Guest review by Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont
The return of Gervase Frant, Earl St. Erth, to his ancestral home of Stanyon Castle following the death of his father should, by all events, be a time for celebration. But he finds his step-mother and younger step-brother quite disappointed that he has managed to survive his war service and openly resentful of his claim to the estate. His cousin Theo, the only welcoming family member, steers him through this less than happy homecoming – but when a series of cruel “accidents” begin to plague him, the question becomes – who would benefit the most by the untimely death of the new Earl?
The Quiet Gentleman is a different sort of Heyer – our Hero is soft-spoken, fair-haired, delicate, almost feminine in his address, “nothing but a curst dandy”, but his family and the reader soon learn that “his apparent fragility and gentleness were alike deceptive” – he might be kind and generous but “was not easily to be intimidated.” Our pseudo-heroine, Marianne Bolderwood [reminding us of another overly romantic “Marianne _____wood”] has her requisite fall from her horse, is stunningly beautiful, young and innocent awaiting her come-out, and has everyone at her feet, including the three men of Stanyon. Enter Miss Drusilla Morville, the visiting companion to the Dowager step-mother and a very un-Heyerish female: she is “not a beauty” as we are continually reminded. Indeed, the Hero rules her as not having “a pleasing enough countenance or conversation.” And, she has “peculiar parents” – liberal feminists, her father a “Pantisocrat” cohort of Coleridge and Southey, her mother a raving writer of novels in the line of Wollstonecraft. She appears at first as only a bystander, barely attending, very practical and helpful, accomplished it seems in nearly everything: household management, medicine, horsemanship, the pianoforte, dance [the WALTZ!], fashionable, and unflappable, yet lacking “sensibility” and a romantic imagination [“not in her nature to go into raptures”!]. We learn nothing of her inner thoughts until more than three-quarters through the book, where she has one of the more amusing dialogues with herself that I can recall ever seeing in print!
Subordinate Characters? The Domineering Dowager, a carbon copy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, controls all conversation, overindulges her son, and appears “formidably attired in purple grosgrain and velvet, wearing the famous Frant diamonds …. all of which would have been the better for cleaning…” [sounds like an Austen letter!]; Martin, her son, hot-tempered and moody, though quite humorous when not in one of his dark sullens; the visiting Viscount, friend to the Earl, who suspects foul doings; and as always in Heyer, the various servants and bit players, an all-star cast, who add interest, much humor, and foils to the main characters and have great names like Chard and Leek.
The expected Heyer is all present: the fashion of the men in their Weston duds, snuff boxes, various neckcloths, Hessians, pantaloons, and quizzing glasses; the women in their gowns and ribbons and laces and hairdos; the historical settings and literary allusions with facts seamlessly woven into the narrative; the social life and customs – hunting, horses and carriages, fencing [Heyer must have taken lessons!], and The Balls; and a treat here is the well-described Castle with its winding cavernous passages and hidden secrets complete with a scene right out of Northanger Abbey; and of course, that Heyer wit, albeit less lively, with cant expressions only occasionally peppering the talk, but full of sharp-tongued social commentary, and thankfully Miss Morville’s placid prosaic comments on everything quite saving the day.
I found too often an odd transition from one paragraph to another – disjointed really, and the conversation oftentimes seemed quite silly, Heyer perhaps not quite sure of her direction? – but I began to see the whole narrative as a set-piece, nearly an Agatha Christie mystery play coupled with a rollicking comedy of errors, with so many characters entering and exiting, one of whom will prove to be out for murder. It is a mystery of course, of which I shall not speak, so as not to ruin the fun. Do I dare say that I figured it out by page 15, but that it doesn’t matter?
And Romance? – this is not the passionate dagger-drawing sword-play Heyer – here we have a highly intelligent Hero and Heroine that find the Truth about each other as they work their way through a Dangerous Game where life is at stake. But it is Drusilla, certainly one of the most interesting, engaging and “very remarkable” of all Heyer’s Heroines, who unromantic as she may be is really the precursor of Renee Zellweger wherein the Hero “had her at ‘hello’” – but this tale unique in its outcome being far from clear until the very, very end. A Masterpiece Mystery production would suit! And I have the cast nearly all figured out….
The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer
Trade paperback (352) pages
Deb Barnum, author of the Jane Austen in Vermont blog, had a former career as a law librarian, then followed her heart and bought an antiquarian book shop, certainly every book lover’s dream – [she could write her own page-turning tell-all!] – but alas! hating being tied down to retail, she closed the bricks & mortar shop and now runs an internet-only business – Bygone Books – though she does miss the customers and the daily opportunity for book chat! A reader of Jane Austen in her early years, she began a re-entry into Austenland too many years ago to mention when her daughter was reading Emma in college, and she has not looked back – she is the Regional Coordinator for the new JASNA-Vermont Region, is an avid collector of books on London, Regency England and of course Jane Austen. She only started reading Georgette Heyer last year, beginning with Faro’s Daughter [still her favorite] and is speedily working her way through them all, loving her wit and her right-on depictions of all things Regency – and is just loving this immersion in the late 18th-early 19th century England… You can follow Deb on Twitter as austeninvermont.
Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 11 Giveaway
Enter a chance to win one copy of The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin, 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 the continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
Day 11 Aug 18 – Review: Cotillion
Day 12 Aug 20 – Review: The Toll-Gate
Day 12 Aug 20 – Review: Bath Tangle
Day 13 Aug 22 – Review: Sprig Muslin