Posts Tagged ‘Georgette Heyer Book Reviews’

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.

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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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The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer has arrived just in time for the holidays. This historical saga of William, Duke of Normandy, who defeated the Saxons in The Battle of Hastings in 1066, is told vividly, accurately, and with mastery by an author who was able to do her research using the rare resources in the London Library.* The story covers William from his infancy until his victory. Although this book is mostly historical, it wouldn’t be a Georgette Heyer novel without some romance. The proud Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, balks at her betrothal to the baseborn William, which sets up an interesting tension:

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The Lady Matilda rose slowly to her feet, and made a reverence to her father. Speaking in a cool, very audible voice, and with her hands clasped demurely together, she said, picking her words: “My liege and father, I thank you for your care of me. If it be your will that I should wed again be sure that I know my duty towards you, and will show myself obedient to your commands as befits my honour and yours.” She paused. Watching her close, Raoul saw the smile lift the corners of her mouth, and was prepared for the worst. Veiling her eyes she said: “Yet let me beseech you, beau sire, that you will bestow my hand upon one whose birth can match with mine, and not, for the sake of our honour, permit the blood of a daughter of Flanders to mingle with that of one who is basely descended from a race of burghers.” She ended as coolly as she had begun, and making a second reverence went back to her stool and sat down, looking at her hands.

A stricken silence hung heavily over the company. There were startled looks, and men wondered how the Norman envoys would stomach this insult. Montogoméri flushed, and took a step forward. “Rood of God, is this to be our answer?” he demanded.

Raoul intervened, addressing himself to Count Baldwin. “Lord Count, I dare not take such an answer back to my master,” he said gravely. Surveying the Count’s shocked face he came to the conclusion that the discourteous reply had been prepared without his knowledge. Curbing Montogoméri with a frown, he said: “My lord, I await Flander’s reply to my master’s proposals.”

Count Baldwin availed himself of the loophole gratefully. He rose to his feet, and made the best of a bad business. “Messires,” he said, “Flanders is sensible of honour done her, and if she is obliged to bestow our daughter in marriage on the Duke of Normandy, were it not for the repugnance the Lady Matilda feels towards a second marriage.” So he began, and went on at length, smoothing away the insult. The envoys withdrew, one thoughtful, the other smouldering with indignation. What Count Baldwin said to his daughter is not known, but it is certain he sent for Raoul de Harcourt late that evening and was closeted with him alone for a full hour.

As with Simon the Coldheart, Georgette employs a more old-fashioned writing style for this early era in both language and detail. This makes the book harder to read than her regencies, but also more realistic in tone. She also writes the tale through Raoul de Harcourt’s eyes, a fictional character, so that we never quite get into William’s mind or understand his motives.  However, for those who cannot get enough of historical biographies, this newly reissued Georgette Heyer history is a must read! Order the book at Amazon or at Sourcebooks.

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen’s World through mid-December: Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro’s Daughter, and The Conqueror.

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daugher, and The Conqueror

*The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge, The Bodley Head, Ltd, London, 1984.

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faros-daughterInquiring reader: Faro’s Daughter is reviewed by Lady Anne, my good friend and one of Georgette Heyer’s biggest fans.

Max Ravenscar is one of Georgette Heyer’s favorite hero types: he is 35 years old, single, and the head of his family for many years. He is a powerful athlete and superb horseman. He is harsh featured, strong-willed, and suffers no one to cross his will. And, oh yes, even more importantly, he is extraordinarily, amazingly wealthy. Deborah Grantham is also a favorite type: well-born and gently raised, but her family has suffered reverses, and she is forced to make her way. Her father was a military man, but more importantly to our story, a gamester. Her aunt, with whom she resides since her father’s death, is a widow forced to make ends meet by running a private gaming club. She was successful on a small scale, but is in no way equipped to run a profitable business, and inevitably, has fallen into debt.

Max’s nephew Adrian has fallen hard for Deb Grantham, and his mother, Max’s aunt, one of the women who depend on Max to keep their worlds untroubled, implores him to extricate the young man from this potential pitfall. Deb Grantham, a lovely 25 year old Juno-esque blonde, has a strong will and temper, along with a finely tuned moral code and sense of her own worth. At their first meeting, Ravenscar is surprised by her, but also beats her badly at piquet. The following day, he offers her money to turn his nephew loose. Deb has been playing with Adrian to keep another suitor, one who wishes to make her his mistress, at bay. Incensed at Max’s blunt offer, she plays a role that suits what he thinks she is, rather than showing her very real anger. Predictably, they show each other their worst sides, misconstrue actions, get into and out of scrapes, forestall any serious problems, and inevitably, end up in each other’s arms.

Other characters include the raffish sidekick, her father’s friend and confidante who is devoted to Deb, a spoiled younger brother, who is appalled at the slide into not-quite-respectable territory his aunt and sister have begun, an enchanting younger step-sister who gives her older brother something to think about, and a very young and foolish ingénue who is not so foolish as to allow herself to be married to a far older man of worse than dubious reputation. It is a great mix and a lot of fun.

Faro Dealing Box

Faro Dealing Box

Along the way, Heyer, who knows her periods well, reveals some of the cracks in the world of upper class Eighteenth Century England. The wellborn do not work; their money is inherited. If the families waste their fortunes, the choices for their children are harsh. Improvident parents marry children off to the highest bidder they can find, no matter how unsavory the reputation. Few opportunities present themselves for those girls who do not marry: companion or governess for the not so lucky. Deb Grantham shows this when she responds to Ravenscar’s comment that she is accomplished. “No,” she says, “drawing, singing or playing an instrument are accomplishments.” She means of course, suitable for a young lady. She was not fortunate to acquire those skills, but instead has learned card games like faro and piquet. She does not expect to marry because of her slightly tarnished reputation. Max is cynical in part because he has been the head of his family since far-too-young an age. Not only has he had too heavy a burden caring for his various family members, but ambitions mamas trying to marry off their daughters have disgusted him with their headlong pursuit of his name and his fortune. Naturally strong-willed, no one has crossed him in a long time. Deb’s expert fencing with him, whether playing cards or pitting her will against his, comes as a not entirely welcome surprise. They are equally matched; he may have doubts about her eligibility to marry into his family, but her behavior actually is more honorable than his. When he plays for high stakes against Lord Ormkirk, his lordship is drunk. The race, for breathtakingly high stakes, is against a man who he knows has inferior driving skills. It’s all right; both his competitors are bad men, but Deb, for all that she is plays in her aunt’s gaming establishment, would not take unfair advantage. She cannot afford to.

Faro Betting Board

Faro Betting Board

But, being a rollicking romance, all ends well, and Deb can stop playing faro, Max will pay her aunt’s debts, and everyone ends up happy. Including Georgette Heyer’s loyal readers.

About Lady Anne, the reviewer: A confirmed Janeite and co-founder of Janeites on the James (our Jane Austen group), an expert on all things Georgette Heyer and the Regency Era, a lady well read and well bred, Lady Anne is known for her discerning eye for both literature and her breath-taking garments made by a select mantua maker. Cloth’d and coifed, Lady Anne knows few equals, and when she enters a room she is a commanding presence. She is also Ms. Place’s special friend and confidante.

To read more about gambling during this era, please read the post that sits below this one or click here.

Our Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Here:

These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen Today.

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daugher, and The Conqueror

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro

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Layout 1Inquiring readers, Simon the Coldheart, an early Georgette Heyer novel, was reviewed by my co-founder of our Jane Austen book group. Lady Anne would be the first person to admit that she is addicted to reading Ms. Heyer’s novels. Her collection of Georgette Heyer’s novels is complete – she owns all her regency romance novels, mysteries, and historical novels. (With 51 titles, that is saying something.)  This is Lady Anne’s review of one of Georgette Heyer’s earliest novels, which will be reissued by SourceBooks just in time for this holiday season.

No one gets period better than Georgette Heyer. Whether she is writing about England in the Regency era or the 15th Century, she has the details and the language perfectly.

In Simon the Coldheart Heyer uses period language to excellent effect. The story, characterized as a tale of chivalry and adventure, tells of young Simon, a base-born bastard of one Geoffrey of Malvallet, as he is off to make his way in the world. Our young hero is not one to feel sorry for his accident of birth, nor does he look to his father to support him. Simon instead styles himself Beauvallet – a nice little wordplay — and seeks to become a member of the household of one of his father’s enemies.
Matters would have gone ill with Simon but for the appearance of a boy, a little younger than himself, who came strolling towards them, followed by two liver-coloured hounds. He was dark, and magnificently clad, and he carried himself with an air of languid arrogance.

“Hola there! he called, and the soldiers fell away from Simon, leaving him to stand alone, arms folded and head turned to survey the newcomer.

The boy came up gracefully, looking at Simon with a questioning lift to his brows.

“What is this?” he asked. “Who are you who strike our men?”

Simon stepped forward.

“So please you sir, I seek my Lord the Earl.”

One of the men, he whom Simon had dealt that lusty blow, started to speak, but was hushed by an imperious gesture from the boy. He smiled at Simon with a mixture of friendliness and hauteur.

“I am Alan of Montlice,” he said. “What want you of my father?”

Simon doffed his cap, showing his thick, straight hair clubbed across his brow and at the nape of his brown neck. He bowed awkwardly.

I want employment, sir, he replied.

Simon is strong and sure of himself. His great confidence amuses and charms Fulk of Montlice, in whose household he seeks to live, and he is awarded a place. Fulk’s son is about Simon’s age, and the two very different young men become close friends. No jealousy or tiresome infighting here.

The book is set in the early 15th Century, and before long, we find ourselves with King Henry IV and young Prince Hal fighting Hotspur and Owen Glendower, in that famous uprising. Young Simon proves himself in battle – no surprise – and comes to the rescue of his half-brother, the young Geoffrey of Malvallet. The rescue earns him a knighthood and begins another surprising friendship, this time with his half-brother. During the next few years, Simon is a knight in the household of Fulk, and young Alan of Montlice, always in love, despairs over Simon. But Simon is looking for a home. On the day that he finds a baronetcy in disarray, he also learns of a plot against King Henry. Gathering some of the men of Montlice around him, he goes to London to tell Henry, and so is awarded the home he needs. His father comes to ask him to live in his household, but he refuses. Because he goes his solitary way, he earns the soubriquet of Coldheart.

But here, Heyer is on firm psychological ground. The base-born child of a servant-girl who died in his childhood is likely to keep his own council and wish to establish his own line. At our first meeting of Simon he claims to be going to his goal, and throughout the book, he stays clear on that. He does not have the luxury of excuses, or whining, or wasting time over women or poetry. He is intent on making his way. It could be an interesting portrait of a complex person, but Heyer only alludes to it. Her business is with the history, and the fun of a group of young men.

Soon enough, Prince Hal, now King Henry V, calls on Simon, his half-brother Geoffrey, and his great friend Alan to assist with the war in France. This is Shakespeare’s Henry at Agincourt, and the battles that Simon and his men fight are a continuation of that part of the Hundred Year’ War. Like his King, Simon meets a strong-willed Frenchwoman at Belremy, and in the end, of course, the lady Margaret falls before Simon and Simon is Coldheart no more. Ultimately, King Henry makes Simon his lieutenant and warden of the lands and marches of Normandy. Heyer, ever the careful scholar, notes in a footnote that in fact the Earls of March and Salisbury held that title.

Simon the Coldheart is an early book, originally published in 1925. As always, Heyer’s details describe the period, and in this book, she takes the further step of using language suited to the time: slightly inverted, filled with pomp and chivalry. It adds greatly to total experience. The book is a romp, fun for those of us who loved the transformation of Prince Hal into Henry, and fun for anyone who would want to read of that bygone age of chivalry. Click here to order the book.

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Our Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen Today.

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daugher, and The Conqueror

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daughter, and The Conqueror

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