Guest review by Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont
The return of Gervase Frant, Earl St. Erth, to his ancestral home of Stanyon Castle following the death of his father should, by all events, be a time for celebration. But he finds his step-mother and younger step-brother quite disappointed that he has managed to survive his war service and openly resentful of his claim to the estate. His cousin Theo, the only welcoming family member, steers him through this less than happy homecoming – but when a series of cruel “accidents” begin to plague him, the question becomes – who would benefit the most by the untimely death of the new Earl?
The Quiet Gentleman is a different sort of Heyer – our Hero is soft-spoken, fair-haired, delicate, almost feminine in his address, “nothing but a curst dandy”, but his family and the reader soon learn that “his apparent fragility and gentleness were alike deceptive” – he might be kind and generous but “was not easily to be intimidated.” Our pseudo-heroine, Marianne Bolderwood [reminding us of another overly romantic “Marianne _____wood”] has her requisite fall from her horse, is stunningly beautiful, young and innocent awaiting her come-out, and has everyone at her feet, including the three men of Stanyon. Enter Miss Drusilla Morville, the visiting companion to the Dowager step-mother and a very un-Heyerish female: she is “not a beauty” as we are continually reminded. Indeed, the Hero rules her as not having “a pleasing enough countenance or conversation.” And, she has “peculiar parents” – liberal feminists, her father a “Pantisocrat” cohort of Coleridge and Southey, her mother a raving writer of novels in the line of Wollstonecraft. She appears at first as only a bystander, barely attending, very practical and helpful, accomplished it seems in nearly everything: household management, medicine, horsemanship, the pianoforte, dance [the WALTZ!], fashionable, and unflappable, yet lacking “sensibility” and a romantic imagination [“not in her nature to go into raptures”!]. We learn nothing of her inner thoughts until more than three-quarters through the book, where she has one of the more amusing dialogues with herself that I can recall ever seeing in print!
Subordinate Characters? The Domineering Dowager, a carbon copy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, controls all conversation, overindulges her son, and appears “formidably attired in purple grosgrain and velvet, wearing the famous Frant diamonds …. all of which would have been the better for cleaning…” [sounds like an Austen letter!]; Martin, her son, hot-tempered and moody, though quite humorous when not in one of his dark sullens; the visiting Viscount, friend to the Earl, who suspects foul doings; and as always in Heyer, the various servants and bit players, an all-star cast, who add interest, much humor, and foils to the main characters and have great names like Chard and Leek. Continue reading