As this year draws to a close, the Beau Monde comes to the end of our celebration of the eightieth anniversary of Georgette Heyer’s founding of the Regency romance sub-genre. Today, romance author, Kalinya Parker-Pryce, shares her views of, and her history with, this last of Heyer’s Regency romances, Lady of Quality. Among other things, Kalinya compares and contrasts the hero of Heyer’s final romance novel with the hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy. Though Austen lived and wrote during the Regency, and Heyer, who lived in the twentieth century, did a great deal of research to re-create that world, how do you think these two heroes compare?
Everyone is welcome to post their views on this novel, and/or Regency romances in general, in comments to this article.
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Lady of Quality is Georgette Heyer’s last romance novel and completed work published during her lifetime. It has long been my favorite Heyer romance after An Infamous Army.
The heroine, Miss Annis Wychwood, is an independent 29 year-old blessed with beauty, grace, and no small amount good humor. If her blessings are many, so too are the oppositional forces Ms. Heyer set in her path.
There’s Geoffrey, the overbearing and interfering brother who insists he knows best.
And Lord Beckenham, a persistent and exceedingly dull suitor with an inflated sense of his own consequence.
And last but not least, there’s her distant cousin, Miss Maria Farlow—a lady of uncertain years who became Annis’s companion when she set up house in Camden Place, Bath.
Unfortunately, Miss Farlow is given to prolonged discourses that consume large tracts of the book’s 97,000 word count, and only occasionally does she say something to drive the story’s plot forward. In other words, they serve no worthwhile purpose other than to vastly irritate all who have the misfortune to be within earshot.
But now to the hero (sighhhhhh…) The very rich Oliver Carleton, said to be the rudest man in all of London, is a well-grounded no-nonsense man given to plain speaking rather than articulating banal niceties like so many of the exquisites who strut their stuff through Ms. Heyer’s romances. A wee bit abrasive he might be, but I had no difficulty believing he’d been forever avoiding the matchmaking Mamas bent on snaring him for their daughters.
Oliver is that rarity in Ms. Heyer’s stable of heroes—a man who perceives when the heroine is downcast, troubled or irate and sets himself to restoring her spirits. He knows himself and his faults, does not dissemble, and does not quibble about offering a sincere apology when one is due. We are not told his age, but he must be in his early to mid-forties given that he was born three years before his now-deceased brother Charles who attended Harrow with the current Lord Iverley whose son, Ninian Elmore, is now 21.
So how do Annis and Oliver meet, when she resides in Bath, and he in London?
Why, Annis takes Oliver’s teenaged ward (Lucilla) under her wing after the girl flees her aunt’s home. Annis writes to the aunt to ask that Lucilla be allowed to remain with her for some weeks and the aunt promptly writes to Mr. Carleton to bemoan the behaviour of her thankless niece.
Around the 25% mark the hero arrives in Camden Place—and be still my wildly beating heart, for now I cannot hear myself think!
Perhaps you should read the following excerpt while I gather my scattered wits. It is from Annis and Oliver’s first encounter, and then several minutes into their entertaining conversation.
Her eyes were alive with laughter. She said perfectly gravely, however: ‘For some reason or other I had suspected as much! Is there anyone whom you do like, Mr Carleton?’
‘Yes, you!’ he answered bluntly.
‘M-me?’ she gasped, wholly taken aback.
He nodded. ‘Yes — but much against my will!’ he said.
That made her burst out laughing. Still gurgling, she said: ‘You are quite outrageous, you know! What in the world have I said or done to make you like me? Of all the farradiddles I ever heard that bears off the palm!’
‘Oh, no! I never flummery people. I do like you, but I’m damned if I know why! It isn’t your beauty, though that is remarkable; and it certainly isn’t anything you have said or done. I think it must be your quality — that certain sort of something about you!’
Isn’t he divine? I so like Oliver. Others may say he doesn’t do anything, but what would you have him do when he’s compelled to go to Bath, far from his home in London? Dash it all, ladies, but this man has the all-important trait of making even the most irritated young woman laugh. What more could you want?
He also distinguishes himself as one whose speech is succinct and honest; not longwinded and pointless. Even Annis, God love her, rambles on to the grand total of 941 words in one tract of dialogue, though perhaps she’s been too long in the company of her ‘gabble-grinder’ companion who ‘means well’ but would drive Saint Peter to drink.
I thoroughly enjoyed the seven or eight scenes between Annis and Oliver, and wish more of the story had been given to them, rather than showing Annis with every other character except the hero. Little wonder she cannot explain why she loved him.
A word of warning to those with an eye for detail: do not try to pinpoint the year in which this story’s set. The clues are contradicted by historical fact. Lucilla says her father died at the Battle of Corunna (ie: 16 January 1809) when she was seven, setting her birth year as 1801 or 1802. We also learn that Lucilla had a governess until her 17th year, which means we must be in 1818 or 1819 at the earliest.
But that isn’t possible, because we also discover that whatever year we’re in, Princess Charlotte is still alive, so the story must be set before November 1817, but that cannot be so because Lucilla’s father died at the Battle of Corunna when she was seven…. See what I mean?
Ms. Heyer’s talent for writing comedic fancy-dress romps is beyond question, as is her talent for making 20th and 21st century readers temporarily inhabit her rose-tinted daydream version of a world that really did exist. Her romance novel characters (other than my adorable Oliver Carleton) were never truly complex, and her stories never realistic (An Infamous Army excepted), but she possessed great skill at crafting comic, effervescent dialogue; and, I suspect, no small degree of perceptiveness or insight into the workings of human relationships.
So who am I to criticise her effort if, by the time she penned Lady of Quality, she had exhausted her capacity or desire to sustain the fictional world she’d created? Her real interests lay in the Middle Ages, but I am immensely grateful to her for Oliver Carleton, for it is he, out of all her romance heroes, who seized my adolescent imagination and never relinquished it.
Oliver’s resided in my imagination for many decades now, right next door to Mr. Darcy (thank God the two rub along quite famously), and he shows no sign of moving out.
Born and raised in Australia, Kalinya Parker-Pryce relocated to the UK for a decade in her early 20s. She’s been a nurse, a teacher, an international air stewardess, and a welder building fuel tanks for trucks. After several years in Defence, she discovered a talent for art, and another for creative writing which saw her resurrect her interest in history. This year she spent several months in the UK researching aspects of the historical period in which she now writes. Her debut story, Perfect Trouble, due for release next year, was a finalist in the Historical romance category of the 2015 Emerald City Opener contest.