Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

Lady Winwood being denied, the morning caller inquired with some anxiety for Miss Winwood, or, in fact, for any of the young ladies.
For many, Heyer IS Regency, but this novel is set a little earlier, towards the end of the eighteenth century (1775 to be precise), when ladies of quality were wearing hoop
ed skirts and hair was dressed elaborately high with padding. Mrs Maulfrey, seen arriving at the home of Lady Winwood in the opening sentence, is wearing paniers à coudes wide enough to brush the banisters as she climbs the stairs. We can immediately tell that Mrs Maulfrey only thinks she is the height of fashion, since by that time such large paniers would not be normal day dress. A further example of the way in which Heyer judges her writing to a nicety is that the actual heroine, Horatio Winwood, is the last of the Winwood daughters to be introduced to the reader, in keeping with her position as the youngest, and barely out of the schoolroom. Miss Winwood – Elizabeth – is a Beauty, Charlotte is a bit of a termagant and Horatia (named for Mr Walpole) is almost plain (think Viola Bonham-Carter in a polonaise).

The plot is as follows: the Earl of Rule, urged on by his sister, who thinks at thirty-five it is time he got married, has offered for the hand of Miss Winwood, who is greatly enamoured of the penniless (well, comparatively!) Mr Heron, a soldier. Turning him down is not to be thought of, however – the fortunes of the family are at stake, since the only son suffers from the Family Failing: his gambling debts are crippling, but a Good Marriage will save them. Miss Charlotte might do for a bride at a pinch, but she insists she will not leave Mama. No one would seriously consider Horatia, who is only seventeen. Nonetheless, she decides on the best course of action, and sets off (with her maid, you'll be relieved to hear, she isn't entirely reckless) to inform Lord Rule accordingly. She is candid about her failings – her lack of years, her eyebrows that won't arch (though she does have the family nose) and her stammer – but ventures that she is thought to be sensible, and she thinks they might get on if they don't interfere with each other.

It's unfortunate for Horry that Rule has a mistress, an old enemy, and an heir who would like to preserve his inheritance. Her brother Pelham, though well-meaning, has a knack of creating scandal rather than suppressing it, and Horry is soon enmeshed in a tangle which will bring her husband's disapproval down upon her head, and her attempts to extricate herself only seem to make matters worse. It is no help that Horry herself has rather succumbed to the family failing, and is an enthusiastic card player.

The Convenient Marriage dates from 1934, before Heyer had entirely got into her stride, I feel. Horry isn't such a rounded character, or quite as much fun as, say, Sophia Stanton-Lacy in The Grand Sophy, or my own joint favourites, Frederica and Arabella, and the story lacks the delicious mayhem of these later books. This is not to detract from a thoroughly amusing read, with particularly good period detail in the wardrobe department – there are some lovely descriptions of the macaroni, Mr Drelincourt, while Pelham's friend Sir Roland Pommeroy sets the mould for some splendid best friends in later novels (notably Gil, Ferdy and George in Friday's Child, for which it serves as something of a dry run). It's not Heyer at the height of her abilities but, if you already love her work and haven't read it, do!

Finally, this picture by Louis Rolland Trinquesse dates from 1776, and shows costume of the period, although my Arrow edition of The Convenient Marriage (above) has well-chosen cover artwork, a portrait of Penelope Lee Acton by George Romney, which nicely depicts the kind of dresses the Misses Winwood were wearing in the opening chapter: "morning toilets of worked muslin over slight hoops, with Tiffany sashes round their waists. Countrified, thought Mrs Maulfrey..."

Cross-posted at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Heyer, Georgette. 1953 (Reprinted in 2007) Cotillion. Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

First sentence: The saloon, like every other room in Arnside House, was large and lofty, and had been furnished, possibly some twenty years earlier, in what had then been the first style of elegance.

It may not have you at hello, but this Regency romance is quite satisfying by the end. Quite happy-making actually. Though the first few chapters may take some patience, by the time the action moves to London and out of the country, this book begins to shine. It is the story of a young woman, Kitty, who stands to inherit a bit of money if she will marry one of her "cousins." Mind you, in this situation, the term is used loosely in that Kitty was an orphaned child an old man had taken in and raised. These "cousins" are his great-nephews. There are five: George (who is married so he's ineligible), Hugh, (a clergyman), Foster (the Mama's boy of all Mama's boys), Jack (who doesn't bother to show up because he's too busy gambling and being a Rake) and Freddy. Kitty, who is just a girl of eighteen or nineteen, wants to get out of the house, out of the country, and she sees a sham engagement to Freddy as her way out. If they become engaged, then surely he must take her to London to meet his family. He must. And if she should get some shopping and socializing in--operas and balls and such--then so much the better. Kitty, honest girl that she is, doesn't try to fool him. She's upfront from the start. This "phony" engagement is her idea from start to finish, and Freddy does take some convincing there at the start.

Soon after their arrival in London, Kitty begins her stay with her future-sister-in-law, Meg. Meg is married, but her husband is out of town. Out of the country in fact. And Meg sees Kitty as a way to have a chaperon or companion that isn't all-too-clever in the ways of the ton. Also for Meg taking on Kitty as a project is fun for her. London is a whole new world for Kitty. New places to see, new people to meet, and a few old acquaintances to bump into as well.

Georgette Heyer's Cotillion reads like a cross of Fanny Burney and Jane Austen. In particular, Burney's Camilla and Austen's Emma.

While I found all of the novel to be enjoyable, the last hundred pages were incredibly so. The pace quickens dramatically and everything seems to happen all at once. All the small little details that were introduced one by one in the first half of the novel all begin to come together quite rapidly. The clearer the big picture becomes, the more satisfying it is.

Definitely recommended to historical fiction fans especially if you love Regency Romance.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Lady of Quality

Heyer, Georgette. 1957. Lady of Quality.

"The elegant travelling carriage which bore Miss Wychwood from her birthplace, on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire, to her home in Bath, proceeded on its way at a decorous pace." (1)

Lady of Quality's first line may not sparkle as much as Austen's famous one, "IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." But just give it time. Trust me. This one has everything and more that you'd expect in an Austen novel: wit, humor, romance, quirky characters, as well as a few genuinely likable ones.

Such is the case with Lady of Quality. Miss Annis Wychwood is almost thirty years old. And in that time, the Regency period, thirty might as well have been sixty. Spinster is spinster no matter if you're thirty, blond, and witty or wrinkly, gray, and stubborn. But Annis is comfortable in her singleness. Or at least she prefers to see herself as comfortable. It helps that in Annis' situation, she's wealthy enough to have her own house and household. (By household I mean servants and such). If Annis had to live under her brother's roof, well, it would be a different story altogether. She does NOT get along with her brother, Geoffrey, though she does get along in a way with her sister-in-law. Yes, folks might think it a bit strange that she'd rather be independent and living on her own--and a good day's travel away from her brother and his wife--but they've become accustomed to it. But when our novel opens, Annis is about to do something a bit more unexpected, a bit more shocking.

Lucilla Carleton is just a young thing--not even eighteen--when she decides to run away from her aunt. (Her aunt is her primary guardian.) Her aunt wants her to marry the son of her father's best friend. A man, Ninian, that she's practically grown up with. It's not that she doesn't like him. But she doesn't like him like him. At least she says as much. As does he when given the opportunity. (The two like to bicker about how they don't want to be together.) Annis comes across this bickering pair on her way to Bath. Their carriage (or vehicle) has broken down--a problem with one of the wheels. Annis is too much of a lady to leave the poor girl in distress. She invites the young woman to come with her, to stay with her. Through their trip and the first day back at home, Annis hears all about Lucilla, her aunt, Ninian, and his over-bearing parents the Lord and Lady Iverley. Lucilla has runaway it's true but it's because her aunt is passive aggressive. She manipulates through tears and pleas and looks.

What is Annis to do? Welcome her home to this girl she barely knows yet instantly likes? Or send her packing with much tears of distress? She decides that the girl must write a letter to an aunt. She'll be allowed to stay with Miss Wychwood in Bath, it's true, but it's a temporary solution to the girl's problem. But this nice letter home has unattended results. Her aunt being of the nervous sort on the best of days writes a letter--a tear-soaked and illegible letter to the girl's legal guardian--Lucilla's Uncle Oliver. Oliver Carleton.

The last thing Annis expected was to be visited by Oliver Carleton. A man (from London) with the reputation of the worst sort. A truly grumpy, stubborn sort of man who speaks without thinking of the consequences, who enjoys speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth come what may. Obey society's nicety-nice rules? Not a chance! A man with a sharp but witty tongue comes to Bath to get to the bottom of this mess. He doesn't want Lucilla. He's not there to take her away, he's there to investigate this woman, this stranger who has interfered and butted into his business, his family.

Let the fun begin.

Oliver and Annis. Oh the sparks will fly. Despite her claims of being ancient and spinsterly, Oliver can't help thinking that she's entirely unsuitable for chaperoning his niece. She should be the one being courted and pursued and wooed by men. She's beautiful. She's witty. She's intelligent. There's just a certain something about her that he can't ignore. Annis never in a million years thought she'd feel this way, this maddeningly confusingly wonderful feeling. She can't stand him; and yet, she keeps hoping she'll see him again.

For anyone who loves Much Ado About Nothing and/or Pride and Prejudice, Lady of Quality is for you. It is a wonderfully giddy-making novel.

Heyer's novels are rich in detail combining history and romance with wit and charm and some unforgettable characters. If you're looking for a place to start, I'd highly recommend beginning with Lady of Quality.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Challenge

The Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge is a perpetual challenge. There is no 'official' start/end date set by the host. (If you want to set your own time limits, you may.) My goal in establishing this challenge is simple: I want to read as many Heyer novels as I can. While Heyer spent some years out of print, each year more and more of her novels are being rereleased for a new generation to enjoy. You may be lucky enough to find Heyer novels at a local used shop or used online. You might find some Heyer novels at your local library. Or you may want to invest in some new copies. Paperbacks are being published by several different companies including Sourcebooks, Inc. and Arrow Books. You can choose to focus on just the Regency romance novels, just the historical novels, or just the mysteries. Whatever you want to read is fine by me.

There are no set number of books you'd be required to read. You might want to read six. You might want to read twelve. You might want to read them all. Or you might just want to read two.

If you'd like to join me in my reading challenge, let me know by leaving a comment. If you'd like the opportunity to share your reviews (optional) with others, I can invite you to join the blog. If this is something that would interest you, just leave your email address in the comments. (So to sum it up, to join the challenge leave a comment. If you want an invite, leave a comment that includes your email address.)

The Books

Historical novels

The Black Moth 1921, Constable, 1929, Heinemann

Powder and Patch (originally published as The Transformation of Philip Jettan,1923, Mills & Boon), 1930, Heinemann

The Great Roxhythe 1923, Hutchinson, 1929, Heinemann

Simon the Coldheart 1925, Heinemann

These Old Shades 1926, Heinemann

The Masqueraders 1928, Heinemann

Beauvallet 1929, Heinemann

The Conqueror 1931, Heinemann

Devil’s Cub 1932, Heinemann

The Convenient Marriage 1934, Heinemann

Regency Buck 1935, Heinemann

The Talisman Ring 1936, Heinemann

An Infamous Army 1937, Heinemann

Royal Escape1938, Heinemann

The Spanish Bride 1940, Heinemann

The Corinthian 1940, Heinemann

Faro’s Daughter 1941, Heinemann

Friday’s Child 1944, Heinemann

The Reluctant Widow 1946, Heinemann

The Foundling 1948, Heinemann

Arabella 1949, Heinemann

The Grand Sophy 1950, Heinemann

The Quiet Gentleman 1951, Heinemann

Cotillion 1953, Heinemann

The Toll-Gate 1954, Heinemann

Bath Tangle 1955, Heinemann

Sprig Muslin 1956, Heinemann

April Lady 1957, Heinemann

Sylvester:Or the Wicked Uncle 1957, Heinemann

Venetia 1958, Heinemann

The Unknown Ajax 1959, Heinemann

A Civil Contract 1961, Heinemann

The Nonesuch 1961, Heinemann

False Colours 1963, Bodley Head

Frederica 1965, Bodley Head

Black Sheep 1966, Bodley Head

Cousin Kate 1968, Bodley Head

Charity Girl 1970, Bodley Head

Lady of Quality 1971, Bodley Head

My Lord John 1975, Bodley Head

Short stories

Pistols for Two 1960, Heinemann

Contemporary novels

Instead of the Thorn 1923, Hutchinson

Helen 1928, Longman

Pastel 1929, Longman

Barren Corn 1930, Longman

Crime novels

Footsteps in the Dark 1932, Longman

Why Shoot a Butler? 1933, Longman

The Unfinished Clue 1934, Longman

Death in the Stocks 1935, Longman

Behold, Here’s Poison 1936, Hodder & Stoughton, 1953, Heinemann

They Found Him Dead 1937, Hodder & Stoughton

A Blunt Instrument 1938, Hodder & Stoughton, 1954, Heinemann

No Wind of Blame 1939, Hodder & Stoughton

Envious Casca 1941, Hodder & Stoughton, 1955, Heinemann

Penhallow 1942, Heinemann

Duplicate Death 1951, Heinemann

Detection Unlimited 1953, Heinemann