Frederica is one of a handful of Regencies which Georgette Heyer titled with the heroine’s first name. In today’s article, historical romance novelist, Miranda Neville, gives us some tantalizing glimpses into both the humor and romance of the story, combined as only Heyer could. What is your view with regard to Frederica’s late recognition of her love for Alverstoke? Do you consider it a flaw in the story, or the typical response of a young woman of her time and station in life?
All visitors are welcome to share their opinions on Regency romance, or Frederica in particular, in comments to this article.
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Frederica: When do they know they’re in love?
Frederica sees Heyer at the height of her powers. It’s laugh aloud funny—the episode of the Baluchistan hound is comedy at its best—and contains wonderful secondary characters as well as a delicious main couple. The banter between Frederica and Alverstoke is brilliant. Neither allows the other to get away with anything—in a teasing never antagonistic way—and it’s clear almost from the start that they are made for each other.
Alverstoke is a splendid creation, inspiration for numerous perfect, bored noblemen: good-looking, superbly dressed, excellent at every sport, witty and extremely intelligent. His fault, which he acknowledges, is selfishness. Early on there is an exchange with Frederica about his own cold childhood.
"I came into the world hosed and shod, and was so precious to my parents that a special establishment was created for me. Until I went to Harrow, I enjoyed the undivided attention of nurses, valets, grooms, tutors, and — oh, all that money could provide!"
"Oh, poor little boy!" she exclaimed involuntarily.
Thus in few words does Heyer explain how Alverstoke became the man he is. That he confides this much in Frederica, whom he doesn’t know well, signals his early attraction and sets up the theme of his transformation. For Frederica is a novel all about family.
While Frederica has devoted her life to her adored, though not perfect family, virtually raising four younger siblings, Alverstoke barely does his duty to his relations, and never at the expensive of his own comfort. When he takes on the informal guardianship of the cash-strapped Merriville family, it’s only to annoy his sisters.
When the "guardianship" turns out to be more demanding than he had expected (see the Baluchistan hound) he begins to enjoy the responsibilities of family, and to fall in love. The lack of a suspense plot and the focus on the feelings of the central characters make Frederica one of the most purely romantic of Heyer’s novels.
Reflecting Alverstoke’s unusual degree of self-awareness, the author shows us the development of his feelings for Frederica, through the eyes of observers and in extensive passages in his point of view. To an unusual degree for Heyer, we see him pass from liking to cautious affection to passionate love.
"His own doubts were at an end. The more he saw of her the more he loved her, and as he’d never loved any woman before. Not the most beautiful of his mistresses had inspired him with a desire to shield her from every adverse wind."
But what of Frederica? Heyer’s heroines often fail to acknowledge their feelings until the hero speaks. Judith in Regency Buck, Eleanor in The Reluctant Widow, and Drusilla in The Quiet Gentlemen come to mind, and there are others. We know that they are in love but we don’t see it, at least in the point-of-view passages we are given. There are reasons for this, ranging from denial because the hero can’t possibly love them to—perhaps—a dislike of overt sentimentality on the part of the author.
In Frederica the boot is on the other foot: Alverstoke hesitates to declare himself partly because he can’t tell if she feels the same way. Frederica’s denial seems almost willful. Yes, she is too busy looking after her siblings to think of marriage, but still, how can she not realize her feelings—obvious to almost everyone else—for such a fabulous man?
Even toward the end of the book, when the dauntless heroine pretty much falls to pieces whenever Alverstoke is absent (a brilliant display of showing not telling), she has to be told what her feelings mean and they come as a surprise.
"But I am not blind to your faults, and I do not think that everything you do or say is right! Only—is it being—not very comfortable—and cross—and not quite happy, when you aren’t there? …. Now I know! I am in love."
I’d love to know whether other readers find Frederica’s emotional ignorance plausible, or if it’s a small flaw in an almost perfect novel and a wonderful romance.
Miranda Neville’s historical romances include the Burgundy Club series, about Regency book collectors, and The Wild Quartet. She grew up in England and now lives in Vermont with her daughter, her cat, and a ridiculously large collection of Christmas tree ornaments. Her novella in the anthology Christmas in Duke Street will be available October 15, 2015.