In Which Krissie and I Argue About Georgette Heyer

I’ve been on a Heyer binge the past two weeks, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t love all of the ones I read.  I mentioned that to Krissie and she said, “Which ones?” and of course those turned out to be some of her faves because Krissie and I are Alpha and Omega (or as Krissie put it, she’s Pollyanna and I’m Medea).  The only one we agreed on was The Grand Sophy, a book I loved so much I named my heroine in Welcome to Temptation after her.  It still holds up after all these years, aside from a brief but nasty bit of anti-Semitism which the heroine does not commit (it’s the author’s narration, not Sophy’s thoughts, so I just skim past that part).  

After that, Krissie and I parted company on most of our evaluations.  So here’s what I think, with some Krissie quotes in there to provide a counterpoint;

 

The biggest failing, I found, was that there were stories where the hero proposed at the end and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.  The Reluctant Widow is about a perfect man whom everyone admires and who is never wrong (bleah) and the woman he asks to marry his dying cousin so that he won’t inherit the cousin’s estate.  I’m okay with that, but the woman he asks says no, then marries the cousin who promptly dies, then bitches about being “forced” to marry him for the rest of the book, even though she was given the choice and was penniless before and now has money and a house.  I’ve never wanted to slap a heroine more. Her conversations with the hero are boring, and sometimes she laughs at something he said, and I think, “Why? That wasn’t funny.”  In the end he proposes and she accepts him in rapture.   Honestly, it was awful. But Krissie said, “In The Corinthian and Reluctant Widow I infer all sorts of things from the dialogue, actions. (Heyer never describes emotions).  It’s not on the page, it’s suggested and hinted at . . .”  For me, what was on the page was so awful, I decided the two of them deserved each other.

The Reluctant Widow: Krissie’s Grade: A   My Grade: F

Then there’s The Corinthian, the book Krissie just referred to.  It’s about a very wealthy, very popular man who catches a seventeen-year-old girl climbing out a window.  He’s drunk and feeling trapped because he has to offer marriage to an ice-queen the next day, so when she asks for help to run away, he says, “Sure.”  They go off together and have many improbable but fun adventures including theft and murder, and he treats her like the boy she’s pretending to be.  It’s a great story, until suddenly at the end, he proposed and catches her up in a passionate embrace.  Bleah.  As I told Krissie, the thing that gets me is that she’s clearly a kid, she thinks like a kid, she acts like a kid, and while by the end she hero-worships him, she’s no  more ready to be a wife than a twelve-year-old.  And since he hasn’t had a single romantic thought about her, I’m just not buying it.  

Krissie’s counterpoint: “If I’ve signed on for a book (been seduced into liking it) then I bring my own stuff.  Maybe I’ll see stuff that isn’t there – I think Richard treats Pen like a child because he knows how improper it is for him to be out and about with her and is trying to keep a distance (of course he has the hots for her – she’s pretty and adventurous and charming, if naive).  As for Pen, she’s on the cusp of womanhood (which can be reached at 15 or 16 in these books, her last gasp before putting away childish things.  She’s attracted to him but too young to know what to recognize it or know what to do with it, and probably a little afraid to grow up.  She’s holding on to fantasy and childhood. Because I love those characters (including Pen’s reaction to her old BF’s new lady love) and I want them to have the life I want for them.”

The Corinthian: Krissie’s Grade: A   My Grade: C

Krissie thought that it was the age difference that was making me squick, but I’m okay with the age differences in The Convenient Marriage and These Old Shades, and they’re even greater than the 17/29 that are Pen/Richard.  I think Horry/Rule is 17/35, and the age difference in These Old Shades is more than twenty years, 19/past 40.  But Horry and Leonie are not children.  Horry is very society wise and knows exactly what she’s doing when she proposes to Rule; the fact that she proposes to him and talks him into marrying her makes a difference, too.  And Leonie has had a violent and dangerous life in the slums when she meets Justin; she’s no innocent and she knows how to protect herself.  The fact that both of these girls know they’ll be much better off if they marry the older men makes a difference, too.  

The Convenient Marriage: Krissie’s Grade: A   My Grade: B

I realized I liked the stories of the older heroines that meet the hero toe-to-toe; Krissie doesn’t like those as much: “I don’t particularly like the books where the older heroine is working with the hero to settle the troublesome chit. Oh, I love Talisman  Ring, but there are others with the same idea where it removes me from the story.  I want the hero to fall in love with Horry of the eyebrows in A Convenient Marriage, not someone else (there’s a child marriage).  And I think the reason these books work so well for me is I feel the youthful behavior of the young heroine is innocently charming and unaffected, unlike the older, marriage-minded women of the ton, and the hero loves that fresh new way of looking at things.  It’s the normal time for him to change his life, and he could marry the proper person and live a proper life, or he could throw everything away on someone who is too young, too impulsive, too natural to let him live a boring life.  (Think the hero in Sophy and the other woman.  She has a great name, but I’ve forgotten it.) (Jenny edit: Eugenia.) Falling for the obstreperous child is disastrous for him, but he does anyway. As for child marriage, half the brides are that young anyway, they just have been molded into proper-having young women”.  (Note: Sophy is not a child, she’s in her twenties; Krissie’s referring to Horry, Pen, and Leonie.)

I’ll grant the historical accuracy, but it still doesn’t work with my idea of romance.  Krissie loves the innocent and the rake, I love the wordly wise woman who says to the rake, “Not so fast there, Sparky, I know a few things, too,” and engages him in a battle of wits so that of course he falls for her, she’s the only person strong enough to be his partner.  “Rake” isn’t quite the right description of these heroes, but you can go with “domineering” and “determined to get what he wants.”  That’s Black Sheep, The Grand Sophy, and The Talisman Ring.

Krissie and I both love The Talisman Ring, but that might be because there are two romances in there, one between an innocent and a highwayman, and the other between a high born lady and an exasperated peer of the realm.  It starts out like a May/December romance between Eustacie, the orphaned ward of a rich man forced into marriage with his very proper and very much older nephew, Tristram, but any thought that this is going to be a story about opposites attracting is pretty much demolished with a great breakfast scene during which Eustacie prattles and Tristram wishes she would just shut the hell up.  Realizing that she’s betrothed to someone who will not ride hell bent for leather to her deathbed (he tells her that if she was on her deathbed, he’d be there, not out riding), she runs away and falls into the arms of a highwayman, Ludovic, who is shortly thereafter shot, and goes with him to an inn, where she meets Sarah, a highborn lady traveling with her brother . . .  .  I think that’s the first chapter.  Tristram comes to the inn looking for Eustacie and meets Sarah, and after that it’s Katy-bar-the-door as the four future lovers band together to find a talisman ring and solve a murder.  The younger lovers story is cute, but it’s the older lovers who make me smile at the page.  The brother is good value, too.  Just a great book.

The Talisman Ring: Krissie’s Grade: A   My Grade: A

I think I love that one because you can see why the older lovers connect; you can see the arc of their relationship grow on the page.  Another great one for that is False Colours, about Kit, a military man, who comes homes to find out his twin brother is missing which leads to him going to his brother’s engagement party that night as his brother because it would be such an insult to the fiancee if he didn’t show up.  Cressy, the fiancee, turns out to be a darling who’s not that sure she wants to be married, but changes her mind after spending the evening with the wrong brother; adding to the problem is that the military man thinks she’s pretty great, too.  The arc of their falling in love is beautifully done as the screwball plot unwinds.  Everybody else in this story is wonderfully ridiculous, and the lovers stand out as the only people with sense, dealing with everything that comes at them with wit and nerve.

False Colours: Krissie’s Grade: B   My Grade: A 

I also desperately love Cotillion, which has one of Krissie’s innocent heroines in love with a rake.  Kitty cons her cousin Freddy into becoming engaged to her so she can go to London and possibly make Jack, the rakish cousin she really want to marry, jealous.   I bought totally into the Jack-will-be-the-hero assumption until I met Jack and spent a little time with Freddy.  It’s a marvelous bait and switch about two people who aren’t the brightest spoons in the drawer but who fit together beautifully.  Add in a screwball plot full of screwball subplots, and it’s just a wonderful read.  But having had this conversation with Krissie, I can see why it’s not one of her faves: she’d be rooting for Jack.

Cotillion: Krissie’s Grade: C   My Grade: A

But my all time fave will always be The Grand Sophy because of Sophy.  Sophy is no innocent and no child, having been her father’s companion all over Europe as she grew up.  She is left with her aunt while her father goes to Brazil, and finds the family in a mess since the oldest son , Charles, is about to marry a cold, domineering woman who will make them all miserable (that would be Eugenia).  Sophy sees that won’t do, plus the oldest daughter has just made a mess of her love life, so Sophy has to clean that up, and second oldest son has gotten himself into the hands of moneylenders, so that’ll have to be taken care of, and then there’s her father’s fiancee who is flirting with fortunehunters . . . .  Sophy sails through the plot, handling it all, colliding with Charles at every turn and learning to appreciate his strength, his wit, and his skill, but not his fiancee.  I told Krissie I could see them fighting for the rest of their lives, and then having great make-up sex, and loving each other to the day they died, it’s that great a romance.  (I don’t think it’s a spoiler that Sophy ends up with Charles; this is a romance after all. Also, I have fondness for that hideous green cover because was the edition I first read, and it reminds me of how wonderful it was to read this book for the first time.)

The Grand Sophy: Krissie’s Grade: A   My Grade: A

This, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface of Heyer’s book list, and it doesn’t include her mysteries at all, but if you’re looking for comfort reads, you should definitely try The Grand Sophy, The Talisman Ring, Cotillion, and False Colours, and then go on to try the rest.  Heyer wrote a lot of books, so you’ll have plenty to glom.  (Another plus: Any writer who can write books that appeal to both Krissie and me has obviously got major chops.)

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101 thoughts on “In Which Krissie and I Argue About Georgette Heyer

  1. In the meantime, I finished “Faro’s Daughter” and didn’t like it. I just didn’t get it that Max suddenly does a 180 and falls in love with Deborah – maybe it’s because I just wanted to scream at her carelessness concerning money and her naiveté in other respects although she is supp0sed to be so self-reliant and smart.

    I remember that I loved “Sprig Muslin” and “These Old Shades” so I might turn to those again and see how I like them now.

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    1. It’s not a 180 — Max is attracted but fights it. But she keeps proving she’s got bottom and honour and then he misinterprets (again) and he Darcys her and … I like that one. (Rats!)

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      1. I like the fact that she kidnaps him and then bandages his hands – both of them proving during that sequence of scenes that they may be rough fighters but they don’t fight dirty.

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        1. The kidnapping is practically the only thing I remember about that book, and I loved it. Especially the way Max tells her brother off when he comes to cut him loose, because this was between Max and Deb. Must re-read that, but there won’t be time for quite a while.

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      1. Thank you for this, Laura. I’ve just read the short stories. What’s amazing is the radical jump between 1937 and 1939: suddenly, with ‘Pursuit’, she finds her mature voice. I ended up skimming the earlier ones; cardboard, and very dated, by comparison. Loved seeing them in their original magazine context (and intrigued by the ‘modern felted flooring’ ad!).

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  2. I always have liked A Civil Contract. In real life you would expect the hero Adam to marry the heroine Jenny, regroup his financial loses then be a perfectly polite husband with a discrete, pretty mistress somewhere, since his sweetheart Julia who he could not marry was pretty, delicate, romantic and self-centered, and heroine was neither pretty or delicate. Which is what the Jenny expected. What I did not expect was that as Adam’s character matured he realized how completely unsuitable Julia was for someone who had to work all hours of the day to regroup the family fortunes and what a drag being married to someone who was delicate and sensitive in such a situation. In retrospect, in Maybe This Time that was precisely the situation with Andie and North had when they first married.

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    1. Sending my vote for A Civil Contract, a very fine marriage-of-convenience romance novel.

      6+
    2. A Civil Contract is by far my favorite, although I love False Colors, Black Sheep, and The Talisman Ring, too. Oh, and Frederica!

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        1. After much urging (ok — nagging) by my sister to try a Heyer novel, I read Frederica and loved it!

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          1. Frederica was the first one I read, when it was new and I was eleven. I went searching for everything else she had then published. (And I’m still annoyed at her for dying so ridiculously young–74, indeed! Hmph.)

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  3. I adored everything from Georgette Heyer when I was a teen and early twenties. Loved the language, loved the imagery. But then, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t read her stuff for, lo, many years.

    By coincidence a couple of years ago I found a whole bunch of her books at a local book box (where you take the old books you don’t want any more and whoever wants them can take them home). Someone did some spring cleaning (and they were actually in English, yay!). So I reread them after a gap of nearly forty years.

    And found out I liked some, yawned through some, and was, like Jenny, kind of “oh, for pete’s sake” on others. I was so shocked because my memory was so different. It was a couple of years back, so I can’t tell you which ones fell into which categories…

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    1. I felt the same way about some I had loved but now not so much but some that really held up well.

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  4. As a young person I loved Faro’s Daughter and Arabella, and didn’t like Civil Contract. As I got older, I no longer liked the young impetuous heroines (I remember my shock when re-reading Faro’s Daughter and finding myself in sympathy with the the poor, put-upon aunt instead of the dashing heroine).

    My all time favorites are still These Old Shades, Fredrica and Venetia, but Civil Contract and Cotillion went from way down the list to high in the rankings as I got older. It’s the quality of the relationships really.

    3+
  5. I like the Reluctant Widow because when he proposes in the end he has that wonderful line about his sisters. And the dog – I love Bouncer. And I have a weak spot for Francis.

    I love The Convenient Marriage because everyone who loves Rule wants Horry to knock him out of his comfort zone and it’s the first one I read. And because instead of jealousy as a plot device, he shakes the little weasel by the throat.

    A Civil Contract broke every rule I knew about romances and just made me happy. Cotillion I hated – I knew she was going to end up with Jack and that was such a bad idea. And then, then she didn’t.

    And the Grand Sophy didn’t start with Charles & his family – it’s pretty much admitted that Sophy has been arranging everyone’s lives very competently for years. Sophy is competence porn.

    For all of you below 40 – maybe even 45 – it’s hard to explain how revolutionary in some ways Heyer was when I first start reading her. Barbara Cartland was considered the queen of Romance and every one of her heroines was TSTL for me.

    The first Heyer I read the heroine picked up a poker and knocked someone out. The younger ones ran away sometimes but often the elopement proved to them that the love of their life was either too young or had bad intentions. I’m old enough to remember that it was considered better for a husband to be at least 5 or 10 years older than his wife – not just in Regencies but in all books, movies etc so the ick factor was nonexistent for me.

    Georgette Heyer’s characters were foolish and brave and smart and frightened but they weren’t stupid people pretending to be self sacrificing. Most of her plots did not require that everyone involved do the dumbest thing imaginable whenever possible. She may have been also the first writer I remember whose sweet, overly feminine, helpless females were shown to be truly vicious at the core – which I found enlightening, shall we say?

    I just re-read Daddy Long Legs and in that one, I’ve got to say the ick factor is a lot more pronounced than I remember. Without there being any sex at all even hinted at.

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    1. I don’t like Convenient Marriage because it’s one of those plots where if they just talked it would all be okay. Am tired of those now.

      When I was a teen I adored Devil’s Cub and couldn’t understand These Old Shades. As I’ve gotten older I grew to adore Justin and Leonie but I still have a soft spot for Mary and the Cub.

      Then there’s The Masqueraders and the Man Mountain. I loved that one.

      I’m currently rereading Venetia. I keep trying Heyer’s mysteries but they bore me.

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    2. “For all of you below 40 – maybe even 45 – it’s hard to explain how revolutionary in some ways Heyer was when I first start reading her. Barbara Cartland was considered the queen of Romance and every one of her heroines was TSTL for me.”

      Heyer was sure Cartland plagiarised her. Here’s a bit from Jennifer Kloester’s biography of Heyer:

      She was first made aware of the possibility of plagiarism in May 1950, when a fan wrote to inform her of an author who had been ‘immersing herself in some of your books and making good use of them’. She was referring to Barbara Cartland who had recently publisher her first three historical novels. […] Georgette had never heard of Barbara Cartland and an initial, cursory reading of Cartland’s first two historical novels left her inclined to dismiss the author as no more than ‘a petty thief’ of names, characters and plot points. [however she then read the third book by Cartland and took a stronger line. Also Heyer felt that her characters had been reworked with] ‘a certain salacity which I find revolting, no sense of period, not a vestige of wit, and no ability to make a character “live”‘, besides a decided ‘melodramatic bias’. […] There is no record of a response to her solicitor’s letter to Barbara Cartland but Georgette later noted that ‘the horrible copies of my books ceased abruptly’. (281-285)

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        1. I think someone else also tried and she sicced the solicitors on them but never actually sued

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      1. Hello Laura,
        This may have been covered in the new bio. But there Was an author ( Ican’t remember her name) who copywrited Heyer maybe in the 70s? And was sued by Heyer, Heyer saying that some of the words /phrases used were from private papers that Heyer was given access to.

        That authors books were enjoyable in a light romance style. She probably kept on writing under a different name.

        Thank you very much for the link to all the missing books.
        A note you may find interesting. My DH and I were at a house auction preview in a town in Scotland
        Where nothing had been changed for 60 years and in the glass fronted bookcases the was a copy of The Great Roxythe(sp) I went to see if I could leave a bid, but was told all the books ha been removed from the sale. Alas

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        1. >there Was an author ( Ican’t remember her name) who copywrited Heyer maybe in the 70s? And was sued by Heyer, Heyer saying that some of the words /phrases used were from private papers that Heyer was given access to.<

          That last bit sounds like a detail from the Cartland case, because Heyer wrote that "One slang phrase which appears in her book […] I got from an unpublished source […] a privately printed book, lent me by a descendant of Lieut. Gawler, because the owner had enjoyed An Infamous Army. I don't think I have met the expression elsewhere, and I am sure Miss Cartland has had no access to my sources" (283).

          However, there was another case mentioned in Kloester's biography, which Heyer found out about in 1961:

          a fan wrote 'to draw your attention to a flagrant example of plagiarism' […] Georgette reluctantly read Winsome Lass by Kathleen Lindsay and sent [her publisher] a scathing assessment of it: 'The book is very poor stuff indeed, but not, I think, actionable. There is scarcely a character in it who wasn't suggested by me, or sometimes, two of mine, but since none of them has any life, far less charm, I hardly think I can be hurt by this utterly blatant piece of piracy. The woman hasn't a clue!' (335-336)

          There's also a separate incident involving copyright. Heyer had written some contemporary-set novels [not romances or crime fiction] early in her career but "in later years was unstinting in her condemnation of these early novels […] '[…]They aren't thrillers, and they stink, and I want them to be buried in decent oblivion'" (105-06). However "in the 1970s due to a loophole in the copyright laws, a small American publishing firm reprinted the novels without permission but ceased production after copyright was reasserted" (106).

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        2. My mother told me that one of her friends had parents who went to the same golfing resort in Scotland as Heyer, who gave them copies of lots of her novels. My mother’s friend certainly had lots and lots of the hardback Heinemann editions (without the covers, sadly, and not autographed or with any other sign that they’d come from Heyer herself, and she didn’t have The Great Roxhythe). My mother already had quite a few of the paperback editions, but I borrowed the rest from her friend’s collection and got to know Heyer’s romances extremely well long before I read any other romances.

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  6. “The only one we agreed on was The Grand Sophy, a book I loved so much I named my heroine in Welcome to Temptation after her. ”

    That’s funny because I named my daughter Sophie after The Grand Sophy, and then your book came out and I saw it as a very good sign! (This was 1999.)

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  7. Every time I say I’m going to read Heuer, I never do. Cartland was well known here and I maybe read 2, yet as a bookish child, I never came across Heyer.

    I think this the second time I’m posting about wanting but forgetting to read Heyer!

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  8. My favorite is Sylvester, because Sylvester is such a foot-in-the-mouth hero. I also love The Unknown Ajax because Hugo plays the character his family *thinks* he is — the dunce — when he really is a smart guy and has the family’s best interest to boot.

    Arabella, Charity Girl, Cotillion, The Talisman Ring, and Friday’s Child are also favorites, for no other reason than I found the stories riveting. I know…boring, right?

    8+
    1. No, not boring. I am on exactly the same wavelength — with the probable addition of Venetia, which I find amazingly well structured, with equally wonderful main and secondary characters. But Sylvester to me is the pinnacle.

      I started reading Heyer when I realized that there was no more Jane Austen, and I was grieving. Heyer brings women’s concerns to the forefront of all her novels, without making her women cardboard cutouts or her plots improbable fairy tales with gratuitous happy endings. Her heroes are’nt all wealthy (though lots of them are) or handsome or rugged and manly or any other cliche of facile romances.

      And the time period she writes about is one that she has researched really deeply. Her card games are the ones played in the time, her foods and clothing and fads and historical context are pretty much spot on, and she builds very vivid scenery and dialogue that helps make her characters feel very real.

      She started out writing several novels set in the 17th century, rather than the Regency, and one of the things I loved about the overlap of those two periods is the way her grandmothers bewail or deplore the clothing choices and social habits of the younger generation — no powder in the hair? Those scandalous long trousers! Not a patch or a fan among the lot of you! The grandmother in Arabella was hysterical in that way, but it made sense and supported the story.

      I find Jenny’s critiques of some of Heyer’s novels in this post interesting, too, though. The two of hers I find I have no interest in re-reading are Regency Buck and Convenient Marriage — the former because to me the hero’s a smug show-off, and the heroine the social climber who deserves him, and the latter because Lord Rule comes across to me as a gay man, and Horatia an irritating teenager who doesn’t really know what she’s doing at any point in the book. Not worthless books, but for me, not beloved either.

      3+
  9. I think The Talisman Ring and The Grand Sophy are two of the best books ever written!! They always make me laugh and I don’t have to put up with young innocent heroines. Then there is The Unknown Ajax and the rest of them that are always a great re-read! Thanks for the post, Jennifer Crusie, it was a fun read too!

    1+
  10. I re-read The Masqueraders recently, and it annoyed me as much as I enjoyed it. I love it for the Old Gentleman’s masterful showmanship, and I hate it for the way Sir Anthony treats Prue, going cold on her whenever she does something he doesn’t like.

    I’m in the camp that loves the heroines who meet the heroes toe-to-toe. Black Sheep, Unknown Ajax, Grand Sophy, False Colours, Frederica… I love Cousin Kate, too – good gothic story with some fantastic banter between our girl and her guy.

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    1. Anthony goes cold because he knows Prue is a woman and she’s putting her life in danger. Maybe he goes too far, but he wants to help her and he can’t and he’s frustrated. I adore it!

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  11. At one point, I binged on Heyer. I read and loved all her romances. But it was years ago. Maybe a major re-read is in order, as I don’t remember most details. But I remember loving The Talisman Ring. And I remember False Colors, although my favorite character in there wasn’t either of the lovers. I fell in love with Kit’s mother.

    3+
  12. I just started listening to The Grand Sophy on audio book. Audible has a lot of her books.
    Read it years ago and it’s fun to listen to. I think I’ve read and reread just about all Heyer’s books over the years. The mysteries are also a good read.

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  13. False colours I love the description of Kit bringing round Bonamy Ripple to the idea of marriage.
    Love Sophy, Frederick, Venetia and Black Sheep because hero and heroine make each other laugh and really seem to like each other.

    3+
  14. I THINK Sophie was actually nineteen — she had not actually been presented at court yet, so she wouldn’t have been much older, certainly not mid-twenties. Always loved the green cover, which in my copy is a lot closer to Pomona green than to the lime color it shows as in the scan. And the very rare error I caught in it was that Eugenia is described as an Earl’s daughter but always called “Miss Wraxton,” not “Lady Eugenia.”

    I’m with Krissie on THE CORINTHIAN, since once Richard had recovered from his hangover, he knows exactly how he should treat Pen and does so.

    In FALSE COLOURS, Kit is a junior diplomat, not in the military. I’ve always had problems with Eve’s choice of Patience Askham — she is clearly a restful opposite of his mother, but basically one-dimensional.

    Personal favorites: THE QUIET GENTLEMAN and THE TOLL-GATE, in addition to the other titles mentioned above.

    1+
    1. Nope, I went back and checked:
      “Been out for years,” responded Sir Horace.”Never anything else really. She’s twenty.”
      Yep, Kit’s a diplomat. I figured Patience was good for Evelyn since he was about an inch deep.

      1+
      1. In fairness, so was she.

        The one time I think Heyer shows the issue with young love marrying way too soon is An Infamous Army where Judith’s younger brother and his wife (the young lovers from Regency Buck) are seen working through issues which they never dealt with in their infatuation.

        Judith is not exactly a social climber – she is richer than almost everyone else in the book and she comes from a good family- but what she wants is to be one of Society’s leaders instead of being trapped in Northumbria while the men of her family ignore her and treat her like an afterthought and show no interest in anything except fighting & hunting. Judith is ambitious.

        Worth is not smug to me but he’s sort of worked himself into a corner – he is at the pinnacle of fashion, bored beyond belief and very close to becoming what he actually despises. Thinking about it now, I’m wondering if Heyer was trying to present the reality of a high spirited heroine who does stupid things for fashion and finds it not worth the game.

        In Sprig Muslin, Gareth’s late fiancee is presented as a similar type and at least one character thinks Gareth had a lucky break when she broke her neck.

        But Regency Buck is actually her first novel set in the Regency and she may have been just finding her feet.

        2+
  15. Like Sure Thing, I’ve never read a Heyer book. I mean to and this post is very helpful for picking one to try first.

    I did buy an audible copy of “The Unfinished Clue.” I haven’t listened to it yet. Does anyone know if it is part of a series? Did Heyer do series?

    1+
    1. No, that’s one of her mysteries. During her heyday, she wrote (and usually also published) one romance on her own and one mystery every year. Her husband assisted with the plotting and killing method on the mysteries.

      She didn’t do series, but in both the mysteries and in some of the romances there are recurring characters, or sometimes recurring families.

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      1. Kindle (or someone) is labeling some of them as series though, with groupings of 4. 4 Hemingways; 4 Hannasydes and 4 of the romance novels although I’m not sure which 4, exactly.

        0
    2. Not really a series. Her mysteries sometimes share a detective from Scotland Yard and they will refer to characters from previous mysteries but you can read them all independently.

      0
      1. For me, recurring characters has me thinking it’s a series. At least, I feel like they should be read in a certain order.

        0
  16. My personal favorites are Venetia, These Old Shades, The Talisman Ring, The Grand Sophie, and Frederica. I like most of her books but absolutely detest Cousin Kate and am indifferent to A Civil Contract. It’s been years since I read it so perhaps it is time I give it a second chance.

    3+
  17. I definitely fall into the toe-to-toe camp. My favourites are The Grand Sophy, Frederica, and Devil’s Cub. I’ve never managed to track down a copy of False Colours or The Talisman Ring, but they’re getting so much love here I’ll have to try again.

    1+
  18. I tend to agree with Jennie on all her grades.

    The Grand Sophie is my favorite followed by These Old Shades.
    I love Cotillion. TheMasqueraders, Arabella, Powder and Patch, False Colors, Regency Buck and Cotillion. In Cotillion there are three romance stories. And the battle of Waterloo.
    I realize that I have never re-read many of Heyer’s romances, including the ones Jenny gave F’s to because I don’t particulary care for them. The ones I do like I have read over and over.

    0
  19. Frederica, Talisman Ring, and Grand Sophy top the list for me. One of the joys of Heyer is that her supporting characters are such fun, and the kids in Frederica and the family in Grand Sophy are all wonderful to read about.

    Sophy is amazing. At this point in my life, she’s about 10 years younger than me, and I still want to be her when I grow up.

    I like both the romances in Talisman Ring. I have a preference for Sarah and Tristram, and I’m not sure I could take the younger pair on their own, but all together they were fantastic. That bit where Sarah fakes a swoon so they can get rid of the investigators was hilarious. It has been years since I read this, and I need to do a re-read soon.

    Love These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub as well. My memory is that they were both significantly more melodramatic than the three listed above, but that’s just a different kind of fun. Justin and Leonie really worked for me, and an age difference that big would usually be icky for me. Rupert is also great, especially when he pursues Leonie’s kidnappers. That episode makes it even more enjoyable when Leonie drags him through France with her in Devil’s Cub.

    I cannot remember anything about Venetia, so I desperately need to revisit that one.

    2+
    1. My favorite part of Sarah/Tristram is when he finally asks if she’ll marry him, and she tells him she’s been planning to for the past ten days. I love Sarah.

      4+
      1. Sarah Thane is one of my favorite heroines in all literature. And Tristram is such a good foil for her. There’s not one scene of them together that I don’t love.

        A couple of years ago, I was at Nyman’s Gardens, a National Trust garden I have visited many times. I was waiting for a bus and looking around. I noticed a sign – ‘Handcross,’ – the village the garden is in. And I looked across the street at the pub – The Red Lion established, 1584 (or thereabouts). My heart almost stopped because I suddenly realized that this was where Talisman Ring took place. The story may be fiction, but the pub and the village are real. It was so thrilling.

        And now, every time I go to Nyman’s I still get that little tingle of joy, a sense of pilgrimage.

        3+
        1. I live near there and I get a kick out of it every time I drive past/read the book. I always try to work out the journey Eustacie takes through the forest. And I went to the pub just to say that I had!

          Favourites for me – Cotillion (I love Freddie), The Talisman Ring (Sarah), there are more but I’ve read those two recently. I didn’t used to like Faro’s Daughter particularly but on my most recent re-read it has shot up the rankings.

          2+
  20. I’m binging on Heyer, mostly for the first time, right now as I recover from foot surgery. I definitely prefer the more mature, toe-to-toe heroines over the ingenues, though I do love Arabella, especially the scene in which the hero falls for Arabella when he realizes that she (saving the young chimney sweep) doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. Also love how he talks things over with the dog.

    The Grand Sophy was my first and favorite so far. Love Frederica, Venetia, Black Sheep, and The Nonesuch. The Unknown Ajax is hilarious, and a sly form of competence porn, even though the romance takes a backseat a bit. I also found the romance in The Quiet Gentleman a little weak and abrupt. Definitely have to read between the lines.

    These Old Shades feels a little creepy. It’s not only the age difference; first he buys her, then he’s her master, then her guardian, and then they marry? Ick. I like Avon and Leonie better in Devil’s Cub, and like it better in general, especially the scene in which Mary spills all to the Duke not knowing who he is.

    The ones where they dislike (or worse) each other from the beginning, like Sylvester or Faro’s Daughter feel a little tiresome at times, and the turnarounds are abrupt, but they also have great moments (the kidnapping in Faro’s Daughter for example).

    I like The Corinthian, despite the age difference. Like Krissie, I read between the lines there and see the signs of him falling for her but not being able to act on it.

    Not so crazy about Friday’s Child or Cotillion. I guess I like the boyish heroes even less than the ingenues.

    I have The Talisman Ring downloaded and will read it next as a reward as soon as I finish some adminstrivia.

    Thanks to all for the comments and recs for my next picks.

    0
    1. Beaumaris’s conversations with the dog are my favorite part of Arabella. Pretty much everything about that dog is funny; it was wonderful when he left for a few days, and the servants had to try desperately to get the dog to stop being depressed without him.

      2+
  21. The diversity of her plots is really amazing. I tend to agree about the ones with very young heroines, but Arabella is the exception for me, because she does have spine. She won’t exactly go toe to toe with him—she just will assume he will do the right thing. And we do see her falling for him.

    A Civil Contract isn’t really a romance but it’s a wonderful book about two adults making the best of things and finding contentment. And I’m also a fan of A Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army which are not really romances although nothing could be more romantic than the love at first sight of Harry and Juanita—which apparently happened in real life too.

    My favorites among her romances also include Venetia, Sylvester, Frederica , the Unknown Ajax…all books where you can see them as equals but also where you can see them actually having something to say to each other after 40 years.

    3+
  22. Well, I enjoy ‘The Reluctant Widow’. It’s not my favourite, but it’s still fun – especially the farcical misunderstanding of the opening scene. The hero is similar to Charles in ‘The Grand Sophy’; he’s had to be a replacement father from a young age, and I like his relationships with his brothers. He’s also kind, especially to Miss Beccles. The heroine’s been trying to hold on to her self-respect, and to be very sensible. It makes sense to me that she can’t believe how she agreed to the marriage, and keeps revisiting that choice: it didn’t fit her values, yet maybe it was somehow a good thing. I also enjoy the way she and Miss Beccles try and sort the house out.

    I’m not keen to revisit ‘These Old Shades’, ‘The Convenient Marriage’ or ‘The Corinthian’; I’m hostile now to the age gap, and to the patronising heroes. I keep putting off rereading ‘Friday’s Child’, too, because I’m not keen on the immature, not too bright protagonists. ‘Cotillion’ pulls those off, but it’s still not a favourite.

    ‘Cousin Kate’ is too dark; the melodrama undermines the witty romance. And ‘A Civil Contract’ is dull and anti-romantic.

    As I said before, I love the more complex, equal romances: ‘Frederica’, ‘The Unknown Ajax’, ‘The Grand Sophy’, ‘Black Sheep’, ‘The Nonesuch’, ‘Venetia’, etc. Oh, and ‘The Foundling’, where a duke learns to be a man.

    1+
    1. I had problems with The Foundling because I thought it was going to be a romance. There’s a romantic subplot, but if you read it hoping for a romance, it reads like a prologue. It’s a good book, they should just tip you off that it’s about a really nice guy learning to take control of his life.

      These Old Shades is still fun; you just have to get past the fact that Leonie is 20 and Justin is over forty, and considering how independent Leonie is, how by the end she pretty much has Justin under her thumb, I can deal with it just fine. And at the end, he tells her he can’t possibly marry her, the age difference is too great, and she just steamrollers him. It is nice that you get them twenty-five years later in The Devil’s Cub, and he still adores her and put her first in everything, as she does him.

      I don’t think Freddy and Kitty are dumb. Freddy knows the world and how to move in it, and he’s beautifully efficient, he just doesn’t see the point of the Elgin Marbles. Kitty doesn’t know the world, but she has a kind heart and a fertile imagination and a great sense of humor, and she’s smart enough to see that Freddy knows how to navigate the world and follows his lead because of that, not just because he’s a man. She’s also smart enough to see through Jack by the end of the book and choose Freddy. They’re not intellectual, and they’re not clever, but they’re not idiots, either. And they are equals: Freddy knows more but Kitty loves better, and by the end Kitty knows a lot and Freddy loves her so much he hits Jack. I love that damn book.

      8+
      1. And I love, too, that they each change the way other people look at them. Kitty sees Freddy’s society-smarts and values him and his kindness, and through her Freddy’s father and the rest of the family have to look at him in a new light. And Freddy sees Kitty as someone deserving of all good things, and makes Jack acknowledge that he was mistaken in treating her as a commodity at his disposal.

        2+
      2. I love Freddy and Kitty. I just listened to that story a week ago. For probably the fourth time.

        2+
      3. I started reading Cotillion over the weekend (had read it looooong ago, too long to remember what happened) and started having anxiety that Kitty would choose Jack after all. Had to come back here and reassure myself!

        3+
  23. Putting in another vote for Venetia. I see it’s gotten some love here already, but I don’t think Jenny mentioned it, and it’s not to be missed! The hero is a Rake, although he only does one rakish thing during the book (which is kinda icky, but I pretend it didn’t happen) when he first meets Venetia. Most of his rakish reputation is unearned. And people keep expecting Venetia to be a Delicate Flower, but she’s absolutely not. I love their banter and empathy and intelligence. There are wonderful secondary characters, too, including her genius brother and her brother’s horrific mother-in-law. (I used to think the mother-in-law was a characature until I met that person in real life. No kidding.) Some other relatives appear late in the book, and although they initially appear similar to Sylvester’s demon sister-in-law and her fiancé, these two turn out to be genuinely kind and lovely.

    No dogs, though, except a few mentioned in passing. One of the only flaws.

    Venetia was written later in Heyer’s career, and there’s a thoughtfulness and depth of feeling that the Bath romances and the full-on comedies don’t have. It’s kind of like Austen’s Persuasion compared to Emma.

    That said, I adore Sylvester, Arabella, The Grand Sophy, Friday’s Child (similar to Cotillion), These Old Shades, the Corinthian… God, I couldn’t name them all, and you’d stop reading if I did, assuming anyone’s still reading. There are only a few of the romances that I’ve never read, and Jenny, you mentioned a couple of them in your review. I’ll check out The Talisman Ring. I guess my point is that I’m both the Pollyanna and the Medea when it comes to Heyer; I like them all.

    By the way, the few Cartland books I read many years ago didn’t use periods between sentences. Just “….” What was up with that?

    2+
    1. The thing I found frustrating about Venetia is that she left so many plot points hanging. None of them were integral to the story, but I really wanted to see what happened to the mother-in-law when the husband got home, and see that poor little wife saved. Sophy would have saved her.

      1+
      1. I think we are told he would get rid of her but it would be fun to read. The scene I wish she had written is Venetia’s uncle dealing with Damerel’s aunts.

        2+
        1. She left a lot out of that, which is odd when you consider how great she was at supporting characters. The characters are wonderful, she just leaves them hanging. I really thought we’d meet the older brother, she talks about him a lot (and in Frederica, the older brother shows up and is part of the plot).

          Frederica is another one I’d give an A, too. Just re-read it.

          3+
      2. Good point. I would like to see that mother-in-law banished. Better yet, the young wife could grow a backbone like a proto-Sophy—- now that would be a story! A sequel was needed!

        0
  24. I didn’t notice mentions of Beauvallet when I was skimming the comments. Has anyone read that one recently? It’s been a long time for me, and I wonder how it holds up. I liked it at the time, but that was around the same time I was reading Rafael Sabatini, and Beauvallet reminded me of him. It’s probable Sabatini might not stand up well under closer scrutiny than I gave him in high school; I wonder if Beauvallet still works.

    0
    1. It didn’t work for me recently but it also didn’t work the first time.

      On a separate note, has anyone else ever read a Barbara Cartland? I picked one up once when I saw my mother in law reading it. It was the first thing other than a shopping list that I had seen her read in the 7 or so years I had known her so I was curious. It was really remarkably bad. Among other things as I recall every paragraph had one sentence.

      0
      1. And Cartland’s heroines…seem…unable to speak…in continuous….sentences. I assume that the ellipses were meant to indicate their breathy virgin hotness, but as far as I’m concerned the punctuation just makes me feel as though their brains aren’t functioning correctly.

        5+
        1. I read a couple. I understand that Cartland couldn’t type (and God forbid she learn) so all her books were dictated. Apparently she … paused … a lot.

          But still. Why not hire a typist who could punctuate?

          1+
        2. Barbara Cartland’s earlier works were actually not bad, and were much more complex than her later books. In the earlier books there are not all of the annoying…ellipses….

          1+
      2. I started romance reading with Cartland. I was about 10 or so, if I recall correctly. Cartland was perfect romance for that 10 year old girl. Then as I got older I moved into Regency/Historical romances then modern romances.

        0
        1. I think the male equivalent of Cartland is Louis Lamour. 🙂 I read a bunch of those when I was 10 or so too. My parents still have them as they’re basically the only books my Dad read.

          0
          1. What he didn’t read Max Brand or Zane Grey? My father had boxes of them. Oh, and Earle Stanley Gardner. And I think they were the first adult novels I read. I was about 9.

            0
      3. I read one once out of a spirit of enquiry.

        The heroine was a princess and fought for the rights of her people and for her to retain her right to the throne right up to the point of the end when she basically said “oh no I couldn’t possibly I’m only a feek and weeble woman, my husband will be king as he’s a MAN” when they (I forget who) said she could be queen after all.

        The real kicker was that he was the ruler of the adjacent country who had been trying to annex hers all though the book. It didn’t even make it back to the charity shop – straight into the recycling.

        1+
  25. I’ll always have a soft spot for The Corinthian because that was my first Heyer (swiped off my grandmother’s bookshelf at age 14).

    My adult favorite is A Civil Contract. I always think it’s mostly about Adam learning to appreciate Jenny’s father, Mr. Chawleigh.

    My 88-year-old father found Heyer recently via An Infamous Army. He enjoyed it enough to pick up a couple of the mysteries, and at my suggestion he just started Frederica. We’ll see how that goes!

    2+
    1. My dad wanted to try Heyer and was lost. I suggested he try listening to it (particularly when done well by a good vocal actor/actress like Daniel Philpot, Phyllida Nash, Cornelius Garrett, Nicholas Rowe, Eve Matheson, or Barbara Leigh-Hunt, aka Lady Catherine de Bourgh). He’s not too keen on that, though.

      0
  26. After all the good comments on the Talisman Ring, I decided to reread it since I barely remember it. So I went to my on-line library and discovered all of their Heyer’s are on hold and likely it is weeks before I could get a copy for my kindle and I did not want to buy it. Then the light-bulb turned on and I discovered that one of the boxes I pulled out of the front closet contained my old collection of Heyer’s. Wow. I had forgotten that you can actually read books on paper. I am enjoying it.

    4+
    1. Sourcebooks or Amazon used to run a sale on Heyer’s birthday for the ebooks. Sometime during summer if I remember rightly. I got all my old favorites for .99 to 2.00 and ditched the old yellowing paperbacks. Except the ones I bought during a visit to London. I love the covers too much 🙂

      Keep an eye out for it.

      1+
      1. Thanks for the tip, Cassandra! My copies are definitely yellowing and becoming fragile. (I am, of course, still young and lovely…).

        0
  27. I have been enjoying this thread so much! I grew up with Heyer and I still gravitate towards comedy of manners in my reading. My favs are The Grand Sophy and The Unknown Ajax because the comedy rewards repeated reading and the climactic/resolution scenes read like plays. It kills me no one has made films of her books (other than the Reluctant Widow), they would be so much fun.

    If you all would like to read some thoughtful reviews of the various books (with comments), check out Mari Ness’ series on Tor.com. Here’s the link to the starter post: https://www.tor.com/2012/06/26/welcome-to-the-georgette-heyer-reread/

    You can find all the books with a quick search of “heyer” on the site.

    2+
      1. You’re welcome, Jane. The reread was a lot of fun. Interesting how much overlap there is between Heyer fans and readers of other genres.

        She was just a damn fine writer.

        1+
  28. As usual, I come far too late to the feast. I first read Heyer in my teens but did not “get her”until I was in my 30’s. In my skim through, I did not see my own favourite, “The Tollgate” which I must now have read a dozen times. It just resonates with me,partly at least, because I was evacuated to Tideswell in the English Peak District at the start of WWII, which is where the action takes place and know it well. I love the teaming up of the hero with a highwayman AND a Bow Street Runner !

    3+
    1. I love The Tollgate. The hero is such a decent human being. He’s principled and kind and amusing and heroic in a completely understated way.

      0
  29. I once worked in a book store. One day a customer asked me for help because her friend was dying and wanted a ‘last’ book. Thinking afterwards I just knew that my last book would be by Georgette Heyer. I first read them in high school and then rediscovered them as an adult. Now I always have one that I am rereading in odd moments between other things.

    My favorites have changed with age. When I was 16, I loved Friday’s Child the best. I still find it charming but Talisman Ring is my favorite now. Sarah Thane is my literary BFF. There are 10 or 12 other Heyer books I reread frequently and another bunch I reread occasionally, including her mysteries. There are some I don’t like at all.

    Everyday I am grateful for my Kindle – I can carry all of my Heyer books with me always.

    2+
    1. What a great question — your last book! Even better than your desert island books! So now I’m wondering what the customer chose. Do you remember? My last book, should I have the opportunity to choose, might be Pride and Prejudice, but now that you mention it, Heyer would be more fun. Maybe Sylvester, because I adore his little nephew, Edmund, and the dog. They are hilarious.

      I suppose the lesson here is to read like every book is my last and not force myself to keep going (beyond a couple chapters) in case it gets better. Life is too short. New words to live by!

      0
  30. I don’t remember the story of A CONVENIENT MARRIAGE or FALSE COLOURS. (I read them years ago, but can’t remember anything. So I get to re-read them as if they were new!)

    THE GRAND SOPHY is one of my least-favorite Heyers. I find Charles so tiresome, it just depresses me that Sophy will spend the rest of her life with him. I’m also not crazy about the rest of the story, either.

    I love most of the other books mentioned in your essay. The plot mcguffin in THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS (that they convince a stranger to marry the dying cousin so they won’t inherit his fortune, etc.) never makes any sense to me, but I enjoy all the characters, dialogue exchanges, and silly adventures and farcical plot twists so much, I shrug that off. I agree that Pen still seems too young at the end of the story to marry the hero, but it’s otherwise such a fun, funny book, I go along with the ending. COLILLION is fun and sweet. I enjoy THE TALISMAN RING a lot. THESE OLD SHADES is a good story, though not high on my Heyer list; I love its sequel, though, THE DEVIL’S CUB. I have another favorite you haven’t mentioned, VENETIA.

    0
  31. I’m also on Team Toe-to-Toe, with Venetia, Frederica, and Devil’s Cub being among the books shelved in my bed headboard for easy rereading, not that I couldn’t just pick up my Kindle these days. Anyway, maybe that preference is partially because I didn’t really try reading Heyer until a little later in my romance reading career, and Patricia Veryan had pretty much singlehandedly already formed my tastes in historical romance (strong heroines, very tortured heroes). It took more time passing until I could appreciate Cotillion, but I did eventually.

    1+
  32. Sophy and The Unknown Ajax for me. I always think of Charles as a glowering stiff and then remember that he’s quick-witted and funny. Like Darcy with Lizzie, he needs a wife who will challenge his autocratic tendencies and bring out his sense of humor.

    Cotillion is delicious. Freddy’s father fascinates me. He is the Rake–a good Rake, unlike Jack–settled into marriage, but still a bit sinister.

    When I was young, I hero-worshipped Avon almost as much as Leonie did. Now I prefer The Quiet Gentleman, and I enjoy watching his growing appreciation of Drusilla. She’s one of the few characters described as droll who really is.

    In my teens, I got my father reading Heyer. He liked Hugo best too.

    2+
  33. Sylvester my all time fave. Not just the story and characters but the witty language. Then Arabella, Frederica, Venetia and The Nonesuch are up there. Plus Bath Tangle for the two main characters.

    2+
  34. Yes, coming late to the Heyer party, but I have to pop in a comment or three (and I guess I need to move Argh Ink back to my daily blog list instead of weekly. :^))

    I’ll keep this down to one comment.

    I recently reread one of my faves, the Talisman Ring, and for the first time noticed the odd structure of the ending. All four main characters are splendid, and have delicious chemistry with each other. We can barely contain our excitement for Ludovic to be exonerated, and to observe his no doubt over-the-top reaction to the restoration of order, after all these years.

    But… where is he for the last few scenes? In the cellar, hidden away. All is resolved and he is no longer in the shadow of the hangman’s noose, and Sarah and Tristram settle their future. AND NO ONE GOES DOWN TO THE CELLAR TO RELEASE LUDOVIC AND BREAK THE GOOD NEWS.

    Is a puzzlement.

    3+
    1. I’m fairly sure Leonie went down there like a flash. But yep, should have been on the page.

      1+
      1. I checked. Eustacie did not go down to free him, but the landlord did. Possibly because it was his hidden cellar and she didn’t know how to? More likely because Heyer needed to keep her around for that delicious moment when Eustacie finally realized that Sarah and Tristram were in love. Still, you would think that could happen with Ludovic on scene too.

        1+
        1. As I remember, when Ludovic was on the scene, Eustacie didn’t notice anybody else.
          The other thing, of course, is that the Ludovic/Eustacie romance had been decided pages before; there was nothing in that plot to work out. Sarah/Tristram still was undeclared, even if Sarah had already decided to marry him (we didn’t know that, but it was pretty clear they were going to be together).

          0

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