I reread Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer, my first Heyer and first Regency romance ever that I read when I was seventeen. And that was a long, long time ago. I was given a copy as a present by my two aunts who lived in Bath. They lived on Lansdowne Place West, just off Lansdowne Crescent, and probably a couple of houses beyond the left side of this old photo. The field in front of the Crescent is still used for grazing.
My aunts told me they considered it was her best and the only one of them they’d consider reading more than once. Little did they know that I would then devour Heyers to the detriment of my academic pursuits. And I didn’t know then that I’d reap the benefits many years later. But I was afraid to reread Heyer because I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy her so much now and I didn’t want to be disillusioned; or I’d wax sentimental over the passage of time etc. Happily I emerged fairly well entertained and in good (nonphilosophical) spirits.
Anyway, the book: rich heiress and dumb blonde brother (Judith and Perry Taverner) come to town and discover their guardian is a hottie (Lord Worth). Here’s the original 1935 cover (left) and here’s a more modern one that may seem familiar (scroll down). The one I’m reading is a Signet with a truly horrific cover featuring a fair-haired hero with lots of teeth that I haven’t been able to share with you, but I found a couple of others that are very pretty.
So, what did I think? It’s difficult to say. Sometimes it was quite eerie, reading again passages that I’d long forgotten about, rather like seeing a literary ghost. I recognized a scene that seemed to have, uh, influenced Dedication, where a fight is picked at a cockfight, resulting in a duel. I found it at times slow going and despite Heyer’s red herrings and attempts to make the plot a plot, it’s pretty obvious who is the hero and who the baddie (I remember figuring that out the first time I read it). The baddie attempts, in an incompetent sort of way, to kill her brother, intending to force Judith into marriage so he may enjoy her huge tracts o’ land. But never mind that plot business, as I always say.
What I loved were Heyer’s details–clothes, places, objects–they’re quite brilliant, particularly her descriptions of journeys. Here’s the heroine’s first view of London:
As the chaise topped the rise and began the descent upon the southern side, the view spread itself before Miss Taverner’s wondering eyes. There were the spires, the ribbon of the Thames, and the great huddle of buildings of which she had heard so much, lying below her in a haze of sunlight. She could not take her eyes from the sight, nor believe that she was really come at last to the city she had dreamed of for so long.
One thing that didn’t work for me–or worked in a different way–was the characters of hero/heroine. Lord Worth may have got my virginal knickers in a twist decades ago but now, did I find him forbidding, mysterious, demanding? No, I found myself thinking, oh what a sweetie this man is. Even when he’s threatening to do something dastardly like beat the heroine I found myself wanting to coo adoringly at him, poor baby, he’s so out of his depth here.
As for Judith, well.
At first glance one might her down a mere Dresden China miss, but a second glance would inevitably discover the intelligence in her eyes, and the decided air of resolution in the curve of her mouth.
Since she spends most of the book grabbing the wrong end of every stick I really wonder about the intelligence. Why do she and her brother come to London? It’s not stated explicitly–I think it’s a given in Heyer that everyone who is anyone has to be in London for reasons so obvious they don’t need to be stated. Once she’s there she sets herself up as an original, befriending Brummel, driving her own phaeton, and taking snuff. Heyer tells us this is daring etc., but ultimately it seems to send appropriate suitors scurrying for cover, or at least I assumed so since no serious candidates emerge to ask for her hand. Oh, did I tell you that Worth has a hobby? He makes snuff. Isn’t that adorable? Of course it may be the Regency equivalent of watching the History Channel in your underwear while spilling popcorn over the sofa, but it impressed me.
Tell me about books you loved that you’ve reread. How did you react? Were you disappointed? Which Heyer do you think I should try next?
And we have, in the past, discussed what our favorite Georgette Heyer novels are…
As well as our favorite types of Heyer novels.
And our favorite Heyer covers.
(It is a subject I love to talk about! Heyer, that is. And covers. And Heyer covers.)
But a loop I’m on recently started discussing a slightly different question…
Do you remember?
What did you think of it?
Did it make you a lifelong Heyer fan?
Do you also remember the next couple of Heyers you read?
My first was THESE OLD SHADES.
My freshman roommate/friend/etc Heather, who was trying to convert me both to Regency Romances and to the romance genre in general (or to at least open my mind to them, snob that I was), started me with THESE OLD SHADES because (if I recall correctly) she liked it a lot, and also thought there was enough non-romance stuff going on that a non-romance reader (as I was then) would be lured in, until the romance bug bit.
My next two Heyers, in some order, were VENETIA and THE UNKNOWN AJAX. (Yes, the inimitable Heather has very good taste.)
Those three Heyers are still among my favorites.
So, how about you?
What was your first Heyer? Did it win you over? Do you wish you’d started with a different one?
All answers welcome!
Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER, and fan of the band Genesis (both the Peter and Phil eras), who’s going to see them in concert on Saturday!
The first time I ever heard of piquet was when I read Georgette Heyer’s fabulous FARO’S DAUGHTER, in college. Heyer pulls off a neat (and very difficult) trick in this book — she has a lot of card-playing, and manages to make what is happening clear and interesting to the reader, even if the reader knows nothing at all about the game. “Piqued, repiqued, and capotted” sounded so exciting, even though I had very little idea what it meant!
Unlike Diane, I have long been interested in games, though it’s more a casual interest than anything. (In other words, at parties I’ll play cribbage and hearts, but not bridge, and though I’ve done a little war-gaming in my time, I usually give it a miss, preferring board games and party games.)
When Todd and I were living in London, we decided to learn piquet. Before long, we were true fans of the game, and developed our own little tricks and strategies. (I gave some of mine to Atalanta, because I know they work!)
Later, I had the opportunity to work with Kristen Skold on writing an understandable “translation” of parts of her Regency-era Hoyle’s, for the Beau Monde’s annual soiree. This was the first time I had to figure out a game not just from a book, but from an awkwardly written, very non-user-friendly Regency book! It was quite a challenge — occasionally too much. (I never did figure out lansquenet — either the version in that book was incorrect, or I was missing something, because what I got from it was quite unplayable.) So now I know how to play cassino, commerce, loo, Pope Joan, speculation, and (theoretically) whist.
For many games, the only way to really figure out how it’s played (and find out if you’re reading the rules right) is to play it. However, a lot of the games I named above are what Jane Austen called “round games” — and they need more than two players. Luckily, I have plenty of stuffed animals, and they helped me figure out how to play commerce, loo, etc. I would sit them in a circle, deal out a hand to each, and then play each hand in turn. (It’s much easier to remember who did what than if you just deal out hands to nobodies.) In addition, I learned that my hedgehog wearing a Santa hat (which I got for a pound in a cheapo East End Christmas shop) is really good at cards — he kept winning. (Now whenever I see the term “card shark,” I know secretly it should be “card hedgehog.”)
Of course, then I had the same task as Heyer: how to explain the card-playing in such a way that it’s dramatic, and works both for those who are Regency card experts, and those who’ve never even heard of piquet or cassino.
It was hard, I admit! My first impulse was to describe too much — but I had a few good critiquers who wrote “huh?’ and the like in the margin whenever the gaming confused or bored them.
Actually, I think the hardest thing for me was to stop pronouncing the game “PICKett” (which I could’ve sworn the first dictionary I checked gave as its pronunciation!) and instead train myself to say piKETT. Oh, well, maybe writing the book was a tad bit harder.
Do, do you like to play card games? Are you a bridge player? Have you ever played piquet?
What are your favorite books that include gambling or cards?
Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER:
150% More Card-Playing Than the Leading Regency! Guaranteed!