Gentle readers, Patty of Brandy Parfums is an avid fan of history, horses, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer. She is also a devoted reader of this blog. Just recently she wrote ‘Georgette Heyer for Horse Lovers’ for the October issue of Horse Directory Magazine. Patty has graciously allowed me to reproduce her article for Jane Austen’s World.
Walnut Hill Driving Competition, the largest driving competition in North America held each August in Pittsford NY, has no speed classes for high-perch phaetons. They tip over too easily to be safe. Yet in the colorful, elegant world of English author Georgette Heyer’s romance novels, many with references to horses, intrepid heros and heroines drive these carriages around corners at high speeds without tipping over.
Georgette Heyer published her first novel in 1921, when she was nineteen, and went on to write over fifty novels. She was especially known for her witty Regency romance novels, and was widely copied and imitated. If you have never heard of her, it is because after a badly made movie based on one of her novels, The Reluctant Widow, came out in 1951, Heyer put in her will that she did not want any other of her books turned into movies.
In Heyer’s Bath Tangle, Major Hector Kirkby questions Lady Serena Carlow about her choice of a high-perch phaeton with its “bottom five feet from the ground” and pair of horses. Major Kirkby says -
‘Serena,-my dearest! I beg you won’t! I know you are an excellent whip, but could you not have a more dangerous carriage!’
‘No! If I were not an excellent whip!…….The difficulty of driving them is what lends a spice!’
The Heyer heros and heroines, who are skilled equestrians known as bruising riders, ride horses they treasure, like Maid Marion that Lady Serena rides in Bath Tangle.
By Jove, Lady Serena, you’re a devil to go!’ Mr. Goring exclaimed, in involuntary admiration. She laughed, leaning forward to pat the mare’s steaming neck. ‘I like a slapping pace, don’t you?’
‘I should have called it a splitting pace!’ he retorted…..’My heart was in my mouth when you rode straight for that drop fence!’
Because Heyer’s novels take place when horses were used for transportation, carriages and coaches breakdown in many of her books. In The Corinthian, there is little horse activity in the beginning except a coach breaking down, but the hero, Sir Richard Wyndham, a bored bachelor and renowned whip, is sure to get into action at some point in the story. Sir Richard (Ricky) asks his friend, the Honourable Cedric (Ceddie).
Ceddie, were you driving your own horses yesterday?’
‘Dear old boy, of course I was, but what has that to say to anything?’
‘I want ‘em,’ said Sir Richard………I must have a fast pair immediately.’
My favorite Heyer novel so far for horseyness is The Quiet Gentleman, a Regency romance and mystery of sorts, with Gervase Frant, the Earl of St Erth, a subdued dandy returning home from military duties at Waterloo. Mr. Warboys says -
‘……..that’s a devilish good-looking hunter you have there, St Erth! Great rump and hocks! Splendid shoulders! Not an inch above fifteen-three, I’ll swear! The very thing for this country!’
‘Oh, he is the loveliest creature!’ Marianne said, patting Cloud’s neck. He makes no objection to carrying me in this absurd fashion: I am sure he must be the best-mannered horse in the world!’
Georgette Heyer wrote her romance novels over a period of many years and they were always best sellers even during WWII in England, when their lively, entertaining content helped people forget their misery. Heyer also wrote mysteries, and more serious historical fiction like the superb An Infamous Army, which takes place in Brussels in 1815 during the time of Waterloo. Infantry and calvary movements are so accurately described that this book is required reading at Sandhurst.
Other horsey and just plain amusing novels recommended include The Masqueraders, False Colors, Arabella, Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle and The Grand Sophy, a work unfortunately marred by the appearance of a cliché moneylender. Sourcebooks has reissued many of Heyer’s fifty novels and they are proving quite popular – a wonderful diversion for our uncertain times.
More on the topic:
This is the first video of the film, The Reluctant Widow. Only 9 of the 10 videos are featured. Have no fear, this 1951 film is so badly made that you will probably not make it that far. Click on this link to access it.