Cousin Kate, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Chris of book-a-rama

Kate Malvern just lost her job as governess and is staying with her old nurse Sarah until she gets a new situation. Sarah doesn’t like the idea of her Kate, whose father was a gentleman despite being a soldier and a gambler, hiring herself out to anyone who asks. Kate lived under all kinds of circumstances all over Europe so a little hard work doesn’t bother her. Still, Sarah can’t let it go so with the help of her crusty father-in-law, Mr. Nidd, she writes to the only relative Kate is aware of, Lady Broome of Staplewood.

At first, it looks like Lady Broome, or Aunt Minerva, is an answer to Kate’s prayers, offering her a place to stay for the summer. Kate starts to feel uneasy when Aunt Minerva gives her lavish gifts. There must be a catch. Lady Broome doesn’t seem like someone willing to give something for nothing. When she offers Kate a way to pay back her generosity, involving her handsome but unstable son, Torquil, Kate knows she has to get out of Dodge. Can she enlist the help of her other cousin Philip who thinks she’s a gold digger? Or rely on her own wits to disentangle herself from Staplewood?

Every Georgette Heyer novel I read becomes my new favourite and Cousin Kate is no exception. I loved Kate right from the beginning. She’s a practical girl with a sensible head on her shoulders. Plus, she’s sassy. She can go toe to toe with Lady Broome and her machinations. She also manages to charm just about everyone in the Staplewood household. Lord Broome treats her like a daughter and Torquil is calmer in her presence. Lady Broome is sufficiently nasty without becoming cartoonish. The dialogue between Philip and Kate is the best I’ve read from Heyer yet. Their back and forth is a lot like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Philip never really gets the better of her.

Cousin Kate is a fun story with an engaging plot. I wanted to know what the deal was with Torquil and what scheme did Lady Broome have up her sleeve. A cast of engaging characters added some humour to the story. There was nice mix of suspense and romance. Of course, I was never really worried that things wouldn’t work out for Kate. This is Heyer after all!

*****

I had written this review over a year ago. I still feel this way about Cousin Kate. Looking back, I can see that it’s a darker book than some of her others. This was one of her later works, the third last to be published before her death in 1974. Kate is fiercely independent, unwillingly to be beholden to anyone, particularly financially. Considering how Heyer tended to be in financial trouble herself often enough, I wonder if she saw herself in Kate.

I can certainly see the appeal of a strong, independent heroine to women at the time, women themselves struggling for independence in the workforce. I still count this as one of my top Heyer reads.

Cousin Kate, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2009)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-1402217685

When she’s not reading, Chris is wrangling husband, child and various pets in Nova Scotia, Canada. The 30-something blogger of book-a-rama, her most loved books are often classics. Her favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre. Chris has been sharing her thoughts on a variety of books in numerous genres on her blog since 2007. She also helps administrate the Spotlight Series blog and hosts The Daphne du Maurier Reading Challenge. You can follow her on Twitter as Chrisbookarama.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 18 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Cousin Kate, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 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 18   Aug 30 – Review: Charity Girl
Day 19   Aug 31 – Review: Lady of Quality
Day 19   Aug 31 – Essay: Heyer Heroes
Day 19   Aug 31 – Event wrap-up

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

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for May

What Would Jane Austen Say? (2009), by Laurie BrownThe Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in May, so keep your eyes open for these new titles. 

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

What Would Jane Austen Do? by, Laurie Brown 

Are you ready for an historical romance laced with Jane Austen’s influence for your light and fun summer reading? In this time travel fantasy, take a trip back to Regency England as the heroine attempts to alter the past and thwart a deadly duel. Publisher’s description: Eleanor is a costume designer in England for the Jane Austen festival, where her room at the inn is haunted. In the middle of the night she encounters two ghost sisters whose brother was killed in a duel over 200 years ago. They persuade her to travel back in time with them to prevent the duel. Eleanor is swept into a country house party, presided over by the charming Lord Shermont, where she encounters and befriends Jane Austen. But there’s much more to Lord Shermont than the ghosts knew, and as Eleanor dances and flirts with him, she begins to lose her heart. Sourcebooks Casablanca, ISBN: 978-1402218316 

Cousin Kate (2009), by Georgette HeyerCousin Kate, by Georgette Heyer 

Sourcebook’s continues on its quest to reissue all of Georgette Heyer’s classic novels with Cousin Kate, originally published in 1968. This novel is one of only two Heyer Gothic Regency romances, and is sure to be a treat for historical romance and Gothic novel readers. Publisher’s description: Kate, in dire circumstances, is surprised to receive an invitation to live with a distant aunt. Her aunt, uncle, and cousin welcome her to their estate, buy her new clothes, and provide all the amenities a Young lady of quality should have. Slowly, however, as strange events unfold, Kate begins to realize that her aunt’s apparent benevolence hides an ulterior motive. To assure succession of the title, her aunt intends Kate to marry her cousin Torquil, until his increasingly bizarre behavior culminates in violence and tragedy. A compelling tale exploring mental illness in the Regency period. Sourcebooks Casablanca, ISBN: 978-1402217685 

Austen’s Contemporaries  

Corrine, or Italy (2009), by Madame de StaelCorinne, or Italy (Oxford World’s Classics), by Madame de Stael 

Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766 – 1817), commonly known as Madame de Staël, was a Swiss author living in Paris whose writings strongly influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. She was highly praised by her male contemporaries during her lifetime and credited as the foundress of the Romantic Movement. Corinne, or Italy was published at the height of her writing skills in 1807 and considered her greatest achievement.   

Madame de Stael may have been a renowned authoress, but her notorious reputation preceded her when she arrived in London in 1813. Jane Austen passed up the opportunity to meet her that year when she was visiting her brother Henry in London. Nineteen years later he would explain her rejection of the invitation, “To her truly delicate mind such a display would have given pain instead of pleasure.” Madame de Stael may have privately thought Pride and Prejudice “vulgaire,” but in my estimation she redeemed herself by acquiring a copy of Mansfield Park for her home library at Coppet, Switzerland. 

Publisher’s description: Corinne, or Italy, is both the story of a love affair between Oswald, Lord Nelvil, and a beautiful poetess, and an homage to the landscape, literature and art of Italy. Stael, the subject of recent feminist rediscovery, weaves discreet political allusion into her romance, and upon its publication Napoleon renewed her order of exile. Sylvia Raphel’s new translation preserves the natural character of the French original, while the notes and introduction place this extraordinary work of European Romanticism in its historical and political context. Oxford University Press, ISBN: 978-0199554607 

The Romance of the Forest (Oxford Worlds Classics) 2009, by Ann RadcliffeThe Romance of the Forest (Oxford World’s Classics), by Ann Radcliffe 

Author Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) may be best known to Janeites for heroine Catherine Morland’s fascination with her Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey, but another Austen character also admired her horrid novels! When Harriet Smith in Emma suggests The Romance of Forest to her beau Robert Martin, the simple tenant farmer is more inclined to read Agricultural Reports than Gothic novels, and his hesitation gives fuel for Emma Woodhouse to discredit him as a proper suitor to her little friend Harriet. Don’t delay like Robert Martin! If you have not ventured into Gothic fiction before, this is an excellent choice, full of ruined abbey’s, skeletons and mystery. Publisher’s description: The Romance of the Forest (1791) heralded an enormous surge in the popularity of Gothic novels, in a decade that included Ann Radcliffe’s later works, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Set in Roman Catholic Europe of violent passions and extreme oppression, the novel follows the fate of its heroine Adeline, who is mysteriously placed under the protection of a family fleeing Paris for debt. They take refuge in a ruined abbey in south-eastern France, where sinister relics of the past – a skeleton, a manuscript, and a rusty dagger – are discovered in concealed rooms. Adeline finds herself at the mercy of the abbey’s proprietor, a libidinous Marquis whose attentions finally force her to contemplate escape to distant regions. Rich in allusions to aesthetic theory and to travel literature, The Romance of the Forest is also concerned with current philosophical debate and examines systems of thought central to the intellectual life of late eighteenth-century Europe. Oxford University Press, ISBN: 978-0199539222 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann