Though it is one of Georgette Heyer’s Georgian novels, The Talisman Ring is an engaging and humorous romp like many of her Regencies. In today’s article, Regency romance author, Judith Laik, shares with us the sudden insights which came to her when she recently re-read this romance which involves smugglers, swash-buckling and two pairs of lovers who take a bit of time to sort out who belongs with who. Do you agree with her take on the pairs of ladies in several of Heyer’s novels?
All comments on the Regency genre and this book are welcome. Please feel free to share your views.
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As I was rereading The Talisman Ring in preparation for this article, I had a minor epiphany. I realized La Heyer had a predilection for novels in which two women were contrasted.
Very likely the prototypes for these characters are Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the epitomes of "sense" and "sensibility." And although Heyer’s two women don’t necessarily parallel those qualities, there is a slightly older (mid- to upper-twenties) woman who tends to be calm, reserved, usually not immediately seen as beautiful; and a very young (seventeen- or eighteen-year-old) girl/woman who is romantic-minded and impetuous.
These are by no means pattern-card characters. When looked at more closely, they differ from book to book, as do their relationships to each other and to the book’s heroes. Heyer makes each of them a unique person. Some examples: Jenny Chawleigh and Julia Oversley in A Civil Contract, two women the hero is involved with: his tempestuous past love and the practical woman he marries by necessity for her fortune; Hester Theale and Amanda Summercourt in Sprig Muslin, the long-time friend the hero intends to offer marriage to and the runaway he encounters and rather forceably rescues on his way to his proposal; Ancilla Trent and Tiffany Wield in The Nonesuch, a governess/companion and her self-centered, willful charge; Abigail and Fanny Wendover in Black Sheep, an indulgent aunt and spoiled but affectionate niece; Deborah Grantham and Phoebe Laxton in Faro’s Daughter, a woman living in a gaming establishment and the shy girl she rescues from an abhorrent forced marriage; and Drusilla Morville and Marianne Bolderwood in The Quiet Gentleman, two women who are neighbors to the hero’s family: Drusilla the capable, unflappable temporary guest and companion to the hero’s stepmother and Marianne the docile, innocent daughter of a nearby tenant.
This is by no means an inclusive list, but it gives a feel for the variety of characters who can fall into a very broad category. The two contrasting women shine a light on each other’s character and on the hero’s arc. In some of the books, the hero is temporarily infatuated, or at least attracted, to the younger, more obviously beautiful woman, but comes to appreciate and love the good sense and depth of the older one. (In all the examples I listed, the hero ends up with the elder of the two women, but in other Heyer books, he marries the younger one.)
Once I started thinking on these lines, I realized that the two women are practically stock characters in romances. Not in every one, of course, but I can think of a number of examples from more recent authors’ works. It’s obviously a trope that has great dramatic, or comedic, potential. I’ve been drawn to including some variation of these two characters in my own work, not even thinking that I owed a debt to Elinor and Marianne Dashwood!
And to Georgette Heyer.
But I’m discussing The Talisman Ring here, and I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Sarah Thane and Eustacie de Vauban are the most original, most delightful of all the pairings.
Eustacie, rescued from France shortly before the Terror by her grandfather, is an over-the-top romantic and a force to be reckoned with. She dutifully agrees to marry the prosaic hero, Sir Tristam Shield, until she learns that he doesn’t have the sensibility to appreciate the affecting picture she would have made riding in a tumbril, dressed in a white gown, on her way to be guillotined, and he has no intention of allowing her to have a lover or to cut a dash in London. She runs away, straight into her long-lost cousin-turned-smuggler who is in the midst of being chased by Excisemen.
She’s in no way daunted by the danger she has stumbled into. When the cousin, Ludovic Lavenham, is shot, she takes charge, binds up his wound, and gets him to an inn whose innkeeper is involved with the smugglers.
And there her counterpart is staying. Awakened by the commotion of the late-night visitors to the inn, she comes down to be plunged into the adventure. And yes, this intrepid character sees it this way. Almost her first words are, "I see I’ve thrust myself into an adventure." She is never put out of countenance by any of the goings-on and insists on being allowed to participate.
Eustacie says to her, "I dare say it seems very odd to you, but you shouldn’t have come downstairs."
"I know," apologized the lady, "but pray don’t tell me to go to bed again, for I couldn’t sleep a wink with an adventure going on under my very nose! Let me present myself to you: I’m one Sarah Thane, a creature of no importance at all, traveling to London with my brother, whom you may hear snoring upstairs."
"Oh!" said Eustachie. "Of course, if you quite understand that this is a very secret affair—"
"Oh, I do!" said Miss Thane earnestly.
"But I must warn you that there is a great deal of danger."
"Nothing could be better!" declared Miss Thane. "You must know that I have hitherto led the most humdrum existence."
"Do you, too, like adventure?" asked Eustacie, looking her over with a more lenient eye.
"My dear ma’am, I have been looking for adventure all my life!"
Sarah is not quite the boring person she introduced herself as. Her brother, a baronet and justice of the peace, has traveled widely and she with him, so although details of her travels are never revealed, the reader gets the feeling she has experience in dealing with the unexpected. She is an intrepid and innovative co-conspirator in the events that follow, as a villain is unmasked and the secondary hero cleared of a false charge of murder.
Much of the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and, at the height of her powers (although the book was published in 1936, sort of mid-career for Heyer) her sly humor is very much on display.
And for all I emphasized the heroines in this article, I shouldn’t leave The Talisman Ring without mentioning the heroes. Ludovic and Tristram present their own contrasts, Ludovic the impetuous swashbuckler and Tristram, staid but fully up to acts of derring-do when needed. The four make a great team, with the aid of some entertaining secondary characters.
Before I volunteered to write about this book for the Heyer retrospective, I remembered The Talisman Ring as one of my favorites of her books (Along with The Masqueraders and Faro’s Daughter). My most recent reading has confirmed this judgment.
Judith Laik lives on a small farm near Seattle with her husband, daughter and a collection of horses, Collies and cats. She also enjoys traveling, especially to England, where she can conduct research for her Regency romances. Her most recent Regency is The Lady Protests, in which the unlikely hero and heroine are thrown together in pursuit of young couple making a dash to Gretna Green. But it is a most curious pursuit in which figures the matchmaking mama, a rejected lord, an aging demimondaine and her aristocratic lover, a group of rowdy young bucks, and a mysterious man. All the while, the hero and heroine are battling their inconvenient attraction to one another.