In celebration of Valentine's Day, I bring you two of the most delightful Regency romances it has ever been my pleasure to read and recommend. Yes I know, lately I seem to be in a Georgette Heyer frenzy but far as I'm concerned, you can't over-do or overdose on the Grand Mistress of the Regency. So settle in, it's a long post, and have a cup of tea or better yet, a glass of champagne, and let's talk romance.
Oh, and if you have some of those tiny little heart-shaped cookies, cakes or sandwiches (crusts trimmed of course), even better yet.
When the fine young Regency buck, Lord Sheringham ('Sherry' to his friends) is refused by Miss Milborne, an acknowledged beauty and a diamond of the 'first water', he despairs.
Do not, I beg of you, my lord, say more!' uttered Miss Milborne, in imploring accents, slightly averting her lovely countenance, and clasping both hands to her bosom.
Her companion, a tall young gentleman who had gone romantically down upon one knee before her chair, appeared put out by this faltered request. 'Damn it - I mean, dash it, Isabella!' he expostulated, correcting himself somewhat impatiently as the lady turned reproachful brown eyes upon him, 'I haven't started.'
"But I am about to offer for you!' said the Viscount, with more than a touch of asperity.
'I know,' replied the lady. 'It is useless! Say no more, my lord!'
The Viscount rose from his knee, much chagrined. 'I must say Isabella, I think you might let a fellow speak!' he said crossly.
'I would spare you pain, my lord.'
'I wish you will stop talking in that damned theatrical way!' said the Viscount. 'And don't keep calling me "my lord", as though you hadn't known me all your life!'
Explanation: their country estates sit next to each other.
When later at his home, Sherry has a 'to-do' with his sister and an uncle who has control of the Viscount's money until Sheringham comes of age or marries - whichever comes first - it is the outside of enough.
"I am going back to London! answered the Viscount. 'And I'm going to marry the first woman I see!'
Disheartened by the beautiful Isabella's surprising refusal (think of all the exclamation points in the previous conversation, for goodness' sake!), broody and crossed by his relatives stubborn refusal to help him claim the beauty and his money, the Viscount soon finds himself hitched to an improbably named young chit of a girl, Hero Wantage, the poor relation of his other next door neighbor.
As fate would have it, once the Viscount turns back to London, he spots Hero all mopey-eyed and tear-stained, perched on top of a stone wall. A small valise next to her.
'...he reined in, backed his pair (carriage horses), and called out, 'Hallo, brat!'
...Miss Wantage blew her nose. 'I'm going to be a governess, Sherry,' she informed him dolefully.
'Going to be a what?' demanded his lordship.
'A governess. Cousin Jane says so.'
'Never heard such nonsense in my life!' said the Viscount, slightly irritated. 'You aren't old enough!'
'Cousin Jane says I am. I shall be seventeen in a fortnight's time, you know.'
'Well, you don't look it,' said Sherry, disposing of the matter. 'You always were a silly little chit, Hero. Shouldn't believe everything people say. Ten to one she didn't mean it.'
'Oh yes!' said Miss Wantage sadly. 'You see, I always knew I should have to be one day, because that's why I learned to play the horrid pianoforte, and to paint in water-colours, so that I could be a governess when I was grown-up. Only I don't want to be, Sherry! Not yet! Not before I have enjoyed myself for a little while.'
She then explains that it's either be a governess or marry the local curate. She then further explains her completely understandable plan to run away.
.....'What are you meaning to do, Sherry?' asked Miss Wantage solicitously.
'Just what I told my mother, and my platter-faced uncle! Marry the first female I see!'
Miss Wantage gave a giggle. "Silly! that's me!'
'Well, good God, there's no need to be so curst literal!' said his lordship. 'I know it's you, as it turns out, but - ' He stopped suddenly, and stared down into Miss Wantage's heart-shaped countenance. 'Well, why not?' he said slowly. 'Damme, that's exactly what I'll do!'
Turns out that Hero has been in love with Sheringham all her life though he, densely enough, is unaware of it.
How these two improbables get on in London after their run-away marriage by Special License is a total joy to read about, most especially since Hero is revealed to be one of the most adorable creatures ever created by Georgette Heyer. It's almost all lightness and fun and even though there might be hair-raising scrapes galore, two kidnappings, devilish wickedness and fisticuffs, it's all made well in an uproarious ending (where most of the characters converge to right things and settle scores - something Georgette Heyer is famous for). Sherry, at long last, comes to realize that he's married the right woman after all.
But of course, not before poor Hero has involved Sherry and his friends in various escapades involving all sorts of breaches of Regency manners and customs - she is a very naive country girl after all, never having even visited London. To Sherry's chagrin, he finds that his town friends adore Hero and will do anything to make sure she is not discomfited, going so far as taking her side in most altercations and keeping an eye out for her whenever she seems in danger of a major faux pas.
Not that that stops Hero from plunging heck or neck into trouble, mostly because she believes anything told her by Sherry whom she worships for having saved her from a life of drudgery.
Again, I fell in love with the cast of characters Heyer surrounds Hero and Sherry with. And even if some of the conversation is sprinkled liberally with Regency slang, I was able to decipher things without too much trouble - it's not rocket science. (There are also several Regency Slang websites online if you are so inclined.)
Much of the enjoyment to be had from Heyer's more light-hearted books is drawn from the stylish conversations which, despite all the exclamation points, are pure unadulterated, exuberant fun. Most especially when stiff-necked relatives are involved.
They say you can tell a lot about a man from the kinds of friends he keeps and never has this proven more true, than in FRIDAY'S CHILD.
When it comes to inventing the sort of kind-hearted but not very bright 'goose-ish' young Regency dandy whom one would like to believe really did exist, Georgette Heyer cannot be topped. That Lord Sheringham would have one of these among his friends is very pleasing.
That he has another friend who needs to marry an heiress sooner rather than later (London seems riddled with good-looking young men of genteel birth, but little money) and has his heart set on Isabella (who recently spurned Sheringham) and who is constantly 'calling out' anyone who even so much as whispers any slight against her (including Sheringham), is wonderful fun. The fun part being that no one takes these challenges seriously because they're so used to them.
My favorite thing is when one of Heyer's characters whom no one expected much from turns out to have a hand is righting things for the hero and his bride in the end.
Georgette Heyer has a genius for creating auxiliary characters who come equipped with their own backgrounds, charm (or not) and foibles - individuals in their own right. That's half the fun of reading her books, you just never know who will turn up as the story evolves. This is a complete world she invites us to visit.
'Not more than five days after she had despatched an urgent missive to her brother, the Most Honourable the Marquis of Alverstoke, requesting him to visit her at his earliest convenience, the widowed Lady Buxted was relieved to learn from her youngest daughter that that Uncle Vernon had just driven up to the house, wearing a coat with dozens of capes, and looking as fine as fivepence. "In a smart new curricle, too, Mama, and everything prime about him!" declared Miss Kitty, flattening her nose against the window-pane in her effort to squint down into the street. "He is the most tremendous swell, isn't he, Mama?"
Lady Buxted responded in repressive accents, desiring her not to use expressions unbefitting a lady of quality, and dismissing her to the schoolroom.
Lady Buxted was not one of her brother's admirers; and the intelligence that he had driven himself to Grosvenor Place in his curricle did nothing to advance him in her good graces. It was a fine spring morning, but a sharp wind was blowing, and no one who knew him could suppose that the Marquis would keep his high-bred horses waiting for more than a few minutes. This did not augur well for the scheme she had in mind - not, as she had bitterly observed to her elder sister, that she cherished any but the gloomiest expectations, Alverstoke being, without exception, the most selfish, disobliging creature alive.
.....Indeed she had once demanded, in a moment of exasperation, if he cared for anything but his clothing. To which he had replied, after subjecting the question to consideration, that although his clothes were naturally of paramount importance, he also cared for his horses.'
In this second novel gobbled up right after finishing FRIDAY'S CHILD, a sensible young woman who considers herself 'on the shelf' and beyond marriageable age (though she's only twenty four) must appeal to a very distant town relation for help in giving her very marriageable younger sister a London season. The younger sister, you see, is the beauty in the family and all Frederica Merriville wants is for Charis to marry well and not waste her beauty on any country bumpkin.
As unofficial head of the Merriville family (mother and father deceased, twenty one year old brother Harry at Oxford) Frederica is used to being in charge of the sweet-natured and easily managed Charis, but also her sixteen year old brother Jessamy and their twelve year old brother, Felix (a mechanical genius of sorts) - not to mention Luff, a large lummox of a country dog.
Arriving in London, the Merrivilles take a furnished house on the outskirts of society and Frederica puts her plan in motion to help Charis make a splendid match.
In this logical enough quest, Frederica turns to their VERY distant relation, the Marquis of Alverstoke, an acerbic, quick-witted, often rude (often surly), self-important aristocrat who sneers at romance and sentimentality, cares for nothing but his own comfort and has a horror of being bored.
Well, you know what happens next. Taken aback by Frederica and her brood, the Earl is soon behaving in ways that overset not only his vision of himself, but that of his nagging relatives as well.
Again, it's the charm of the entire cast of characters that makes for lively reading. In this tale there's also the surreal element of a runaway balloon (with an extra passenger) drifting across the English countryside while an Earl gives chase over hill and dale in his carriage and everyone back in town assumes the worst.
Ah, the good old days of the English Regency. If only it had been this much fun in reality.
Happy Valentine's Day.
For all the links to Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books, please check Evan Lewis's site.
For all the links to Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books, please check Evan Lewis's site.