To Have and to Hoax Page 1


May 1812

Lady Violet Grey, eighteen years old, fair of face and figure, with a respectable fortune and unimpeachable bloodline, had every advantage a young lady of good society could possibly desire—except, according to her mother, one tragically absent trait: a suitably ladylike sense of meekness.

“Curiosity, my dear, will take you nowhere,” Lady Worthington had admonished her daughter more than once over the course of Violet’s interminable years of adolescence. “Curiosity will lead you to balconies! And Ruin!”


While Violet had no objection to the word in the context of, say, the Parthenon in Greece—a place that she would have loved to visit, had she not been an English girl of good family and fortune—she had come to loathe it beyond all reason when it was employed in the context of young ladies such as herself. So frequently did her mother use the word to warn against Violet’s unsuitable behavior that she had come to imagine it always with a capital R. One visited ruins; one was Ruined.

And if Lady Worthington’s constant admonitions were anything to judge by, Violet was at particular risk of succumbing to this most undesirable state. When Lady Worthington discovered a book of scandalous poetry Violet had secreted from the family library, she warned of Ruin. When she discovered Violet writing a letter to the editor of the Arts and Sciences Review with a question regarding the discovery of a comet in France, she warned of Ruin. (“But I was going to send it under a gentleman’s pseudonym!” Violet protested as her mother tore the letter into shreds.) All in all, it would seem—according to Lady Worthington—that Ruin was lurking around every corner.

It was, in short, alarming.

Or at least it would have been alarming to anyone but Violet.

For Violet, however, these constant admonitions, which only increased in frequency during the months leading up to her presentation at court and her first London Season, made her curious about what, precisely, Ruin entailed. Her mother, usually irritatingly verbose on the subject, became oddly closemouthed about the specifics when Violet pressed her on the matter. Violet had asked her two closest friends, Diana Bourne and Lady Emily Turner, but they seemed similarly uninformed. She began a slow search of the library at Worth Hall, the Worthingtons’ country estate, but was whisked away to London for dress fittings before she had made much headway.

It was, therefore, with a frustrating lack of knowledge that Violet began her first Season. And it was rather disappointing when, a few weeks into the Season, she found herself on that most forbidden of edifices—a balcony—in the process of most likely being Ruined, and she realized that it wasn’t quite as exciting as she’d imagined.