Posts Tagged ‘Cotillion’

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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It’s been years since I’ve run across the word “clodpole”, which Georgette Heyer uses to great effect in Cotillion, one of the splendid Regency romance novels that Sourcebooks had brought out and is available for order, including as an E-book, in this link. Half the fun of reading Ms. Heyer’s books is discovering which of her stereotypical characters will court or insult each other in that ironic British upper class way we Heyer fans have come to love.


In Cotillion we meet a veritable bevy of the typical Heyer characters:

  • Eccentric, old and tight-fisted uncle? Check.
  • Young and pretty heiress? Check.
  • Silly spinster chaperone? Check.
  • Buffoonish impoverished earl? Check.
  • Darkly handsome rake? Check.
  • Foppish Pink of the Ton? Check.
  • Long-suffering but pleasantly surprised father? Check.
  • Beautiful but vapid beauty in distress? Check.

The list of Heyer archetypes goes on and on, but we don’t care. We WANT the familiarity of Georgette Heyer’s typical characters, for they play off each other so well. Like an audience at a concert that has been performed in other music halls, we are interested in how this new orchestration of a well-known arrangement will compare to the others. In Cotillion, Heyer’s particular brand of Regency music reaches the heights of perfection. The rich uncle hopes that by bequeathing his entire estate to his orphaned ward, Kitty, he will force his favorite nephew, Jack, to vie for her hand in marriage. For the sake of equality,  Jack must propose alongside his other male cousins so that all may have an equal chance. But Jack won’t be manipulated and forced to court Kitty. An inveterate gambler,  he bets that Kitty and the considerable fortune she stands to inherit will always be available to him, for she has had an unhidden crush on him since the schoolroom. Jack didn’t count on the one variable that would put a spoke in his plans: Kitty’s anger at his absence and her stubborn determination to teach him a lesson.

Enter the Honourable Frederick Standen. The reader first meets this Exquisite in typical Heyer style:

The young gentleman who alighted from the chaise must have been recognized at sight by the discerning as a Pink of the Ton, for although his judgment, which, in all matters of Fashion, was extremely nice, had forbidden him to travel into the country arrayed in the long-tailed coat of blue superfine, the pantaloons of delicate yellow, and the tasselled Hessian boots which marked him in the Metroplolis as a veritable Tulip, or Bond Street Beau, none but a regular Dash, patronizing the most exclusive of tailors, could have presented himself in so exquisitely moulded a riding-coat, such peerless breeches, or such effulgent top-boots.

Freddy, though fond of Kitty, is not in love with her, and he is out of his depth when it comes to countering her will. Before he knows it he is engaged to her and has promised her a month in London before she must return to her uncle’s stuffy old mansion. Ms. Heyer takes her time setting up this fun plot, but knowing the particulars will be important, for when she sets events in motion they roll along seemingly of their own accord and with some unexpected twists that are sure to delight.

Can Frederick successfully introduce his faux Intended to his family and Society without having to submit to the Shackles of Marriage?

Will Jack be able to forgive Kitty for (unsuccessfully) trying to make him jealous?

Will Kitty, a total Innocent when it comes to London Society, be able to stay out of trouble?

As the plot thickens, we are treated to one priceless scene after another, including those of Kitty dragging Freddy to all the Sights of London. Our fastidious Freddy is aghast when forced to enter the musty rooms of the Egyptian Hall, and feels downright incensed when viewing the Elgin Marbles. “Why, they have no heads!” he expostulates, feeling very put upon at having to escort Kitty to places that he’d never intended to see or ever see again. He’d have much preferred to take her to Astley’s Amphitheatre or the Royal Circus, but both edifices did not open until Easter Monday.

Freddy’s family adds spice to this hugely enjoyable novel. His sister Meg, whose taste in Fashion is questionable; his mother, who spends most of the novel tending to her sick children; and his father, whose encounters with his son are all too brief and rare, add to the deliciousness of this convoluted plot. The title of the book hints at plot developments that are not so obvious at first, for when dancing the Cotillion, partners must switch and change within the dance formations.  If you are looking for a book to read during the Thanksgiving holidays, I cannot recommend Cotillion enough, for its conclusion is as satisfying as its very promising beginning.

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