The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer (2011) Guest review by Laura A. Wallace

“To own the truth,” replied Miss Morville candidly, “I can perceive nothing romantic in a headless spectre.  I should think it a very disagreeable sight, and if I did fancy I saw such a thing I should take one of Dr James’s powders immediately!”

Thus Drusilla Morville sadly disappoints her more romantic-minded friend, Marianne Bolderwood, on the subject of potential hauntings in Stanyon Castle, where both young ladies are staying before a ball.  Miss Morville has been staying at Stanyon rather longer than Miss Bolderwood:  her parents are away, and the Dowager Countess of St. Erth, who has a kindness for her, invited her to stay with her while they are gone.

And so Miss Morville is present to witness the homecoming of the seventh Earl of St. Erth to take up his patrimony.  He had been estranged from his father from the unfortunate elopement of his mother when he was a small boy; on her death the sixth Earl had married again and produced two more children.  But the elder son hardly ever visited his ancestral home, spending his school holidays with maternal relations, and later serving in the 7th Hussars at Waterloo— an event which happened shortly after his father’s death, and perhaps excused his failure to attend his obsequies, but he then chose to delay his return until the mourning year ended.

The other residents of Stanyon include the Honourable Martin Frant, half-brother to the seventh earl;  Theodore Frant, who serves as estate agent, and is son of the sixth Earl’s reprobate younger brother;  and the Reverend Felix Clowne, the late Earl’s chaplain, who remains in that capacity for the Dowager Countess.

Having recently re-watched the 1995 production of Pride & Prejudice, the similarities between the Dowager Countess and her chaplain to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Collins were striking, and perhaps Heyer originally intended to develop the parallels more closely; but despite his rather unfortunate name, Mr. Clowne is not nearly so entertaining as Mr. Collins:  instead he recedes into the background, while Lady St. Erth dominates all conversation with self-referential pronouncements.  Among these is a tendency to deplore the ways of Providence, which unaccountably saw the seventh Earl safely through all of his military endeavors in the Peninsula and on the Continent, so that he, and not her own son, should succeed to the sixth Earl’s honours.  Martin, indeed, has been brought up to think of himself as the heir, and thus is rather resentful of his half-brother’s survival, considering him almost in the light of an usurper.

To this collected company, Gervase Frant, seventh Earl of St. Erth, arrives at Stanyon Castle.  He is exquisitely dressed, exquisitely mannered, and finds himself saved from dreadful tedium of sojourning in the country alone with these persons only by the discovery of the local beautiful heiress (Miss Bolderwood), to whom everyone—particularly Martin—is devoted, and by the arrival of his close friend, Lucius Austell, Viscount Ulverston.

Two things set this novel apart from the rest of the Heyer canon.  One is the pragmatic nature of Miss Morville, whose quiet common sense seems rather dull to Lord St. Erth, and the second is the mystery element, which is in the gothic tradition, yet not gothic:  someone appears to be trying to do away with Lord St. Erth.  Unlike Cousin Kate, there are no histrionics, madness, or any gothic horrors.  Without providing spoilers, it’s fair to say that the horror is provided by the crime itself, with all of the romantic trappings stripped away.  The story gently satirizes the (eighteenth-century) horror genre by placing the perfect setting, an ancient country seat inhabited by the aristocracy, against the foils of a lack of the supernatural, a gently bred but unsqueamish lady who keeps her head in the face of danger, and a nobleman who appears to be a delicate fop but instead possesses extraordinary strength of mind, character, and body.  Little is actually as it seems.

Georgette Heyer’s characterizations and sense of time and place are all, as usual, beautifully rendered, and fans of the era (and of good writing) will enjoy the details of its setting, manner, and speech.  This edition was truly a pleasure to hold and to read, the occasional “scanno” notwithstanding.  The cover art, while not Regency, is otherwise appropriate.  If you can’t afford the 1951 first edition (as I cannot), be grateful (as I am) that these new editions by Sourcebooks now are available.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-1402238833

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

6 thoughts on “The Quiet Gentleman, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I have this book on my bookshelf to read and now I’m really excited after your review. But then it is a mission of mine to have all of Heyer’s books on my book shelf.

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  2. I hate to disagree but 5 out of 5 Regency stars? What’s left for the Heyers I really adore (and I have them all and just re-read Quiet Gentleman). The physical description of the hero didn’t match up, for me, with the name of the book. I thought the subplot about the plotting relative was better handled in Joan Wolf’s The Arrangement. Most of all, too many words. I thought it, and The Unknown Ajax, which I just finished re-reading again, both had marvelous stories at their core but the stories were swamped by servant’s accents and extraneous plots … now I’m going to re-read the book about the “superior” governess and Sir Waldo and it better live up :)

    Kaydee, that’s a great goal: I have every Heyer and I keep buying extra copies so that I can give them away. Janet W

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  3. The first thing I noticed from the cover of the book was that it was not Regency. That surprised me as Sourcebooks is such a good publisher of all things Regency fiction. Perhaps they were going for the feel the book wants to achieve? This was a fun book and when I’ve exhausted myself on anything Jane Austen I’ll go back and read my Heyer. JA is how I discovered Heyer in the first place. My local Barnes and Noble began featuring her when Sourcebooks began republishing them. I just couldn’t help myself and read all of them, even ordering ones that weren’t available here from the UK. I had no notion that Sourcebooks would then go on to publish the rest of them. It is very tempting to buy their versions for my shelf!

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  4. With each successive read, (I’ve read about 15 thus far) Georgette Heyer rapidly is becoming one of my very favorite 20th Century authors. Your tantalizing review, Laura, will put this offering directly on my radar as still another Heyer must-read!

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  5. Heyer is on my list but sadly I haven’t read any of her books yet. However, this one maybe it. Something about this book sounds fantastic!

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  6. Thank you all for your comments! Sorry for neglecting to respond to you before now.

    @Kaydee, Jeffrey, and Amy: I envy you the pleasure of reading a Heyer novel for the first time! Enjoy!

    @Janet: Too many words? Really? That’s rather like the Emperor Joseph telling Mozart “too many notes,” in my opinion. Does Austen have too many words? Personally, I have yet to read more than a handful of Regency novels that approach Heyer, and none but Heyer that approach Austen. For me, it is the elegance of the language which is the primary reason to read either Heyer or Austen. I fully acknowledge that I am a highly critical reader when it comes to language, but I never read a Heyer (or Austen) novel where I stop and think, “that could have been better phrased,” whereas I often do that with modern authors. Very often. So often that it’s hard for me to read them at all sometimes.

    @Karen: I didn’t really have space to address the cover in my review. This is near the end of the run and they are no doubt running out of artwork. All of these covers feature Victorian-period “genre paintings” with Regency settings, most of them focusing on young ladies in Regency attire lounging about gardens or music rooms. The number featuring a gentleman as the central figure must be comparatively small. That being so, I think this cover was a good compromise. It’s not as if it can be a one-for-one character representation, since it wasn’t contracted, but it conveys the sense of a gentleman in a great gothic house who keeps his thoughts to himself while people are plotting around him.

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