Lady Clarissa Pomeroy is an independent and intelligent young woman who has been running a couple of halfway houses for unwed mothers without her grandfather's consent or approval for a good many years. Her grandfather's will however has seriously jeopardized all her hard work. Seeking to control her from the grave, in a manner he never was able to in life, her grandfather has decreed that she must be married within 14 months of his death or else lose all his wealth. Backed into a corner, Lady Clarissa turns to the only honourable man she knows to get her out of this jam, Simon Sinclair, the Earl of Sheridan. Lady Clarissa has been in love with Simon these past few years, and since she must marry, she'd rather marry a man she's in love with and who has a reputation of being honourable. And so she proposes marriage to him, and promises to be a good and honourable wife but asks that she have complete control of a small portion of her own inheritance to with as she wishes, and that Simon promise never to question or investigate how she spends her money. For while Simon has many honourable qualities, he has a somewhat old fashioned outlook about women -- seeing them as not very intelligent or capable beings, in need of strict guidance, and like her grandfather, she fears that he will thoroughly disapprove of her work. Simon agrees to Clarissa's proposal, and they marry. And their marriage seems to be working out, sexually at least. Ideals and ideas wise, they seem to be poles apart. And then a crisis occurs at one of the halfway houses and Clarissa leaves to take care of the matter, arousing Simon's suspicions and curiosity. Of course he breaks his promise to her and follows her. Of course he is appalled at Clarissa's notion of charity, while Clarissa is hurt that he broke his word to her. Can these two heal their marriage and come to a better understanding with each other?
A better question is do we even want them to? Simon Sheridan is unfortunately exactly the kind of hero I really to dislike and have no sympathy for. The man is supremely confident that he is always right, and the arrogant manner in which he frequently debated with Clarissa on matters of social reform and politics, and dismissed her concerns made my blood boil. The only question I had was what was this wonderful woman doing with a man like that? Patricia Waddell does rehabilitate Simon in the last chapter, but by then I was rooting for her to run away from him. This novel could probably have been saved if Simon had been rehabilitated halfway through the novel, instead of which he spent much of the book fearing for Clarissa's social survival within Victorian society. I just felt that a wonderful heroine like Clarissa (and I really liked her) deserved someone who would appreciate her more fully and completely, who was more sensitive, honourable and socially aware. Perhaps I'm being totally unrealistic, and perhaps I'm alone in wanting for my romance heroes to be at least a little bit worthy of these wonderful heroines, but I really felt that Clarissa was totally wasted on Simon Sheridan.
"A Lady's Proposal" gives the reader some idea of the social conditions in mid 19th century England, and is informative from a socio-political point-of-view, but romance wise I just felt cheated.