Saturday, 8 November 2014

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

published 1966




 A little before eight o’clock, at the close of a damp autumn day, a post-chaise entered Bath, on the London Road, and presently drew up outside a house in Sydney Place. It was a hired vehicle, but it was drawn by four horses, and there was nothing in the appearance of the lady who occupied it to suggest that a private chaise, with her own postilions, would have been rather beyond her touch. She was accompanied by a middle-aged maid; and she was attired in an olive-green redingote of twilled silk which so exactly fitted her admirable figure that any female, beholding it, would have recognized at a glance that it had been made for her by a modiste of the first stare. It combined the simplicity of a garment designed for travel with an elegance only rivalled by the hat which becomingly framed Miss Abigail Wendover’s face … as fashionable as the redingote…

Her hair was neither fashionably dark nor angelically fair, but of a soft brown. It was not cropped, after the prevailing mode; she wore it braided round her head, or in a knot from which curls fell about her ears.



observations: I keep looking at this picture: the outfit seems very exactly to be as described, but the head/face looks very much as if it’s a man. Is it just me, or is that what others see? It’s a fashion-plate, and definitely described as clothes for women, so it must just be a trick of the light….

These are the opening paragraphs of the book, and very typical of the Georgette Heyer oeuvre. She works with a couple of different modes of heroine – this one is the slightly older woman (should have been married years ago, but very sprightly, and is 28). She is, as we will shortly find out, not considered to be beautiful, but has some lovely aspects to her face and – yes of course – the right man will find her very very attractive. He will turn up very soon, and there will be no question from then on. The plot turns on saving Miss Wendover’s foolish young niece Fanny (a Lydia Bennet if ever I saw one) from the attentions of Mr Right’s nephew, who is very much Mr Wrong. And it is all very cleverly done, this is definitely one of Miss Heyer’s finer moments. There aren’t any annoying misunderstandings and arguments between the two principles – the biggest question is the exciting one of whether she can go to the theatre with him alone without compromising her reputation. When the younger generation’s problems are resolved, there is one practical issue for the older couple, but Mr Miles Calverleigh cuts through that in admirable style. All this is helped by the fact that all the nice people in the book are either very rich already, or are going to become rich. It does make life simpler.

I read this book about once every ten years – most recently because I have just visited Bath, which is nicely portrayed here – and these days I think ‘Yes, Heyer is quite annoying and predictable in some ways, but actually this is a most entertaining book, and very funny. So I’ll keep it for another 10 years.’

'Redingote' comes from riding coat, and means just what you'd think - a long fitted coat, suitable for travelling.

More Georgette Heyer: Another Regency Romance, and detective stories here and here.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - You know, that looks like a man's face to me too. I wondered about that when I first looked at the picture. As for the novel, I like the way that Heyer could make this sort of plot both funny and intriguing. Honestly, I'm not usually much of a one for a romance novel. But there are some authors, and Heyer is one of them, who do it well. I think it as to do with her use of dialogue and her ability to make characters interesting without being too eccentric, if that makes sense.

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    1. It is interesting to compare her detective stories with her romances, Margot, something you might be interested in! She likes to plant clues and keep surprises for the reader in both genres....

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  2. Moira, I feel like I know Georgette Heyer without reading any of her novels yet and that's on account of the reviews of her books that I have read over the past couple of years. I knew a colleague who swore by her books, particularly her intelligent wit.

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    1. They are clever and funny, and although primarily aimed at women, men can read them too! But still, perhaps you should read her detective stories first, which I recommend to Margot above.

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  3. It does look like a man's face, maybe because the hair round the face looks like sideburns. I'm re-reading Georgette Heyer's Regency novels at the moment. I always enjoy them & find them amusing (some similarities in the ones with a young hero to P G Wodehouse I think). They are a great comfort in times of stress, I find. And of course some are not just straightforward romances - she brings her detective story-telling into a few & one of my favourites is A Civil Contract, which is a very subtle "romance" - not much in the way of hearts & flowers, but a recognition that a life together is made up of more day to day necessities.

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    1. Thanks for visiting Deborah, and I agree, Heyer is ideal at times of stress. I think people who have never read her would be aghast at your PGW comparison, but you are absolutely right. Very funny, and very charming relationships between people.
      I read Civil Contract when I was very young, and was rather disappointed that it wasn't more traditionally romantic - it sounds as though I should read it again, it will appeal more to an older sensibility I should think.

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  4. I am probably not going to branch out into Heyer's non-mystery books. I have read some of the mysteries, but it has been awhile, and I hope to read or re-read all of those. Someday.

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    1. They are a nice read I think - not all that memorable, so you can easily re-read, but full of very funny conversations.

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    2. Later I did think of one Heyer Regency romance that I hope to read someday: The Reluctant Widow, which was also described as an espionage mystery. So maybe I will discover others along the way.

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    3. I might look out for that one too - I'm always wondering should I read another one. I read them all when I was a teenager, but borrowed them from the library, so I don't own them.

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  5. Oh, you have reminded me - it's time for Georgette Heyer - I never get tired of her Regencies but haven't got so much into her mysteries. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

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    1. Thanks Carole - I think if you get the Heyer habit early, you carry on reading her, just now and again, through your whole life....

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  6. Agreed on the photo, definitely looks like a man - even more so if the cheeks weren't rosey. Not an author I have tried or even intend to thanks.

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    1. You might just enjoy her 1930s detective stories? Can't see you reading the Regency romances, I do agree.

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