Written by Georgette Heyer
Reviewed by Nancy L. Horner
It was seldom that Mr. Standen, a peace-loving young gentleman, was conscious of a wish to come to blows with his fellowmen, but a wistful desire to land his cousin a facer did for an instant flicker in his mind. Several circumstances rendered the gratification of this impulse ineligible, chief amongst them being the hallowed precincts in which they both stood, and the melancholy certainty that such violence could only lead to his own discomfiture. (pg. 113)
Numerous recommendations, around a dozen years of hearing Georgette Heyer’s name bandied about as the Queen of Regency-era Romance and a couple of unread acquisitions . . . oh, brother. I know you’ve heard this one, before, but there are times when an avid reader hears so much about a particular author that he or she becomes absolutely paralyzed by the terror of potentially hating an author everyone else seems to love. Such was my fear of Georgette Heyer, in spite of the fact that I pride myself both in reading a wide variety of books and in trying diligently to read a greater number of new authors than repeats.
Cotillion finally tempted me into the actual reading of a Heyer novel; and, yes, it was rough going, at first. I had far too many expectations without any real understanding of where the adoration was coming from. As a person who is only a sometimes-reader of romance novels, there was also the fear that Heyer would turn out to be “just another romance writer.” I’ve actually written and published an article defending the modern romantic novel from its vehement detractors; and, yet I still find myself cringing away from romance.
I will never, however, fear Georgette Heyer, again. In spite of the fact that the Regency lingo is dense enough that I found myself wishing I had a lexicon of Regency terminology or an expert Regency linguist on-hand, there was no disguising the fact that Cotillion was a compelling story with loveable, clueless, charming, often downright hilarious characters.
Cotillion tells the story of Kitty Charing. Reared by Mr. Penicuik, the temperamental guardian to whom she may or may not be directly related, Kitty is offered the sole inheritance of his vast fortune on the condition that she must marry one of his great-nephews.
Long enamored with Jack, the handsomest of the lot, Kitty hatches a plan when Jack fails to arrive for Mr. Penicuik’s announcement and misses the opportunity to offer to marry her. Freddy is not bad-looking and he’s immensely wealthy. Knowing he has no interest in going through with a marriage to Kitty, she asks him to join in on a sham engagement that will afford her ample time away from the dreary estate where she’s spent the bulk of her life, Arnside House, as well as an opportunity to see London and (she hopes) the chance to tempt Jack into a genuine betrothal.
Freddy reluctantly agrees to her plan, with Kitty’s reassurance that she will not hold him to marriage. Freddy and Kitty have long been friends, but he’s certainly not ready to settle down to married life. And, off they go to London.
This is, of course, the point at which the novel could have become trite, thus amplifying evidence of the author’s skill when the book took the opposite turn. While the language of the book continued to be annoyingly dense with so-called “Regency speak” (see “Regency Language, a Primer” by Diane Farr: http://www.likesbooks.com/regencyspeak.html), the story was often surprising and certainly not as predictable as expected. The heart of the story lay in the question of whether or not Kitty would be thrust into Jack’s path and Jack, a confirmed rake, would turn out to be a less objectionable character than anticipated -- or, at the very least, willing to reform in light of her obvious affection. And, what about Freddy? Might he change his mind about marrying and fall in love with Kitty?
The true joy of a romance novel, avid romance readers insist, is the “happily ever after” ending that the vast majority of detractors scorn. My opinion rests -- a happy ending is an upper, but it’s the path to that ending that makes or breaks a novel. The finest romance novelists are simply good storytellers, able to conjure creative twists and turns that nullify the complaint that romance is too pattern-oriented. Yes, there’s always a happy ending; that is, after all, what dedicated romance readers love. Cotillion ends happily, as anticipated. While I won’t tell you who Kitty ends up with, nor that the eventual ending was all that surprising, I can offer the fact that Heyer wove an enthralling tale with interesting subplots, some situations that caught me off-guard, and a lot of smiles. I look forward to reading more of Heyer’s novels in the future. Fortunately, she wrote a large number during her lengthy career.
Cotillion is a reprint, originally published in 1953.