False Colours is almost certainly the first switched twin story set in Regency England, since it was written by Georgette Heyer, the originator of the Regency romance genre. Today, Regency romance author and reader, Alicia Quigley, shares her memories of reading this story for the first time. She also gives us a glimpse of some of the more interesting characters who play a part in this tale of missing relatives, spendthrift parents and outlandish family friends who complicate the budding romance between the hero and the heroine. In addition, Alicia notes the plethora of Regency cultural information which is to be found in this book. Like Alicia, do you learn new details of the Regency when you read the novels of Georgette Heyer?
All are welcome to post their views on this story, or Regency romances in general, in comments to this article.
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False Colours was the first Heyer novel, and the first modern Regency romance I read, so I have fond memories of it. A junior high classmate loaned me her mother’s copy in the mid-70s. I read it and was hooked, but have probably only re-read it once over the years, so the chance to do this blog post was a welcome opportunity to revisit the story.
False Colours is a comedy, and with its themes of missing people, swapping identities, and multiple parallel love stories, it’s Shakespearian in the way that the Bard’s broader comedies were; i.e., a lot of improbable things happen to people in unusual circumstances in very human ways to create an entertaining tale.
The characters aren’t particularly subtle, and there’s certainly no one like the Earl of Rule in The Convenient Marriage, who artfully manages those around him. Rather the Fancot twins, Kit and Evelyn, while identical in appearance, represent polar opposites in temperament. One is more staid and the other is a bit of a party animal. Their mother is a fashionable widgeon, but a tigress about protecting her cubs. Her cicisbeo, Sir Bonamy Ripple, is every bit as ridiculous as his name implies. Those who enjoyed Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle will recognize his brother in absurdity, Sir Nugent Fotherby.
When he arrives at the Earl of Denville’s country seat, we learn that
. . . when Sir Bonamy lowered himself, with the assistance of two muscular footmen, from his travelling carriage… no one would have supposed from his demeanour that the smallest force had been necessary to bring him away from the Pavilion to the seclusion of Ravenhurst. Radiating good-humour, he grasped Kit’s hand with one of his own pudgy ones, and declared that this was ‘something like!’ Wheezing only a very little from the exertion of descending from the carriage, he stood looking about him, a not unimposing, if preposterous figure, in the nattiest of country raiment, with a voluminous drab driving coat hanging open from his shoulders, and a shaggy, low-crowned beaver set rakishly askew over his curled and pomaded locks.
Evelyn, the Earl of Denville has suddenly disappeared. When the lady whom everyone expects to become his bride is visiting, along with her dragon of a grandmother, Kit is forced to masquerade as his older twin in order save everyone from embarrassment. The twins turn out to be courting very different ladies and have relationships with them that reflect their personality differences. Heyer, a clever depicter of personality, makes good use of the mechanics of the story to illustrate this. As the plot twists and turns, individual quirks and characteristics unfold in the setting of country gardens, drawing rooms and social occasions. This book is often criticized as slow moving; I enjoy it, but it certainly is a better book for a week at the beach than snatching a few minutes to read at night before bed.
Heyer was a passionate researcher who used primary sources extensively to develop detailed information on the clothing, food, jewelry, manners, language and behaviors of her characters. In particular, she kept extensive glossaries of phrases and words characteristic of the Regency era, which she made use of to varying degrees in her works. False Colours is a veritable master class in the use of Regency phrases and slang, and a great deal more amusing way for an author to pick up this material than reading a glossary and hoping to string it together correctly. That said, those disinclined to parse out the meaning and immerse themselves in it (like readers who dislike this aspect of reading Austen or Dickens) may find it "a trifle plodding." As a dyed in the wool Heyer fan, I enjoy this, and shamelessly read Heyer as inspiration for achieving a lighthearted drawing room comedy tone when my writing requires, and False Colours provides plenty of sources.
Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed Regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.