Books/resource: Books/research: Put the blame on Georgette Heyer – Moses, Macaronis and Young Bucks

31 May, 2009 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

I read books since I learned how to read. No matter if the book in question was suitable for my age or not – if I got my hands on it, I read it. I’m in the lucky position that most of the books of my childhood are still in my possession; and I often read one of those old favourites to spend a lazy afternoon in the garden.

Some books, however, went missing, and oddly enough, it’s exactly the books I remember best. Not because they’d been exceptionally good or were among my favourites, but because they contained certain sentences, characters or descriptions of places that just “stuck” in my memory. Here are two examples:

“Moses and the Ten Plagues”: I still vividly remember the picture of an angel with a sword, going from door to door, of which some were marked with a red “X”. I innocently asked what the angel was doing and was informed that God had given him the order to kill all firstborns (“you know, the first born child in a family, dear,”). I decided there and then, at the age of four or five, that any religion whose managing director orders the slaughter of children is not for me. Also, I still don’t like angels.

“Captain Cook”: All I can remember about that one is “… and then they killed and ate him.” Hm. You know, I think my parents really gave me odd books to read…

Anyway. There was one book which often crossed my mind since I started writing Age of Sail fiction. Only now, with all the research done and knowing certain terms, I realised that the book in question must have been set in the 18th century and that the “Macaroni” I remembered wasn’t a tasty dish (really not), but – well, a Macaroni. I discussed the matter with Eveiya; I’d loved to re-read that book and see what the experience would be like now, decades later. But I knew neither the title of the book, the name of the author nor the plot! Makes finding a book difficult, I’m sure you agree.

This is what I remembered: there was a Macaroni, and a dashing young gentleman with tons of gambling debts, his best friend and a duel.

To which Eveiya immediately said:

“GEORGETTE HEYER!”

And guess what – she was right! It was indeed a book by Georgette Heyer – “The Convenient Marriage” – but if you read the blurb of the book, you’ll see that what I remembered absolutely wasn’t what the book focussed on:

“When the eligible Earl of Rule offers for the hand of the Beauty of the Winwood Family, he has no notion of the distress he causes his intended. For Miss Lizzie Winwood is promised to the excellent, but impoverished, Mr Edward Heron. Disaster can only be averted by the delightful impetuosity of her youngest sister, Horatia, who conveives her own distinctly original plans…”

OK, let me sum this up: I neither remembered the heroine with the speech impediment (“I-I am H-h-horry…”) nor her dashing husband, not her beautiful sister or her red-coat fiancee, not even the dastardly villain trying to rape the heroine, nooooo, all I remembered was Pelham, Horatia’s airhead of a brother who ruined the family with his gambling, his best friend Pommeroy, plus a duel in which Pel injures his annoying cousin Crosby Drelincourt, the Macaroni.

So personally, I blame all my writing, including Sebastian Quinn, on Georgette Heyer, who corrupted my innocent mind at a very young age!

Having read the book now in the original language and many years older, I still like it, but mainly because of the details. Georgette Heyer put great care into the description of fashion, behaviour, environment, the class system of the 18th century. What did people wear? Where would they go in the evening? What were the “dos” and “don’ts” of that time? For that, the book is highly enjoyable and informative, and she had a knack of writing three-dimensional characters. Her description of Mr. Drelincourt’s changing outfits really gives you a good idea of the whacky fashions of the times.

However… there is Horry. Horry. H-h-horry. Three pages into it, and I was close to wishing death on the heroine. And maybe it was enjoyable back in the 1930s, but from today’s point of view, reading about the flippant way in which the attempted rape of Horatia is dealt with – her brother makes a bet if she’s really killed the villain or not, is disappointed when he loses the bet, asks rapist-wannabe if he’d like to play cards – makes you cringe and your mind boggle. This book has collected a lot of dust, unlike Jane Austen’s work, which is still as fresh and enjoyable centuries later. Would I recommend it? For reasons of research, absolutey. For entertainment – well. I had to force myself reading “The Convenient Marriage” to the end, but others might love it. If you’d like to get a closer insight into the fashion sense of Macaronis and their “counterparts”, though, this book is a must!

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“The Macaronis were represented by Mr Fox, looking heavy-eyed, as well he might, having sat till three in the afternoon playing hazard at Almack’s; by my Lord Carlisle, whose round youthful countenance was astonishingly embellished by a patch cut in the form of a cabriolet; and of course by Mr Crosby Drelincourt, with a huge nosegay stuck in his coat, and a spy-glass set in the head of his long cane. The Macaronis, mincing, simpering, sniffing at crystal scent-bottles, formed a startling contrast to the Bucks, the young sparks who, in defiance of their affected contemporaries, had flown to another extreme of fashion. No extravagance of costume distinguished tehse gentlemen, unless a studied slovenliness could be called such, and their amusements were ofa violent nature, quite a variance with your true Macaroni’s notions of entertainment. These Bloods were to be found at any prize-fight, or cockfight, and when these diversions palled could always while way an evening in masquerading abroad in the guise of footpads, to the terror of all honest townsfolks.”

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Entry filed under: 18th century, books, resource. Tags: , , .

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