Posts Tagged ‘Georgette Heyer Book Reviews’

Vic at 22 on a sailboat, reading a Georgette Heyer novel. Look at those chubby Dutch cheeks!

I stumbled upon Georgette Heyer during a golden time of my life after college graduation when I had three precious free months before I began school again. Bursting with youthful energy, I didn’t know what to do with my time. And so I hit the books, but this time for pleasure. In those days, I could gobble up a book a day if I was so inclined, and I sped through Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Rebecca. Father and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, one of my favorite authors, and Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in my life). That last novel with its sparkling wit and clear view of village life seemed like a breath of fresh air after the heightened emotions of the Victorian authors.

To me, Mr. Bennet was the image of my father, whose wry statements always made me pause before I could figure out if he was making sport of me, himself, or some other unwitting target. Mrs. Bennet reminded me of my crazy Dutch grandmothers – both of whom were slightly hysterical and VERY demanding. I read Pride and Prejudice twice that summer (and began a tradition of reading it every summer for the next twenty years). Greedily I reached for more Jane Austen novels until there were none left. I railed against the illness that carried Jane off before she could produce enough novels to assuage my addiction. Where to turn?

The library, of course.

I looked up Regency novels and found … Clare Darcy. Ok, I thought. I’ll give her a try and picked up a copy of Victoire, a most logical choice given my given name, and read the book in one long sitting. How to state it nicely: Clare Darcy is to Jane Austen what a sputtering candle is to the sun at high noon.

My quest was not over.

My apartment roommie, also a Janeite, discovered the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. She LOVED them. But budding little feminist me wanted books written by humorous females, not a man with no interest in the goings on of small town families and their courtship rituals, and silly clergy, and strong heroines who were able to learn a thing or two. And so I continued my search.

One day I found a Barbara Cartland novel. Hahahahahahahaha! Tossing aside her cheesy book about a 16-year-old-heroine with a heart-shaped face, I wondered if I could charge her for wasting my precious life.

I continued my search.

And there it was. On the bottom shelf at the library. Arabella. It was a pathetic excuse of a book – dog-eared, blemished, and torn partially in the spine. I read the front cover – Arabella by Georgette Heyer – then sat on the floor and began to read. Witty words leapt from the pages. I laughed with delight. Before long I checked out the book and proceeded to read it in one long sitting. My roommie, who had started her new job two weeks after college, came home from work to find me engrossed. “I found a new author,” I said, telling her she could read the book when I was done. I gave it to her that night.

We were both instantly hooked on Georgette Heyer.

I returned to the library and checked out all the Georgette Heyers I could find. My roommie and I fell in love with Arabella, but we became die-hard fans when we encountered Venetia, The Grand Sophie, Sylvester, and Frederica. By summer’s end we had read ALL the GHs we could lay our hands on, even the mysteries and histories. (Thankfully, Georgette was prolific.)

My roommie and I were two young and hopeless romantics. We loved the glittering, detailed descriptions of the characters, the clothes they wore from expensive shops, and the houses, towns, and cities they inhabited. We learned about Regency London and the manners and mores of the Ton. Georgette Heyer characters spoke in cant, and thus we affected British accents and used cant-speech at every opportunity. Our boyfriends, while a bit mystified, played along, even debating which weapon was more effective in a fight – the epee or the sword.

Vintage GHs

But then life intruded and my intense love affair with Georgette Heyer had to take a back seat. I returned to school and began to read academic books again. I left my obsession behind, except for my yearly date with Pride and Prejudice.

Flash forward a number of decades when Sourcebooks began to republish Georgette Heyer novels. Once more I began to read them regularly, only this time I reviewed them as well.  I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I was more attracted to other novels like The Reluctant Widow and The Convenient Marriage. I never reread Arabella, for I did not want to revisit my first love only to discover that she had flaws.

I savor my memory of first discovering Georgette Heyer and thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to relive that Golden Summer. I keep about 10 GH books on my Nook and Kindle (yes, I have both) so I am not ever very far from one of my favorite authors. If you are intrigued, all of GH s novels are available at Sourcebook’s Discover a New Love Website at http://www.discoveranewlove.com.

WIN A FREE BOOK! Those who leave a comment, have an opportunity to win a Georgette Heyer novel! Just let me know why you love to read Regency romances and/or Jane Austen! Contest ends on August 16th, (Contest ended!)which is Georgette Heyer’s 110th Birthday! Happy Birthday, GH, and thanks for the memories. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

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The Classics Circuit is taking a Georgette Heyer Tour this month. I thought I would piggyback in a circuitous way, and add my own reviews where they fit in. Such fun! For those who have not read Georgette’s sparkling novels, mostly set during the Regency era, you have missed a treat. Although Ms. Heyer’s writing lacks the depth of Jane Austen’s novels, they are historically accurate and largely FUN to read. Going backwards, here is a recap of the first four days of the tour (I am including only the novels set in the Regency era), with my own reviews thrown in:

March 4  Sparks’ Notes Review: Friday’s Child, My Review of Friday’s Child

March 3 Michelle’s Masterful Musings Review: Devil’s Cub

March 2 Enchanted by Josephine Review: Beauvallet

March 1 Austenprose Review: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

March 1 One Librarian’s Book Reviews Review: Frederica; My review of Frederica

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this post by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of Georgette Heyer. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of  These Old Shades- please enjoy.

Set in the Georgian period, about 20 years before the Regency, These Old Shades is considered to be the book that launched Heyer’s career. It features two of Heyer’s most memorable characters: Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, and Leonie, whom he rescues from a life of ignomy and comes to love and marry.

The title of the book, These Old Shades, is a subtle allusion to the fact that this book is a far superior reworking of Georgette Heyer’s first book, The Black Moth, a book she wrote for the amusement of her brother who was ill. The characters in The Black Moth are at best two dimensional, but like most of Heyer’s creations, have enough humor and idiosyncrasy to catch our interest. In her case, it was the character of the villain whom she wished to revisit, develop and deepen.

These Old Shades is the first of the Alistair trilogy – she really did like these characters – and is not Regency, nor does it take place primarily in England. Like many of her early books, it falls more accurately into the category of historical romance, and is cast in mid-18th century Paris, with a short idyll at the English county seat of our hero, Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon. He is known by the soubriquet Satanas, for his cold exactitude and prescient understanding of what his opponent will do next, as well as a certain elasticity in his moral fiber. The Duke has restored his family’s fortune through gambling; he is, as one would expect of one of the first peers of the realm, an arrant snob, careful, although certainly flamboyant, in his dress, and punctilious in manner. The historical background is the court of Louis XV, complete with its intrigues and excesses. It is the perfect backdrop for this story, for which one must be willing to suspend disbelief for pages at a time. It is such fun, and so sparkling in its writing, that one is indeed willing.

We first meet the Duke, dissolute, languid, apparently unaware of his surroundings, when a gamin comes hurtling from a side street and provides Avon with the weapon he has been waiting for to bring about the destruction of the Comte de Saint-Vire, the man who famously insulted Avon beyond courtesy. Avon buys the youngster from his brother, and establishes him as a page dressed in sober black, who attends Avon at parties, assemblies, and the Court at Versailles. The youngster, called Leon, attracts considerable attention, not only for his utter adoration of his master, whom he calls Monseigneur, but also for his startling red hair and dark eyebrows. Such hair and eyebrow combination is evident in the Saint-Vire family. As le tout Paris buzzes, Avon begins laying his plans. Leon is revealed to readers as Leonie, and goes to England in the country to learn how to be a lady. The Duke adopts her and returns to Paris with his ward. His friend Hugh Davenant returns to Paris at the same time and Avon tells him, in a passage that makes clear both the character and performance of this Duke:

“I am becoming something of a patriarch, my dear.”
“Are you? Davenant said, and smiled to himself. “May I compliment
you on your ward?”
“Pray do! You find her to your taste?”
“Infinitely. Paris will be enchanted. She is an original.”
“Something of a rogue,” conceded his Grace.
“Justin, what does Saint-Vire to do with her?”
The thin brows rose.
“I seem to remember, my dear, that your curiosity was one of the
things I deplored in you.”
“I’ve not forgot the tale you told me – in this very room, Justin. Is
Leonie the tool with which you hope to crush Saint-Vire?”
His Grace yawned.
“You fatigue me, Hugh. Do you know, I have ever had a fancy to
play my game — alone.”
Davenant could make nothing of him and gave up the attempt.”

But it is not the plot that carries the reader along; it is the delightful characters. The Duke, the darkest of Heyer’s heroes, has real charm, albeit a little sinister. He is not one you would wish to cross, as we see. Leonie, the heroine, is an effervescent charmer with a ferocious temper and an inherent sense of her own worth that grows through the book. Her character is honest and instinctively noble. She also, like any adorable pet of a large circle, gets away with being outrageous – except when Monseigneur is displeased. The supporting characters have charm and individuality as well. It is no wonder that Heyer comes back to the family twice: once in The Devil’s Cub – to revisit the Duke and his family, with a focus on the Cub, definitely the son of both his parents, and then in what is generally considered her finest novel, in An Infamous Army, where the grandchildren of the second book’s couple play out their roles at Waterloo.

If the story that unfolds is outrageous and unbelievable, the characters develop beautifully, the dialog bubbles delightfully, and we love the rollicking ride.

These Old Shades/Black Moth comparison from Wikipedia

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Grand SophyThe Grand Sophy, the latest Georgette Heyer release by SourceBooks, is a page turner that will keep the reader guessing and wondering when and how the heroine will top her previous outrageous acts. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, a rich widower who has recently returned from the Continent, convinces his sister, Lady Ombersley, that his sweet, motherless daughter ought to stay with her while he returns abroad. Several weeks after their discussion, Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy makes a grand entrance:

Lady Ombersley, meanwhile, standing as though rooted to her own doorstep, was realizing with strong indignation, that the light in which a gentleman of great height and large proportions regarded his daughter had been misleading. Sir Horace’s little Sophy stood five feet nine inches in her stockinged feet, and was built on generous lines, a long-legged, deep-bosomed creature, with a merry face, and a quantity of glossy brown ringlets under one of the most dashing hats her cousins had ever seen.

Sophy could not exactly be called a beauty, but no one who had met her could ever quite forget her. Not ten minutes after her dramatic arrival, Lady Ombersley wonders: “What kind of niece was this, who set up her stable, made her own arrangements, and called her father Sir Horace?” The entire family, nay all of London, would soon find out.

Georgette Heyer wrote about two types of heroines. The Mark II heroine, who was a biddable and quiet young girl, and the Mark I heroine whose independent habits and dominant character invariably clashed with the hero’s personality. Sophy is the quintessential Mark I Heyer heroine: a tall, bossy, outrageously rich and independent, problem-solving, smart and capable young lady who will let nothing, not even Mr. Charles Rivenhall’s censure and outrage stand in her way. Arriving at the Ombersley’s house wearing a sable stole and carrying a sable muff, she alights from a coach and four with an entourage that includes several liveried footmen, a doyenne, an Italian greyhound, a monkey named Jacko, and a parrot in a birdcage. Even as Lady Ombersley struggles to hide her dismay, Sophy’s cousins are delighted, except for Charles. Everything about Sophy sets him on edge, especially when she won’t give way to even his slightest wishes.

High Perch Phaeton

As heroes go, Charles is a bit of a prig. He cannot help himself, for his father, Lord Ombersley is an inveterate gambler. Charles unexpectedly came into an inheritance from a rich relative who had made his fortune in India and he uses his wealth to pay off his father’s debts. In doing so, Charles becomes the de facto head of the family. A sensible man, he proposes to a patronizing young lady of impeccable character, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, and leads a bland existence … until Sophy turns his well-ordered life upside down. The reader learns one thing about Charles that others don’t seem to appreciate – children, dogs, monkeys, and parrots turn instinctively to him, and although he might seem harsh on the surface, he has a soft heart and is an easy touch. However, his dictatorial ways intimidate two of his siblings, Cecilia and Hubert, to the point where Sophy feels she needs to help out. This causes Charles to gnash his teeth at her presumption. At the core of this book are the crackling scenes between Sophy and Charles, and thankfully they are numerous.

The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s “larger than life” books. Everything – from the characters to Sophy’s antics to the settings – is bigger and grander than in most of her other novels, and the side characters are unforgettable. Augustus Fawnhope is a beautiful but a gloriously silly poet whom Cecilia loves. Cecilia, Charles’s lovestruck sister, is a sweet Mark II heroine with backbone and pluck, who sees the error of her ways, but can do little to rectify the situation. Enter Sophy to the rescue. Sancia, Sir Horace’s Spanish fiancee, is singularly lazy and unforgettable in her ability to drop off to sleep in front of guests, but Sophy knows she can solicit her support whenever it is needed. Lord Bromford, a terminally boring hypochondriac and Mamma’s boy, woos Sophy with the tenacity of a bulldog, much to the glee of her younger cousins, who watch with awe as their older cousin deftly skirts his advances.

Charles’s fiancee, the horse-faced and prudish Eugenia Wraxton, is Sophy’s perfect foil. On the outside, Miss Wraxton is all that is proper, but on the inside she is small and mean of spirit. Sophy sees right through her and is determined to open Charles’s eyes before he is leg-shackled to her through marriage. Where Miss Wraxton merely pays lip service to being a lady, Sophy is warmhearted and generous to a fault. Her rarified social status allows her to behave outrageously with impunity, a fact that the jealous Miss Wraxton never quite realizes. Miss Wraxton constantly lectures Sophy or, worse, tattles on her, as the following scene between Sophy and Charles suggests. In it they are discussing her purchase of her high perch phaeton, to which Charles has strenuously objected:

“I have no control over your actions, cousin,” he said coldly. No doubt if it seems good to you to make a spectacle of yourself in the Park, you will do so. But you will not, if you please, take any of my sisters up beside you!”

“But it does please me,” she said. “I have already taken Cecilia for a turn round the Drive. You have very antiquated notions, have you not? I saw several excessively smart sporting carriages being driven by ladies of the highest ton!”

“I have no particular objection to a phaeton and pair,” he said, still more coldly, “though a perch model is quite unsuited to a lady. You will forgive me if I tell you that there is something more than a little fast in such a style of carriage.”

“Now, who in the world can have been spiteful enough to have put that idea into your head?” wondered Sophy.

He flushed, but did not answer.

Although this book provides us with a fun romp through Regency London, it does possess one flawed scene. The scene is pivotal and demonstrates Sophy’s fearlessness in helping Charles’s brother Hubert out of an impossible situation, but Georgette Heyer is a product of her snobbish upbringing and time. Her description of a stereotypical Jewish lender, the villainous Mr. Goldhanger, is old-fashioned and ruffles our modern sensibilities. For many readers, this scene is a deal-breaker (see comments in link). Some stop reading the book at this point, others feel that the book loses some of its lustre, and others like myself manage to move on, realizing that authors cannot help but be influenced by the age in which they live. A friend of mine observed that Huckleberry Finn is full of racial slurs, but these statements did not prevent it from becoming a classic. Having said that, Georgette’s description of the Jewish lender did give me pause, but after a few pages, I was once again absorbed by Sophy’s antics and rooting for the characters I had come to love. When I turned the last page, I could only wish them all the happiest of ever afters.

3 regency fansI give The Grand Sophy three out of three regency fans. Order the book at this link.

Read this blog’s other Georgette Heyer reviews here.

Gentle readers: The Grand Sophy will be released today. A reissue from SourceBooks, this 1950 novel was one of Georgette Heyer’s best. Look for a month-long kick off of this highly entertaining book on Jane Austen Today, Austenprose and this blog.


Regency Manners and The Grand Sophy

Read the review on Austenprose at this link.

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my lord john

Gentle Readers, My friend, Hillary Major, a fan of history and recent Georgette Heyer convert, graciously agreed to review Source Books’ latest release of My Lord John, which was published posthumously. You can purchase the book at this link.

Many Heyer readers may be surprised to learn that the Middle Ages, not the Regency era, was the historical period closest to Georgette’s heart. So asserts her husband, in his brief preface to My Lord John, Heyer’s last and unfinished work, which tackles the history of the royal House of Lancaster in the years leading up to the Wars of the Roses. Heyer first began the writing and researching of My Lord John in 1948, and when she died in 1974, she had completed less than half of her planned narrative. The copious research she left behind was proof of a passionate interest in the era; it included index cards noting the important events for every calendar day from 1393 to 1435.
In explaining why Georgette was never able to finish My Lord John (a title chosen after her death), Heyer’s husband G. R. Rougier writes, “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story. … So a great historical novel was never finished.” Heyer fans will find it difficult to regret those “stories” to which Georgette turned her hand – novels ranging from Arabella and The Grand Sophy to Black Sheep.

My Lord John, however, shows a different and perhaps more complex side of Heyer. Romance is barely a flutter in the background of the dynastic tangle that faces readers at the novel’s opening: King Richard II’s reign is seeming more unstable by the day, and with no direct heirs, nearly every powerful noble family is jockeying to take over the throne. As events develop, family relationships will prove to be the driving force for Heyer’s protagonist; when ties of friendship and politics are tested, the family bond prevails. (In contrast, romance proper is banished to a minor subplot, and the parties in the unwise affair are granted no sympathy; Heyer’s 15th-century England has no patience with star-crossed lovers.)

The tale centers on four brothers: the future Henry V, his more dashing but less intelligent brother Thomas, the solid and reliable John, and Humphrey, the spoiled youngest. We first meet the future princes through the eyes (and gossip) of their nurses as they worry about lord Harry’s sickliness and retching and lord Humphrey’s unpredictable toddling. This is a technique Heyer uses again and again to bring the everyday details of medieval life to the fore: the reader is shown the perspective of minor characters, often servants, whose point-of-view broadens the medieval landscape while their observations help round out the characters of the main historical figures. We see Lord John, for example, through the eyes of a squire (who wonders why a nobleman would stop to patronize a street stall like a commoner) and the priest who follows in his retinue as Lord Confessor (who worries much more about the worldly concerns of lodging and meals than does his charge). Heyer takes every opportunity to revel in period dialogue (glossary provided) and even manages to write in cameo appearances by medieval celebrities such as Chaucer and Froissert.

As Heyer paints her portrait of Lord John, he emerges as an unusual hero: moderate, conscientious, loyal, but happy to fill a secondary role. While Heyer may relish the flash of Lord Harry (and the challenge of covering the events that inspired Shakespeare, who was rather less faithful to his sources), it is the slow-and-steady John whom she elevates to hero. My Lord John is in many ways a coming-of-age novel, and the story picks up pace about halfway through, when John travels to the Scottish Borderlands as Lord Warden, the representative of the throne in this rebellious and sometimes hostile region. As he meets with the nobles, clergy, and common folk, John consistently shows that is he more than he appears:

The Abbot himself received the Lord John … At first unhopeful of exchanging ideas with so young a princeling, he soon discovered that the King’s third son, besides having enjoyed the advantages of a careful education, had delved deeply into mundane matters. Sheep-farming was the chief worldly business of the Cistercians, and … [t]hey talked of ewe-flocks, of whethers and hoggets; of the perils of the lambing season; of fells; of the advantages and the disadvantages of a fixed Staple; of the guile of the Lombard merchants, and the wiles of the brokers; of the circumstances which had led great families to lease their farms to tenants; and – this was a homethrust delivered by the Lord John – of the sand-blind policy that induced sheep-farmers to sell their wool for many years ahead to crafty Flemish and Italian merchants.” (p. 210)

John shows himself similarly knowledgeable about falconry and coal-mining, among other pursuits. In passages like this, the reader sees in Lord John a love of the details and intricacies of daily life that is clearly shared by Heyer herself. While Harry has the fire and drives much of the action, it is John, the consummate planner and administrator, who earns the respect of author and readers. Can we see a parallel between the sparkling plots and vivid romances on which Heyer’s fame (and sales) relied and the meticulous research (on multiple historical periods) that she so valued and that infused her work?

It is impossible to know how Heyer would have completed her Lancastrian manuscript (or even how much of the present work would have survived her editing process), though further scenes of battle would have been inevitable and a passage toward the end of the book describing a heretic’s execution may be intended to foreshadow Lord John’s future encounters with Joan of Arc. As it is, the dedication to historical accuracy and the fact that Lord John is not personally involved in much of the action in the first half of the book, make My Lord John a slower and drier read than most Heyer novels. But the reader who takes a lesson from the unlikely hero, and relishes the richness and texture of Heyer’s medieval world, will find much to enjoy.

Other Heyer book reviews:

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corinthianGentle Reader,

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!

3 regency fansRest 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!

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Layout 1Gentle Readers, This Georgette Heyer book is reviewed by Lady Anne, a paragon of friendship and nonpareil of GH reviewers. She is someone who, to my way of thinking, is “without an equal.”  In celebration of all things Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, my regency-loving friends and I will partake of pâté, whole wheat triscuits, grapes, and French wine tonight. Here then, for your summer reading pleasure, is Lady Anne’s review of The Nonesuch, another incomparable offering by Sourcebooks.

A ‘nonesuch’ is something unrivalled, a paragon, or something like nothing else. The hero in Georgette Heyer’s romance entitled The Nonesuch is indeed all of the above. Sir Waldo Hawkridge has been nicknamed Nonesuch by those of the Corinthian set, because he could do it all: drive, ride, shoot, fish, box, dress elegantly in an unobtrusive fashion suiting his splendid physique. The book begins as Sir Waldo has been named the heir to an elderly and eccentric cousin; others in the Family had attended the reading of the Will in vain hope, where we meet also the two younger cousins who have looked up to and been assisted by Waldo – one well, and one poorly –as they have grown from grubby schoolboys to young men about Town. And we discover another attribute of Sir Waldo’s that truly makes him a paragon.

Many of the heroes in Heyer’s frothy Regency romances are jaded with society and its predictable lifestyles. Over-burdened with family members wanting something from them, or chased by match-making mamas more interested in the money and pedigree attached to their names, knowing that they must marry for the sake of the family, they are bored with life as only idle rich can afford to be. Sir Waldo, however, has followed his parents’ examples and precepts: “My father and my grandfather before him,” he tells a character in the book, “were considerable philanthropists, and my mother was used to be very friendly with Lady Spencer – the one that died a couple of years ago, and was mad after educating the poor. So you may say that I grew up amongst charities! This was the one that seemed to me more worth the doing than any other: collecting as many of the homeless waifs you may find in any city as I could, and rearing them to become respectable citizens….”

Here for once is a wealthy man who is interested not only in his own amusements, but also actively considers his responsibilities and pursues good works: the epitome of noblesse oblige.
Waldo plans to house some 50 orphans in his new legacy, but before he has made the renovations to the house and made the contacts with the people in Leeds, he doesn’t want it widely known.

The Nonesuch takes place in Jane Austen’s England, with the village society, country house parties, and gossip. There is a broader range of society here than in London where they would stay stratified within the ton; some of the families here are definitely below the salt. It is another example of the changing times. But like any Austen neighborhood when a new bachelor finds his way there, parties abound. And romance flourishes.

The Nonesuch also tends to his philanthropic business, first by seeking out the vicar to get his assistance in getting his business done in Leeds. The town appears in the book as a nearby shopping mecca for the young ladies, but its interest to our hero is that it was one of the fast-growing factory towns that thrust England into the forefront of the world as the Industrial Revolution changed the way all the classes interacted. The Enclosure Acts of the late 18th and early 19th Century took away the wherewithal of many of the poorest classes to earn their living from the land by assigning the use of previous open land to the local lord. The poor flocked to the cities and the factories to sustain themselves, not always to the best effect for their health. Illness, malnutrition, and drunkenness took their toll, and the Nonesuch found plenty of the ‘brats’ under the auspices of the parish, for whom he could do a great deal.

Which is not to say that we actually see Sir Waldo meeting with the good people of Leeds; his work is alluded to obliquely in several different situations throughout the book, moving the plot along.

More to our immediate interest, Sir Waldo also finds in the neighborhood one Ancilla Trent, a young lady of impeccable breeding, currently working as a companion to a beautiful and amazingly spoiled young minx. Like Sir Waldo, Ancilla is serious-minded person. Not one to become a financial drain on her family, she gives up her chance in the Marriage Mart to work first as a teacher and then to keep the lovely and headstrong Tiffany Weld from destroying her own chances at a good marriage; Tiffany is wealthy, but she is mercantile rather than gentry, barely seeing the point of basic courtesy, and much too sure of her position as most beautiful heiress in the area. With all the young men of the neighborhood, Sir Waldo’s two young cousins, the young ladies of the neighborhood, as well as Tiffany, we have all the ingredients for plenty of delightful parties and outings, an abundance of amusing chatter, and one of the very best last scenes any book could ask for.

The Nonesuch looks like a typical Regency romance, but as Georgette Heyer always provides, there is much more between the covers.

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Talisman RingInquiring reader,

Although Lady Anne and I are good friends, we often engage in vigorous verbal sparring. You are about to read a typical exchange between the two founders of the Janeites on the James in which we disagree about the merits of The Talisman Ring. The winner is clearly Lady Anne, who has read the novel more times than anyone of my acquaintance. Our conversation is actually quite civilized this time, for during our more heated exchanges we have been known to throw teacups and negus bowls at each other.

Vic: As you know, Lady Anne, I had the toughest time finishing this novel. I wanted to publish a review of The Talisman Ring weeks ago, but I could not care less about how the story ended and kept pushing the book aside. That’s when I felt desperate and decided to enlist your aid.

Lady Anne: When you told me you were having trouble, I was surprised, because I think this is a very sprightly and amusing read.

Vic: That’s because you like mysteries. You actually read them for pleasure. Whodunnits do not thrill me; they never have, to give Georgette her due. I was looking forward to reading The Talisman Ring because so many people have raved about it, and some have called it their favorite GH novel. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was thin on historical romance and overstuffed with mystery and plot. I kept yawning instead of wondering when and how Sir Tristam and Miss Thane would help Ludovic recover his ring.

Lady Anne: It’s true I am far more of a mystery fan than a basic boy-girl romance reader. But I liked the humor in this, whether it was Sarah’s brother who has strong feelings about smuggled liquor, or the wonderful conversation between Eustacie, Sarah, Tristram and Hugh, as they were walking outside the Inn, where at least four conversational threads go around and through. Or Sarah and Tristram in the dining room of the Dower house. And then, when Ludovic can establish his claim, the first thing Hugh says is I want to buy that horse from you; as if that was the important point. I thought the ebb and flow of dialogue was some of Heyer’s best. But it is true that it is not romantic fluff, but frankly, Heyer does very little of that in any of her books.

Vic: Yes, you are right (again). I hope you are not hinting that I am into fluff and tripe. That would raise my hackles. I like to read Georgette Heyer novels for their scintillating dialogue, historical details, sparkling wit, and the constant push-pull between the hero and heroine, which was sorely lacking in this convoluted mess. Frankly I think Ms. H simply tried to do too much in one novel. She wrote the book in 1936 when she was 34 years old. My sense is that she had not yet developed the effortless style that became the hallmark of her mature romances. In her later novels she could juggle several story lines and introduce an assortment of entertaining characters that I CARED about and who left me gasping from laughing too hard. This plot is too dependent on bunglers, like those Bow Street Runners, who were more ridiculous than realistic. Really, I can’t understand why you like the book so much.

Lady Anne: Nor can I see why you have so much trouble, because the dialogue is great fun. Eustacie, whose English is very literally translated from French is funny. Sarah Thane and Tristram share a very compatible sense of the ridiculous, which serves them so well; they are of an age and oh-so-very tired of the Marriage Mart. But I think what’s missing in The Talisman Ring for you are those historical style nuggets – not much discussion of clothes or curricles, Almacks or balls, or the opera or on-dits – nothing at all of London or the Season. That’s something that continually fascinates you. There is not even discussion of the food they are eating – just the different (illegal) wine that Hugh and Ludovic work their way through.

Vic: You are so right. While GH’s settings were authentic and her historical details are spot on, she concentrated more on dialogue and action in this book. But these are not the only reasons why I dislike The Talisman Ring. Both couples were problematic for me, and our main hero and heroine were provided with very little back story. What exactly was Sarah Thane’s motivation for embroiling herself in someone else’s mess? And Georgette never adequately explained why Sir Tristam was so wary of all women- or perhaps I missed this little detail while I was scratching around for a cup of undiluted caffeine. Please don’t tell me that I could have divined all these details by reading between the lines, for I take no pleasure in such nonsense. Speaking of which, I especially didn’t like Ludovic or Eustacie; their characters seemed too ditzy and unrealistic. In fact they drove me batty. Georgette must have lost interest in them as well, for she did not complete their story or bring it to some conclusion.

Lady Anne: Well, I was certainly more interested in Tristram and Sarah, and I suspect most readers are, because that is where the book ends. And there was nothing clueless about their romance; they knew very early on that they had found each other. I thought it was fun to watch that. It is clear that Ludovic, now that his claim to his title is clear, will marry Eustacie. That was settled early on in the book; as Sarah said, “I think the youngsters will make a match of it,” and Tristram says that Ludovic has no business thinking of marriage when his future is so clouded. That was why all searched for the ring and brought Basil to book. (You were probably nodding over those pages and missed it.) I do agree that the youngsters are more archetypes than interesting characters, but I thought Ludovic was charming in his young and heedless fashion. I suspect Sarah and Tristram’s mother will keep Eustacie safely chaperoned until the courts complete their business, and Ludovic and Eustacie will spend time in London and at the Castle, happily ever after. As far as Heyer’s writing goes, I think it is more to the point that 1936 was when Heyer was in the midst of her first rush of drawing room mysteries – Death in the Stocks, Behold Here’s Poison, They Found Him Dead, and Why Shoot a Butler were all published about that time frame. She was very prolific in the mid-30s. That’s also when she was doing all her big Wellington research; An Infamous Army was published in 1937, and it is generally considered her best work.

Vic: Lady Anne, you sly puss! Have you purchased Jane Aiken Hodge’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer or have you committed all these facts to memory? You are so right. Not only was Georgette busy, she was suffering from a bout of flu when she wrote this book. Oh, I could discourse with you forever, but I must wind up this review. Thank you, Lady Anne, for an enlightening discussion. Perhaps, when I am in a more generous mood, I’ll give The Talisman Ring another chance, but not before I read The Grand Sophy, which is coming out in July.

LadyAnne: Well, I certainly hope you are not looking for lover-like dialogue in The Grand Sophy! That young Miss is as unrealistic as Ludovic and Eustacie put together!

Vic: No sappy, lover-like dialogue for me. I adore the spats that Georgette’s characters engage in and the way her bossy heroines flout convention. To return to The Talisman Ring, you can order the book at this link. The publisher gave it the most luscious cover imaginable. I keep the book out in full view because it looks so pretty on my tabletop.

3 regency fans

Our regency fan rating:

Lady Anne: 3 regency fans

Vic: Cover: 3 regency fans, Story: 1 ½ to 2

Read my other Georgette Heyer reviews below:

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Cousin Kate

Almost every writer of the Romance genre will try her hand at a Gothic tale; even Jane Austen did it in Northanger Abbey, although to be really accurate, she was poking fun at her heroine rather than developing a scary tale. Georgette Heyer takes her turn in Cousin Kate, and while this is a darker story than most of her romances, her Gothic tale is not so far-fetched as it is mysterious and uncomfortable for her heroine. Perhaps, like Jane, Georgette is too sensible and too amused by life’s foibles to take the Gothic seriously.

Pretty Kate Malvern is in dire straits as the book opens. She is the only offspring of parents who ran off and married without the approval of either of their families. Her father, an Army officer, was more successful in war than in peace, where his propensity for gaming squandered what little money he had, since he had been disowned by his starchy father. His death was ignominious, and left his child not only orphaned, her mama having died when Kate was 12, but destitute. At 24, Kate must support herself, because with no money and no family, she is not likely to make a good marriage.

Young ladies who found themselves in such situations had few options: governess or companion being the best. Kate has just been “turned off”, or fired, from her position as governess to three young children because their uncle, brother to their mother, had fallen for her and the old gorgon who was the children’s grandmother, disapproved. Kate runs to her old nurse, her only refuge, for a place to stay while she makes her plans for her uncertain and likely unhappy future. Mrs. Nidd, a woman of high energy and great resource, contacts Kate’s aunt. Kate has never met her, nor had there ever been any correspondence between her father and his sister, but, interestingly, or strangely, enough Aunt Minerva, or Lady Broome, comes in to take Kate off to her home, Staplewood.

“ ‘You are too young to know what it means to have been an only child, when you reach my age and have no close relations, and no daughter! I have always longed for one, and never more so than now! It’s true I have a son, but a boy cannot give one the same companionship. Dear child, I’ve come to carry you off to Staplewood! I’m persuaded I must be your natural guardian!
“But I am of age ma’am!” protested Kate, feeling as though she were being swept along on an irresistible tide.
“Yes, so your kind nurse has informed me. I can’t compel you – heaven forbid that I should – but I can beg you to take pity on a very lonely woman!’ ”

And so Kate goes off to spend the summer at the great manor. She meets Sir Timothy, Lady Broome’s much older and frail husband, and Torquil, her incredibly good-looking son. She is surprised to know that the two men live in opposite wings of the house and seem to have little to do with one another. Dr. Delabole, a somewhat smarmy man who seems to be acting as a companion to her beautiful young cousin, completes the household.

Kate settles in to a life unlike anything she has experienced, because the family lives so very quietly and she has so little to do. Her one concern is that the letters she sends to Mrs. Nidd are not answered, and she becomes increasingly aware that she is entirely cut off from the world. It seems to this reader that Kate is very slow on the uptake, but that could be because she has not read many Gothic tales. The over-strict watch on her cousin, his wild displays of temper and capricious behaviors alert the reader to the dangers ahead. Fortunately, there is another cousin, Philip Broome. He is related to Sir Timothy, and although he often stayed with his uncle in his youth, Lady Broome, whose strong character rules the household, does not care to have him visit often. Philip, however, is not deterred, and he, along with Mr. Nidd, Mrs. Nidd’s papa-in-law, ensure that everything is resolved in the proper fashion.

As always with Heyer’s books, the dialogue among the characters is completely delightful. Kate, who was raised following the drum, knows more about young men than do most young ladies of her era and can hold her own in any conversation. Incurably forthright, she wins Philip’s heart quickly, as well as the devotion of Sir Timothy. The Gothic devices of screams in the night, locked doors and horrendous thunderstorms are not the normal Heyer fare, but the winning heroine and the steady and handsome hero are as good as any she created. The somewhat clumsy Gothic device of considering everything to be wonderful as soon as we achieve the death of the dangerous character is a little off-putting for me; still, once this heroine meets her hero there is nothing more to be done but marry them and settle them happily ever after. They certainly agree.

Cousin Kate is not the best of Georgette Heyer’s romance novels, but even a weak Heyer is better than an offering of almost any other Romance writer. It’s a great read for a stormy night. As she always does, Georgette Heyer builds a wonderful and complete world for her reader to sink into – like a bubble bath or a welcoming chair to relax you at the end of a busy day, but more fun. Much more fun.

Gentle Reader,

When Georgette Heyer wrote Cousin Kate in 1968 she had the flu and contracted ‘the worst cold of the century.’  She caustically informed her editor: “[I have] done about 30,000 words of Cousin Kate, and they stink. I don’t suppose you ‘ve ever been subjected to a course of diuretics, but I can assure you that they have the most disintegrating effect.”

While Georgette’s synopsis of the novel was superb –

Cousin Kate is the orphaned daughter of an impoverished Peninsular officer. Her mother died years ago, and she followed the drum with Pop. He must have been a very volatile type, because , when he died (of natural causes, after Waterloo) he left her with nothing but debts. I expect he was a gamester, or Lived Above his Income, but I’ll work that out later. Don’t interrupt!

– she was not pleased with the novel and told her publisher, “I don’t want to sound insufferable, but I know from the various booksellers of my acquaintance that when it comes to selling ME, no one wants to know what my latest effort is About: they only want to know whether there is a new Heyer Out.”

My friend, Lady Anne, reviewed the novel, and while she generally agrees that this story is not among Heyer’s best efforts, the book went straight to the top of the best-seller lists, and years later still provides its readers with hours of suspense and fun.*

  • *The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge, ISBN 0-370-30508-6,  P 178-179

My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

Lady Anne is my special friend and co-founder of Janeites on the James. For this fine review, she has earned a ratafia at one of Richmond’s select restaurants for ladies who kvetch, gossip, and lunch.

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convenient-marriageThe plot of the Convenient Marriage is different in so many ways from the typical Georgette Heyer novel. One is the tenderness with which the Earl of Rule treats his very young and captivating bride, and the second is that the couple has already tasted the delights of the marital bed and found the results not displeasing. The earl was all set to marry the eldest Winwood sister in an arranged marriage when her youngest sister Horatia “sacrifices” herself on the altar of sibling loyalty. Horatia’s older sister, Lizzie, is the Beauty of the family and in love with an impoverished soldier. Needless to say her family insists that she drop her soldier and marry the earl to save the family fortune. To help her sister out of her misery, Horatia sneaks off to see Rule and reasons (quite logically) that if the earl isn’t in love with her sister he might just as well marry her. The legal contract between the two families would not be altered with the switch in brides and he will still be assured that the future mother of his heir will have the appropriate pedigree. Struck by the simplicity of her argument and charmed with her slight stutter and forthrightness, the earl agrees to wed Horatia instead. Up to this point the book resembles more a 1930’s drawing room comedy than the typical historical romance novel we have come to expect from Georgette Heyer.  One of her earlier books (1936) and set in the Georgian Era, the writing does not yet possess her command of the genre as she shows in later years, yet her descriptive style was already fully developed. In this instance, Heyer describes Georgian clothing with as much expertise as her knowledge of  Regency garb:

It was naturally impossible for Horatia to visit a milliner without purchasing something on her own account, so when the flowers had been selected, she tried on a number of hats, and bought finally an enormous confection composed chiefly of stiff muslin in Trianon grey, which was labeled not without reason, “Grandes Pretentions.” There was a collet monte gauze scarf in the same delectable shade of grey, so she bought that as well. A cap a la glaneuse caught her eye as she was about to leave the shop, but she decided not to add that to her purchases, Lady Louisa having had the presence of mind to declare that it made her look rather prim.

The couple marry, they honeymoon, they return to London and live … not so happily after. It turns out that Horatia has fallen in love with her husband. Too unschooled in the ways of a man (for she is only seventeen) Horatia fails to realize that while she might not have her sister’s outer beauty, her intelligence, warmth, and charm are far more superior traits. Despite being short and possessing a pair of definite brows that stubbornly refuse to arch, she has bewitched her husband. With the earl so much older and secure in his own skin (he is thirty five), Horatia has a tough time interpreting his thoughts and actions and thus she fails to read the signs that he has fallen in love with her as well. And so begins a comedy of misinterpretations and errors on Horatia’s part, thinking Rule is in love with his mistress when in reality he has broken the relationship off.  Horatia’s inept attempts to behave like a sophisticate and not interfere with Rule’s daily routine allows the earl’s nemesis, Robert Lethbridge, a foot through the door, and the plot begins to resemble Dangerous Liaisons. Lethbridge and Rule’s former mistress, Lady Massey, are hell bent on ruining our guileless heroine. Spoiled and bored, they team up for sport and to extract their revenge upon the earl. Horatia unknowingly falls into their clutches with her enthusiastic card playing, but Rule was not born yesterday and he can easily read his young wife’s transparent thoughts and actions.

The novel takes another twist and the reader now enters the realm of slapstick comedy, keystone cops and all. Horatia’s brother Pelham, an incompetent boob if ever there was one, enmeshes himself in Horatia’s affairs hoping to “save” her from ruining her reputation with Lethbridge, who has extracted a scandalous gambler’s promise from her. Pelham’s interference (and that of his equally inept friend), makes matters worse. Georgette Heyer often uses the ploy of a Greek chorus of family and acquaintances to enliven the action, and in this instance Pelham and his numskull friend do a splendid job of adding laughter and color to the plot. Added to the mix is a Dandy in the form of Mr. Drelincourt, the earl’s presumptive heir until Horatia conceives. He will do anything to separate the earl from his bride, but he fumbles and bumbles his way through life, acquiring the scorn of all.

As well as her talent for writing comedic scenes, Georgette’s casual observations about the Georgian Era are accurate and illuminating. Here she makes the distinction between a Macaroni and a Buck:

The Macaronis, mincing, simpering, sniffing at crystal scent-bottles, formed a startling contrast to the Bucks, the young sparks who, in defiance of their affected contemporaries, had flown to another extreme of fashion. No extravagance of costume distinguished these gentlemen, unless a studied slovenliness could be called such, and their amusements were of a violent nature, quite at variance with your true Macaroni’s notion of entertainment. These Bloods were to be found at any prize-fight, or cock-fight, and when these diversions palled could always while away an evening in masquerading abroad in the guise of footpads, to the terror of all honest townsfolk.

The book’s ending, though predictable, includes a rousing duel and is completely satisfying for the romantic at heart, with our Horatia recognizing that the earl has loved her for a long, long time and with the earl finally able to express his feelings for his young bride. Although thoroughly enjoyable, The Convenient Marriage is not one of Georgette Heyer’s best efforts. Having said that, I would read this book over 90% of the romances being published today. I give The Convenient Marriage four out of five Regency fans.

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My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

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Inquiring readers: This is my second review this year of a Georgette Heyer book to help you while away the winter doldrums. When SourceBooks sent Frederica my way I went into paroxysms of joy, for I recalled loving the book when I first read it just out of college. Years later I like it even better. frederica

After reading Frederica I thanked my lucky stars that Georgette Heyer was such a prolific writer and that she lived a long life. She wrote over 50 books, most of them quite entertaining, and the knowledge that I still have so many to choose from leaves me quite content (At present I am reading The Convenient Marriage and I have just finished Black Sheep). When I first encountered Frederica I was the same age as the book’s heroine – 24 – and wished for myself a mate as dashing and capable as the Marquis of Alverstoke, the hero.

Frederica’s plot is rather simple. Frederica, a single woman who is raising her younger siblings in the country after their parents’ deaths, has brought her beautiful sister Charis to London so that the latter can attract a rich and eligible husband. Considering herself too old for the marriage mart, Frederica’s self-deprecating, no-nonsense attitude charms 37-year-old Lord Alverstoke, who has despaired of ever finding a woman he can both respect and love.

We meet Lord Alverstoke, a nonpareil and Corinthian of the first order, at a time when he is beset by his two sisters to help them introduce their daughters to Society in a proper and extravagant manner. Both sisters expect him to pay fully for the privilege of hosting their coming out at his mansion. Enter Frederica who, with the slimmest claims upon his purse and loyalty, asks him for a favor. The Marquis, seeing a possibility of riling his unloving sisters, agrees to sponsor the Incomparable Charis, a dimwitted but sweet-natured beauty, at his niece’s coming out ball. Frederica’s plans for her brothers and sister and their unpredictable antics overset the marquis’s self-centered life and manage to bestir him out of his perpetual boredom.

Then came Frederica, upsetting his cool calculations, thrusting responsibilities upon him, intruding more and more into the ordered pattern of his life, and casting him into a state of unwelcome doubt. And, try as he would, he could discover no reason for this uncomfortable change in himself. She had more countenance than beauty; she employed no arts to attract him; she was heedless of convention; she was matter-of-fact, and managing, and not at all the sort of female whom he had ever wished to encourage. Furthermore, (now he came to think of it), she had foisted two troublesome schoolboys on to him, which was the last thing in the world he wanted!

balloonHeyer’s rich detail of life in London during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution sets this novel apart from the others. The book’s events occur after Beau Brummel’s gambling debts drove him to France in 1716-1817, the last year of Jane Austen’s life. This was a heady era of scientific discoveries and invention that changed the world forever. Through young Felix’s brilliant mind we see the wonders of the age unfold in the form of steam engines, scientific collections, and balloon travel. Sixteen-year-old Jessamy’s earnestness in studying to become a man of the cloth represents the burdens that befall a second son who knows he must make his own way in the world, but he is still boyish enough to get into trouble on occasion. And Harry, the eldest brother, set down from Oxford for his antics, is too frivolous to set a good example as heir. Under ordinary circumstances he is more than happy to leave the decision-making to Frederica. Under extraordinary circumstances he is more than likely to bungle events, including endorsing an ill-judged elopement.

Heyer introduces her usual panoply of comedic characters – the selfish sister whose demands on her brother are unreasonable and grating; the foppish dandies in their outrageous attire who flock around the new Incomparable – Charis (she of the dim mind but sweet, unspoiled disposition); the competent and capable male secretary who can be depended upon to take care of complex matters and smooth the way for the marquis, yet who is romantic enough to fall foolishly in love; and the sensible, loving sister who sees immediately which way the wind is blowing when it comes to her brother Alverstoke’s heart. Frederica might not be as beautiful as Charis, but she possesses such style and class that Lady Jersey promptly grants the two girls vouchers for that most exclusive of clubs: Almack’s.

Georgette’s description of the novel to her publisher is telling:

This book, written in Miss Heyer’s lightest vein, is the story of the adventures in Regency London of the Merriville family: Frederica, riding the whirlwind and directing the storm; Harry, rusticated from Oxford, and embarking with enthusiasm on the more perilous amusements pursued by young gentlemen of ton: the divine Charis, too tenderhearted to discourage the advances of her numerous suitors; Jessamy, destined for the Church and wavering, adolescent style, between excessive virtue and a natural exuberance of spirits; and Felix, a schoolboy with a passion for scientific experiment. In Frederica, Miss Heyer has created one of her most engaging heroines, and in the Marquis of Alverstoke, a bored cynic who becomes involved in all the imbroglios of a lively family, a hero whose sense of humour makes him an excellent foil for Frederica. (Jane Aiken Hodge, The Private World of Georgette Heyer)

velocipedeThe plot of this book is simply delightful. Frederica’s “Baluchistan” hound and her two youngest brothers manage to wrap the reader around their paws and grubby fingers with very little effort. More importantly, the trio charms the marquis, whose ennui is legendary.

Georgette is at her best writing about young boys and dogs. We chuckle when Frederica’s dog escapes its leash and runs amuck among the milk cows in Green Park, and laugh when a parade of incensed “victims” follow Frederica and the hound to the front steps of Alverstoke’s door. His aplomb in sizing the situation up in a tenth of a second is worth the book’s purchase. We hold our breath when Felix clings to a rising balloon for dear life as it loosens from its moorings. We feel sympathy for Jessamy – who acts his age for once – for all the damage he causes with his runaway velocipede. Frederica, so honest and serious and self effacing, is a breath of fresh air among the many heroines we encounter in an endless parade of romance novels. Her intelligence and earnestness are a perfect foil to Alverstoke’s light-hearted and self-deprecating banter. We love her all the more because she never quite sees the marquis in the negative light that he knows he deserves, and for her ability to make the best of any situation.

The novel ends on a most satisfying note, and I can think of no better way of spending a chilly winter evening – wrapped in a down comforter with my pooch sleeping by my side – than reading this gem of a book.

Order the book from SourceBooks at this link.

My Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

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fridays-child-sourceInquiring reader: The January doldrums are upon us. The days are short, the weather is bleak, and it will be months before we can seriously garden again. What to do on a cold and wintry day? Why sit by the fire, of course, curled up with a good book, a pet warming one’s feet, a pot of hot chocolate at one’s disposal, and hours of  entertainment in the form of romantic entanglements set in the regency era. To help you choose a good book, my elegant friend Lady Anne reviewed Friday’s Child, a comedic novel written by Georgette Heyer, now available through SourceBooks.

Headstrong, spoiled and impetuous, Lord Sheringham wants to be married. Not because he is in love, but because he wants control of his fortune, his father having left it so that he would be either 25 or married before he could rid himself of his trustees. He has some difficulties with debts, certainly, but the main reason he wishes to have that trust drawn up is that one of his trustees is plundering his estate.

The book opens with his proposal to the Incomparable, Isabella Milborne, a lifelong neighbor and friend. She refuses him because they don’t love each other, and he, furious at her level-headed thwarting of his plans, vows to marry the next lady he sees. This would be Hero Wantage, another lifelong neighborhood friend, just out of the schoolroom and unschooled in any of the ways of Society. Hero, who has adored her friend Sherry for years, is an orphan who has been under the care of her cousin, who never intended to provide a Season for her ward, but rather to prepare her for marriage to the local curate, or for life as a governess. At just seventeen and full of fun, Hero is not ready for either quelling prospect.

So the two decide that they will get married. Lord Sheringham’s cousins Gil and Ferdy and his friend George, Lord Wrotham, all of whom seem to travel in a pack, among them arrange for the marriage by special license. The young Lord and Lady Sheringham set up house, and Sherry and his friends seek to establish young Lady Sherry in London society, where they have been cutting a pretty wild and dashing swath. What follows is a madcap romp, as Hero falls in and out of scrapes as fast as she can. All through innocence, or from following her husband’s sayings. She is bright, educated, and has a mind of her own, and when she takes umbrage at her husband’s scolding her for something, she will say, “but you said…” To his credit, he hears his words and begins to reconsider his own way of life.

Finally, Lord Sheringham has had enough and, recognizing that his wild past has not prepared him for establishing a lady in the upper reaches of Society, he decides to send Hero off to stay with his mother. Hero is clear-eyed enough to know that this woman, far from wishing her well, will do what she can to destroy their marriage, so Hero runs away. To Gil and Ferdy and George, who decide to take Hero to Lady Saltash, a matriarch of the family, who will school Hero in the ways of the ton. Incidentally, as far as these young men are concerned, Hero’s disappearance will also show Lord Sheringham what he has not yet learned – that he really loves his wife.

Friday’s Child is said to be Heyer’s favorite of her novels. This is undoubtedly because of the countless amusing conversations among the many young men we see throughout the novel. Heyer’s deft comic touch sets her apart from the usual run of romance novelists, and the bright and worldly patter of this novel is certainly its strong point. Like all the best of Heyer’s heroines, Hero Wantage Sheringham is willing to stand up for herself. She shows a sharp tongue to her cousin after her marriage, and a strong desire to cut a dash in Society. If she is a little slow to learn which people to trust in the early days of her marriage, she still is sure of what she wants in a home, is capable of running a household with servants, and, when she runs away, shrewd enough to keep her abigail alongside with her baggage. The final chapters involve virtually everyone, including the Incomparable, in a pair of failed elopements, considerable miscommunication – most of it funny – a timely theft, and assorted miscues. At the end, the Incomparable and her swain Lord Wrotham are united, and the Sheringhams are back together, this time on a different level, wiser in the ways of love. Friday’s Child is an enjoyable romp, more comedy than romance, and great fun for a rainy day read.


A Fascinating Prisoner of War Story About Friday’s Child:

In her excellent biography of Georgette Heyer, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge relates the following story about Friday’s Child:

The letter of thanks from the Romanian political prisoner who had kept herself and her fellow prisoners sane by telling the story of Friday’s Child over and over again reached Georgette Heyer that autumn [1963], and she treasured it. The woman who wrote it was safe in the United States, and Georgette Heyer was able to thank her for the heart-warming tribute.

Excerpts from a letter by Norma Samuelli, Lake Placid, September 6, 1963:

In 1948, a year before my arrest, I had read – and revelled in – Friday’s Child, and as I have a very rententive memory I was able to tell it to my cell-mates, practically verbatim…Truly, your characters managed to awaken smiles, even when hearts were heavy, stomachs empty and the future dark indeed!

During the 12 years I spent in prison I didn’t see a written page. My memory however, could not be sealed up and thanks to it and to you, my fellow-sufferers begged, again and again, to hear “What Kitten Did Next”.

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