As you may have guessed from our reviews, SourceBooks has been reissuing a series of Georgette Heyer novels for summer reading, The Corinthian among them. I ‘ve spent many pleasant hours journeying through Regency England from London to Bath to Sussex with Georgette’s scintillating characters, wishing I were as bright and witty in my repartee as her heroines, and that the men in my life were as dashingly romantic. If you’ve never tried a Georgette Heyer regency novel before, now is a good time to read one.
Pen Creed, the 17-year-old heroine of The Corinthian might be a tad young and naïve, but she is fearless in her dealings with the world and a most decidedly determined young lady. Rather than wait for her aunt to force her into an engagement with her fish-faced cousin, she has cropped her hair, put on boy’s clothes, and embarked on a journey to find Piers, her child hood friend. Having vowed to marry each other five year before, Pen is convinced that Piers will greet her with a great deal of pleasure and live up to his boyish promise.
Enter the Corinthian. At 29, Sir Richard Wyndham is a little drunk, bored beyond calculation, and feeling that he is the unluckiest dog alive. He is about to become betrothed to a woman so cold-blooded in nature that she could freeze the Arctic Ocean solid for two miles down. The night before he is to formally ask for her hand, Sir Richard encounters Pen dangling from knotted bed sheets several feet short of the pavement. Hearing her cries for help, he comes to her rescue and listens to her with aristocratic aplomb as she explains her convoluted reasons for running away in the middle of the night. Wanting to leave London to buy himself some time, he escorts Pen on a public coach to her destination.
Georgette’s heroine is much, much younger than the hero, which initially gave me a few misgivings, but both characters are so likeable that one can’t help cheering them on as they embark on their splendid adventure. While Pen resembles a fresh-faced urchin, Sir Richard is a resplendent example of the Regency dandy and sporting man. Georgette’s description of him could fit Beau Brummell to a tee:
He was a very notable Corinthian. From his Wind-swept hair (most difficult of all styles to achieve), to the toes of his gleaming Hessians, he might have posed as an advertisement for the Man of Fashion. His fine shoulders set off a coat of of superfine cloth to perfection; his cravat, which had excited George’s admiration, had been arranged by the hands of a master; his waistcoat was chosen with a nice eye; his biscuit-coloured pantaloons showed not one crease; and his Hessians with their jaunty gold tassels, had not only been made for him by Hoby, but were polished, George suspected with a blacking mixed with champagne. A quizzing-glass on a black ribbon hung round his neck; a fob at his waist; and in one hand he carried a Sevres snuff-box. His air proclaimed his unutterable boredom, but no tailoring, no amount of studied nonchalance, could conceal the muscle in his thighs, or the strength of his shoulders. Above the starched points of shirt-collar, a weary, handsome face showed its owner’s disillusionment.
Sir Richard is thrown into situations in which all of his ingenuity and influence are required. He must deal with a mystery regarding a stolen diamond necklace, a murder, things that go bump in the night, and Pen’s discovery that Piers has all but forgotten their childhood pledge. The young man has fallen madly in love with Lydia, a prettily plumb and silly female who, as she ages, will be prone to fits and vapors, and to whom he is secretly engaged. Unlike Pen, Sir Richard realizes at this point that he has compromised her and that they must marry. Not that he quails at the thought. Pen, who has fallen for her dashing and dependable escort, does not want to be his “obligation.” Instead, she concentrates her efforts on uniting Piers and Lydia, whose union is forbidden by their families. By the final pages, the plot and plottings have become so twisted that Sir Richard can only exclaim:
I am recalling my comfortable home, my ordered life, my hitherto stainless reputation, and wondering what I can ever have done to deserve being pitchforked into this shameless imbroglio!
Rest assured that Sir Richard has never had so much fun in his life. At the end of the novel, his adventures with Pen lead to a romantic conclusion. To say that I enjoyed myself while reading this fast-paced romp is to state the obvious, and I give this delightful book 3 out of 3 regency fans.
Order The Corinthian here. Coming up next: My review of The Grand Sophy!
Other Heyer book reviews: