The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Danielle of A Work in Progress

The Corinthian is the perfect summer read, a page-turning romp through Regency England with all the right elements pulled off perfectly.  It’s a light-hearted comedy of manners and very much an adventure story with all sorts of twists and turns and misunderstandings — not surprising since the heroine spends the entire novel dressed as a boy!

I wasn’t sure at first just what a Corinthian was, though it’s easy to infer the meaning over the course of the novel.  The dictionary defines it as:

a man about town, esp. one who lives luxuriously or, sometimes, dissolutely.

In this case, Sir Richard Wyndham is the Corinthian.  Very much a dandy he is known as the “Man of Fashion” who cares for nothing but “the set of his cravat, polish on his boots, and the blending of his snuff“.  Always elegantly attired from his perfectly windswept hair to the toes of his gleaming Hessian boots, he’s generally unutterably bored.  He’s not lacking in encouragement to do his duty to find a wife and beget an heir, but he really couldn’t be bothered.  Nearing thirty his mother and sister are urging him to marry a woman he grew up knowing.  Only it would be a marriage of convenience as the lady is rather cold and disinterested.  She will prevail upon him to accept his suit only because her family’s financial situation is dire, not because she loves him.  Despite being the most eligible catch in the Marriage Mart, he has no other prospects (at least the sort who want him for himself rather than his bank account) and has resigned himself to his fate.

But fate has a way of tripping you up sometimes.  After a particularly long and indulgent evening at Almacks, he leaves in a state of serious inebriation. Being “devilish drunk”, he decides to walk home and happens upon a most unusual sight.  Out of an upper story window of a prim house, a mysterious fugitive comes scampering down a rope made up of knotted sheets only to discover it isn’t long enough.  The fugitive is a slight youth who begs Sir Richard’s assistance.

The slight youth turns out to be not a boy, but a girl.  Penelope Creed is no simpering miss.  She’s an impish character, ready for adventure, but not the sort that includes becoming betrothed to her fish-faced cousin. An orphaned heiress she lives with her aunt who has distinct ideas of just what’s proper – a stifling atmosphere for one just out of the schoolroom.  Richard is ready to send her packing back to her aunt, though she begs him to allow her to set off for Somerset, to her family’s estates and a friend she’s not seen for five years.

“There was a pause.  Sir Richard unfobbed his snuff-box with a flick of one practised finger, and took a pinch.  Miss Creed swallowed and said: ‘If you had ever seen my cousin, you would understand’.”

“He glanced down at her, but said nothing.”

“‘He has a wet mouth,’ said Miss Creed despairingly.”

“‘That settles it,’ said Sir Richard, shutting his snuff-box.’I will escort you to your childhood friend’.”

Sir Richard agrees to accompany Pen from London to Somerset — a journey filled with comedy and misadventure.  It’s truly a rollicking good read and I could happily have went back to the beginning and started reading the story all over again.  Heyer creates a wonderful atmosphere with just the right tension and perfect chemistry between Richard and Pen.  Unlike many of Heyer’s heroes, Richard is not dour or condescending.  He has a wry sense of humor that clicks with Pen’s youthful enthusiasm.  They are both so likeable you can’t but help root for them. The Corinthian is one of, if not my very favorite, Heyer novel.

The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2009)
Trade paperback (272) pages
ISBN: 978-1402217692

Danielle has been blogging since 2005 at A Work in Progress. Writing about reading and interacting with other readers worldwide has been a trans-formative process, exposing her to so many authors that she might easily have missed, like Georgette Heyer, who is a fairly new obsession.  She has a fairly eclectic taste in books including classics to thrillers, detective stories, historical fiction and anything literary—new or old.  She works full time in an academic library devoting whatever free time she has left over to reading and her other passion needlework, and of course blogging about that too on The Peacock’s Feather.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 07 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009) 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 07    Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter
Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow
Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Foundling
Day 09    Aug 15 – Review: Arabella

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

41 thoughts on “The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Add yours

  1. I can’t agree more with Barbara; I would like to add that I find fictional characters with a wry sense of humour extremely appealing! Please let me win one of these books! Pretty please! ;P


  2. I agree I prefer the non-condescending, non-dour heros too, that’s why I have such a soft spot for Hugo in The Unknown Ajax. Can’t help wondering why the cover shows a woman so unlike Penn in every way, Penn is blonde, blue eyed, short cropped hair and slim enough to pass for a boy. Hardly the woman in the portrait who is wearing a dress dating from about 10 years later.


  3. Thank you for reminding me of how delightful The Corinthian is! It’s been some time since I read it but, going over your review, I was reminded of how funny it is – particularly that first meeting between Sir Richard and Pen. Pen isn’t my favourite Heyer heroine but with any other writer I would have found her antics annoying whereas Heyer somehow contrives to make her sympathtic and captivating.


  4. I love all Heyer’s novels involving cross-dressing heroines (e.g. These Old Shades, The Masqueraders and The Corinthian). My copy of The Corinthian is getting quite worn now. Penelope here is very young – only 18 – and she is innocent and yet wise. It’s what we call today a road romance. There are lots of adventures along the way, and LOL moments right to the end. In one scene, she messes up and almost says her real name “Pen…” and Richard has to quickly cover up “Yes, she was named after the Great Quaker” (William Penn). And then there is the scene about the owl – I feel a re-read coming on!


  5. Oh, this sounds so fun! You may have just convinced me, in a plethora of options, to make this my next Heyer :)


  6. The cover alone is enough to intrigue me. It’s purrrty. (But then, I suppose all of Sourcebooks’ are!)

    Huh, for some reason I thought TOS and The Masqueraders were the only ones that included cross-dressing heroines. I’ve yet to read any of these, but I’m guessing that if Shakespeare can make this sort of thing work for me, then so can Heyer. :)


  7. I am intrigued by the character of Richard who falls for Pen, while she’s a girl dresses as a boy. This reminds me of the Twelfth Night and how the duke falls for viola who disguises herself as a man.


    1. In answer to your question, I haven’t read this one in a few years, but as I recall, when Pen was climbing out of the window to escape, her “knotted-sheet-rope” was too short, so Sir Richard caught her. While holding her thus, he could tell that she was NOT a boy, and “thereby hangs the tale.” In other words, this is NOT a spoiler; it’s clear immediately.


  8. This is one of my favorite Heyer novels. I loved the scene where Pen is accused of seducing a girl and Sir Richard is like, “Again?!”. It was such a brilliant scene and really showed how well suited the two are for each other –quick thinking, funny, and just a bit mad.


  9. I love books with likeable main characters (which sounds basic, I know, but I am surprised at how many books I stop reading because I don’t like the main characters and don’t care what happens to them!), and the chemistry between Richard and Pen sounds like lots of fun. I’ll have to pick this one up.


  10. I had no idea of the term ‘Corinthian’ either until I started reading Heyer. She’s created a private world for her readers with her own unique cant… just delightful!

    Like Fatima, I had the same thought running through my head: A Corinthian falling for a girl dressed as a boy? Well, that’s certainly a new twist for Heyer! =D Thanks for clarifying, Cathy Allen. Sounds like this Heyero has a wicked sense of humor that I will enjoy.

    And echoing ncgraham regarding cross-dressing, if The Bard can make it fly, so can Heyer. =) The Corinthian will go into my TBR pile.


    1. I’ve read the biography of Georgette Heyer and found that she did not make up most of her cant. She did tremendous amounts of research and bought up old diaries and letters to find more. That was one way that she was able to prove that other authors were copying her work because the borrowed cant wasn’t in any other reference publicly known so they had to have plagiarized her. A truly remarkable author!


  11. This book sounds like wonderful fun! I adore the way the characters sound–and the way they first meet is hilarious!


  12. Ah, Sir Richard Wyndham *thud* He’s right up there with my favourite Heyeros, like Sir Waldo from The Nonesuch :0) And Cedric Brandon must be one of Heyer’s most hilarious secondary characters. I love the historical detail in this one – it blends so seamlessly with the action that you don’t at first appreciate the amount of meticulous research that Heyer must have done for the locations and the slang.


  13. Ha! I haven’t read this but I love the part where she’s coming down a rope while trying to escape. That part hooked me.


  14. Great review Danielle. Heyer is a fairly new find for me too but the couple of books I’ve read I’ve really enjoyed. Looking forward to adding this one to my library.


  15. Enjoyed this book and thought the beginning hilarious. Rather than marry her cousin (who looks like a fish) and is only interested in her money, Pen Creed escapes in the disquise of a man only to be rescued a Corinthian, Sir Richard Wyndam. Being the gentlemen that he is and a bit drunk at the time, Sir Richard insists on escorting Pen on her journey to her childhood sweetheart. The story has adventure and shows how we change during our youth to adulthood. Ms. Heyer captures the heart and soul of her heroine and hero.


  16. I feel like reading this one all over again. I love Heyer’s bored heroes – the one’s who are just waiting for the right lady to bring them back to life. Thanks for the lovely review!


    1. Check out this link, Alexa. It’s about “The Thermodynamics of Georgette Heyer” – with a little Flanders & Swann thrown in! The “thermodynamics” referring to “cold” heroes who need to be activated by “warm” heroines – or vice versa.


  17. I agree about liking the bored types of heroes. I don’t at first but there is something about being able to awaken someone to life and receiving their attentions.


  18. I think this one is a perfect choice for beginners, because as Danielle’s points out it combines light hearted comedy and an twists in the adventure department.

    Heyer twisted the plot and characters later on to create another novel Sprig Muslin, which is one of my top favourites.


  19. I really would love to read this novel – especially after reading about how it is so many people’s favorite Heyer novel. Heyer writes such wonderful novels that it is saying a lot to label one as a favorite!

    My husband and I are expecting our first daughter (we have two sons) in October and Penelope is our top choice for a girl name . . . it would be great to read a novel with a heroine named Penelope!


  20. I love the scene where Pen’s Aunt Almeria and her fish-faced cousin show up, & I always thought Cedric Brandon needed a book of his own, same as Pelham from The Convenient Marriage.


  21. For me, The Corinthian is like the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how absurd and outrageous a situation seems, there’s something even more zany around the corner, and that’s why it’s so much fun to read.


  22. Dressing the heroine up as a boy is probably the oldest romance novel trope, but when it’s done well the resulting misadventures are simply delicious. I have no doubt that Heyer did it very, very well. This too goes on my TBR pile.


  23. To start with a heroine climbing out the window and being caught by the hero, I know fun is on the way. So many claiming this as a favorite makes me want to start reading it today!


  24. This one looks like too much fun. We have Sir Richard Wyndham, a Beau Brummelesque dandy, bored with everything outside of fashion, getting inebriated and coming across our young maiden, Penelope, disguised as a boy, shimmying down an all too short rope. What an introduction! Then I find out that things only get better with their adventurous and humor filled journey to Somerset and discovering each other. Most definitely sign me up for this one. Don’t you guys realize how hard you are making this for someone who hasn’t read Heyer yet? How is one to decide upon which book to start first? I mean really, we have a plethora of delights before us, where does one begin? Thankfully we have Laurel Ann’s wrap up poll to help guide us, but still…


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