Posts Tagged ‘Regency Books’

Book's coverStrictly speaking the oficial Regency lasted from 1811 to 1820, but the author, Ian Mortimer, takes the reader on a journey to Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland – from 1789 to 1830, a time period that is in line with most other historians, literary critics and antiques experts.

This book achieves something unique – a historian’s perspective written in a style of writing that is exciting to read. I did indeed feel like a time traveller as I was taken through the British countryside, Brighton, London, and Manchester. Mortimer touches all aspects of British life – from the vitality of the era, expansion of cities, and the explosion of scientific advances, trade, transportation, and the island’s population. Mortimer describes both the good and the bad effects of the industrial revolution, and the results of enclosures in England on farmers with small farms and of the Highland clearances on Scottish crofters.

The era’s glittering lifestyle is not neglected and the author takes advantage of the journals and accounts of contemporary eyewitnesses. This is Karl Moritz’z impression of the rotunda in Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea (1810):

“On my entry I mixed with this crowd, and what with the constant changing of the faces around me (most of them strikingly beautiful), the illuminations, the majesty and splendour of the place, and the ever-present strains of music, I felt for a moment as a child would on first looking into a fairy-tale.”

Above: Two images included in the book. Hover cursor over them for details.

Mortimer contrasts this memory with the description of a winter in London some twenty years later. Coal fires in London so polluted the air that soot floated without falling, and the fog and smoke darkened the skies even at noon.

As the rich built grand houses or renovated outdated mansions, and hired Capability Brown or Humphrey Repton to transform their grounds, many poor people suffered, for few resources or improvements were provided for them. Liverpool’s houses for migrant workers were designed in such a way as to provide no comfort or cleanliness. Two privies might serve two or three hundred people. The overcrowding was so severe that the population density was estimated at 777 per acre. So many other topics are covered: science, medicine and health; pleasure gardens and entertainments; occupations; food and drink; clothing; etc.

Time traveAfter reading this book, I had a comprehensive overview of the Regency era and recommend it to anyone interested in this period. Amazon Kindle edition (See cover to the right) offers a sample of the book’s Introduction, and Chapters 1 & 2 in full.

About the Author:

Ian-MortimerDr Ian Mortimer has been described by The Times newspaper as ‘the most remarkable medieval historian of our time’. He is best known as the author of The Time Traveller’s Guides: to Medieval England (2008); to Elizabethan England (2012); to Restoration Britain (2017); and to Regency Britain (2020). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and has published research in academic journals touching on every century from the twelfth to the twentieth. For more information, see http://www.ianmortimer.com

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Along with Austenprose, this blog is celebrating Georgette Heyer’s 108th birthday on August 16th. Look for Laurel Ann’s interview with me on her blog that day! Her questions were quite challenging.

The recent reviews featured on Laurel Ann’s blog echo some of the reviews that have been published in recent years on this blog. For your enjoyment and in celebration of the Austenprose event, we are reviving some of our favorite Georgette Heyer reviews.

Read more Georgette Heyer reviews by a wide variety of bloggers on Austenprose.

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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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