“It was only when she talked mathematics that he could see this side of her — sure and steady, swift and beautiful, as if when she was surrounded by numbers, she forgot that she was supposed to be shy.” (Kindle Loc 314)
Rose Sweetly is computer. She has gift for mathematics and works for an Astronomer, working out the complicated computations necessary to track the transit of Venus. She is incredibly passionate about her work and thrilled to do it even if it is in a secondary position. Stephen Shaughnessy is writer, the author of a popular and outrageous column in woman’s paper called “Ask a Man” and Rose’s neighbor.
Rose has captured Stephen’s attention and despite knowing he shouldn’t pursue it he does. No longer content with moments of snatched conversation on the street, Stephen pretends to be doing research on a book on astronomy and arranges with her employer for Rose to tutor him on the necessary maths. Rose is wary but secretly delighted to spend time with him, even though she knows that there is can be no future for them. Typically a shopkeeper’s daughter and stable master’s son would not be too far from each other in social class in Victorian England, but Rose is black and Stephen is white Catholic Irish and a romantic relationship would make them the object of gossip or scandal.
The novella explores two major intertwined themes of seeing and knowing. Rose and the whole Astronomy community are preparing to watch the transit of Venus across the Sun in hopes that they can use the measurements they take to better estimate the distances between other heavenly bodies. They will use what they see to know the heavens.
When Rose's sister Patricia sees her talking to Stephen on the street just outside their home, she warns her that white men will not see her brilliance, her cleverness, but only see the color of her skin. When Stephen talks to her employer, he recognizes her usefulness to him, it is clear that he only see her as woman and not someone with as much or even more aptitude to astronomy as he does. Stephen feels he sees Rose like no one else does, he recognizes her brilliance and knows she has bigger dreams that she will ever acknowledge and wants to help her achieve them.
Rose also see Stephen, she sees past his facade of frivolous charm, his jokes and good humor, to his hurts, his compassion and honor, to see a man better than his outrageous reputation. Stephen doesn’t intend to seduce her, but his actions constantly work as a seduction, opening Rose’s eyes to his value and worth. But despite Stephen’s good intentions and his behavior toward her Rose fears that he has only the barest idea of how hard it would be for them, and she can’t trust that love and good intentions will be enough because she needs for him to see all of her, including her black skin and see how hard it will be for her as a black woman married to a white man.
In the end they both come to truly see and move beyond to trusting and knowing and I was fully satisfied with how Milan brought that about, it felt true to the story and more importantly true to Rose and Stephen. I highly recommend this sweetly romantic novella, that can be read and enjoyed without reading any of the other books in the Brothers Sinister Series.
A copy of Talk Sweetly to Me was provided by the author via NetGalley for review purposes.
This novella reminded me how much I enjoy working class period romances and that the only historicals that I have finished this year have either had people of color and/or non-aristocratic leads. Any one want to share their favorite non-Duke-and-ballroom historical recommendations, extra points for POC representation?