Monday, March 26, 2012

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer (vs. Black Sheep)

I'm surprised I did not previously review this book, especially becomes it pays such obvious homage to Emma. I thought I had, and intended this post to be more of a comparison of Lady of Quality to Black Sheep (which I did previously review here), rather than a review of either, but it now seems necessary. I will share my thoughts on Lady of Quality, the last book Heyer wrote, and then we may indulge ourselves in a quick comparison of the two books, for they are remarkably similar.

Miss Annis Wychwood, despite being beautiful and rich, has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood at 29, attempting to content herself with a sociable life in Bath. While this arrangement is preferable to living with her brother and his wife - who Annis likes very well, particularly the latter, but prefers her independence - it does have its drawbacks. Particularly, Annis is bored, so when she comes across a broken down carriage that had carried a runaway girl and the boy she does not want to marry (the feeling is mutual), she is almost eager to embroil herself in the affair. This is how she meets Mr. Oliver Carleton, the girl's guardian, "the rudest man in London", and our hero:
"But am I not right in believing that your custom is to refer every request Lucilla has addressed to you to Mrs Amber's judgment?"

"Yes, of course you are," he replied impatiently. "What the devil do I know about the upbringing of schoolgirls?"

"What a miserable sop to offer your conscience!" she said.

"My conscience doesn't need a sop, ma'am!" he said harshly. "I may be Lucilla's legal guardian, but it was never expected of me that I should be concerned in the niceties of her upbringing! Had it been suggested to me I should have had no hesitation in refusing such a charge. I've no turn for the infantry!"

"Not even your brother's only child?" she asked. "Don't you feel any affection for her?"

"No, none," he replied. "How should I? I scarcely know her. It's useless to expect me to become sentimental because she's my brother's child: I knew almost as little about him as I know about Lucilla, and what I did know I didn't much like. I don't mean to say that there was any harm in him: no doubt there was a great deal of good, but he had less than commonsense, and too much sensibility for my tastes. I found him a dead bore."

"Well, I find my brother a dead bore too," she said candidly, "but however much we rub against each other there is a bond of affection between us. I had thought that that must always exist between brothers and sisters."

"Possibly you know him better than I ever knew my brother. There were only three years between us, but although that's a mere nothing between adults, it constitutes a wide gulf between schoolboys. At Harrow, he formed a close, and, to my mind, a pretty mawkish friendship with young Elmore. They were both army-mad, and joined the same regiment when they left Harrow. From then on I only saw him by scraps. He married a pretty little widgeon, too: she wasn't as foolish as her sister, but she had more hair than wit, and a mouth full of the sort of pap I can't stomach. I knew, of course, when he bought Chartley Manor that the bosom-bow friendship between him and Elmore was as strong as ever, and I suppose I should have guessed that such a pair of air-dreamers would have hatched a scheme to achieve a closer relationship by marrying Elmore's heir to Charles's daughter. Though why Elmore - or Iverly, as by that time he was - should have persisted in this precious scheme after Charles's death is a matter beyond my comprehension! Unless he thinks that Lucilla's property is just the thing to round off his own estate?"

"Well, that is what I suspect," nodded Miss Wychwood, "but it is only right that I should tell you that Ninian says it is no such thing. He says his father has never had a mercenary thought in his head."

"On the whole," said Mr. Carleton, with considerable acerbity, "I should think the better of him if his motive had been mercenary! This mawkish reason for trying to marry Lucilla to his son merely because he and my brother were as thick as inkle-weavers fairly turns my stomach! I never liked the fellow, you know."

Her eyes were alive with laughter. She said perfectly gravely, however: "For some reason or other I had suspected as much! Is there anyone whom you do like, Mr Carleton?"

"Yes, you!" he answered bluntly.

"M-me?" she gasped, wholly taken aback.

He nodded. "Yes - but much against my will!" he said.

That made her burst out laughing. Still gurgling, she said: "You are quite outrageous, you know! What in the world have I said or done to make you like me? Of all the farradiddles I ever heard that bears off the palm!"

"Oh, no! I never flummery people. I do like you, but I'm damned if I know why! It isn't your beauty, though that is remarkable; and it certainly isn't anything you have said or done. I think it must be your quality - that certain sort of something about you!"

"It's my belief," said Miss Wychwood, with conviction, "that you are all about in your head!"

He laughed. "On the contrary! But don't delude yourself into thinking that my liking you makes me think you are a fit person to have charge of my niece."
Yes, she does call him "abominable" before the end of this conversation, confirming in true Heyer fashion that this is a case of love at first sight.

There are some incredibly priceless moments in this book, many of them attributable to Annis' rather dim witted companion, an impecunious cousin named Maria Farlow (very Miss Bates-like). The tension that builds around her ceaseless chatter and the annoyance it causes to Mr. Carleton, particularly, punctuates the climax of the novel in an absolutely hilarious fashion. Between herself, an overly rigid suitor, and the antics of Lucilla Carleton and Ninian Elmore, the book remains in a constant state of silliness, our hero and heroine providing the sarcastic perspective through which the mayhem unfolds. It is a perfectly satisfying Heyer; one which improves on a second read.

So what if Georgette Heyer's novels are remarkably formulaic? They're hysterical. No matter if readers encounter the same plot reworked with slight variations - the humor remains fresh. Black Sheep and Lady of Quality both focus on an older heroine, established in Bath, who meets her match in a most inappropriate, though socially equal, gentleman. The catalyst for bringing hero and heroine together is a young lady, of feisty and impetuous nature, on the verge of her come out. Both heroines are left to contemplate the proposals of their respective heroes, puzzling over the social dilemmas of marrying these difficult gentlemen, and fall ill in the process. I like to think of this plotin the light of an Austenesque reimagining - what if Emma Woodhouse did not fall in love with the convenient Mr. Knightley and achieved her intention of remaining single? She would often have a niece (or some other convenient young lady of interest) with her.

Black Sheep was published in 1966 and Lady of Quality in 1972, just a few years before Heyer's death. My biggest problem with Black Sheep, which is really one of my favorites, is the terribly abrupt ending. Perhaps Heyer was addressing this issue when she revisited the scenario. The end of Lady of Quality is much tidier, but the characters in Black Sheep are far more dynamic. Furthermore, the language in Lady of Quality is more repetitive than one usually sees in Heyer. Both hero and heroine have favorite exclamations that help to define their characters, making up for a lack of development (particularly in the case of Mr. Carleton). I have not previously looked into the chronology of Heyer's novels, but I think I now must consider the order in which her books were published. I am curious to see if Heyer repeatedly reworked earlier plots, and, if so, whether she was fixing problems with her earlier novels, or if she was just running out of fresh ideas. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, fellow Heyer fans. Perhaps someone has already done a study on this? Stay tuned for more, though I do not have the slightest idea when I will find the time to address the subject.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part Five

Read part one, two, three, and four.

Marianne experienced a jolt of panic when she spotted the Colonel walking up the path to the cottage the nest day, but rather than making herself scarce, as she might once have done, she steeled herself for what she fervently prayed would not be too painful of an interview.

She had risen earlier than usual and strolled the downs at daybreak, trying to make sense out of the confusion of her thoughts. She had come to regard the Colonel in the light of a dear friend, with whom she need not feel the least reserve, and if she still retained some lingering suspicion that there was more than friendship on his part, she had not dwelt upon it. The rumors of the previous evening, speculating on a match between herself and the Colonel, forced her to confront what she had been happy to ignore.

Marianne Dashwood was not one to easily forgo her convictions. While Elinor might be able to lightly, and even rightly, dismiss her stance on second attachments as the romanticism of youth, it was no small feat for her sister to set aside a favorite maxim. Such a change in philosophy as would be required by Marianne to allow herself to love once more could not happen overnight, and while she would admit that she felt great affection for the Colonel, her sensations towards him were so starkly dissimilar from what she had experienced with Willoughby that she truly did not recognize in them a foundation for romance, depriving her of the needed motivation to reevaluate her stance.

As she walked, she pondered the nature of her affections, and while she knew it would be painful, she resolved that she must reject the Colonel if he ever were to propose. She wished most fervently he never would, so as to avoid the pain and discomfort such a scene would necessarily entail. As she pondered the circumstance, she realized how very gratifying a marriage to Colonel Brandon would be to all her friends, particularly her mother and sisters, though she knew they would never urge her to marry where she could not love. He would be far better off finding a different woman to marry. He deserved far better than what she, heartbroken, could ever provide. By the time she returned to the cottage, Marianne had even determined to keep half an eye out for an appropriate lady, though she had absoluely no intention of engaging in anything akin to matchmaking.

Fortunate for Marianne, and her future happiness, that the Colonel knew to an inch the lay of the land.

Mrs. Dashwood greeted the visitor with a glance at her daughter, letting Colonel Brandon know that Marianne was not herself. He nodded his acceptance of that fact, and when she offered an excuse to leave the room for a moment, he stopped her, insisting they all sit down and talk comfortably. This put Marianne much at ease, until Margaret, as much in on the "secret" as everyone, said candidly, "I was to follow Mama, you know, just a moment after she left the room, so you and Marianne could speak privately. I suspect she thought you wanted to discuss what everyone was saying last evening about the two of you."

"Margaret!" mother and daughter admonished together, but the Colonel only laughed. Glancing smilingly at a blushing Marianne, he declared, "My dear friends mean well, but they really should stop making matches. I am a bachelor - a decrepit one, no doubt, but single nonetheless - and as such my friendship with your family must always be misconstrued. If I were not madly in love with Miss Dashwood, it would surely be the beautiful widow who had stolen my heart." Mrs. Dashwood laughed. "And perhaps you too, Miss Margaret, will someday know the privileged of being the next lady to whom Mrs. Jennings would have me play beau."

The words were spoken lightheartedly, enough so to allow Marianne to regain her composure, but the look with which they were spoken told her so much more. He loved her without question - of this she was certain. He had openly declared it, and though said in jest, Marianne knew he spoke sincerely. The recognition of this fact made her blush anew, but she also knew he would never press her on the subject, or do anything to ruin their ease together. He had neatly provided her with an escape from an uncomfortable predicament, and her overwhelming sensation was of gratitude for his friendship. As he continued to quiz Margaret, who was highly amused by the notion of having the Colonel as her suitor, her feelings saddened, and she hoped he would find a more worthy object for his affections. And though neither knew so yet, it was at this moment when Marianne Dashwood began to fall in love with Colonel Brandon. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part Four

Read part one, part two, and part three.

Upon reaching Norland, Fanny Dashwood received a letter from Mrs. Ferrars detailing a recent meeting with Robert. Her son was penitent, and though the mere mention of his wife remained intolerable, she was inclined to be forgiving of his trespasses. Let it be noted in the grand lady's favor that, while her temper might be swift and formidable, time inevitably proved her willing to relent. There could be little doubt in the main participants' minds that even the unmentionable Lucy would, someday, be admitted into her sacred presence, and let it also be noted that few could be depended upon to so properly display their gratitude for such an honor as Mrs. Robert Ferrars.

Upon hearing this news, John Dashwood was quick to urge his wife to pick up her pen and pass the tidings along to Delaford Parsonage, where he felt certain they must be received with as much interest as he felt upon the occasion. He was wrong. If Mr. Dashwood could have observed the relative indifference with which Edward read his sister's letter, it would have truly caused him chagrin. But Edward was not one to be bogged down in the mire of his mother's fluctuating affections. Snug in his parsonage with a beloved wife, the eventual fate of the Ferrars fortune held little interest for him. Such contentment was a totally foreign notion to John Dashwood.

Though the onslaught of visitors had been wearing on the newlyweds, that had much to do with the quality of their guests. When Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret arrived on the heels of John and Fanny's departure, using the need to collect Marianne as an excuse to linger for an additional week, they were sincerely welcomed with open arms. So it was that Mrs. Dashwood was on hand to learn of Robert Ferrars's ongoing adventures.  Though she had never met the man, nothing she knew of him inspired her to think on him with favor, and if Edward showed little enthusiasm for his future interests, Mrs. Dashwood was more than ready to begrudge the favor bestowed upon an undeserving man instead of her dear Edward. She took the issue up with Colonel Brandon, when they dined that night at Delaford.

"Do you think it reasonable, my dear Colonel, that Mrs. Ferrars show such distinct favor towards her younger son? I hope I never betrayed such prejudices amongst my children."

"Do you admit to having them, Mama?" questioned Marianne teasingly.

"That is not what I meant and you know it, my dear," her mother gently rebuked. "Perhaps I cannot easily express myself on this issue, as I find it so bewildering as to make my mind spin. To hold such grudges, but not for the most grievous offenses. Mrs. Ferrars is determined to punish virtue while rewarding disloyalty. There can be no reasonable explanation for her whims."

"Just a rather different notion of virtue than you possess, dear Mama," Elinor smiled.

"Elinor is right," said Edward. "You must account for the fact that Robert was always much more to her taste than I am. I, alas, am more like my father in disposition than the rest of my family, Robert and Fanny both resembling my mother."

"Then she should love you above all others," said Margaret seriously.

"That assumes she loved her husband," Marianne retorted cynically.

Edward smiled ruefully, "Let us just say that I serve as a painful reminder of him. I truly prefer not to trouble myself with the question."

"If it were you, Colonel, would you not take a more active interest in your own welfare? I do not think I can be called mercenary, but to be deprived of one's birthright? It should not be borne."

"Indeed not!" supplied Marianne.

"I do not know that I am the most appropriate person to apply to on the matter," Colonel Brandon responded to Mrs. Dashwood. "My experience is all with tyrannical fathers. I know little of their matronly counterparts."

"But you would defend yourself. Would you not, Colonel?" Marianne demanded.

"When the law ties one's hands, there is little to be done," he replied with a meaningful look. "Regardless, there is no law against a fickle temperament."

"Indeed, there is not," said Elinor. "We are pleased that Edward and his mother are back on amiable terms, and if they are not so perfectly restored as to keep our time together at a minimum, I am one to take my blessings where I find them."

"Should I take umbrage at that? For I don't. It was very well said, my dear," Edward declared, lifting his glass in solute.  

"You must be more than ready to see us off tomorrow," said Mrs. Dashwood in ready sympathy. "You have had so little time alone."

"You are always welcome, Mama, as you well know, and we will miss you when you are gone."

"That does not preclude being ready to say goodbye," quipped Edward.

"For shame, Edward!" scolded Elinor playfully. "And when I have just invited Marianne back in a month too. You shall make her feel unwelcome!"

"In a months time my sister knows I shall be delighted to see her once more. Marianne is more likely to scold me for pretending I am ready to continue sharing my wife with all the world than speaking truthfully."

"Quite right, Edward. There is no need for pretense with such friends. Just as I have no hesitation in saying that I look forward with great zeal to again intruding upon your privacy. I will miss all the residents of Delaford."

"You shan't be quite rid of all of us," inserted the Colonel. "I am expected at Barton Park next week."

"Excellent!" Marianne exclaimed. "We shall have an opportunity to discuss the book you lent me."

Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor shared conspiratorial smiles across the table. 

Sir John Middleton had not known much tragedy. His parents had died, and that was a blow, but it was too much to be expected and in the way of things to touch him deeply. He had always gone about merrily, gathering friends and family around him, and relishing the hunting season. Marianne herself might scoff at his pain, but to Sir John it was a heavy blow to watch a beautiful young lady - a relation, no less - fall into decline following an ill-fated romance conducted largely under his own roof. He displayed his interest by frequently raising the topic with his mother-in-law, who was as deeply interested in the question of what would happen to Miss Dashwood as he. She must recover, indeed, had already regained much of her former bloom, and only a young man even more dashing than Willoughby was needed to make all right again. Sir John would put even more energy than usual into gathering all the young people he knew together that winter. Surely, if they could only be gay enough, the right gentleman would come their way.

Though both Sir John and Mrs. Jennings had been the initial proponents of a match between Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon, it is curious that neither now targeted him as a candidate. The Colonel would surely join in some of their festivities, as he was often with them, but Sir John was convinced that the lucky gentleman would have to be fashioned after Willoughby's character, our young lady having already demonstrated clearly where her tastes lay, and Mrs. Jennings had so often prognosticated the end of the Colonel's bachelorhood to no avail that she had actually learned to be cautious in that regard. In her own thoughts, she continued to acknowledge what an excellent match it would be, for he was rich, and she was handsome, but the seemingly avuncular, or even brotherly interest Colonel Brandon took in Marianne when she was ill did not appear at all romantic. If it were another man, perhaps, but the Colonel took such excellent care of everyone that it did not strike her as exceptional. Yet when she noticed that the two often stood up together when there was a dance, she could not help but mention it.

"There, Sir John! You see this it the second time the Colonel has asked for Miss Dashwoods' hand."

"Yes, indeed. Sad thing too! I'll speak to Brandon about not monopolizing her."

"You'll do no such thing, Sir John, if you will mind me. Perhaps there might be something there after all."

It took Sir John a moment to think on this before responding, "I did once think that was where the tide flew. Yet I was sure that Miss Dashwood was setting her cap at Mr. Carey."

"Mr. Carey, indeed! What is a young scrub like him next to the Colonel?"
"He's a bruising rider. That must be to his advantage."

"Do not deny that it is just the match to make us all most comfortable. Why, she would be located next to a favorite sister, near her family, and mistress of a very pretty estate!"

"True, but I would hate for Brandon to get his hopes up."

"By all means say nothing about it to anyone. I told myself I would make no more matches for the Colonel, as it never has worked out with him. Do nothing to interfere, and we'll see which way the wind blows." She winked conspiratorially, and Sir John put a finger to his mouth as an indication of silence. Needless to say, before the evening was out, they had sworn everyone else present to secrecy on the same subject, and in tones loud enough for the objects of their conjecture to hear. When the Colonel said good bye to the Dashwoods that night, Marianne, though polite, would not meet his eye. The damage was done. She was no longer easy with him. It was not the first time he had cause to lament the well-meaning but flawed intentions of his friends.