Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer (2011)Guest review by Laura A. Wallace

One of the things about Georgette Heyer is that the question “which of her books is your favorite?” tends to invoke a response corresponding to:  “whichever one I am reading now.”  Every time I reread one of her novels, I am always amazed at how fresh it is, even though I already know the plot; how exquisite the writing; how beautifully delineated the characters; and, perhaps most of all, the breadth and depth of understanding of the manners, customs, and language of the world she wrote about.

So it is with Bath Tangle.  The plot is well crafted, sometimes with the intricacy of a country dance, but if one didn’t know that Heyer was writing a century and a half after Austen, one might be forgiven for mistaking them as contemporaries.   She clearly drew from Austen, but her treatments always feel original.

To take just one example, from a scene early in the novel:  a single nobleman of immense fortune (ten times the consequence of a mere Mr. Darcy) indulges his female relations by yielding to their persuasions to escort them to a country Assembly.  He has done so with the ulterior motive of flirting a little with a naïve young miss he has recently met, but after standing up for the first two dances with her, and finding her conversation to have descended from artless confidences to monosyllables, he turns, bored, to the card room, and then slips away (hoping to avoid the notice of his sister) to go pay a duty call of leave-taking on an old friend, because he is going away the next day.  But this friend takes him severely to task for his behavior:

“It would have been bad enough to have danced only with the ladies of your own party.  That would have made everyone say merely that you were disagreeably haughty!  But to single out one girl, and she not of your own party—Ivo, it is the height of insolence, and a great piece of unkindness to [her] besides! . . . Depend upon it, you have now raised the most absurd expectations in her [mother’s] breast, turned that unfortunate child into an object of envy and speculation, all for sport! . . . I could name you a dozen girls, all, I daresay, at the Assembly tonight, as worthy of your notice as [she]!  But no!  You have been playing the great man, condescending to grace a country Assembly. . . . I believe it to be a kind of unthinking arrogance. . . . If you went to a public Assembly, you had no choice but to behave with civility towards all!  You might have danced with no one, since your excuse for going there was only to indulge your younger guests with a ball, but for a whim to single out one girl—and she the loveliest!—and then to stroll away, as though you thought yourself above the rest of the company—oh, no, Ivo, how could you?  Every feeling is offended!”

Ivo’s old friend—herself a lady of consequence who has never considered attending this Assembly in the town near her own home—has known him all her life, and, when she is not quarreling with him, is usually his partisan.  As she explains, when she finds out some days later that (after leaving her presence in a fury) he returned to the Assembly and danced not only with his young cousin but with “some girl who had no partner”:

“When he does such things it is not from any conscious idea of his own consequence, or a contempt for persons of inferior rank, but from a sort of heedless arrogance, as I told him. . . . He was never taught to think of anything but his own pleasure, but his disposition is not bad, nor does he mean to offend the sensibilities of others.  It is all heedlessness!  If he can but be made to see that he has behaved badly, he is sorry for it at once. . . . He knew what I said to be true, and that is what wounded his pride, and made him smart so. . . . Don’t imagine that he instantly set about mending the matter because his conduct had given me an ill opinion of him!  He did it because it gave him that ill opinion.” 

Now, to be fair, there is a lot of text missing in all of the ellipses in these two excerpts (including a description of Ivo’s upbringing where he was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit), but it shows how Heyer can, in a few sentences, not only give a decided impression of a scene that takes place off-stage, so to speak, but still manage to illustrate perfectly the niceties of the code of behavior of the time to a degree not found in your average Regency romance novel.  Naturally it evokes the Meryton Assembly in Pride & Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy refuses to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men, but it does so with an elegance of language that adds substantially to our understanding of the characters and their relations with each other.

I love this novel.  It seems to be deeper and richer than some of Heyer’s other novels, perhaps because it takes place over the course of a year rather than of a few days or weeks.  Developing and unraveling the tangle that takes place when some of the main characters remove to Bath takes three-quarters of the novel, and every bit of it is a treat to be savored.

The Sourcebooks edition is, as usual, a pleasure to hold and read, but there seemed to be more “scannos” than usual in this one, mostly of punctuation.  Missing italics, added italics, and missing dashes are the most noticeable.  My other copy of this novel is the Heinemann Uniform Edition, in which the type is only very slightly smaller, but heavier, and includes dashes three times as long as are currently fashionable, which I prefer as it makes for easier reading.  But these are quibbles that are hardly new, and I only mention them for the benefit of those other pedants out there who, like me, care deeply about such details.

But for everyone else, if you love Austen, or even if you just love Austen film adaptations and you haven’t yet read Heyer, do yourself a favor and read this book.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1402238796

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

18 thoughts on “Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I love this excellent review! It’s very fair to the book and conveys the language and characters beautifully. Heyer’s Bath Tangle deserves a wide readership. Thank you, Laura A. Wallace!

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  2. An excellent review of one of my favorite 20th century authors. I’m on book #16 of Ms. Heyer’s prodigious output, entitled False Colours. Bath Tangle is on my Heyer “must-read” list for sure.

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  3. I haven’t heard of this one, but the longer time frame in which the novel takes place does appeal to me. I’ll have to add it to this list.

    I haven’t heard the term “scannos” before–does Sourcebook (and others, I presume) really scan older versions in order to create their books? More than 1-2 would really irritate me, I’m afraid.

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  4. Thank you all for your comments! I reread BT yet again and I just love it!

    @Jeffrey: I looooove False Colours! It is probably my favorite Heyer of all.

    @JaneGS: I got the term “scannos” (which I’ve used in my earlier reviews) from the Distributed Proofreaders site associated with Project Gutenberg. http://www.pgdp.net/c/default.php And from my experience there, it is obvious to me that scanning is the origin of most of the errors in the text. They are different errors than those that are found in the paperback editions published in the last 40 years of the 20th century. They are irritating– and disappointing. But I’m afraid that’s just the new reality in publishing.

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  5. I’ve read this Heyer at least ten times, and it never pales–in part because of the force of character in both Ivo and Serena. Oddly enough, it is one of the least well-regarded novels in the Heyer “canon,” by critics and her chief biographer; I’ve never understood why. She’s criticized for making Serena a heroine akin to Barbara in AN INFAMOUS ARMY; I’ve never seen them as similar. Serena has an almost-too vivid sense of honour and integrity that Barbara largely lacks, and is without Barbara’s depth of self-hatred. I think the opening chapters, set around the funeral and the reading of the Will, are superb; and when Serena draws blood from her fingers by carelessly clutching a rose at the sudden realization she has always loved Ivo–midway through the book–it’s a subtle and perfect gesture.

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  6. I haven’t read any of Georgette Heyer’s books yet, although do have a couple or so on my to-read list. I loved the excerpts you posted, and the writing does remind me of Jane Austen’s. Sounds like a great story! Looks like I’m adding another GH title to my list! :)

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  7. I have never noticed this novels parallels to “Pride and Prejudice”, which is an interesting point. I will keep my eye out for it next time I read it.

    I love Georgette Heyer AND dashes that are “three times as long as what is currently fashionable”!

    Thanks for your review!

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  8. An enjoyable read Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by “to read” list.

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  9. Valerie R: Get thee immediately to a library, bookstore, or your favorite on-line resource and get totally hooked on Georgette Heyer!

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  10. I haven’t read Bath Tangle. It sounds great like the rest. And of course you are correct which ever one you’re reading at the moment….I just read The Grand Sophy and I have to say I loved every minute of it. So many laugh out loud moments. I only have about 7 or 8 or her books but I’m supposed to be getting a couple more from my wishlist soon. Now I have one more to add.

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  11. I think this is one of the best Heyer reviews I’ve read! This is a title I’ve not heard much about and you certainly brought out the flavour and tone of the book for me.

    I am one of those where editorial errors are bothersome, especially when they pull me out of the story. You have taught me something today, I didn’t realize that reprints today were scans of previous copies. I assume the ‘scannos’ are due to issues in the transfer and formatting, otherwise you would think there would be no errors if it is scanned from an error free edition? Thanks for the new knowledge and new phrase.

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  12. You’ve convinced my, Laurel Ann. This one moves to the top of my TBR pile, although I like what you said at the very beginning – that your favorite GH is likely to be the one you’re currently reading.

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  13. Pingback: Pistols for Two, by Georgette Heyer – A Review « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

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