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Archive for the ‘Georgette Heyer’ Category

High Perch Phaeton

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!’

Cover of Bath Tangle by Heyer's favorite cover artist, Arthur Barbosa

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!’

The more stable crane necked phaeton with smaller wheels

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!’

Cover of Infamous Army with horse. Image@Sourcebooks

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.

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Gentle readers: Please leave a comment if you wish your name to be be eligible for a drawing of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, a wonderful Regency romp by Georgette Heyer. The drawing will be held the moment electricity is restored in my house. My best estimate is that this will take another week. Only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. (So sorry, but the book is being sent by the publisher, who has requested this geographic restriction.) Update: Contest closed. Congratulations Rebeka! You have won a copy of Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford thinks quite highly of himself and is pleased by his impeccable manners and easy smile, which easily influences servants to do his bidding. But Phoebe Marlow, whose mousy manner hides her bright mind and talents as an equestrienne and a writer, was not so impressed when she first met him during her coming out season. She is even less enthralled with the Duke when he arrives for a visit at her father’s estate to look her over as a possible bride.

Sylvester’s fond Mama also harbors concerns for her son, especially when Sylvester announces his intentions to marry and begins to discuss his preference for a bride with her:

‘But I’m inclined to think now that is is more important that she should be intelligent. I don’t think I could tolerate a hen-witted wife. ‘Besides I don’t mean to foist another fool on to you.’

‘I am very much obliged to you!’ she said, a good deal entertained. ‘Clever, but not beautiful: very well! Continue!’

‘No, somedegree of beauty I do demand. She must have countenance, at least, and the sort of elegance which you have, Mama.’

‘Don’t try to turn my head, you flatterer! Have you discovered among the debutantes one who is endowed with all these qualities?’

‘At first glance, I suppose a dozen, but in the end only five.’

‘Five!’

At this point Sylvester’s mama becomes concerned, for she realizes that he is choosing his life’s mate with his head, not his heart. The woman who immediately springs to her mind for her son is Phoebe Marlow, and so our cluelessly haughty (yet kind) Duke collides with the novel’s heroine, who is not in the least willing to spend any time with him, at least not until circumstances throw them together and she gets to know him better.

The plot revolves around Phoebe’s big SECRET: she has authored a book in which Sylvester, with his saturnine brows, is featured prominently as the villain. The more Phoebe gets to know Sylvester, the more she realizes how wrong she was about him and the more she worries about the book’s effect on their budding friendship (for Phoebe was uncannily accurate in her representation about certain aspects of Sylvester’s life).

Georgette Heyer takes us from the cozy settings of country mansions, to London in High Season, to Dover and over to France. A colorful array of her usual characters add liveliness to a somewhat improbable plot, including Phoebe’s good friend Tom, Sylvester’s dodo bird of a sister-in-law, Ianthe, and a supremely idiotic and over-indulged fop named Sir Nugent.

In my opinion, if you are a Georgette Heyer fan and haven’t read this book yet, you will be well advised to do so now. I give it four out of five Regency tea cups!

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment about your favorite Georgette Heyer book! Contest closed. The winner is: Rebeka!

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I will be resurrecting old posts until electricity has been restored in my house. The power company promised that 95% of households will be online by Friday. In 2004, our tiny street did not receive full service until 13 days after the storm. Right now I am looking for a hot shower!!

I published this post about the Peerless Pool two years ago. Perhaps my new readers might be interested in learning a few facts about a public swimming pool in London over 200 years ago. Click here to read the post.

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August 16th marks Georgette Heyer’s birthday. In several comments on my book reviews some readers have made it a point to mention that Georgette is no Jane Austen and termed her novels mere romances. Ah, but they are so much more. I love her novels in part because they remind me vividly of the satirical prints that were so popular during Jane Austen’s day.  Observe the dandy at left in the print below, then read Georgette’s description of Sir Nugent!

Beside Sylvester’s quiet elegance and Major Newbury’s military cut she had been thinking that Sir Nugent presented all the appearance of a coxcomb. He was a tall man, rather willowy in build, by no means unhandsome, but so tightly laced-in at the waist, so exaggeratedly padded at the shoulders, that he looked a little ridiculous. From the striking hat set rakishly on his Corinthian crop (he had already divulged that it was the New Dash, and the latest hit of fashion) to his gleaming boots, everything he wore seemed to have been chosen for the purpose of making him conspicuous.  His extravagantly cut coat was embellished with very large and bright buttons; a glimpse of exotic colour hinted at a splended waistcoat beneath it; his breeches were of white corduroy; a diamond pin was stuck in the folds of his preposterous neckcloth; and he wore so many rings on his fingers, and so many fobs and seals dangling at his waist, that he might have been taken for a jeweller advertising his wares. – Georgette Heyer, Sylvester

Astley's Amphitheatre

Here is her passage about Astley’s Amphitheatre in Cotillion:

Though Meg might cry out against so unsophisticated an entertainment, Mr. Westruther knew Kitty well enough to be sure that she would revel in it. Had it been possible, he would unhesitatingly have taken her to Astley’s Amphitheartre, and would himself have derived a good deal of amusement, he thought, from watching her awe and delight at Grand Spectacles, and Equestrian Displays. But the Amphitheatre, like its rival, the Royal Circus, never opened until Easter Monday, by which time, Mr Westruther trusted, Kitty would have returned to Arnside.

Vauxhall Gardens, Samuel Wale, c. 1751

By way of whiling away the eveing Sherry escorted his bride to Vauxhall Gardens. Here they danced, supped in one of the booths on wafter-thin slices of ham, and rack-punch, and watched a display of fireworks. – Friday’s Child



He complied with this request, backing the phaeton into place on the right of the landaulet, so that although the high perch of the phaeton made it impossible for his sister to shake hands with Frederica she was able to exchange greetings with her, and might have maintained a conversation had she not decided that to be obliged to talk to anyone sitting so far above her would soon give Frederica a stiff neck. – Frederica

A Kiss in the Kitchen, Thomas Rowlandson

‘But if she knew that you do not mind George’s having kissed me -‘

‘But I do mind!’ said Sherry, incensed.

‘Do you, Sherry?’ she asked wistfully.

‘Well, of course I do! A pretty sort of a fellow I should be if I did not!’

‘I won’t do it again,’ she promised.

‘You had better not, by Jupiter!’ – Friday’s Child

Time and again the zany plots and witty conversations in Georgette’s novels echo the Regency prints that I love to study. Yes, she is no Jane Austen, but as an interpreter of the Regency era, she is priceless.

As a birthday gift, please click on this link to read her short story, A Proposal to Cecily.

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I have reviewed many Georgette Heyer novels for this blog. Here are some images of the author over the years. She had a strong handsome face. Not pretty, but full of character.

Georgette Heyer in 1923 at 21. She had already written her first book.

Looking rather modish

Wearing a rather severe look

The author at her son's wedding

Georgette in 1970, four years before her death

Read this review in the Guardian UK of her latest biography by Jennifer Kloester.
Also, Happy Birthday, Georgette Heyer!

Georgette Heyer

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Whenever a reader asks: Which of the Georgette Heyer books ranks among your favorites? Venetia invariably springs from my lips. Mind you, I had not read this book for decades, but I savored its memory. In recent years I began to question my younger self, for while I loved rereading The Grand Sophy last year, I didn’t find it quite as splendid as the 24-year-old Vic had. As I grew older, other GH books made their first appearance on my favorites list, such as The Quiet Gentleman and The Reluctant Widow.

When Sourcebooks sent me a review copy of Venetia I did not choose it for my first critique, for I did not want to spoil my youthful impression. Once I began reading the book, I discovered that the 25-year-old heroine of Undershaw in Yorkshire captivated me all over again.

Amongst the pick of the debutantes at Almack’s she must have attracted attention; in the more restricted society in which she dwelt she was a nonpareil. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth: there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features: an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of self-consciousness.”

Venetia Lanyon is no ordinary heroine. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she has largely led a protected life, thanks to her reclusive father, and allowed to go only to the dance assemblies in York and as far as the seaside town of Scarborough. Although she might not have been given a Season in London, Venetia is smart, lively, and resourceful. After her father’s death and in her elder brother’s absence, she runs the estate and makes all the important decisions overseeing the house, servants, herself and her young brother, Aubrey.

Waiting for her brother Conway’s return (he is a soldier), Venetia fends off two local suitors, the priggish Edward Yardley, who is as dull as a post, and ardent Oswald Denny, who, too dazzled by Venetia’s unselfconscious beauty and overly influenced by Lord Byron’s romanticism, is unable to recognize that he is much too young for her. Venetia lives a sedate life in her back country neighborhood, whose denizens are all respectable and predictable, except for one – Lord Damerel, a rake and ne’er-do-well, and a blight upon Undershaw’s spotless reputation.

“His family was an old and a distinguished one, but the present holder of the title was considered by the respectable to be the neighborhood’s only blot. It was almost a social solecism to mention his name in polite company.”

Venetia’s uneventful life unexpectedly changes when she encounters Damerel as she picks blackberries on his lands while wearing an old and rumpled gown.

“He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance.”

Mistaking her for a trespassing servant maid, he kisses her. And so the fun begins, for we are still at the very start of the novel.

Which brings me to the hero. As a young woman, I preferred dark brooding heroes like Damerel – men whose vices, dissipations and disappointments turn them into cynics; men whose good qualities are awakened by spectacular women like Venetia, men who on the surface are all wrong for the heroine. And so in Damerel I found my perfect unforgettable hero. Now, in my more advanced age (ahem), I find that I am still enamored of him.

Several qualities make Venetia stand head and shoulders above most of GH’s other novels. The plot is intelligent and complex and gets better and better with each page, continually taking us in unexpected directions. In fact, there were three twists that threw me for a loop and that kept this love story fresh and alive until the last page.

Several minor characters stand out from the ordinary. I could read an entire book about Aubrey, Venetia’s physically disabled but fiercely independent and brilliant brother who likes books more than people. Then there’s Mrs. Scorrier, an unforgettable vulgar character in the mode of a Mrs. Elton. Presumptuous, overbearing, and encroaching, she promises to overset Venetia’s and Aubrey’s well ordered lives (and those of the servants). Then there’s the matter of a little mystery, for as the book progressed I kept asking myself, when will we meet Venetia’s brother Conway? So much of the plot revolves around his absence and his anticipated return, that I was keen to meet him.

I am one of the GH readers who luxuriates in her use of Regency cant, and Venetia offers this language in spades:

She made the shocking discovery that he was a member of the dandy-set – indeed the pinkest of Pinks, a swell of the first stare! Not having the least guess that the old lady holds every Bond Street beau in the utmost abhorrence, the silly pigeon rigged himself out as fine as fivepence, and trotted round to Grosvenor Square looking precise to a pin: Inexpressibles of the most delicate shade of primrose, coat by Stulz, Hessians by Hoby, hat – the Bang-up – by Baxter, neckcloth – the Oriental, which is remarkable for its height – by himself.”

There are readers, I found to my surprise, who are put off by Ms. Heyer’s cant (Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer) and who could care less about her historical accuracy. This novel is not for them, for it is filled with colorful antiquated language and wonderful tidbits about the Regency era that I found fascinating but that will turn them away.

I rate Venetia five out of five teacups

Did I like Venetia? No, I loved it, and I hope you will too. I give it five out of five Regency tea cups.

Order the book here
ISBN: 9781402238840

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

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The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer starts out anything but quietly. Gervase Frant, 7th Earl of St. Erth, had the bad judgment to survive the Battle of Waterloo by escaping a violent death. His half-brother, Martin, and step mama had half counted/half hoped on his not attaining the Earldom, for St. Erth had served in many a battle. Much to their annoyance, he emerged from military service to claim an inheritance that his younger brother had started to assume would be his. And so the fun begins. The novel celebrates its 60th year and its release by Sourcebooks marks the novelists’ 109th birthday on August 16th.

In Gervase we have a blondly handsome dandy with a mild-mannered facade. His physical appearance hides the fact that he does what he pleases in a most sensible and determined way, unsurprising given his military background. When the family first meets him, Gervase stood revealed in “all the fashionable elegane of dove-coloured pantaloons, and a silver-buttoned coat of blue superfine.”

A quizzing-glass hung on a black riband round his neck, and he raised this to one eye, seeming to observe, for the first time, the knee-breeches worn by his brother and his cousin, and the glory of his stepmother’s low-cut gown of purple satin.”

This description served to tell the reader that Gervase was still wearing his traveling clothes and was in no way prepared to dine as the others were. His appearance also dupes his stepmama and half-brother into thinking he can be manipulated and bamboozled.

The heroine, Drusilla Morville, is not the obvious sort, for she is neither encroaching nor flashy. She’s more like an Elinor Dashwood than a Marianne, possessing an unassuming self-assurance and an adherence to tasteful, restrained fashion that would make Katherine, the new Duchess of Cambridge proud.

Heyer gives us what Austen does not – detail upon detail of fashion and interiors, well researched facts, I might add, for Heyer’s descriptions are accurate. Her long passage regarding the building of Stanyon Castle is important, for it lays the groundwork for the mystery that is to come. One can depend on every historical tidbit and social custom to be spot on, for Heyer is, if anything, meticulous. And while her still waters do not run as deep as Jane Austen’s, they run satisfyingly long and provide the reader with the feeling of having dipped into Regency England.

In this scene, young Martin approaches the love of his life, Miss Marianne Bolderwood, in one of the succession-houses, where she is pursuing her hobby of the moment, potting spring bulbs:

He heard the sound of he voice uplifted in a gay ballad. It came from the potting-shed, and he strode up to it, and looked in, to find that she was alone there, engaged in transferring several white hyacinghs from their separate earthenware pots to a large Worcestershire bowl. She made a charming picture, with her pale golden curls uncovered, and confined only by a blue riband, a shawl pinned round her shoulders, and a small trowel in one hand.”

Hyacinths were quite popular during the Georgian era, and while this detail is not at first strikingly obvious, Heyer knew enough to mention them (as did Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey). In fact, hyacinth vases were first used in the Georgian period to force the bulbs into early bloom.

Heyer’s dialogue is matchless, and, dare I say it, Austen’s equal in wit and pointed observation. Drusilla Morville’s parents are rebellious Bluebloods and eccentric to the nth degree, but when push comes to shove, liberal-minded Mama Morville, who is also an authoress, knows exactly what she wants for her daughter – a good marriage – and she does not hesitate in telling her husband off when he starts to protest at her attraction to St. Erth:

“If the Earl – I say, if! – were to offer for dear Drusilla, and you were to refuse your permission, I should be strongly inclinded to clap you into Bedlam! I marvel, my love, that a man of your intellect should so foolishy confuse theory with practice!”

And there you have it – the evidence of Heyer’s abilities to keep the reader on her toes and insert humor into almost every scene. Throughout the book we have been assured that neither of the Morvilles can be persuaded to deviate from their eccentric convictions, but when confronted with reality, heaven forbid that they should confuse their priorities!

We are also introduced to the protocol of dueling in the most convoluted and humorous way. Even as she makes fun of the convention, Heyer manages to teach the reader about its rules . This conversation is between Martin and Mr Barny Warboys, who is afterwards driven to search his father’s library for the Code of Honour . Martin is asking his good friend to second his opponent :

“Dash it, Martin, it ain’t the part of a friend of yours to second your opponent! Told you I’d act for you, didn’t I? Stupid thing to do, but not the man to go back on my word.”

“Barny, if he applies to you, will you act for him?”

Mr. Waryboys scratched his chin. “Might have to,” he conceded. “But if I act for him, who’s to act for you? Tell me that!”

“Good God, anyone! Rockcliffe — Alston!”

“Ay, that will be a capital go!” said Mr Warboys scathingly … “Lord, Martin, dashed if I don’t think you must be queer in your attic!”

Jane Austen’s novels are classics, which goes without saying, and Georgette Heyer’s are not, but they are nevertheless amusing and worth reading. Austen experimented with character and sub-layered her plots, whereas Heyer’s novels are (excuse me for saying this) formulaic. While Austen introduced outrageous and unforgettable secondary characters, Heyer stacked them up to the ceiling with demanding Mamas, dull-as-post bachelors, wide-eyed and breath-takingly beautiful lasses, loyal friends, strong-willed heroes, and sensible heroines. Even after having read all of her 50+ books at least twice, I have trouble recalling which of Heyer’s secondary characters belong in which book.

Heyer also tends to have her secondary characters take over much of the plot. In The Quiet Gentleman, I would have rather read more about Drusilla (who was barely there) than the beautiful but empty-headed Miss Bolderwood. St. Erth’s younger half-brother, Martin Frant, is too cardboard cut-out and immature for my liking, but his mama reminded me most forceably of Lady Catherine deBourgh, and that was fun.

In this plot romance also takes a back seat to mystery. Who wants to off the Earl and why?

Overall, I would say that The Quiet Gentleman is one of Heyer’s more mature novels. The hero and heroine are sensible, the plot is set in the country, where life plods along slowly and the characters attend only a few parties and balls, and the mystery unfolds at a rather leisurely pace.

Rating: Four out of Five Teacups

It has been at least twenty years since I last read The Quiet Gentleman. I am glad I had the opportunity to read it once again, and give this book four out of five Regency tea cups.

Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

Here’s a bit of heresy for Georgette Heyer fans: Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer

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