September 17, 1984 12:00 PM

by Madeleine A. Polland

The moral of this rippling romance is that being gorgeous and rich is good, and anything less is horrible. The author says the year is 1925, but actually this book is set in that ever-familiar era of Victorian pastiche. It’s one of dozens of novels produced each year for addicts who seem endlessly thrilled by stories of beautiful, menaced heroines. Isabella Frost is at a finishing school in England when her wealthy parents back home in Chile disappear in an earthquake. The penny-pinching schoolmarm expropriates Isabella’s jewels and clothes and sends her to work as a shop girl. Polland does one risky thing: She reminds readers of Dickens by giving her minor characters names like Mr. Crump and Miss Catchpole. This novel is, of course, thin gruel next to those of the master or to Bronte’s Jane Eyre (its literary great-grandmother, four or five times removed). Anyway, Isabella’s savior-husband turns out to be rotten. Can her crippled baby be healed? Will her father recover from his earthquake-induced amnesia? Polland, the Irish author of All Their Kingdoms, The Heart Speaks Many Ways and other clones, knows exactly what she’s doing. (Delacorte, $17.95)

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