Friday, July 07, 2017

What we're reading: Perfect escapist fare

The Misses Winwood have a problem: Their brother Pelham has inherited the family's Fatal Tendency. Their father gambled away much of the family fortune before he died, and now their feckless brother is wagering and gaming away the rest. The family has no other recourse but for Elizabeth, the eldest (and most beautiful) of the three Winwood sisters, to make an advantageous marriage; fortunately, the extremely wealthy Earl of Rule has decided it's time for him to marry, and is set to propose to her. There's just one problem: Elizabeth is in love with Edward Heron, a poor but worthy army officer. She's willing to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of her family, but the youngest sister, Horatia, is determined not to let that happen. So Horatia makes a daring move by going to the Earl and offering herself in Elizabeth's stead. The Earl is amused and intrigued by young Horry's determination, and agrees to accept her as his bride. But what has Horatia gotten herself into?

Kitty Charing was adopted and raised by Matthew Penicuik. Now Uncle Matthew's gout is acting up and he has decided it's time to settle his estate--but he picks a controversial way to go about it. His ward, Kitty, gets it all--but only if she marries one of his four single great-nephews: Hugh, a straight-laced parson; Dolph, an Earl with less sense than a goose and an overbearing Mama who keeps him in line by threatening the insane asylum; Freddy, a fashionable man about town; and Jack, a devilish rakehell and the stuff of romantic girls' dreams. Kitty has had a tendre for Jack since childhood, and when he doesn't respond to Uncle Matthew's summons, she is quite put out. So she devises a way to accomplish two goals: make Jack jealous enough to "come up to the mark" (i.e., propose), and get herself out of her uncle's pinchpenny household and up to London for the Season; she persuades Freddy to ask for her hand! She promises him it's only a betrothal, nothing more, and that at the psychological moment she will "cry off." Freddy isn't entirely entranced with this solution, but wants to help Kit, and so the plan is put in motion. Obviously, complications ensue.
These are the set-ups for The Convenient Marriage and Cotillion, two of the many delightful historical romances by Georgette Heyer that have been re-released in the past few years in trade paperback by Sourcebooks Casablanca. I discovered Heyer's books on the library shelves in musty old hardbound cloth covers when I was 13 years old, and was immediately entranced. Unlike more conventional romances, in which the girl often sits around waiting for her hero to sweep her off her feet and save the day, Heyer's heroines are plucky and ingenious, and manage both their fates and their men with panache. It is considered that Heyer essentially invented the historical romance genre, and created the subgenre of the Regency romance. The historical details are integral to the stories, and, while being precise and meticulously researched, are so seamlessly woven into the larger narrative that you never feel imposed upon by "information." Heyer said she was inspired by the writing of Jane Austen, and indeed, you can hear echoes of Austen's characters in the conversational gambits of Heyer's, but the books are lighter and less literary, and combine the best of British writing with a wonderful humorous element of French farce.

Heyer was born August 16, 1902, and wrote her first book in 1921 at the age of 19, as an entertainment for her ailing younger brother. She published up until shortly before her death in 1974, writing more than 30 Georgian and Regency romance novels, as well as half a dozen historical novels, and a dozen thrillers. Try a few--they're perfect escapist reading, and isn't that what you want during a long, hot summer?

Other favorite titles of mine:
These Old Shades (actually not a Regency novel, this one is set in France during the reign of Louis XV)

1 comment:

Liz Adams said...

Heyer was recommended by our history teacher! Because of the meticulous research, as well as the discreet romances -- young teens-- and These Old Shades the first one she recommended, because we were studying the period.