Georgette Heyer’s April Lady is the last re-issue by Sourcebooks of Heyer’s novels. (The very last is Pistols for Two, a collection of short stories.) Originally published in 1957, it is comfortably set within the Regency period that she had made her own. The setting is London, and the plot involves money, love, misunderstanding, gambling, debt, and, ultimately, a famous heirloom, the Cardross necklace.
Lady Helen Irvine, the daughter of an improvident peer who has wasted most of his patrimony through addiction to gambling and high living, has been fortunate enough to marry the Earl of Cardross, an extremely wealthy nobleman some dozen years older than she is. A very dutiful daughter, she had previously faced the unappetizing prospect of being married off to a wealthy city merchant in order to repair the family fortunes, but the unexpected offer from Lord Cardross saved her from this fate.
Nell did not know just what Cardross had done to earn her parents’ gratitude. It all came under the vague title of Settlements, and she was not to bother her pretty head over it, but to take care always to conduct herself with dignity and discretion. Mama, declaring herself to be deeply thankful, had made it quite plain to her what her duty henceforward would be. It included such things as always showing my lord an amiable countenance, and never embarrassing him by asking ill-bred questions, or appearing to be aware of it if (perhaps) he was found to have formed a Connection outside the walls of that splendid house of his in Grosvenor Square. ‘One thing I am sure of,’ had said Mama, fondly patting Nell’s hand, ‘and that is that he will treat you with the greatest consideration! His manners, too, are so particuarly good that I am persuaded you will never have cause to complain of the sort of neglect, or — or indifferent civility, which is the lot of so many females in your situation. I assure you, my love, there is nothing more mortifying than to be married to a man who lets it be seen that his affections are elsewhere engaged.’
. . . Mama had been right. When Nell had met my lord’s half-sister and ward, a vivid brunette, not then out, but hopeful of being presented by her sister-in-law, that impetuous damsel had exclaimed, warmly embracing her: ‘Oh, how pretty you are! Prettier by far than Giles’s mistress! How famous if you were ot put her nose out of joint!’
Lord and Lady Cardross have now been married a year, and he has been extremely courteous, patient, and generous to her, but Nell has a soft spot for her high-spirited brother, Lord Dysart, who seems to have inherited his father’s penchant for gambling, and is always kicking up a lark. Naturally, he applies to his sister for money to pay some of his debts; naturally, she gives it to him; and naturally, Cardross forbids her to do it again. But she does.
So misunderstandings pile upon misunderstandings, with the way enlivened by an entertaining set of secondary characters, including not only Nell’s brother and Cardross’s sister, but that Pink of the Ton, Mr. Felix Hethersett, Cardross’s cousin and Nell’s most faithful ciscebeo, and a particuarly inarticulate friend of Dysart’s, Mr. Cornelius Fancot. While perhaps not the most spectactular of Heyer’s novels, this one doesn’t lack for entertaining moments, including a very funny scene with happy-drunk Dysart and Corny doing their inadvertent best to perpetuate as many misunderstandings as possible. Heyer’s style and wit raise what might have been a mediocre book in the hands of a less-skilled novelist to an enjoyable reading experience worth savoring and re-reading.
Since this is the last Sourcebooks novel re-issue and I have commented on the production values before, I want to mention that I’ve done some in-depth comparison of editions, and have come to the conclusion that Sourcebooks did indeed go back to the source books: the British first editions. Most of the differences in punctuation between my more recent American paperbacks and the Sourcebooks editions turn out to be in fact restorations of the original British punctuation which had been changed in American editions. This is particularly true regarding hyphenated words and colons. The principal difference in the text between the Sourcebook editions and the British editions (to be precise, the Uniform Editions, as I don’t own any British first editions) is that the new editions use single quotation marks (the British Uniform editions used double ones). The second thing of note is, as I have mentioned before, “scannos” introduced by scanning and OCR technology. These are perhaps unavoidable but they are also, fortunately, fairly rare; unfortunately, when they do crop up, they tend to be of the stealthy type that can change the meaning of a sentence. I also think that they are more common than traditional misprints. But overall the Sourcebooks editions are probably the best compromise possible and they are indeed very beautiful and well-made editions that I hope will stand the test of time, worthy of Heyer’s work.
4.5 out 5 Regency Stars
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