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Of all the time periods in history, my favourite has to be the English Regency, that short span of years between 1811 and 1820, when King George III was declared unfit to rule and his son, the Prince Regent, assumed the mantle of kingship in all but name. I know that there was much to be deplored about the times: extremes of poverty and wealth, no rights of tenure and transportation to Australia or even hanging for the smallest of crimes. For the aristocracy, however, this was bang slap in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, a time that saw tremendous advances in science and industry, coupled with a plethora of art, architecture and the watchword of the day could well have been 'stylish elegance'. This Regency world, which frequently is extended to cover the entire Georgian period, is the one so brilliantly recreated in many of the novels of Georgette Heyer.
Georgette Heyer began her writing career at the age of nineteen when her first novel, 'The Black Moth', was published and became an instant success. Despite the huge popularity of her romance novels, she was somewhat embarrassed by them, treating them as pot boilers whilst she concentrated on her more serious historical novels. The story goes, though this may be apocryphal, that her depiction of the Battle of Waterloo in her novel 'An Infamous Army', was so accurate that for many years it was used as a teaching aid at Sandhurst. Whatever the truth of that story, her novels set in the Georgian and Regency periods are filled with great romance, wit and humour and 'Faro's Daughter' is one of my favourites of her forty or so romance novels.
Price and availability:
This book has been published and reprinted many times and the Arrow paperback edition, as pictured above, can currently be bought new from Amazon for £4.49 or used copies are available from 84p.
Deborah Grantham runs a gaming house, belonging to her aunt, Lady Bellingham, and she has become the object of affection for a young aristocrat, Adrian, Lord Mablethorpe, a feeling she does not reciprocate and does nothing to encourage. Adrian's uncle, Max Ravenscar, is sent to 'deal' with Deborah and from the minute they meet the sparks begin to fly. Deb is furious that Max considers her too lowly to marry a Ravenscar and although she had never intended to marry Adrian she is determined to make Max regret his high-handedness. And so the battle of wits and wills begins.
I first discovered Georgette Heyer novels at about age eleven or twelve and have been a lifelong devotee of her romances and even though I'm old enough to know better now, there is a little part of my cynical self that still believes true love conquers all.
Many people over the years have likened Georgette Heyer (henceforth referred to as GH) to Jane Austen which I don't feel does justice to either writer. Jane Austen wrote contemporary novels poking gentle fun at the absurdity of Georgian and Regency society and manners, whereas GH wrote historical romances pure and simple, albeit set in the same era and exceptionally well researched. Even the wit and humour is different.
This story is definitely one of GH's lighter ones, and could almost be described as fluffy but for the skill of her plotting and the sophistication of her writing.
Many romance writers since GH have tried to emulate her style but inevitably without success because they fail in their scene setting and characterisation. Modern writers frequently make the fatal error of imbuing their characters with contemporary characteristics and attitudes. Not so GH, who remains faithful to the mores of Georgian society, although she does make slight concessions with language.
The main protagonists here are a delight. Deb is a strong and independent woman who, despite running a gaming house, is of a good breeding originally and has impeccable manners. You won't find her lashing out at the hero, other than with her tongue, although she is sorely tempted and does at one stage resort to tying him up in the cellar!
Deb and her aunt may have fallen on hard times but she has her standards and would never stoop to marrying for money and position. She knows that Adrian, the young Lord Mablethorpe, is only experiencing an infatuation and is trying to let him down gently, but with Max Ravenscar's intervention, her dander is well and truly up.
One of my favourite scenes in the book, being in the best tradition of farce and guaranteed to raise a smile, is where Adrian takes Deb to Vauxhall Gardens and introduces her to his family. Max, of course, has already met Deb and knows she is well bred, even if he doesn't approve of her. When he discovers that Deb has dressed in the most dreadfully vulgar outfit she can find and assumed a less than cultured accent, he's torn between amusement at the outrageousness of her behaviour and fury because he thinks she's trying to force up the price for paying her off.
Of course, the rest of the family are horrified at this vision of dreadfulness and even Adrian himself, despite his love for Debs, is somewhat taken aback.
This is the story of two gamblers, Deb manages a gambling establishment and Max is a noted gamester, something which was quite acceptable for a man at that time. When he acquires all Lady Bellingham's debts, including the mortgage on the gaming house, Deb decides the only solution is to kidnap him, which she does with the help of her doormen. This plan does not go quite as well as Deb had hoped and, of course, Max escapes and then battle really does commence but also this is the beginning of a grudging respect between these two as they begin to see each other in a new light.
Max, is definitely a masculine man, information GH manages to impart not only by her description of his clothing but through her dialogue too. "Upon my word, Max! Whenever I clap eyes on you I swear I can smell the stables!" Just like the mods and rockers of the 1960s, Regency England had its styles and fads and with that sentence it's immediately apparent that Max is a man of action, probably a Corinthian - a leader of fashion, a skilled rider and driver of his carriages and athletic too, no doubt indulging in boxing practice at Gentleman Jackson's Saloon.
The secondary characters are all as beautifully drawn as the leading lady and man. In particular, Ladies Bellingham and Mablethorpe come across with great authenticity. This was a time when women were totally reliant upon their men folk and GH never makes the error of allowing them to behave in a way contrary to that fact. The storyline and characterisation all adds up to a tale of wit and humour with just enough action and drama to make it a real page turner.
The relationship between Deb and Max was believable in that they begin by disliking each other intensely and over a period of time come to realise their true feelings. Unlike more contemporary historical novels, there is no physical intimacy between hero and heroine and yet GH still manages to build the sexual tension between the two whilst staying true to the morals of the period.
Because of GH's in depth knowledge of history and of this time period in particular, there is never anything to throw the reader out of the story. From page one, I was there in the drawing rooms, clubs and gaming houses of Georgian England, peopled by authentic characters speaking believable lines.
It has sometimes been said by her detractors, that GH made up much of the 'cant' used in her novels but whether that is true or not, it certainly adds colour to the authenticity of her writing and the sobriquet, Faro's Daughter, was certainly in use at that time to describe women who frequented gaming houses.
This novel is a delight from start to finish, which comes all too soon for my liking. I could quite happily have read on for ever about the machinations of feisty Deb and the dashing Max. Whoever said romance is dead? Not me!