Saturday, December 24, 2022

Review of Mimi Matthews' A Holiday by Gaslight, a historically rich Victorian romance

When the high temperature is -5º F and there’s a winter storm raging outside, the only thing to do is hunker down indoors and be glad your house hasn’t lost power. It helps if you have a Kindle loaded up with ebooks. So yesterday I decided to get in the holiday spirit by reading a novella by Mimi Matthews that I’d purchased last year.

A Holiday by Gaslight is a lovely and gently heartwarming story set in Victorian London and at a Christmas house party in remote Derbyshire.

It’s November 1861, and after two months of courtship, Miss Sophia “Sophie” Appersett decides she and Edward Sharpe don’t suit. She asks him to meet her in Hyde Park, where she breaks things off, with mutual agreement. Sophie is a baronet’s daughter who needs to marry into money. A draper's son who made his fortune in manufacturing, Ned is eminently eligible at 31 – darkly handsome, unmarried, and successful – but he has no idea how to court someone of Sophie’s class. He relies on the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette to guide him, and it gives him bad advice. To Sophie, he appears silent and disinterested; in reality, he admires her greatly but doesn’t show it. The problem is they don’t know each other at all and have only had superficial conversations.

Within a few days, Sophie – a young woman of integrity and thoughtfulness – feels regretful and makes a surprise appearance at Ned’s offices with a proposition: that they be honest with one another, and that he visit the family home in Derbyshire at Christmas as planned to see if they can make it work. Ned also learns more about her family finances: Sophie has no dowry because her father, Sir William, spent all of it installing gaslight on his estate.

The holiday preparations at Appersett House are delightful: heading into the woods to gather greenery, decorating the house with ribbons and tinsel from the attic, finding and bringing in the Yule log. As Ned and Sophie’s relationship thaws and blossoms, the interactions among the family and guests add color and dashes of the unexpected. Sophie’s immature younger sister, Emily, flirts with Ned’s business partner; one guest talks incessantly about Prince Albert and his sad recent demise.  Ned’s mother does little but express disapproval of everything, but we don’t know if it’s her nature or something more.

I especially enjoy romances with a historical backdrop that’s more than window-dressing, and this story delivers. Appersett House has a vast library, and Sophie and Ned acknowledge how their personal reading influenced their views. Sophie ponders whether Mr. Darwin’s theories can apply to societal and technological progress, while Ned realizes how the etiquette book led him astray. The gaslight at Appersett House lends the atmosphere a soft romantic glow, but – as the author illustrates – it comes at a high monetary and emotional cost to the family.

Above all, A Holiday by Gaslight is a love story, and the protagonists’ happy ending feels authentic and well-earned.

My best wishes to all of this blog’s readers for the holiday season!


  1. That book looks like fun! Merry Christmas!

  2. This looks excellent. Thank you.

    1. Hope you'll enjoy it too if you decide to pick it up!