Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest Review by Alexa Adams of First Impressions

When their Great-uncle Matthew, the miserly Mr. Penicuik, summons his five unmarried nephews to Arnside House, only four oblige him. Unfortunately, one of these attendees, already being married, was not even invited, a fact that delights the somewhat slow Lord Dolphinton, who torments the unwelcome Lord Biddenden by recounting the many times their host has mentioned the fact : “‘Said it when we sat down to luncheon,’ he continued, ticking the occasion off on one bony finger. ‘Said it at dinner. Said if you didn’t care for your mutton you needn’t have come, because he didn’t invite you.’” But as Lord Biddenden’s most eligible brother, Claude Rattray, is away on campaign, and his other brother, the Reverend Hugh Rattray, can be depended on to make “a ramshackle business” of it, he feels his supervisory presence is unquestioningly required at Arnside. Yet there was only one great-nephew whose company Mr. Pencuik really desired – his favorite, the rakish Jack Westruther – and he has failed to put in an appearance.

As Uncle Matthew’s explicit purpose in collecting his nephews about him was to announce his outrageous intention of allowing his ward, Miss Kitty Charing, to choose amongst them a husband, Jack’s absence is of great chagrin to both himself and Kitty, who has “fancied herself in love with him for years”. After declining Lord Dolphinton’s proposal, which his domineering mother has forced him to make, as well as Hugh’s, who presents his suit with all the sensibility of Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins, Kitty reacts as every proper Heyer heroine must in such an unsavory predicament; declaring that she does not want her guardian’s “odious fortune”, that she would “rather wear the willow” all her days, she promptly runs away.

In the world of Georgette Heyer, a damsel in distress will always fall under the care of an obliging gentleman, in this case Mr. Penicuik’s remaining nephew, the Honorable Freddy Standen. Though this “veritable Tulip, or Bond Street Beau, none but a regular Dash”, has never impressed his family with anything other than his impeccable taste, Kitty confides in him over an ill-conceived bowl of punch (not at all the thing) at a nearby hostelry. Convincing him to agree to a sham engagement, she travels to London in his company in order to both “cut a dash” and confront Jack. Thus commences Cotillion, one of my very favorite Heyer novels, and the fallout from this ill-conceived ruse leads this colorful cast through a series of outrageous predicaments. Freddy surprises everyone by rising to the occasion as each scrape unfolds with the exquisite aplomb of Heyer’s best heroes, the cut conveyed by his well-aimed quizzing glass as deadly as any sword. Four happy couples emerge at the conclusion, each having been expertly led through an intricate set of steps that gracefully lands them precisely where they belong. This is Heyer at her best, the force of her comic genius tantalizing the reader’s senses like the daring glimpses of petticoat revealed during the dance that gives the novel its name.

Cotillion, By Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2007)
Trade paperback (362) pages
ISBN: 978-1402210082

A lover of Jane Austen since her childhood, Alexa Adams is the author of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice and writes about Austen (and sometimes Heyer) at her blog of the same name. Currently she is working on the sequel to First Impressions as well as a series of short stories, published serially on her blog under the title Janeicillin, in which she extends the ends of Austen’s novels by imagining events as they might have occurred between the proposals and the weddings. She lives in the Delaware Valley with her husband and two cats. You can follow Alexa on Twitter as ElegantExtracts.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 11 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2007) 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 12   Aug 20 – Review: The Toll-Gate
Day 12   Aug 20 – Review: Bath Tangle
Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: Sprig Muslin
Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: April Lady

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

61 thoughts on “Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. Cotillion was my first proper Heyer (I’m not counting my abortive attempt at Lady of Quality) and it’s still probably my favorite. I listened to it on audiobook read by Phyllida Nash and wow… if you can get your hands on her performance, you should! She does an excellent job with the characters, especially the male voices.

    The ending of Cotillion is so satisfying that as I listened, I clapped my hands to cheer a certain character on! I wasn’t sure how Heyer was going to end the story, and was delighted when she did exactly what I wanted — what she had made me want.

    After Cotillion I became a full-fledged Heyer fan. It’s a wonderful story and so much fun!

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    • Hi wisewoman! Thanks for the recommendation! I have never listened to any Heyer novel on audio but would love to do so. My husband and I read her novels aloud to each other, and even our inexpert readings highlight her incredibly comic dialogue. I too often want to clap and cheer for my favorite heroes – especially when my husband delivers their speeches particularly well!

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  2. This review was great, thanks! The story of how Kitty ends up with Freddy is what intrigues me and I hope to read about them and the other couples that form by the end of the novel.

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  3. Fatima, that was a spoiler that the review cleverly worked around, so there was suspense for the reader. I’m sorry you put it out there.

    This is one of my top favorite Heyers–totally delightful.

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    • Hi Rhonda! I appreciate that you think I was clever, but apparently not clever enough to keep the main couples identity a secret from the discerning reader. I completely concur – totally delightful!

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  4. She may have given a spoiler, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Freddy on first reading him, so you really want it to happen a certain way. Highlights for this one include Lord Legerwood (Freddy’s father) and how his views change about something important. And the Freddy-syntax!

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    • Hi Terri! I was working against a word limit, but really wanted to include some of Freddy’s dialog as his syntax is spectacular. I opted for a bit of Dolph instead, who I think equally hilarious. I also would have liked to go on to speak about Lord Legerwood (yet another marvelous character!) but as he doesn’t show up until later in the book, I had unfortunately to leave him out.

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      • Lord Legerwood! Ah, be still my heart. He is a wonderful character and I have often wondered if he was not Heyer’s subtle way of showing us how Freddy would mature over time, to become more like his father.

        One of my favorite scenes was when Freddy was discussing politics with his father. A gem, in a novel filled with great scenes.

        I also though the relationship between Lord and Lady Legerwood was lovely. They clearly loved each other and their children, but in that deep, quiet, oh-so-English way.

        I think Cotillion made me laugh out loud more than any other Heyer novel.

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  5. Cotillion was the first Heyer that I ever read. The following day, I went out and bought Venetia. The day after that, Frederica. Did I mention that this was exam week? I had an entire month where the only books I read, aside from school books, were Heyer. I think Cotillion will always have a special place in my heart for beginning my love affair with Heyer’s books, if nothing else.

    There’s so much to love in Cotillion. Freddy is fantastic, and I especially love how he deals with the confrontation at the end. He’s the perfect hero because he’s not what spring to mind when you imagine a hero. I loved Lord Legerwood’s character and wish that he had more page time.

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    • Hi Tina! It sounds like you had a very similarly obsessive response to Heyer as I did when first discovering her. Fortunately, exams were well behind me and it was only friends, family, work, and housekeeping that got neglected. If you read my comment to Terri, you will perceive my regret in having to omit Lord Legerwood from this review. He is marvelous and a big part of how the reader comes to understand Freddy.

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  6. Freddy is definitely wonderful – all the things he does from the kindness of his heart. I loved the way he reads through Kitty’s letter, going back from time to time to make sure he hasn’t missed anything, and then immediately realizes her fatal omission and goes out at once to remedy it. Contrast with Jack! And then helps out another of Kitty’s waifs and strays on his way to help out Kitty (who is helping Dolph). They are the most delightful couple. Also love Freddy’s father. Favourite scene (or at least one of them) is the description of the family getting ready to go to the seaside for the recuperation of the invalids.

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    • Hi AprilFool! Yes, Freddy seems to inevitably do the right thing, even when it isn’t terribly fashionable. I love his take on the British Museum and the Elgin marbles. Sad to say, I have, on rare occasions, had a similar response to lauded museum exhibits, but having been a Classics major I cannot say that Greek statuary was ever the focus of my disappointment.

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  7. The real delight of Cotillion, for me, is seeing Freddy not only shoulder the responsibilities that come his way but also seeing how others, especially his father, note this and react. And, of course, any dialogue involving Dolphinton is best entertainment available!

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    • Hi Claire! I couldn’t agree more. It is precisely why when, short on space, I opted to include a bit of dialog form Dolph. I find myself quoting him regularly: said it a lunch, said it in the car, said it this morning…

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  8. This was my first encounter of a clear cut Mark II type of Heyero, and as I usually prefer the Mark I type, Cotillion is not one of my favorite Heyer novels.

    But I love how you concluded your review, Alexa:

    ‘Four happy couples emerge at the conclusion, each having been expertly led through an intricate set of steps that gracefully lands them precisely where they belong. This is Heyer at her best, the force of her comic genius tantalizing the reader’s senses like the daring glimpses of petticoat revealed during the dance that gives the novel its name.’

    Indeed, that’s what Heyer does! =)

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    • I agree about the end of your excellent review, Alexa; what a lovely — and apt! — description. Cotillion is one of my favorite GH books. Thank you!

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      • Hi RegencyRomantic & Cathy Allen! So glad you approved! I was trying to find a way to work the dance of the title into my review somehow. Looking back now, I wish I’d spent a bit more time making the intro crisp and clear but am very pleased with the conclusion. Thanks!

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  9. Cotillion is one of my favorite Heyer novels so far. The novel surprised me by taking the story line in a different direction than I expected. By the end, I realized that Heyer had subtly changed my mind about the characters and had brought about the conclusion that I may not have expected, but by that point really wanted. This novel also had wonderfully developed characters and great secondary characters and romances.

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    • Hi Laura! Cotillion is one of the few Heyer novels where I didn’t know how the couples were going to pair off right from the start. It is part of the reason why I love this book so much, but it doesn’t prevent each reread from being just as enjoyable as the first time round!

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  10. I love this book! Great review and loved that you didn’t spoil the ending. I’ve forgotten the details of it so when I reread it I’ll have the fun all over again.

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  11. I loved Cotillion only for the way Fressy Standon emerges from a bored/jaded son of a rich earl (?) to someone who rescues our heroine and bunch of others from their own follies. I loved the cool and collected way he helps them out! I loved Kitty too, for she is the typical Heyer heroine.

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  12. The sham engagement or marriage lends itself to a fun sequence of events. It sounds like Heyer uses it well to not only bring one but four couples to the realization they love one another.
    I’ll have to read this one to find out just how she does it.

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  13. I *thought* I’d read most Heyers – but this series keeps showing me ones I’ve somehow missed. I can *highly* recommend Heyer audiobooks – having a lovely British voice reading my favorite books to me is such a treat (and I get a little knitting done at the same time…) I’m off to track down Cotillion in audio.

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    • Hi Kristen! I will definitely start looking for Heyer audio books. Unfortunately, my local library doesn’t have any, but I will keep looking. I like to do needlework while my husband reads, but as his voice is distinctly American it’s not quite the same.

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  14. This is one I haven’t read yet, but it definitely goes on the wish list. I was fascinated by what the reviewer said about ‘four happy couples’ at the end. I imagine it will be lots of fun to follow more than one couple on a Heyer road to fulfillment with all the resulting humor and mishaps.

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    • Hi Linda! I should say that while four couples do emerge (one of whose happiness is questionable), only one is the main focus and another (the questionably happy one) is entirely in the background. Still, the plot twists and turns are remarkable. I’m sure you will love it when you get your chance to read it.

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  15. Two hilarous passages: Freddy’s sightseeing tour of London with Kit, and his resulting outrage at the state of the Elgin Marbles–and his persistent scorn for his sister Meg’s complete lack of fashion sense. Part of the pleasure of Cotillion is the attention Heyer pays to millinery–the book’s like a Regency version of Vogue’s September issue.

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    • Hi Stephanie! Yes, clothes are more emphasized here than in most of Heyer’s work, and Meg’s fashion mishaps are rather hilarious. I also love Freddy’s indignation over the Elgin Marbles. This book is pure comic gold.

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  16. I hadn’t read Heyer until this month; suddenly everything on my TBR list is by her. (One does wonder when I will kind time to write.) Cotillion’s madcap adventure is exactly the type of Regrncy I love most.

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    • Hi Nancy! Fortunately for those of us who develop a Heyer habit, her books, though profuse, are quick reads. I suggest just giving into it for a week or two until the books start to blend together (which they will). That’s what I did when I discovered Heyer and my writing (when I returned to it) felt newly energized. Good luck!

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    • Hi Meredith! Some of the nephews are far more prominent than the others, namely Jack, Freddy, and Dolph. We never even see Claude, and Biddenden is more of a background figure. However, Jack, Freddy, and Dolph are enough! I hope you love this book as much as I do!

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  17. I’ve recently discovered Georgette Heyer and have been working my way voraciously through the public library’s paltry collection, and what I’ve found in garage sales.

    What caught my interest is that the married brother seems to be a fairly large character, which is a change from other books I’ve read of hers, where the focus is generally on the two characters destined to fall in love.

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    • Hi Melora! The way in which I approached this review gives Lord Biddenden (the married nephew) more prominence than he actually has in the story. After this opening scene, he is virtually nonexistent. I think you’ll find Cotillion very much in Heyer’s typical style.

      I too lament my library’s pathetic selection of Heyer.

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  18. The first time I read Cotillion, decades ago, I was so sure that Jack was the one for Kitty – Heyer’s typical arrogant, domineering Hero. I can’t remember if I was disappointed by the ending way back when, but I certainly love it now. And I enjoy the glimpse into the world of Dolphinton’s fiancée – we don’t often see the middle classes in Heyer’s novels.

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    • Hi Julee! I think this is the only Heyer book I have read in which I mistook the identity of the hero, but I was thrilled with the way it turned out in the end. Reading these comments makes me wish I had included so much in the review which I did not have space for, like Hannah Plymstock. I could write an entire essay on just her and Dolph!

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  19. I enjoyed the review of Cotillion and look forward to the dance of characters. It sounds like another fun Heyer book.

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  20. One meets one of the most unlikely heroes not only in all Heyerdom, but also in all literature, in this novel and he reaches unexpected dephts.

    IMHO, it is as if Ferdy (from Friday’s Child) had been given a novel of his own. Who could have guessed that the pink of the ton, the honourable Mr. Freddy Standen could have been so resourceful, not even his father, who is in fact among the most surprised. I simply love how he is even mindful to buy a toothbrush for his fiancé’s friend and of course obtain the special license for his cousin Dolph.

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    • Hi Cinthia! I couldn’t agree more! I read Friday’s Child immediately before Cotillion and definitely saw (and loved) the resemblance between Ferdy and Freddy – especially dialectically! Freddy takes everyone by surprise and Lord Legerwood’s comments on the subject are amongst my favorite moments in the book.

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  21. I’ve never read any of Georgette Heyer’s books, but all of these reviews of her books make me want to read them all!! Cotillion especially sounded really good, and I’m curious about whether Kitty will end up falling for Jack or Freddy. I am now determined to read all of Heyer’s books!!
    ~Sara

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    • Hi Sara! You will love all her books, but I think Cotillion must stand out as one of the best. I’m so excited for you and wish I could read them all again for the first time!

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  22. I’m curious to read this one because I always love those stories where a couple initially ill-suited for each other fall in love! For some reason, it’s my favorite trope, and I think I’d like the story of Kitty and Freddy for that reason!

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    • Hi Trai! I’m not sure they are actually ill-suited to each other, it’s more that the pairing had never occurred to anyone before (including the couple themselves!). Still, I cannot but assume you will think the book delightful.

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  23. Any book that has a character named Uncle Matthew in it is all right by me. (Just finished reading the Nancy Mitford trilogy.) I’ve heard a lot about Cotillion before and this review definitely makes me want to read it (and practically every other Heyer novel that’s been reviewed here this month.

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    • Hi Marybeth! I know what you mean – this event has helped me to first isolate and then add all those Heyer romances I was missing to the TBR list. Uncle Matthew is a very unique character – definitely eccentric. I hope you enjoy him!

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

  25. Am I glad I got the chance to check out the reviews I missed and get in my last minute entries.

    I can simply say that the following is the reason I am interested in Cotillion; “This is Heyer at her best, the force of her comic genius tantalizing the reader’s senses like the daring glimpses of petticoat revealed during the dance that gives the novel its name.” The amazing summary and review by Alexa Adams with this finishing flourish is all I needed to put this at the top for my first Heyer read.

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