Margaret Simpson, née Dawson, was born on Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland in 1857, the younger daughter of the late Nicholas Dawson and his wife. Nicholas Dawson was a solicitor and his offices at street level are now leased to a law firm while his widow lives alone on the floors above.
Having been in love with Dr Fred Simpson since seeing him at a church service when she was sixteen, Margaret can’t believe her luck when they marry in July 1880 and she moves to number 1 Ely Place Upper. In December 1880, Fred’s surgeon father, Duncan Simpson, dies suddenly and Fred’s mother, Maria, moves out and goes to live with her spinster sister, Diana Wingfield, on Rutland Square. Margaret is now mistress of number 1, but also finds herself expecting a baby.
As Fred and Dr Will Fitzgerald are old friends, Margaret hopes she and Will’s new wife, Isobel, can also be friends. Margaret has many acquaintances but none that she can discuss ‘marital matters’ with. When A Suitable Wife begins in January 1881, Fred and Will’s friendship has come under strain, mainly due to Fred’s erratic behaviour, and a dinner is arranged at number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, Will and Isobel’s new home.
While Will and Fred attempt to reconcile their differences over port after the meal, Isobel and Margaret retire to the drawing room. Knowing Isobel’s reputation as a fallen woman and assuming Isobel will understand and offer advice, Margaret seizes the opportunity to confess the strain her marriage is under. Margaret has been married to Fred long enough for her to realise that while he is the love of her life, Fred can only love her in his own way and that she alone will never be able to satisfy him. Margaret then admits she has given her husband her blessing to find sexual satisfaction with prostitutes.
Unfortunately, Margaret gets carried away and goes far too far. Isobel is already nervous because this is her first dinner party at number 30 and is uncomfortable at the conversation having turned to prostitution. When Margaret informs her that if she can’t be a good wife to Will, he is a very handsome man and there are many ladies in Dublin who would welcome him into their bed, Isobel can’t help herself and hits her.
Given her past, Isobel knows she can never be a true friend to anyone except Will, but can she and Margaret ever be simply acquaintances? If she and Margaret can’t get along, what hope is there for their husbands whose friendship and partnership at the Merrion Street Upper medical practice are on the brink of collapse. Is Isobel striking Margaret going to be the straw which breaks the camel’s back?
Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Will and Isobel Fitzgerald settle into number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, a home they could once only have dreamed of. A baby is on the way, Will takes over the Merrion Street Upper medical practice from his father and they are financially secure. But when Will is handed a letter from his elder brother, Edward, stationed with the army in India, the revelations it contains only serves to further alienate Will from his father.
Isobel is eager to adapt to married life on Fitzwilliam Square but soon realises her past can never be laid to rest. The night she met Will in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding has devastating and far-reaching consequences which will change the lives of the Fitzgerald family forever.
Read an excerpt from Chapter Two…
Isobel was in the drawing room by the time Will arrived home and his brown eyes widened as they took in her evening dress. It was new, short-sleeved, and deep red in colour. His eyes rested on her cleavage and she exhaled an exasperated sigh.
“It is cut too low, I knew it.”
“No. It’s stunning. You are stunning. Oh,” he added softly. “The condoms can’t arrive quickly enough.”
“Don’t mention the condoms,” she whispered. “I’m trying not to think about them. Go and get changed,” she said, giving him a gentle push.
The servants had worked hard and both the drawing room and dining room looked magnificent lit for the first time by the new gas lamps. Fires had been lit early in the morning and, despite it freezing sharply all day, both rooms were pleasantly warm as she made a circuit of them waiting for Will.
“Mrs Fitzgerald?” Will was standing in the drawing room doorway dressed in white tie and tails and she couldn’t help but stare. Would she ever get used to the fact that this handsome man was her husband? She hoped not. She never ever wanted to take him for granted. “Shall we do, do you think?” he asked with a grin.
She went to him and kissed his lips. “I think we shall do very well, Dr Fitzgerald. Ah.” She smiled, hearing voices on the stairs. “They’re here.”
Mary showed Margaret and Fred into the drawing room and Isobel kissed their cheeks.
“Thank you for coming. Come and sit by the fire, you must be frozen. Dinner will be served shortly.”
The three-course meal was delicious and, silently thanking Mrs Dillon for being such an excellent cook, Isobel got up from the table.
“It’s time to allow the doctors to have a chat,” she announced lightly and she and Margaret went into the drawing room. “Some more lemonade?” she asked Margaret as she walked to the drinks tray.
“I think I’ll have some, too,” she added, reaching for the jug. “I don’t particularly like sherry and my mother always looks horrified when I ask for whiskey or brandy.”
“Don’t let me stop you.”
“Thank you, but I’d prefer lemonade.” She poured two glasses and passed one to Margaret. “Please, sit down.”
“Thank you.” Margaret chose the sofa and smoothed a hand down the bodice of her sky blue evening dress before resting it on her small belly. “This is a beautiful room.”
“Yes, it is,” Isobel replied as she sat down at the other end while glancing at the pale gold wallpaper and the sofa and two armchairs upholstered in burgundy silk satin. “Will and I really must use it more. Perhaps in the summer.”
“Isobel, while it is just the two of us, there is something I think you ought to know.”
“Oh?” she replied a little apprehensively.
“I know Will caught Fred with a prostitute in his surgery. In fact, I know Fred uses prostitutes regularly.”
Isobel had to consciously close her mouth. How on earth had Margaret found out? Surely Fred wouldn’t have been foolish enough to disclose to his wife of less than a year that he uses prostitutes? She took a sip of lemonade and put her glass down on a side table, not quite knowing how, or if she should respond.
“I have discussed the matter with Fred and he assures me he will be more discreet in future,” Margaret went on.
“I’ve known all along that Fred will not be faithful to me,” Margaret told her matter-of-factly. “My only stipulation during our discussion was that he use condoms with the prostitutes.”
“Oh, dear, I think I’ve shocked you, Isobel.”
It will take much more than that to shock me, she smiled wryly to herself. “No, not at all,” she said. “I’m glad you feel you can confide in me.”
“Thank you. I could never speak like this to my other friends but with you…”
“Being a fallen woman..?”
“I wasn’t going to put it quite like that.” Margaret put her glass beside Isobel’s. “But I have discovered I do enjoy sexual relations as well. However, I know I will never fully satisfy Fred. And I would rather we did not engage in sexual relations while I am pregnant,” she said, laying a hand on her belly again. “So he finds release elsewhere. With my blessing.”
“I must admit I could never give Will my blessing to—”
“You and Will are very lucky. You both love and satisfy each other.”
“Yes, we do.”
“But you cannot give him a child.”
Isobel tensed. “I will give him a child, Margaret.”
“I hope for your sake you are right, Isobel. Will is a very handsome man and I know for a fact that there are many ladies in Dublin who would welcome him into their bed and—” Margaret broke off and screamed as Isobel struck her hard on the cheek.
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Author: Lorna Peel
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