Monday, December 1, 2008

A Fantasy World

By Elaine Simpson-Long

I have made no secret of my love of Georgette Heyer on Estella’s Revenge and was delighted when Source Books, who are republishing all of this wonderful lady’s output in the USA, sent me a parcel of books by this, one of my favourite authors.

I have recently written about comfort reading having been asked what constituted such a genre, and I had a bit of a ponder and came to the conclusion that it is reading a book or books for pure pleasure; no analysis, no essays, no posting on one’s blog. In short, no obligation to do anything but sit down and wallow. It was a horrid day yesterday, cold and chilly and the first snow of the winter here in the UK, and as the nights are now dark early, it was the perfect kind of day for drawing the curtains, sitting by the fire, hot drink to hand, chocolate biscuits and a big comfy sofa to curl up on and a favourite book to read.

If you describe a book as a fantasy novel, the natural reaction would be to imagine it is a story full of Hobbits, trolls, Orcs and other such phantasmagorical creatures, set in a far distant magical land. But there is a different kind of fantasy. It is the fantasy world the reader creates when reading any book that transports you away from the realities of life, where no washing up exists, no housework needs to be done and we are swept off our feet by dashing men who clasp us to their manly breasts.

Be still my beating heart...

All of Georgette Heyer’s novels have the ability to transport us into such a world. Deep down we are aware that the realities of living in the Regency times were not as they are portrayed here in the salons of the fashionable of good ton. We know that most people were fairly indifferent to personal hygiene, the streets and roads were filthy dirty, most people lived in slums and in dire poverty and while lip service is paid to those who lived in such awful circumstances (Leaky Peg in Heyer’s Arabella is a case in point), all of Heyer’s Regency novels are full of beautiful heroines and masterful heroes. We know all this but we put it to one side while we read.

Two of the books I was lucky enough to receive and enjoy all over again were Faro’s Daughter and Regency Buck.

Faro’s Daughter opens with Lady Mablethorpe, awaiting the arrival of her nephew, Mr Ravenscar. When he arrives we see immediately that he is one of the dark, sardonic, saturnine Heyer heroes:

“He was very tall, with a good pair of legs, encased in buckskins and top boots, fine broad shoulders under a coat of superfine cloth, and a lean harsh featured countenance with an uncompromising mouth and extremely hard grey eyes”

He learns that Adrian, Lady Mablethorpe's son has fallen in love with a lady in a gaming house who has him “in her toils” and she wishes Ravenscar to help extricate Adrian from this predicament. His reaction is unfavourable in that she will have to be bought off and he makes it clear that she need to expect him to lay out his money:

“You need not be afraid Max! I hope I know better than to expect you to lay out any of your odious wealth on this business!”

“‘I hope you do Aunt, for I shall certainly do no such thing”........Lady Mablethorpe said with a somewhat vindictive note in her voice “I beg that you will take care Max. They say the girl is like a honey-pot and I’m sure I’ve no wish to see you caught in her toils”

This sentence is a dead give away as we know immediately what is going to happen, and it does. Max finds himself falling love with Deborah Grantham who is, of course, a lady of breeding forced to run a gaming house in order to survive. She is beautiful, intelligent and honest and, as in all good romantic stories, at first disliking Mr Ravenscar ends up falling in love with him. Lots of adventures on the way and intrigues and plotting and all great fun.

Regency Buck concerns a brother and sister, Peregrine and Judith Taverner who have been left in the guardianship of Lord Worth, following the death of their father. It transpires that their father, not the most intelligent of men designated, incorrectly, the 5th Earl of Worth to be responsible for them in his will and instead of a middle aged gentleman they expected to see, they find someone of a totally different mien.

“He was the epitome of a man of fashion. His locks were carefully brushed into a semblance of disorder, his cravat of starched muslin supported his chin in a series of beautiful folds; his driving coat of drab cloth bore no less than fifteen capes and a row of silver buttons. He had a look of self consequence; his eyes, ironically surveying her from under weary lids, were the hardest she had ever seen and betrayed no emotion but boredom his nose was too straight for her taste. His mouth was well formed but thin lipped. She thought it sneered”

OK – well she dislikes him. He sneers at her. Instant antipathy so once again, we know what is going to happen. However, this story is one of Miss Heyer’s more substantial books and before the inevitable ending, we discover that somebody is trying to eliminate Peregrine in order to gain his fortune and Lord Worth finds his guardianship more onerous than he had anticipated. A great deal of historical background in this book and a wonderful portrayal of the Prince Regent and the Pavilion at Brighton which is to be savoured.

We are also introduced to Worth’s brother, Charles Audley. A warm hearted, handsome laughing man he appears the opposite of his cool, sarcastic brother and Georgette makes him a lovable, endearing character. There is method in this as Charles appears in another of Heyer’s books, and one which is, in my opinion anyway, her finest work: An Infamous Army. Her depiction of the Battle of Waterloo makes for absorbing reading and Charles is the hero in the love story fashioned around this momentous event in history. We also meet Judith and Lord Worth in this story and Lady Babs Childe, Charles love, who is a member of the Alastair family, who feature in These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. Georgette Heyer links these stories together beautifully through the generations so that the reader is delighted to stumble upon familiar characters.

If the fantasy land of the balls, salons, visits to Vauxhall Gardens, dashing heroes and glamorous heroines is one you love, and I fully admit to being a paid up member, then read every one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels you can lay your hands on and for sheer wit, vitality and laugh out loud humour, may I recommend Cotillion or Friday’s Child. Fantasy froth at its finest.

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