Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont

I first encountered Georgette Heyer’s Bath Tangle via audio and I was enchanted – the head-strong Hero and Heroine, not always likeable, at odds with each other from page one – so I was delighted to read the book when Laurel Ann asked me to do this review – another Heyer, another cast of characters, and an abundance of Regency settings to savor!

Serena Carlow, 25, a titian-haired beauty, strong-willed, headstrong, accomplished*, daring and tempestuous, certainly anything but “serene”, has suddenly lost her father, the Earl of Spenborough.  He leaves a twenty-two year old wife, no male heir with his estate passing to a cousin, and a will that provides for Serena’s fortune to be under the trusteeship of the Marquis of Rotherham.  Fanny, now the widowed Lady Spenborough, a young girl, barely out of the schoolroom when she was pledged to the 47 year-old Earl against her will, is well-named – Austen’s Fanny Price looms over this character.  Though of a shy, retiring disposition and propriety-bound, she and Serena, so very different, have forged a true friendship – they move together to the Dower House, leaving the cousin and wife, a la the John Dashwoods in Sense & Sensibility, to take over the Earl’s entire estate. Serena is left with an allowance, her fortune of 10,000 pounds a year to be passed to her only upon her marriage to a man approved by Rotherham …which of course sends Serena “up into the boughs.”

Major back story, as in Persuasion:  Serena and Rotherham were betrothed three years before, her father’s wish, but Serena crying-off shortly before the ceremony because “they did not suit”.  Rotherham is after all a harsh and arrogant fellow, with an “imperious and tyrannical disposition”, “high in the instep”, barely even handsome [but he has great hands! and those powerful shoulders!] – they do their “dagger-drawing” from page one and while they may not think they suit, we know quite differently, that they are meant for each other, everyone else paling in comparison…..[Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew comes to mind!]

Fanny and Serena decamp to Bath for a change of scene during their mourning period – and so enters Major Hector Kirkby, Serena’s “first and only true love” from six years before – and she, Hector’s “goddess”, his dream become real when they once again meet.  Hector is fine and handsome, but a tad frightened of Serena’s strong personality of “funning humours and openness of temper”. They set all the tongues of Bath wagging, embark on a secret engagement [due to mourning etiquette], Rotherham is consulted and approves, then announces his own engagement to the not-yet 18 year old Emily, and suddenly, Everyone Ends Up In Bath: Mothers in the marriage mart; Aunts critical of Serena’s behaviors; Rotherham’s family demanding attention and money; Hector’s dream; Serena feeling 19 again; the fortune-seeking Lalehams, pushing Emily into the arms of the Marquis; and Mrs. Floore, Emily’s grandmother, one very lively jump-off-the-page character, “of little height and astonishing girth”, vulgar and socially stigmatized, with an outrageous sense of fashion; and Rotherham, the jilted lover, who says of Serena “she would have been well-enough if she ever broke to bridle”, he is“blue-devilled” and angry, bordering on the cruel throughout most of the book…

Heyer gives us what we love her for: the witty dialogue; the fashions described; the list of cant terms [ramshackle, clodpole, “the dismals” feather-headed, ninny-hammer, on-dits, bird-witted, toad-eating, etc]; the Hero and Heroine throwing all the barbs known – abominable, wretch, odious, detestable, termagant, etc.]; and Bath in all its glory – the Libraries, Assemblies, name-dropping of real residents [Madame D’Arblay, Mrs. Piozzi, the scandalous Caroline Lamb and her Glenarvon];  the political arena of the time [Rotherham is in Parliament] – all the many details that make this visit to the Bath of Regency England so very real, so very engaging, and with that Heyeresque rollicking Romance, a courtship novel with its Many Tangles to help turn the pages – Delightful!

[*Note:  Jude Morgan’s An Accomplished Woman [St. Martin’s, 2009] literally duplicates this Heyer formula and does so quite well – I recommend it!]

Bath Tangle, by Georgette Heyer
Harlequin (2009)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0373773879

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 12 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Bath Tangle 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 continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: Sprig Muslin
Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: April Lady
Day 14   Aug 23 – Review: Sylvester
Day 14   Aug 23 – Review: Venetia

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

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

  1. Mrs Floore – one of my favourite Heyer characters. Loud, vulgar and totally unfashionable but genuine, real and warm hearted. Similar to Jonathan Chawleigh in a Civil Contract and I love them both

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  2. Ah, Bath Tangle. I think I remember being really frustrated with the two main characters for nearly the entire book and feeling extremely bad for Hector. I’ve been wanting to read it again for a long time, though, especially to reread those crazy Heyer moments when characters and craziness abound to make an absurd amount of mayhem. But somehow everything always comes out right in the end…

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  3. Yes, Elaine, Mrs. Floore is absolutely delightful! – Heyer went totally over the top in this creation – a bit like Mrs. Jennings really, don’t you think? [lacking the olives of course…]

    And Sandra, I understand your frustration – there is much chatter on the Heyer listserv about Serena and Ivo [Rotherham] being not very likeable characters – what Ivo does is really unforgiveable – I exonerate Serena because she is in mourning and I think she realizes early on she has made a horrible mistake in letting Rotherham go – she is hyper and quick to temper throughout most of the book for both these reasons; Ivo is another matter, as my feminist sensibilities were standng on end! – I think that listening to it added much to understanding them both – the reader was fabulous [have to look that up!] – Heyer on audio is a treat [I am currently listening to The Unknown Ajax – it is perfect! – Daniel Philpott reading]- but then to read the book after listening, I heard things in my head that may have come off differently if only on the page – does that make sense? [It is like reading “North and South” AFTER seeing the movie and seeing only Richard Armitage as Thornton – not a bad punishment!] – anyway, I do recommend listening to BT! –

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  4. Bath Tangle was the last Heyer I read and I enjoyed it, especially Mrs. Floore. Her amusement at the pretenses and foibles of the ton is contagious!

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  5. I want to read this one SO badly! I lived in England for awhile and Bath is probably my favorite city in the world and I’ll read almost anything set there. However, my library system doesn’t have a copy, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on it!

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  6. I was just recently in Bath and now look forward to rereading this book and really seeing those places in my head.

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  7. I always felt that many of the characters in Bath Tangle were more real. Think of the many people we meet on a daily basis and you’re bound to find an Ivo in there somewhere, or a Mrs Floore, or Hector. Bath becomes a character on its own in this book and I’ve always loved that about it.

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  8. I know that some people didn’t enjoy this one as much, but I really loved it. Serena and Rotherham reminded me a lot of Dexter and Tracy from The Philadelphia Story, which is one of my favorite movies. Actually, the fact that Serena is Hector’s goddess also reminds me of the Philadelphia Story now that I think about it. Hmm. I’ll have to see if I can track down a copy at my library and see what other parallels the two have.

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  9. I always feel like I should be more fond of this book than I am. The minor characters are delightful but our hero and heroine? Usually Heyer’s characters, for all their faults, are easy to like but I didn’t find that to be the case here. It felt like Heyer couldn’t work up enough interest in them to sketch them as anything other than cliches, although well-scripted ones.

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  10. This definitely sounds like a gook for me! I love books where the heroine/hero are “at odds with each other from page one”!

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  11. My fave Bath Heyer is Black Sheep and I don’t re-read this very often … altho certainly Emily’s grandmother is quite marvelous.

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  12. Captivating review, Deb! The protagonists at odds with each other from the start reminds me of Faro’s Daughter, which I enjoyed tremendously. Your references to Austen and Shakespeare are things I will watch out for. This one is definitely going on my TBR pile.

    And you must write your tell-all book! I would definitely want to read that! =)

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  13. This novel sounds very interesting all together and reminds me of what I loved from several of Austen’s novels. Thanks for the review. S

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  14. Is it bad that I want to read this because the hero apparently has great hands? Of course the plot itself sounds a delightfully madcap as one would expect from Heyer, but I admit it was the hands that got me.

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  15. I love the description of the various of characters. Georgette Heyer has the most interesting, humorous situations in her stories. I look forward to reading Bath Tangle.

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  16. This wonderful review is the first I’ve heard of Bath Tangle. Recently I’ve read several historical fiction novels in which Bath figures prominently, and so that part of the plot is very appealing. Plus I love the dialog, the cant, lots of characters — and it appears that everything is here. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

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  17. This does sound delightful–I am fascinated by the similarities to other books mentioned in the review (Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, Taming of the Shrew, etc.).

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  18. Great review! Bath Tangle sounds like a wonderful book. I especially like the setting (Bath a place I would love to visit), and the characters. They sound like fun characters to read about, especially with the similarities to Persuasion (my favorite Austen novel) and Mansfield Park.

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  19. I too usually “love books where the heroine/hero are “at odds with each other”, but I’m afraid this is one of the few that has failed to win me, perhaps it is too much dagger-drawing between them. I also tend to like strong heroines, but Serena again seems too much, just like Judith in Regency Buck, she manages to exasperate me in her stubborness.

    But I agree with Elaine and Deb about Mrs. Floore, she is one of the greatest secondary characters and yes, to me she also reminds me a lot of Mrs. Jennings, they both have a heart of gold so that is why we can overlook many of their vulgarisms.

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  20. Bath Tangle sounds like a book I want to read as this review mentions my favourite JA novel, Persuasion. While I am not a fan of hero and heroine being at odds from page one, but this one sounds like it has plenty of other story lines in the plot than this just aspect.

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    • oh, I did read An accomplished Woman and loved it! The heroine Lydia was a refreshing change from the usual blue stockinged female so much maligned by the Miss Wraxton of The Grand Sophy.

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  21. Definitely my favourite character in BT was Mrs. Floore. I remember not liking this as much as some of the others, but not so much why. Probably for much the reasons other have given – I am always annoyed by extended misunderstandings. I did like the way Ivo tried to get rid of his unwanted entanglement by encouraging his nephew to elope! (If I’m not remembering the wrong book . . .)

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  22. I like the relationship between Serena and Fanny; it’s more like Fanny’s her younger step-sister than a step-mother, and very supportive. This is a very “visual” book for me. You can *see* when Serena realizes what she’s done, and Mrs. Floore is bigger than life~ that wasn’t meant as a pun, really! This was our book under discussion last month, and one of the points someone made was what it would be like to have Ivo & Serena as the neighbors upstairs as compared to others (no spoilers here!)

    Can you imagine? I could get a real picture of one of today’s authors and what they’d come up with on this.

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  23. I thought the stepdaughter/stepmother relationship was interesting, but apparently there are even more characters involved? =)

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  24. I just ordered An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan. I would like to read Bath Tangle and the compare the two novels. The similarities to Persuasion are also appealing, since that is my favorite Austen novel and one of my favorite novels over all.

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  25. This is one of the books that I liked, not loved. It is amusing and well written, the dialogue is great, but it goes on for a while. I think thats why I love the mysterys. The affairs don’t get quite so tangled and I don’t get quite so impatient with the lovers. Copusin Kate is far from my favorite, it probably ranks on the bottom, but all Heyer’s are worth at least one reading.

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

  27. Okay, the English major in me just geeked out a bit at the fact that you used the term “titian-haired.” Not to mention all the Austen comparisons. Moving on….

    I’m always interested in how Heyer (and other authors) portray relationships and friendships outside of romance, and I’m particularly interested in reading about the sisterly bond between Serena and Fanny. This sounds like a fun, if sometimes dizzying, read!

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  28. I really liked the way Heyer worked through all the ‘tangles’. I found the relationship between Serena and Fanny well-written.

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