Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: HOPSCOTCH (1980) starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson

I don't know how I missed this little gem the first time around, but I'm so glad I finally saw it this past week. I love Walter Matthau (even with his hairy ears), most especially when he plays the smartest person in the room with that sly twinkle in his eye.

HOPSCOTCH (1980) is a film directed by Ronald Neame, written by Brian Garfield (based on his book) and Bryan Forbes and starring not only Walter Matthau but the wonderful (not to mention, brilliant) Glenda Jackson and co-starring Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty and Herbert Lom. (Not bad - huh?) I am slowly beginning to think that the 80's spawned some pretty terrific movies. Even if the fashions were awful - though not as godawful as the 70's which were the bottom of an abyss as far as fashions go. But I digress.

Herbert Lom and Walter Matthau fellow spies, pragmatic and wise to the games governments play.

Think of HOPSCOTCH as a geriatric Jason Bourne spy thriller without the memory loss, the physical beauty and super-human prowess, the shooting and killing and strangling, the electronic gadgetry and the lightning quick editing. So, what's left?

Ned Beatty trying to look tall.

Oh, just Walter Matthau as CIA agent Miles Kendig and that's more than enough.

The Plot: 

Upon his return to Washington from his most recent spy sojourn overseas, Kendig is demoted to a filing desk job by Myerson (Ned Beatty), his spiteful/hateful/incompetent boss who is also, as Kendig never tires of reminding him - short.

Sam Waterston, not as schmoey as he would appear in this scene.

Not only that but Kendig's assistant, Cutter (Sam Waterston), will now head the Overseas Section.

The boss doesn't like that Kendig allowed the head of the KGB (Yaskov, an old friend - Herbert Lom) to get away after Yaskov failed in his mission to steal a certain microfilm. Kendig explains that if he'd captured Yaskov, the KGB would only assign someone else. Someone new. Someone whom he might not know as well as he knows the current chief. "I know how he thinks," says Kendig. But Myerson is immune to intelligent subtlety.

Kendig will spend the rest of his tenure as a filing clerk.

So the first thing he does is nonchalantly stroll down to records and shred his entire personnel file. Then, rather than report to his new desk job, Kendig goes off to Salzburg to spend a little quality time with a widow lady.

Matthau and Glenda Jackson who can do nothing wrong in my book.

Kendig then decides, in a stroke of genius, to write his memoirs and reveal all the dirty secrets Washington (and Myerson, not to mention, the Russians and everyone else in authority) wants kept hidden.

In this endeavor, Kendig unites with Isobel (Glenda Jackson in a fetching short haircut) - a widow who lives in Salzburg and is used to Kendig's hijinks - she is ex-agency as well. She will help him in his plans to screw the CIA and live to tell about it though, admittedly, she thinks he's crazy.

A writer's work is never done.

It is obvious from the getgo that Kendig IS the smartest person in the room (and the best secret agent) at any given moment and knows it. After years of towing the official line (though in his own admittedly eccentric way), he is ready to pull off the biggest caper of his spying career. It's all revenge fantasy, but Kendig is just the guy to carry it off. You never doubt him even when things don't go completely as planned.

Once he begins writing the book he starts sending each finished chapter to Myerson in Washington and to the Russians and several other significant persons of interest.

Myerson wants Kendig stopped or (preferably) taken out but Cutter (Sam Waterston) appears unconcerned. He realizes that Kendig is playing a game and that eventually he'll call it off. Cutter likes and admires Kendig, but still, at the end of the day he has a job to do.

The chase is on from Washington to Salzburg to London to Washington again, to Savannah, Georgia (in one of the funniest sequences in the movie) to Bermuda, to England again with Kendig always one step ahead of his former cohorts.

Oh what a wonderful cat and mouse game. The screenplay is not only funny but intelligent and witty with nary any of the regular spy movie cliches we've come to expect. The soundtrack is mostly Mozart with some Puccini and Giacomo Rossini thrown in for good measure.

One of my favorite scenes: Kendig crossing the border into Germany while singing (?) along (at the top of his lungs) to an aria from The Barber of Seville. The crossing guard is left shaking his head (crazy Americans) and no wonder.

If you love spy movies but not necessarily the lethal blood and guts that usually accompany them (believe me you won't miss it) and you love a great story with an intelligent cast of actors doing what they do best, line up HOPSCOTCH on your Netflix queue because it's currently available for streaming. Hooray!

The interesting thing is that none of what Kendig gets away with would likely be possible today because of all the electronic tracking paraphernalia we are so accustomed to. But that's neither here not there, the movie takes place way back when and it works splendidly.

Oh, meant to mention that there's also a Doberman Pinscher featured prominently in some scenes. A dog after my own heart.

It's Tuesday and of course, it's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day - the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in and see what other movies other bloggers are reminding us of today.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Salon: The work of James Neil Hollingsworth

All paintings in this post are the copyrighted work of James Neil Hollingsworth

My good blogging friend Mark Ruffner recently posted about the work of one of his favorite artists, Kenton Roberts  and while viewing it, I was reminded of an artist I also admire and promised to post about his work on my blog.

So, here we are.

James Neil Hollingsworth is a contemporary realist painter with a rather interesting background. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1972 and after discharge, worked a series of jobs and spent weekends flying sailplanes. Later, he became a Registered Nurse along with his wife who, by the way, is the painter Karen Hollingsworth.

When James' paintings began to sell over the internet and elsewhere, he gave up nursing and became a full time painter. He is currently represented by four galleries and his work is in many private and corporate collections in the U.S. and around the world.

The thing that I find most intriguing about these paintings and what they have in common with Kenton Roberts' work, is the amazing sense of stillness. Even the mule is caught in suspended animation. These are beautifully rendered acutely precise moments in time, I think.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: ARABELLA (1949) by Georgette Heyer

I've been absolutely keen on Georgette Heyer lately (in case you hadn't noticed) - enjoying the heck out of her books. Been spending all my time in Regency England among the pinks of the ton, the virtuous, gently bred heroines, the titled dandies in buckskin breeches and flowing capes, the ladies and gentlemen of British society 'who matter' - having a great time.

I absolutely promise this is the last of the Heyer posts from yours truly (at least for a while) - you must be tired of hearing about my current Heyer fetish but what can I do? I'm besotted. The only way to handle this is to let it run its course. Eventually I'll tire. One would hope. Ha!

All I'm doing today is posting a nice chunk of wonderful writing from Georgette Heyer's ARABELLA, written in 1949 and as fresh today as if it were written yesterday.

"A charming piece of frivolity about Regency England and the bewitching Arabella, daughter of a country parson, who arrives in London disguised as an heiress and consequently takes the town by storm."  News Chronicle

Here's a wonderful (and very visual) excerpt which concerns a certain Mr. Beaumaris, a rich gentleman who is the charming (in spite of himself) hero of the piece:

Mr. Beaumaris returned to his London house in time to partake of a late breakfast on Tuesday morning, having been absent for six days. It had been considered probable by his dependents that he would be away for a full week, but as he rarely gave any positive information on his movements, counted no cost, and had accustomed his highly-paid servants to live in a constant state of expectation of being obliged, at a moment's notice, to provide suitable entertainment for himself, or for a score of guests, his premature arrival caused no one any dismay.

It caused one member of his household a degree of joy bordering on delirium. A ragged little mongrel, whose jauntily curled tail had been clipped unhappily between his legs for six interminable days, and who had spent the major part of this time curled into a ball on the rug outside his master's door, refusing all sustenance, including plates of choice viands, prepared by the hands of the great M. Alphonse himself, [Mr. Beaumaris' French cook] came tumbling down the stairs, uttering canine shrieks, and summoned up enough strength to career madly around in circles before collapsing in an exhausted, panting heap at Mr. Beaumaris's feet. 

It spoke volumes for the light in which Mr. Beaumaris's whims were regarded by his retainers that the condition to which his disreputable protege had wilfully reduced himself brought every member of the household who might have been considered in some way responsible into the hall to exonerate himself from all blame. Even M. Alphonse mounted the stairs from his basement kingdom to describe to Mr. Beaumaris in detail the chicken-broth, the ragout of rabbit, the shin of beef, and the marrow-bone with which he had tried to tempt Ulysses' vanished appetite.

Brough (the butler) broke in on this Gallic monologue to assure Mr. Beaumaris that he for one had left nothing undone to restore Ulysses' interest in life, even going to the lengths of importing a stray cat into the house, in the hope that this outrage would galvanize one notoriously unsympathetic towards all felines, to activity. Painswick (the valet),
with a smug air that rendered him instantly odious to his colleagues, drew attention to the fact that it had been his superior understanding of Ulysses' processes of thought which Mr. Beaumaris had to thank for finding himself still in possession of his low-born companion: he had conceived the happy notion of giving Ulysses one of Mr. Beaumaris's gloves to guard. 

Mr. Beaumaris, who had picked Ulysses up, paid no heed to all these attempts at self-justification, but addressed himself to his adorer. "What a fool you are!" he observed. "No, I have the greatest dislike of having my face licked, and must request you to refrain. Quiet, Ulysses! Quiet! I am grateful to you for your solicitude, but you must perceive that I am in the enjoyment of my customary good health. I would I could say the same of you. You have once more reduced yourself to skin and bone, my friend, a process which I shall take leave to inform you I consider as unjust as it is ridiculous. Anyone setting eyes on you would suppose that I grudged you even the scraps from my table!"

He added, without the slightest change in voice, and without raising his eyes from the creature in his arms: "You would also appear to have bereft my household of its senses, so that the greater part of it, instead of providing me with the breakfast I stand in need of, is engaged in excusing itself from any suspicion of blame and - I may add - doing itself no good thereby."

Ulysses, to whom the mere sound of Mr. Beaumaris's voice was ecstasy, looked adoringly up into his face, and contrived to lick the hand that was caressing him. On his servants, Mr. Beaumaris's voice operated in quite another fashion: they dispersed rapidly, Painswick to lay out a complete change of raiment; Brough to set the table in the breakfast-parlour; Alphonse to carve at lightning speed several slices of a fine York ham, and to cast eggs and herbs into a pan; and various underlings to grind coffee-beans, cut bread, and set kettles on to boil. 

Mr. Beaumaris tucked Ulysses under one arm, picked up the pile of letters from the table in the hall, and strolled with them into his library. To the zealous young footman who hastened to fling open the door for him, he said: "Food for this abominable animal!" - a command which, relayed swiftly to the kitchen, caused M. Alphonse to command his chief assistant instantly to abandon his allotted task, and to prepare a dish calculated to revive the flagging appetite of a Cambaceres. [First Duke of Parma - later Duke of Cambaceres]

Ulysses is a lowly little cur found suffering in the gutter by Arabella [the heroine of the piece] and given to Mr. Beaumaris [hero and unlikeliest of pet owners] to house, since she cannot keep the little dog while staying with relatives in town.

I loved the ending of this book so much that I reread it several times just for the pure enjoyment. This is one Heyer book I will definitely have to add to my own library.

Don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films: THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1948) starring Gig Young, Alexis Smith, Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet

If it's Tuesday, you know it's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films day. The relevant links are listed over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom. Please avail yourselves. We are an eccentric bunch.

Some of you may know of my late in life love affair with Wilkie Collins' two Victorian masterpieces, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and THE MOONSTONE - both of which I'd read (and written about) within the last couple of years. What can I say - I'm a late-starter.

THE WOMAN IN WHITE officially became one of my very favorite books of all time. (I loved THE MOONSTONE too, though not with the same fervor.)

But I'd never seen TWIW on film.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog that a movie was filmed of the book in 1948 AND with Sydney Greenstreet as Count Fosco. So where was I while this was going on? Oh, growing up, I was only kid at the time. But later, I should have seen this film at some point. But no, somehow I don't think I ever did. Go figure.

By the way, you really do need to read Jacqueline's brilliant overview of the film. She has it all pinned down in ways that I'm incapable of doing. I'm just going to give a general long-winded assessment (as I like to do) and then steer you over to Jacqueline's to get the factual low-down on the film. Link to Another Old Movie Blog.

I'm also steering you to my original book review so you can get my take on the book itself when you have a moment.

THE WOMAN IN WHITE is a 1948 film directed by Peter Godfrey and starring Gig Young, Alexis Smith, Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet.

Most of the film was shot on a Hollywood back-lot with a non-British cast (which, by the way, boggles the mind - it is a British masterpiece, after all) who try but fail to hang on to any sort of appropriate accent. Not only that, but the ending of the film differs from book (it's actually a better ending, but really that's not enough of a reason to change the thing) and in between there are all sorts of changes probably in the spirit of making the film more understandable, fitted into the almost two hour time-frame. (It's a rather thick book and the story is tricky.)

Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet) looking disgruntled at breakfast. What is the man doing in the Fairlie house at breakfast? Beats me. Note that Gig Young (the young man with the mustache) is shackled for the entire movie in an outfit that looks very much like a chauffeur's uniform. Strange. Or maybe it's a drawing master's uniform?

A nervous John Abbott in his dressing gown, having conniptions and berating his poor valet Louie. Alexis Smith looks ready to beat both of them about the head with something heavy.

In the movie, oddly, all the characters appear to be living in the same house (not so in the book). There's the wonderful John Abbott as the very entertaining hypochondriac, Frederick Fairlie (and boy does he do everything he can to steal the movie). Abbott is a horrid delight as the sniveling, overset uncle always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It is his vast country estate in which most of the action takes place - except for the mad house and the town scenes near the end - wait, wait, we're getting there.

Yes, there is a madhouse. You knew that was coming - this is a Victorian story. We suspect there's a madhouse involved somewhere when we see Eleanor Parker drifting along in the night shadows, garbed all in white as she accosts Gig Young on a moonlight walk late at night. She breathlessly begs for his help only to disappear into the gloom as a carriage comes rumbling down the lane. 

Hanging around Fairlie manor is the sinister Count Fosco played very...uh, sinister-ly by the wonderful Sydney Greenstreet. He is not my idea of Fosco as described in the book, but as I always say: any Greenstreet is better than none. 

In the book, Count Fosco casts a huge aura of malevolence. He is, in a word: icky. He is the evil puppet master for whom all the characters must perform. We get that in the film too, but never as chilling as in the book. Maybe Fosco is so much bigger than life that it's impossible to pin the character down in black and white reality. Though Greenstreet obviously is having fun playing him - his little chortle comes in handy.

Fosco is in cahoots with a neighboring 'noble man' who has designs on one of the heroines of the piece. Sir Percival Glyde (cool name) is played by John Emery in a way that leaves no doubt as to his evil intentions. I mean, the guy reeks of badness. He always did in any role he played - he just had that kind of face.

Poor Gig Young has to wear an insipid little mustache throughout the movie as the Victorian 'hero' who is drawn into a strange dark tangle moments after arriving on the scene. He plays Walter Hartright, hired to teach two young ladies to draw - though for the life of me I can't think why. Anyway, the two young ladies are close friends and possibly cousins (can't remember). 

Laura Fairlie is played by Eleanor Parker (supposed to be a sweet angelic young thing, she is affianced to the unspeakably vulgar low-life Sir Percival, who is only after her huge inheritance).

Problem number one: Parker seems too old and too un-English to be the naive Miss Fairlie.

Problem number two: The other young lady is Marian Halcombe played by Alexis Smith. Marian is described in the book as being rather ugly. There is no way that Alexis Smith can be described as 'ugly' in any way, shape or form. 

However, let's pretend. Okay, so Eleanor and Walter become friends almost immediately, but he has googly-eyes only for Laura. And almost before you can say, fetch the art supplies, they are seen smooching on the lawn. (This never happens in the book. In fact, in the strict Victorian society in which these people are supposed to be living, such a breach of conduct would have been unthinkable - the smooching, I mean. However, this is Hollywood and you know how that goes.)

Marian asks Walter to leave the house asap because Laura is affianced to Sir Percival (in the book Walter is understood to be a penniless art teacher) and it's the right thing to do. If he [Walter] stays, a scandal might ensue. Walter is made to understand that the relationship between Laura and Sir Percival is as binding as a marriage in the eyes of...well, everybody who is anybody.

Let me add that all this happens within the first half hour or so of the film - the screenplay really zips right along.

In the meantime, where is the Woman in White? Don't worry, she's due to make another appearance shortly.

It seems that the mysterious woman whom Walter saw on the road on the night he first arrived at the Fairlie country estate is in actuality, someone named Ann Catherick. Ann happens to be the spitting image of Laura Fairlie (we find out why near the end) and she's been incarcerated in the local loony bin by none other than Count Fosco and dear Percy.

She has escaped in order to deliver a word of warning to Laura. Clutching at Walter whom she again runs into in the dark, she tells him that Laura must NOT marry Percy. Well, hardly a surprise, we all knew that going in. But apparently she has additional info.

The warning comes too late.

When Walter (as he most decidedly does NOT in the book) tries to stop the marriage, nobody believes his accusations. (Ann has disappeared again.) Count Fosco scoffs, insinuating that maybe Walter needs to go to an asylum as well. Sir Percival smirks. Even poor deluded Marian who had assumed that Fosco was just a jovial old friend with a monkey and a canary, demands some proof. After all, she hardly knows Walter.

So off goes the drawing master in a snit.

The melodrama quotient really increases after Laura and Sir Percy come back from a honeymoon in Italy. (Ugh, the mere thought of Percy and Laura...well, you get the idea. UGH!) At any rate, after a few months on the continent, the married couple comes back to the house and the plot, as they say, thickens nicely.

Fosco stays Percy's hand since he is too much inclined to act first and think later. Marian holds Laura - they are finally beginning to understand they are in the presence of great evil.

We find out that Count Fosco has the hots for Marian (he admires her spunk) and he presses her to run off with him - never mind that he has a wife. She is repulsed but then decides to sacrifice all for Laura's sake. 

Despite the several major changes (from the book), things move right along as Laura and Marian and Ann (not to mention the Count's poor wife played by Agnes Moorehead) must work to escape the wicked clutches of Fosco and Percy and their henchmen who will stop at nothing to get Laura to sign a paper turning over all her money to Percy. 

Luckily, Walter is back on the scene and has, inexplicably, switched his affections to Marian. Not so in the book where one wishes he had as well. Laura is a nice enough widgeon, but really, she doesn't have a clue. She's the type that needs to be taken care of, while Marian is more a man's equal in brains and character. But you know Victorian novels, equality in 'brains and character' usually meant the girl was ugly - it's the helpless beautiful ditz who usually gets the man. (Funny thing, because author Wilkie Collins had some fairly un-Victorian ideas about marriage and

At any rate, there is another night time escape from the local loony bin (honestly, where is security when you need it?) and two deaths to deal with - actually three, but I won't say who, what and why - before the bad guys get their comeuppance and we get the long awaited happy ending.

I'd say that the film probably works better if you haven't read the book, but it's up to you. Jacqueline liked it better than I did, so don't forget to read her post to see what convinced her.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Salon: The Art of Michael Sowa

I've posted this one once before, but what the heck, it's so wonderful, it's worth another good look.

This is seriously creepy and yet, I had to laugh.

Michael Sowa is a German illustrator (born in 1945) whose work I first came to love when I spotted it in the French film, AMELIE. Since then I've thought of him as 'the Amelie artist', though obviously he is much, much more.

The world of Michael Sowa's creation is strange, satirical, sinister, macabre and cheery - often all at the same time. The paintings really need to be inspected at close-up range for more than just a few minutes. Sometimes things seen make sense and sometimes I can't figure out what exactly is going on - but always I am fascinated, always I am bemused. Occasionally I am uneasy.

All I say definitively about Michael's work is that once seen, never forgotten.

To view more of Michael Sowa's paintings, please use this link. 

To learn more (Wikipedia's page is not exactly overflowing with information, but it's the best I could find) about Michael Sowa, please see this link.

Esterhazy The Rabbit Prince 

Link to Michael Sowa's children's books.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books (on Thursday): A Georgette Heyer Double-Header

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.'

"Do not!'

"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.

Frederick Morgan

Happy Valentine's Day.

For all the links to Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books, please check Evan Lewis's site.