The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer

January 29, 2010

first published 1951

first BBC Audiobooks edition 2001

Read by Cornelius Garret

Finished: January 26, 2010

Source: husband

Genre: Regency romance, original and best . . . and mystery

On the Scales: lightweight

Georgette Heyer (pronounced hay-er) is one of the few authors I can read with one lobe of my brain closed, standing on one leg, rubbing my stomach, patting my head, and jumping up and down.  She is particularly delicious when read aloud.  Der Mann picked up some BBC audiobook recordings of her books for a trip we took recently.  The road noise made most of them impossible to hear in the car, but I kept them for home listening–in this case while making a hat.

The reader was excellent.  A male voice was a nice change from Phyllida Nash, who usually does them.  I swear his performance of St. Erth was taken straight from the BBC Lord Peter Wimsey, which we happened to be watching at the same time.

The plot doesn’t matter.  Georgette Heyer (pronounced hay-er) is also one of the few authors of books I can read a full front-flap synopsis of, take home, begin, and realize after a chapter or so that I’ve read it before.  The way I see it, there are three tiers.  At the bottom are the ones she tossed off so she would have something to do while she chain-smoked (and to pay her cigarette bill).  In the middle are what you might call “classic Heyer (pronounced hay-er)” like The Corinthian.  At the top are the books that turned out better than she probably meant them too, she just couldn’t help herself, she got carried away, and she’s that smart, like A Civil Contract.  There is fourth category I can’t comment on because I haven’t read more than half of one.  Those are the books she thought of as her real ouvre: her serious historical novels.

Even the bottom tier novels have nuggets of mischievous sang froid, historical commentary, and cutting irony that make them worth reading.  Plus the clothes, the period slang, and the descriptions of interiors.  The middle tier novels  supply all these in addition to, at worst, a serviceable plot with a few decent twists, sympathetic heroines who either don’t take themselves seriously or aren’t meant to be taken seriously by the reader, ridiculous dowagers, and an education in Regency manners and fads.  At best they are beautifully polished farces that just barely miss being outright send-ups of themselves.

There also tends to be a great naming of neckcloth styles and (subtle) admiration for well-turned turned male calves in silk stockings, which serves as a good analogy for her heroes.  Be he cooly elegant and correct, or foppish and endearing, each one veils but cannot conceal a virile core of chiseled perfection!

The quiet gentleman of the title is Gervase Frant, Earl of St Erth.  Muddled between the cooly elegant and endearing types, he is a bit more interesting than most.  St Erth is an acknowledged heir (pronounced air) whom his father has nevertheless managed to disinherit both emotionally and in as many practical ways as possible, even though he can’t avoid leaving him the entailed family pile.  The old man is already dead by the time the despised elder son returns home from his time on the continent in Wellington’s army, but the circumstances he finds in place at his arrival are daunting enough: his father’s imposing second wife, ensconced in a position of power that is very much to her liking, and her hotheaded, scornful son–brought up to assume–as did everyone else at the castle–that St Erth was likely to die in the wars and leave him master of the place.

I like St Erth even though it isn’t the kind of book where he could be fully developed, and I like the heroine Drusilla, who is one of the sensible ones who doesn’t take herself too seriously.  Also she is definitely plain–not just apparently plain, or unfashionable–which doesn’t happen too often in these books.  She’s indulgent toward her intellectual parents, though the author makes rather mean fun of them (Mary Wolstencraft and the Coleridges get deadpan mention; the mama is a novelist), and has modest but firm ambitions a reader can’t help approve.

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3 Responses to “The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer”

  1. Aarti said

    Ana/Nymeth mentioned your blog on Twitter yesterday (I think yesterday) and now I’m able to see it and I must say you already rank very highly for me because I LOVE Heyer (yes, pronounced Hay-er). I also like Drusilla, who is a robin, not a sparrow 🙂

    While this isn’t my favorite Heyer, I do like it because of how sensible Drusilla is. I could see why St. Erth enjoyed her company.

    Great blog! 🙂

  2. Fence said

    This isn’t a Heyer I’ve gotten to yet, but I do love her books. As you say, even the worst of them have something going for them. I don’t think I’ve come across one that I haven’t enjoyed.

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