TBR Challenge – A Recommended Read

cotillion After one of my columns bemoaning discussing the rise of the light Regency, I got several emails from those who worried about me. And no, dearest emailer, I don’t torment small animals in my free time. I actually rescue cats and volunteer at the SPCA and – yikes! I’m a cute little urchin or reformed pickpocket servant away from being a Regency heroine! All of that aside, one kind soul wrote to suggest that I read Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. She described it as “the best of Regency romps, funny and clever at once.” Since I already had this book in my TBR pile(s), I decided to take it on for this month’s portion of the TBR Challenge.

I’ve loved a number of Georgette Heyer’s novels, so I had high hopes for this one. However, after Chapter One, I started to fear that this would be rough going. The book certainly seemed light and capery. However, it also brims over with inscrutable Regency-esque slang and the only characters who seemed to have much personality were the unpleasant ones. The basic set-up is this: Matthew Penicuik is a very wealthy old miser. He has called his great-nephews to his drafty old country house so that they can learn the terms of his will. Penicuik has decided to leave all of his wealth to his ward, Kitty Charing, on the condition that she choose and marry one of the nephews. This news prompts proposals from an uptight rector and an impoverished Irish earl who proposes more out of terror of his mother’s wrath than any real desire for Kitty.

Faced with such a plethora of promising choices, Kitty seeks out Freddy Standen, another of the great-nephews, and they strike a deal. They will form a sham engagement so that Kitty can go stay with Freddy’s family and have a month in London. As an added bonus, the fake engagement will hopefully awaken jealousy in the dashing Jack Westruther, the great-nephew Kitty really wants to marry. It’s a plot that sounds just goofy enough to be a lot of fun, but as the action moved toward London, I still found myself slogging through some awful, slangy dialogue and I couldn’t tell whether the heroine was going to turn out to be fun or horribly feisty.

In London, the book takes on a different pace and began to truly engage me. Kitty is not the most vividly drawn Heyer heroine I’ve ever read, but she isn’t repulsive either. And then there’s Freddy. Freddy Standen quickly became one of my favorite characters in a long, long time. He’s mild-mannered and initially seems a bit dim, which stands in stark contrast to the more alpha Jack Westruther. Though this novel was originally published in the 1950s, readers will immediately recognize Jack Westruther as a fairly standard-issue Duke of Slut, albeit one who has some good lines of dialogue.

As the story develops, it takes on a lighter and more humorous tone even as the plotting grows more intricate. We meet Freddy’s family, including his high-spirited sister Meg who hosts Kitty. And in London, Kitty finds herself drawn into both awkward social situations and attempts to assist in the romantic intrigues of others. One of the other great-nephews surfaces in need of Kitty’s aid, and of course her new friend Olivia would be in dire straits if Kitty couldn’t help her find a way to be with her true love. In these moments, Kitty’s friendship with Freddy deepens and he really gets a chance to shine. As it turns out, Freddy might not have much use for the romantic literature that Kitty and her governess clearly enjoyed, but he knows just what to say or do in every social situation. If you need to plan an elopement, extricate yourself from unsuitable company in graceful fashion, or simply charm a society hostess, Freddy’s the one for the job. In his understated and sometimes self-effacing way, he turns out to be one of the most considerate and also one of the most sensible men I’ve come across in a romance novel for ages. And in my book, this made him utterly charming.

Kitty is not so well-developed a character as Freddy, but she’s likable enough. And I enjoyed the interwoven strands of the various romantic plots in this book, as Kitty’s friends and some of the other grand-nephews pursue love – or at least a mistress. The book got off to a rough start for me, so I’d probably give it a B grade if I were reviewing. If you can handle the overuse and abuse of Regency slang, though, Cotillion winds up being a merry dance indeed.

– Lynn Spencer

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10 Responses to “TBR Challenge – A Recommended Read”

  1. WendyL says:

    One of the few by GH that I haven’t read. You make it sound so good!

  2. Leigh says:

    I remember as a teenager being disappointed that Freddy wasn’t a dashing hero but reading the book as an adult was completely different. I love Freddy. Love his grasp of sense and sensibility about society and the way of the world. I laugh every time I read the scenes about Freddy trying to explain to his father that no he is not in the river tick, he is in love. Love how the heroine sees past good looks and her notion of hero characteristics (learned from books) to what is really important.

  3. Carrie says:

    Cotillion was one of the first Heyer romances I read, and in fact one of the first “romance” books I ever read, so it has a special place in my heart. Plus, I really love Freddy! The book never fails to make me smile.

  4. Leslie says:

    I love Georgette Heyer’s romances dearly, but I have to say that “Cotillion” is not a favorite. I would recommend reading “Frederica” or “Regency Buck”.

  5. AAR Lynn says:

    Like I said, I had a hard time with all the slang and I also got a little bored with the opening, but Freddy was wonderful. One of the few romance heroes I’d want to know in real life.

  6. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    Have you read Heyer’s, The Quiet Gentleman? It has more of a mystery plot. The heroine is in the Freddy mode; the hero is “quiet.”

    Kay

  7. Kathy W. says:

    I too found the first part of the story a bit of work to slog through. Now that Lynn has promised a bit more vivacity in the story as it moves to London, I will take it up again. Sylvester it is not!

  8. Renee says:

    I liked Cotillion but definitely prefer the Grand Sophy or Frederica.

  9. Kari S. says:

    As a woman who was introduced to Georgette Heyer at the age of fifteen (many, many years ago), Regency slang quickly became a second language to me, and I enjoy it immensely. Freddy is a really terrific hero, and Cousin Dolph’s mother is one of Heyer’s scariest villains! However, I would probably agree to the “B” grade for Cotillion. I just can’t love everything about the book, and it does not make my “top fifteen” list of Georgette Heyer books. But I do love Freddy. He really saves the day for almost all of Kitty’s friends and relatives.

  10. You do get to know Heyer fans by their use of her slang. It just kind of happens. I met one of my author friends by saying someone was “making a cake” of himself. “oho, you read Heyer, do you?” she said, and we were off.
    Freddy and his friends are the fashionable men about town, with their own language, just as some “sets” do today. Think the execrable Jersey Shore, or The Only Way Is Essex for some examples of “tribes” of young people.
    Heyer took her slang from the time, mainly from Grose. But there are words her fans haven’t been able to source, and because of that, there have long been rumours that Heyer made them up. As far as we know, she never made anything up. At the time, the Devonshire set made a practice of using their own language and even pronounciation.
    Anyway, love Freddy. Even named a character of my own after him! I love the way Heyer gives the heroine the hero we all love, instead of the alpha.
    And this book has one of my favourite older characters in Freddy’s father. He is just swoony, loves his wife, understands his children, and is the reason a lot of older readers still read “Cotillion.”

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