lucky he is to have her. She’s increasing with their second child, and together, they are taking on the world.