An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

 An Infamous Army cover

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1937, but mine is a modern paperback with an introduction by Rosemary Sutcliff and also an author’s note at the beginning in which Heyer says that she had always wanted to write a book about the Battle of Waterloo but the spectre of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair had loomed over her. Thankfully she got over her reticence. Before beginning to read An Infamous Army I had a squint at the back pages to see if there was a bibliography – and indeed there is. Heyer had done her homework, and it shows. I have to say that Highland brigades feature a lot, which I don’t remember from when I ‘did’ the battle at school, but I have no doubt that she was right and the Scottish regiments were thrown in there first. There’s a lot of battle and a fair amount of gore, but before we get there we meet Lady Barbara Childe.

Lady Barbara is a young widow who had married a man much older than herself, for money no doubt. But now she’s footloose and fancy free and spends her time breaking young men’s hearts, even to the stage of one of them destroying himself. So when Charles Audley becomes smitten by her all of his friends and family warn him against Babs. Of course Charles thinks he can tame her, and for a while he almost does before everything falls apart and he apparently becomes yet another of Lady Barbara’s victims. We all know what’s going to happen, after all, it is a Regency romance.

But An Infamous Army is so much more than that – as you would expect from Heyer. Fashion features for the men as much as for the women but it isn’t all fol-de-rols as there’s a lot about the horror of war and the futility. Wellington is appalled at the loss of so many of his friends and generals at Waterloo at a time when the leaders didn’t sit safely in castles miles behind the front as they did in subsequent wars.

I have read Vanity Fair and was quite surprised that so many people went to the battle as tourists, with wives and would be wives following the army and the whole lead up to the battle being more like a grand holiday which ended with a big bang. I suspect that Heyer might have got closer to the atmosphere of the many pre-battle balls than Thackeray did.

This is a great read.

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Blood and Beauty cover

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer is one of her Regency romances – a bit of a romp, but perfect holiday reading. It was first published in 1962 and this one has a lot of similarities with Jane Austen, more so than others of Heyer’s books I’ve read.

Sir Waldo Hawkridge is a wealthy, handsome and fashionable bachelor of thirty-five or six. In his younger days he was well known as a great athlete and he’s still held in high esteem by the younger males in society. In fact they are still emulating the somewhat crazy fashions that Hawkridge made popular years before, although he himself is dressing with much less fussiness in his old age. He was given the nickname of The Nonesuch meaning he was a paragon, nothing and no-one could better him.

In fact most people don’t realise quite what a paragon The Nonesuch is. Although he is wealthy he has an interest in orphans and the poor and when he inherits an estate from a miser of an uncle he decides to turn the house into another orphanage, but it’s all very secret as he doesn’t like to advertise his philanthropy.

Throw in three young male relatives and a bit of love interest, just when The Nonesuch thought he was past such things, it all adds up to an amusing and entertaining read.

Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Faro's Daughter cover

Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer was published in 1941 but of course the setting is Regency England.

I must say that this book was so predictable that I knew exactly how the storyline was going to turn out from very early on, I think it was page 3. I’m not such a big fan of romances for that very reason.

Anyway, Max Ravenscar is a very rich bachelor, but he has no interest in getting married, unlike his much younger cousin Adrian, who is determined to marry an older woman who happens to be a hostess at a gaming house. Adrian’s mother recruits her nephew Max to save her son from such a disastrous marriage.

The predictability didn’t detract from my enjoyment though as it was a good romp through London’s society and I learned a lot about the sort of gambling which was going on there.

Apart from that I also found quite a lot of humour in the book with some snappy dialogue between Ravenscar and Miss Grantham, the gaming house doxy.

I read somewhere that Heyer just made a lot of the historical facts and words up, but I took the time to look up words which I didn’t know, even when it was obvious what they meant from the context, and they were all in my ancient dictionary. Heyer was very fond of Regency slang, it all adds to the ambience I suppose. Did you know that a Mohock was one of a class of aristocratic ruffians infesting London streets at night in the 18th century?

I’m not a morning person and I found that reading a couple of chapters of this book after my breakfast porridge and tea, and allowing it all to settle, is a good way of starting the day off. What a luxury it is not to have to dash around in the morning nowadays.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

I’ve only read a few of Georgette Heyer’s regency romances but so far I’ve enjoyed them all, although as a keen vintage crime reader it’s her detective books which are my favourites.

Arabella was first published in 1949 and the storyline is very similar in parts to Pride and Prejudice, but there are enough differences and twists to make it a successful read.

Arabella is the eldest daughter of a family of five daughters and three sons belonging to the Reverend Henry Tallant and his wife who live in a country parsonage. There’s great excitement when Arabella’s godmother, Lady Bridlington invites her to London for the season. As a wealthy woman she knows all the ‘right’ people and can take Arabella about Town and introduce her to them. It’s important that Arabella takes the chance to get a wealthy husband which would make it much more easy for her younger sisters to find good husbands, when their time comes. The Darcy equivalent is Robert Beaumaris who seems to be London’s Alpha male of his generation, with – dare I say it, more charm.

This is a really good read, packed full of Regency period atmosphere. I did read somewhere that Heyer made a lot of it up, then I read somewhere else that she researched the period meticulously, now I don’t know what to believe. She was very keen on having the bright young things of the day using all sorts of slang words, some of which I had heard of but bumtrap sounds to me like one which she just made up for a laugh, expecting it to be edited out – or maybe it was real slang. (I looked it up in my elderly dictionary and it isn’t in it but online I found it’s an old word for bailiff).

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

Friday's Child cover

This is the first Regency romance of Heyer’s that I have read, the only book of hers that I have previously read is the detective book Footsteps in the Dark.

I’m not a great fan of romances, that’s probably something to do with being married for about as long as I can remember. But I was encouraged to start reading one after seeing the reviews on the Classics Circuit.

The main characters in Friday’s Child are Lord Sheringham (Sherry) and Hero Wantage (Kitten) who decide to get married. Sheringham has just proposed to the beautiful Isabella and been ‘knocked back’ and quickly marries the very young Hero, mainly so that he can get his hands on his money which is being held in trust until he is 25 or married.

The book is about the scrapes that Kitten gets herself into because she isn’t ‘up to snuff’ as they say. She is too innocent and naive. Although Sherry had expected to be able to continue with his bachelor life-style unimpeded by his wife, he soon finds that keeping her out of trouble is a full time job.

About a third of the way through this book I suddenly heard a very strange sound, I got quite a fright until I realised that it was just a big sigh from me. I was finding the book a tad tedious and I did wonder about giving in on it, but I thought of my granny who was a big Heyer fan, and ploughed on.

Half-way through, I really started to enjoy it. I think you have to be in a frivolous, frothy frame of mind for this book. It is a very light romp through the Regency period.

Some people have complained that she uses too much period slang. Well she certainly does throw it all in but I didn’t find it to be a problem as it is always obvious from the context what is meant by it.

I’m hoping to read one of her more history heavy books next.