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
Trade paperback (336) 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 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!
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