Sep 282015

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

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.

*         *        *

A young man and woman in Regency dress  are walking arm in arm down a country lane.

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.

Connect with Alicia online at:
Twitter:   @QuigleyAlicia

  7 Responses to “Regency Turns 80 — False Colours

  1. It’s a lighthearted romp, though I have to say I want at times to shake Elvira who is quite the silliest creature imaginable; no sensible mother would ever suggest her twin sons changed places! She has absolutely no idea of how to manage money, and sorry for her as I am for having had a very unpleasant husband, I have some sneaking sympathy for him in being married to a widgeon. But she does love her sons, even if she does have more hair than wit, and they love her. The heroine of the story is a very self-possessed lady who fortunately has a sense of humour and even manages to cope with an egregious madam and her outrageous stories of her own days as a Paphian.

  2. I do like this book! I have copies of all and have read this numerous times. I still enjoy the humour of the characters. I haven’t read it recently but I thought the twins mother was called Amabel. I loved her idea when Evelyn turned up that he should pretend to be Kit!!!!! However she certainly knew how to get rid of her annoying brother and his family and solved her own money problems once the solution was hinted to her. Thanks for reviewing this book – I will now have to re-read it.

  3. This is one of my favorites too, with its basically sunny atmosphere of farce; nice, light reading. However, I cannot believe that Evelyn will be satisfied with his church mouse wife; will marriage indeed “settle” him? I know the fact that his father tied up Evelyn’s access to money because he deemed his son a “here-and-there-ian” but I do have some sympathy for the father; Evelyn is reacting to that in a very immature way. Theirs was an unhappy family and Kit seems to sense that his mother has some blame to bear.

    • I have to agree with you Judith. It’s clear that Kit and Cressy are going to have a happy life together, but whether anyone could settle Evelyn is a question mark for me too. I guess the trope of a weak woman making a man want to be more protective, constant and responsible (or actually being a requirement for him to want these things) is one that was far more common in past decades than today. I also agree with you that in spite of the happy, farcical elements, in the end, Amabel is marrying the grossly fat Sir Bonamy for his money, after a lot of unhappiness in her first marriage. But then again, that’s another old trope (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire) !

  4. Another great addition to this Celebration and thank you so much for an insightful summary. Another one to re-read.

  5. As a kid, I always loved twin-switching stories! In fact, I was rather obsessed with multiples. I constantly invented stories of families with triplets or quadruplets or quintuplets, always girls, always identical, always with different personalities but rhyming names: Molly, Dolly, Polly and Holly, or Andorra, Kiora, Flora, Fiora and Aurora. They always lived in the past, and were either rich or lived in an orphanage.

    So imagine my delight as an adult to come across a Heyer book about twins! Identical, yet with different personalities! Who lived in the past! And were rich! Admittedly, they weren’t girls and didn’t have rhyming names, but the magical Heyer clearly had read my mind. And let the hijinks ensue!

    To be quite truthful, I’ll admit that their mother does rather irritate me. A stupid character who creates laughter is a delight; a stupid villain who ends up mocked gives one a feeling of justice; but a stupid character who creates problems for the hero but who is supposed to be liked by the reader can end up rather annoying.

    So thank goodness for Kit and for Cressy! And for the eternal witchery of twin switchery.

  6. I must confess that it was this book-along with reading plays by Christopher Marlowe that made me call my second son Kit-full name Christopher. Imagine my horror in later years when we moved to the USA and he proudly proclaimed he was named after Kit Carson the cowboy…

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>