|The Ninth Laird of Auchinleck. Not safe in taxis.|
it's the one where Lord Sheringham, aka Sherry, marries a 17 year old girl named Hero in a fit of pique because the lovely Isabella Milborne won't have him. Also, Sherry won't get his inheritance until he is 25 unless he marries. So Sherry, whose gambling debts are oppressive, picks up little Hero--otherwise doomed to become a minor teacher/drudge at a girls' school in Bath--and carries her off to London. Hero, who knows nothing of the facts of life, has always had a crush on Sherry, so is absolutely delighted.
I forget how many pages in Sherry first slaps Hero. I can't remember if it is before or after he buys her a mountain of new garments, or even if it is before or after he marries her. However, Sherry slapped Hero when they were children, and he slaps her now.
Oh yes--it was after they were married, for silly Hero, who understands that men like Sherry have girlfriends as well as wives, even though she still doesn't know what they do with either, saw a lady on stage flutter her eyelashes at Lord Sheringham, lost her head, and asked him if that was his "opera dancer." Because Georgette Heyer's world is one of preposterous hypocrisy, wives are never supposed to admit to knowing about their husbands' mistresses, so it's all a hilarious joke that the innocent bride has just done so. Sherry has thus lost face, and so when he gets Hero home, he wallops her.
I had forgotten that there was domestic abuse in Georgette Heyer although of course we all know there are other kinds of violence, especially attempted murder, aka duelling. Duelling is fun in books, but rather horrible in real life, as I found out in my early twenties when I asked an admirer to do something about the teasing I was getting from another. All that happened on that occasion was that Admirer 1 suddenly grabbed the arm of Admirer 2, and the tension was so awful, I instantly repented. I have an amateur's interest in boxing, but any woman who enjoys the sight of men fighting over her should go and talk about that with a priest. Ick.
Of course, women have very little to do with the duelling in Georgette Heyer's novels: it is all about men's relationships with each other. Quite a lot of things women think are about them are actually about men's relationships with each other. The man in Dubai who recently stopped life guards from rescuing his drowning daughter probably didn't hate his daughter. He was just worried about losing face in front of other men--possibly even the life guards. It seems absolutely insane to me that some men keep their "honour" on the skin of their female relations, but there you go. Again this may sound very romantic in books, but in real life it is horrible.
"Hero" incidentally, is the name of a girl in Shakespeare who feigned death because her admirer had believed an accusation that she had had sex. I forget if Viscountess Sheringham will also suffer such an outrageous libel--so far she is still as "innocent as a newborn lamb"--but no doubt we are supposed to suspect it. Sherry has no interest in bedding a nicely brought up seventeen year old just because his society, religion and the law says he has the right to do so. He might slap the girl like a naughty child (as one did when Georgette was writing all this stuff) but unless they "fall in love," forget about the fun stuff. I suppose there may be men like this, but I am hard pressed to imagine that they are also the ones who bed high-class prostitutes, gamble away fortunes and drive extremely dangerously--as Sherry certainly does.
The principal thing about Georgette Heyer's men is that we don't know any men anything like them, unless we hang out with men who are also multi-millionaries, e.g. professional footballers, and footballers usually come from the working classes. Sometimes I amuse myself by imagining which rung of the Heyer class ladder I would land on, and the closest I can come up with is that I am the daughter of a university don who has married my Lord of Historical House's secretary, a clever man of humble origin who through sheer intelligence and determination, etc., etc. I spend my days writing letters and chastizing my few female servants, giggling with snobbish joy when the spinster daughter of my Lord of Historical House deigns to drop by for a cup of tea. However, such ordinary people never feature in Heyer's landscape, which is populated only by a staggeringly rich oligarchy, a few rich middle-class people, shopkeepers, servants, prostitutes of various rank, peasants and chavs who give gin to their babies who shut them up.
Heyer was brilliant at description, but she was not particularly interested in the full reality of Georgian England, in which a very small (but very rich) group of people rode roughshod over everyone else, their massive fortunes created by the work of real or virtual slaves. And of course it would not be as much fun to read about Hero's new wardrobe if we could see the conditions in which the frothy lace was made. We do not want to imagine ourselves as the lacemaker, be she in a factory or in a hovel, dying of TB while slowly going blind. No! We want to imagine ourselves as Hero, just seventeen, as innocent as a newborn lamb, and valued for this quality by our handsome husband who gives us tons of elegant stuff--silk dresses, jewellery, carriages--and by all his snazzy friends.
Well, that's okay. That's okay unless we start expecting men to actually act like Georgian aristocrats, or expecting them to act towards us as if we were Georgian aristocrats ourselves. If I were not to move from my seat but to go back in time to Georgian days, I might very well overhear James Boswell below me downstairs, and if so I would immediately change out of my pjs into some proper clothes and lock myself in my room, lest Boswell come upstairs looking for some middle-class, middle-aged lady action. Oor Jimmie wisnae fussy, aye.
The drawback of being lifelong bookworms is that we compare men of real life to the men of books and find the men of real life wanting. Our books teach us a code of behaviour that no longer exists, if it ever did exist. Our books can also brainwash us into adopting the point of view of people who are not on our side. Sometimes I wonder why, despite having voted SNP, I am such a terrible Tory at heart, and I suspect it has something to do with Rosemary Sutcliffe, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh and just about every author I admire who had enough leisure time to write amusing sex-free books. As a child I was naturally not permitted to read books with sex in them, and as a devout Catholic, I generally don't want to, which meant the vast majority of books I read were published before 1960.
Goodness. What a long post. If you're still with me, sound off in the combox about your favourite heroes of literature and if you have ever met real men anything like them at all. I think at best we have met a number of hobbits, perhaps Frodo. When I first came to Edinburgh, I met a lot of people who I thought were just like people in books, but since then I have reflected this was just because they spoke like British people in British books. That said, characters from Trainspotting occasionally take the Rough Bus and I've overheard Begby in Easter Road Stadium.
Update: My mum says deconstructing Georgette Heyer is harsh. I found this message after I had gobbled the rest of Friday's Child and downed a stiff G&T, so I feel a tad guilty. However, too many women think Austen's and Heyer's fantasies are somehow Really True, so here am I to say they are not. If you want to live in Georgian England, with servants, luscious silk garments, etc., may I suggest Bangladesh? But I'm afraid the class disparities are rather more obvious there than they are in the works of our glorious J & G.