The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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August 8, 2010

Sunday reading: The Convenient Marriage

I've checked my reading notebook to make sure, and I was right. Except for Footsteps in the Dark, one of her mysteries, I've never read a book by Georgette Heyer. That makes sense, because  I love to read mysteries, especially old, cozy ones, but on the other hand I'm too serious of a reader to be tempted by romance novels...

But when Laurel Ann at Austenprose announced her month-long Celebration of Georgette Heyer, there was so much enthusiasm, and so much blogging about how much other seemingly-serious readers loved her books, that I found myself wanting to see what I had been missing. I'm also finishing up a project to read or re-read all of Jane Austen, and this seemed like a perfect complement. And, to be honest, it seemed like light, sparkling fun. 

Since Heyer wrote (I think) 34 historical and Regency romances, and I wasn't tempted to start at the beginning and read all of them, I needed to find one or two to start with. A guide to her writing on the BBC web site (and isn't that an endorsement in itself, somehow?), from a link kindly provided by the Jane Austen Society of North America (that, too),  had a section titled 'So Which Ones Do You Read?' Perfect! And one of the entries started off with 'for pure comedies of regency manners, read...'  Even more perfect. If I were going to read something silly and sparkling, I wanted it be funny. 

So, between that list, and what the library network has available (most of the books; only three audiobooks, but one of them is on its way), and the ones mentioned as being especially good in a book I'm reading about Heyer, I made a too- long short-list of possibilities:

The Convenient Marriage (1934)
Friday's Child (1944)
The Reluctant Widow (1946)
Arabella (1949)
The Grand Sophy (1950)
Cotillion (1955) - the audiobook on its way
Bath Tangle (1955)
Sprig Muslin (1956)
Sylvester (1957)
Venetia (1958)

As I said, I'm reading an interesting book about Georgette Heyer (more on that later), so I've had a chance to learn a little about her writing style, and the circumstances around it, and her meticulous research. My reading is always enhanced by reading biographies, but this isn't supposed to be a scholarly project. There's nothing for it but to set myself up with a cup of tea and a piece of lemon cake and dive right in.

The Convenient Marriage opens with a visit from the vulgar little Mrs. Maulfrey to her cousins, the Misses Winwood -- Horatia, the youngest, with her 'horrid'  eyebrows and her stammer; Caroline, the middle sister, who tends to speak in Capital Letters; and Elizabeth, the Beauty of the Family, who, because of her brother's succumbing to the family's Fatal Tendency, must accept a marriage of convenience with the very eligible Lord Rule, even though she is in love with Edward Heron, a soldier from 'an excellent but impoverished family' chagrined to have been invalided home from the Battle of Bunker Hill. But Horatia has a plan...

We're also introduced to Lord Rule himself, 'that lazy, faintly-mocking exquisite'; Mr. Arnold Gisborne, his serious and under-worked private secretary; the writer Horace Walpole, who is Horatia's godfather and a terrible gossip; Lady Massey, a widow (linked by more gossip to Lord Rule) who is barred from society by 'the fatal taint of the City,' and the nasty Baron Lethbridge, who knows her secret.

There are (as I was led to expect) a certain number of unfamiliar terms (an abigail, deep basset, and ratafia, which is something Lord Rule would not normally drink) and pages and pages of campy...

'Too late,' Elizabeth said. She clasped her hands to her breast. 'If I could be assured that this is no Immolation upon the Altar of Sisterly Love!'

'If you wish to know what I think,' said Charlotte, 'Horry is very well pleased with herself.'

and sometimes quietly witty dialogue:

'Of course you must know how people will laugh at this odd marriage! Seventeen and thirty-five! Upon my honor, I should not care to appear so ridiculous!' He gave an angry titter, and added venomously:  'To be sure, no one need wonder at the young lady's part in it! We all know how it is with the Winwoods. She does very well for herself, very well indeed!'

The Earl leaned back in his chair, one hand in his breeches pocket, the other quite idly playing with his quizzing-glass. 'Crosby,' he said gently, 'if ever you repeat that remark I am afraid -- I am very much afraid -- that you will quite certainly predecease me.'

First impressions?  I firmly believe that there's a place in our reading lives for sheer pleasure, whatever form that takes, and I have to confess (intellectual snob that I am) that I'm smitten. I'm especially fond of Mr. Crosby Drelincourt, the Macaroni...

1 comment:

Frances said...

Glad to hear you admit your reservations and then acceptance because all I can ever think when Heyer's name comes up is "Really?" I really should end the judgmental riff and read just one to see. See, you've given me the courage. But I still won't do it publicly. :) Happy reading!

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