Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Susan Holloway Scott, of Two Nerdy History Girls

I read my first Georgette Heyer years ago, when I discovered a long row of her books on a shelf in my school’s library. I ripped right through them, one after another, in the kind of focused excess that only adolescents possess. This was not only my introduction to Heyer, but also to Regency England, and by the time I’d reached the end of that shelf, I’d discovered both a new favorite author and an era to match.

But that was a long time ago (another century!), and I’ve had many other favorite authors come and go since then.  When Laurel Ann asked if I’d re-read Regency Buck for the Austenprose Heyer Event, I hesitated. First loves are usually better left in the hazy glow of the past. I needn’t have worried. Everything that had first captivated me about Heyer’s work was still there: the wit, the detailed recreation of another time, the cameos by famous folk, and the trials of a young lady searching for the perfect gentleman, and love as well.

Heiress Judith Taverner and her impulsive young brother Peregrine (the “buck” of the title) travel from their Yorkshire home to London to meet their new guardian and join fashionable society.  Along the way they stop to watch a boxing match (one of the book’s most famous scenes), where an odious gentleman mistakes Judith for a disreputable woman. Of course the gentleman turns out to be their guardian, Julian, Earl of Worth. Of course he continues to be insufferable, refusing every gentleman who offers for Judith’s hand. Of course, too, Peregrine continues to tumble into every mishap that a young buck can, only to be rescued by Bernard Taverner, the sibling’s charming cousin. But nothing (and no one) in London is as it seems, and by the time every secret is revealed, Judith has discovered not only the truth, but true love as well.

First published in 1935, Regency Buck was Heyer’s first novel set in the Regency, an era that became so closely associated with her that her books defined the genre of Regency romances. (It also spawned a sequel,  An Infamous Army, published in 1937.) Regency Buck has justly remained a reader favorite for seventy-five years.

But what struck me most about rereading Regency Buck was how much it reflects its own times as well as the early 1800s. Heyer is often suggested to readers who love Jane Austen, yet in a way the comparison is an uneasy one. When they were written, Austen’s books were contemporaries rather than historical recreations. Her heroines are respectable gentry, bound by the conventions of their time, station, and often dwindling economics.

Heyer’s Judith Taverner, however, is a bold, spirited lady endowed with a sizable fortune that gives her a place among the aristocracy. She’s deliciously outspoken and assertive, and challenges the restrictions placed on ladies. Unlike Judith, none of Austen’s heroines would be seen at that boxing match. The Bennet sisters never hobnob with the Prince of Wales at Brighton, nor do they have the luxury of a guardian like Judith’s Lord Worth who, on her behalf, turns down one suitor after, freeing her finally to marry for love alone. Judith seems more a 20th c. lady than a 19th c. one, which makes her much easier for modern readers to embrace. In this way, she’s less a sister to Austen’s heroines than a descendant, and a direct ancestress of today’s best historical romance heroines. And that, to me, makes for a very fine family indeed.

Susan Holloway Scott is the author of over forty historical novels under several pseudonyms. Her next book, “The Countess & the King: A Novel of the Countess of Dorchester & King James II”, will be published in September by NAL/Penguin. Susan also loves to procrastinate by blogging, and posts all manner of historical tidbits and observations as one of the Two Nerdy History Girls (with historical romance novelist Loretta Chase.) You can also follow Susan on Facebook.

Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2008)
Trade paperback (396) pages
ISBN: 978-1402213496

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 05 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 05   Aug 08 – Review: The Talisman Ring
Day 06   Aug 09 – Review: An Infamous Army
Day 06   Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride
Day 07   Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

37 thoughts on “Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I admire Judith’s character and what makes her such a different heroine than the ladies in Austen’s world. Her character intrigues me and I hope to finish her story soon.

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  2. Ms. Scott mentioned that this novel spawned An Infamous Army. I want to read more about Lord Worth as he has a supporting role in Infamous Army. This should provide a fuller picture of him.

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  3. Regency Buck was my first Heyer last fall, and though I am in my thirties, I think I’ve been tearing through her novels with a fair approximation of that “focused excess” you attribute to adolescents. I really appreciate your attempt to verbalize the discomfort I share with you when Heyer is compared to Austen. Though her books are highly appealing to the Janeite, I remain uneasy with claims like “the next best thing to Austen” as they are such very different authors. Thank you for the thoughtful review.

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  4. Egad! That cover is the same cover as Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride (the edition I have anyway!) and I didn’t like that one… =( But I guess these lovely painting/portraits are in the public domain, so repeated usage is unavoidable.

    I agree that Heyer and Austen are very different writers and each had her own particular genius. I enjoy their novels for different reasons. =) What an insightful review, Susan.

    I must remember to read this before An Infamous Army (incidentally, got hold of the last copy in the city today… Woo hoo!)

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  5. Fatima, I enjoyed Judith’s character, too. No nonsense from that lady!

    Linda B., You’re right – once you read “Regency Buck”, you will indeed have a much more complete grasp of Lord Worth’s character.

    Alexa, I’m so glad you understood my differentiating between Austen and Heyer! To me, it’s very much an apples-and-oranges comparison…but I know there are likely plenty of readers who would not agree. *g*

    RegencyRomantic, I have to say I don’t really care for this current crop of Heyer covers. The paintings are too Victorian for me; the Regency era just wasn’t a sentimental time, and these ruffled paintings are awfully sentimental. Oh, well, matter of taste, and as you noted, sometimes it’s a matter of what art is available to fit the publisher’s budget. :)

    The editions I read were the first ones in the USA, way back from 1966. If you scroll down this page (link below), you’ll see the “Regency Buck” I read, with the Royal Pavillion in the background. Interesting to see all the different versions!

    http://www.abfar.co.uk/bibliogs/gh_bib.htm

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  6. Regency Buck has never been one of my favorites, and Judith is not a heroine I particularly enjoy, but Worth’s brother Charles Audley (the lead male in An Infamous Army) is great!

    One thing, though. Judith does a lot of things wrong, and in fact has been voted as “Heyeroine most needing a slap” by some website, but she didn’t go to the prizefight herself. She still gets in some hot water, but not there.

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  7. I love this review. I especially like the firs two paragraphs where you describe how you first fell in love with Heyer and Regency romances. There’s something so true about the focused excess of adolescence that I can see in my own reading history.
    Thanks again for the great review!

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  8. Whoops, I am properly chastised. Terri, you are right, and I am not. Judith Taverner does not attend the boxing match; her brother goes off on his own to find male boon companions. This is what comes of writing reviews from memory….!

    But I did like “Heyeroine most needing a slap.”

    Thank you, all, for your kind comments. I suspect there are more than a few of you who also have those adolescent reading-frenzies in your past! :)

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  9. You wrote a good review, anyway. I wish I could write expository pieces without telling the whole story!

    One of the things I like so much about Regency Buck is the research that went into it. I found the information about snuff very interesting, which surprised me.

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  10. Susan thanks for the great review. Regency Buck is one of Heyer’s most beloved novels and I am anxious to read it. The name Peregrine is quite unique. I have never seen it used before.

    Cheers, LA

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    • Regency Buck is a fun book, though not my favorite Heyer. I think nothing shall surpass Sylvester, although I still have quite a few more Heyers to read.

      Laurel Ann, I’m amazed that you’ve never heard the name Peregrine. You must grab hold of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – Peregrine Took is one of the main characters.

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  11. Thanks so much for this review. A friend of mine, a serious Georgette Heyer fan, gave me Regency Buck to read. When I commented that Judith seemed more like a 1930’s heroine than a Regency-era heiress, she became quite offended. So it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. But having said that, I do think it’s remarkable that Heyer was able to take the Regency period and rework its elegance, social codes, and madness so that her stories are both true in their historical detail and yet true in spirit to a more modern time.

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  12. Thank YOU, Laurel Ann, for asking me to participate. It’s been great fun!

    One last thing I forgot to mention about “Regency Buck”: there’s actually a character named Mr. Blackader. All Rowan Atkinson fans take note! *g*

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  13. I like Regency buck because of the hazy way Lord Worth is presented up until the end. the scene where he appears to be making an end of Peregrine is a good example. The drugged wine and the removal of peregrine’s body from the scene of the crime are a good tease. It is just foggy enough to make one wonder, at least for the first time through. The subsequebt readings of the book give one an opportunity to see how subtlely Worth and Bernard Taverner are depicted so that it is not actually clear who is the bad guy and who is the Heyero. The subtle arrangement of words and descriptions of reactions to circumstances are a very clever and make the book worth reading as many times as one wants just to see Heyer’s skill.

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  14. Interesting, that though the title is Regency Buck, your review makes it sound as though it is really the sister’s story. I’m intrigued to see how Heyer manages to find a balance between the siblings’ escapades.

    Anyway, great review. There’s a wonderful sense of rediscovery to it.

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  15. Once again, I’m a day late and a dollar short…*sigh*

    I must admit, though I’m almost ashamed to do so, I’ve never read a Heyer novel. I read everything Holt wrote, in all her many incarnations, but never a Heyer word. After reading this review, I’m going to have to now!

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  16. Susan wrote: When Laurel Ann asked if I’d re-read Regency Buck for the Austenprose Heyer Event, I hesitated. First loves are usually better left in the hazy glow of the past.

    How right you are! But isn’t it wonderful when you do revisit an old favorite and find it to be just as good or better than you remember? This is another Heyer to look forward to :)

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  17. >in the kind of focused excess that only adolescents possess.

    Speak for yourself! :) I find I still devour newly discovered favorites with all the relish of my adolescence…

    I really enjoyed your insights with regards to Heyer’s work reflecting her time more than Austen’s, despite when she set her novels. I couldn’t agree more, which doesn’t mean that I enjoy Heyer any less for being of the 20th century.

    If I read every Heyer that I’ve promised to so far this month, I’ll be reading nothing else for awhile…but RB has to make the list for 2011 :)

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  18. I’m afraid I’m with Terry on this one. Though I acknowledge that in general it is a good novel, I’m afraid that I cannot stand Judith very much (which is a rarity, since I tend to like most of the Heyer heroines). It is only because of Charles that I go through it and the knowledge that he reappeared as hero in An Infamous Army.

    BTW, I do not think that Peregrine is the “buck” of the title, but Worth. Nor Judith see the box match.

    > when I discovered a long row of her books on a shelf in my
    > school’s library. I ripped right through them, one after another,
    > in the kind of focused excess that only adolescents possess.

    Like Alexa and Jane, I disagree that only adolescents possess that kind of reading frenzy. I was in my mid-twenties when I began to read Heyer and I devoured any of her novels that came within my reach, only when 3 of the 34 novels here to be reviewed remained unread for me I took it with more calm because I did not want it to end.

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  19. Susan, while I can appreciate your reluctance to revisit first loves (the very problem with Facebook!), Georgette Heyer never disappoints. In fact, I’ve found that the older you get, the more you come to appreciate her wit, insight, and subtlety. I first discovered her as a teenager, and now thirty years later, I still consider her one of the finest authors I’ve read. My favorites have changed over the years as I’ve matured, just as the characteristics of her heros and heroines changed over the course of her career. “Regency Buck” is a romp, and Judith is a bit tiresome, but even on her worst day (which this was not), Heyer’s artistry far surpasses some authors on their best.

    By the way, thanks for the info on “An Infamous Army.” I read it twentysome years ago and will go back and reread it again!

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  20. Thanks for this review of Regency Buck, and the insight that “buck” = Peregrine. I always thought it referred to Worth – but you are right, Worth is more the disdainful, superior aristocrat than a gad-about-town buck. Unlike many readers, this is one of my favourite Heyers! I know some people think Judith is a bit cold (or they think Worth is cold too, and how those two suit each other perfectly). There are lots of really funny scenes (“Where’s the heiress? Is she hideous? They all are. Does she squint like a bag of nails? Can I try my luck on her too?” or something to that effect, says one of my favourite supporting characters). And poor Clorinda! I could feel her stewing away every time her name was called. I already have two copies of Regency Buck (the UK Arrow one and the US Sourcebook one), so I don’t need to be entered into the draw. You see, I really love it – that’s why I have two perfectly new copies, so that it will last me at least another 30 years or so. And yes, An Infamous Army is also a favourite of mine – Charles is more sober there, less care-free – but then he has reason to be serious as there’s Napoleon to fight at Waterloo.

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  21. As I have previosly confessed I have never read Heyer. I know, I know how can I be a self confessed historical fiction junkie, in my 40’s (dare I say), and not have read her. To avoid boringly repeating myself, please see my other post, under the Heyer kickoff and series contest, for the reasons I have held off reading her.

    I find Regency Buck interesting because it is the first one Heyer wrote in the Regency period, the sub-genre upon which she is credited to have given birth. And it precedes An Infamous Army, the Heyer I finally purchased last year but have not yet read. I also loved Susan’s defining differences between Austen and Heyer which for me could also be a definition of historical fiction versus classic contemporary fiction. To me there is certainly a distinction, for example F. Scott Fitzgerald, encapsulated his jazz crazy, flapper girl time period (as Austen did for her era) but his books are not historical fiction. To have one of my favorite HF authors (Susan) not only recommending this book but Heyer in general, is just another reason I am ready to happily jump on the Heyer bandwagon!

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  22. I didn’t find Georgette Heyer until I was 49 and I read them with adolescent fervor into my 50th birthday. I, too, slowed down as I got to the last 2 books as I didn’t want the pleasure to end. I was referred to GH as a result of having exhausted Jane Austen and any of the sequels published then. Sourcebooks was putting out GH and they were appearing on the tables at Barnes and Noble alongside their other regency books so I went down that road and haven’t look back!

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  23. This is one of my absolute favorite Georgette Heyers. I love how bold Judith is, but how she is also able to learn from her mistakes, particularly after the racing incident.

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  24. I need to reread this one. Judith sounds pretty awesome. It’s been so long I don’t remember any of the scenes!

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  25. I liked a lot of this book, but not so much the whole plot with the evil persons plotting the death of Peregrine, etc. I actually have a hazy recollection of reading a book that might have been this one when I was in my early teens. My favourite scene is where Judith and P. find out who there guardian is.

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  26. I love this review and have yet another Heyer novel to add to my “to read” list. Judith sounds like a wonderful heroine that I would love to read more about. It’s also interesting how this is Heyer’s first regency novel. I wonder how it compares with later works?

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  27. Pingback: ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ at Austenprose – August 1st – 31st, 2010 « Austenprose

  28. I love Heyer’s portrayal of bucks, so I’m eager to see what Peregrine is like in this book. One thing I’m learning is that she took no less fauns writing secondary characters than she did the hero and heroine. That’s what makes her books seem so realistic–everyone us multi-dimensional.

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  29. I like spirited heroines so I am looking forward to meeting Judith in Regency Buck. Part romance, part mystery; I look forward to seeing how the plot unfolds and the secrets are revealed. I am an Austen fan but it is nice to see Heyer appreciated for her unique way of writing.

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  30. This was my first Heyer, and therefore retains a warm place by the fire of my internal library. Favourite character: Worth, by far. Favourite scene: a tossup between Charles Audely’s ‘Does she squint?’ and the deliciously frightening moment when Peregrine stares at his glass of wine and then lifts his gaze to Worth and says….. but that would be a spoiler :-D

    I came to Heyer as an adolescent, and her books led me eventually to Austen. My coterie would sprawl intertwined on the bed in Shari’s late grandmother’s bedroom on every possible afternoon, sucking on MacIntosh toffee and reading our way along the Heyer shelf with all the fervour six adolescent girls could generate. It’s a wonder the room didn’t explode with all that pent-up yearning for one hero or another.

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  31. I didn’t realize until this review that it was the first Regency Heyer wrote. I liked the way the characters show up in An Infamous Army. Judith is a bit of a pain, but grows on you.

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