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» Ship of Fools   » Community discussion   » Heaven   » April Book Group: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer (Page 1)

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Source: (consider it) Thread: April Book Group: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
Brenda Clough
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A day early but I trust it is OK to start the topic. The book for April probably should have been April Lady by the same author, but her Cotillion is probably a better novel and a superb example of her work.
Heyer novels are wildly popular, and you probably can find this at your local library. They are sufficiently popular that they fly out of used book stores, but Ebay and used book sites like Abe Books offer many reasonable options. There are enough rabid Heyer fans around that you may well be able to borrow a copy from a friend -- her books are famously comfort reads, which is how this got onto the rota in the first place. In hard times, Heyer.

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Sarasa
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Looking foward to this. I read it earlier in the year, and as you said, Brenda, a great comfort read.

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Rabid fan reporting in... I think this is also my favourite book of hers, and so I will be happy to chime in.
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Doone
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Oh, yes! It was Heyer I turned to earlier this year when I was in much pain with fractured vertebrae in my back.
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Penny S
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I grew up reading serialised Heyers in my mother's Woman's Journal. I have now placed a reservation for the ebook with my local library - unfortunately they have changed their interface, and no longer indicate how many other readers are in the list.
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Penny S
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It must have been only one, as I now have the book ready to download!
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Brenda Clough
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While we're reading, I did find the prime example of reading Heyer in hard times. [url= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friday%27s_Child_(novel)]As summarized in the Wikipedia entry for FRIDAY'S CHILD,[/url] some female Romanian political prisoners kept themselves going by retelling the plot of that novel -- for twelve years!

And this even relates to Cotillion. Friday's Child was Heyer's favorite of her Regency novels, but she felt that she had not done justice to one of its characters, Ferdy Fakenham. In FC Ferdy is so dimwitted as to be barely ambulatory; I would never hand him a firearm. Heyer took Ferdy, adjusting his name slightly, and put him into Cotillion to show that an outwardly dimwitted fribble can, under the impetus of a true love, get it together, astound everyone, and be the hero of the book.

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Curiosity killed ...

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I have Cotillion, and quite a few more Heyer's on my Kindle as gentle commuter reading. (I also have Friday's Child and may go back and reread that one.)

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In an effort to read books I wouldn't normally pick up, I ordered Cotillion from the library. It's already turned up, so I'll have time to read it and join in here.

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Brenda Clough
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Gosh, my previous post looks nasty. I must've done the link wrong. But you can always go to Wikipedia and just put in the name of the novel.

Heyer wrote Friday's Child during WW2 and it is clearly designed as escape fiction and wish fulfillment. Nothing really bad happens to anyone, every problem is easily solvable, all the difficulties are caused by people being idiots. Even the violence is risible. And everyone's eating the most marvelous food and wearing gorgeous garments in utterly luxe settings. No wonder it sold like gangbusters when it was published in 1944.

But afterwards I think she wanted to address a similar situation a little more seriously. Which is how we have Cotillion.

[ 06. April 2017, 13:32: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]

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Trudy Scrumptious

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I have added this book to the Kindle app on my iPad as one of the many books I will probably read on vacation (or in airports and planes on the way to and from vacation) -- I always like to have a good stock of both paper and e-books to meet all possible needs while travelling. So odds are good I will have read it in time to join in the discussion later this month. I haven't read any of her books before so this will be something new for me.

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Brenda Clough
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Then your perceptions are going to be exceptionally valuable. I am convinced that people who read their first Heyer have a different perception than those who know what they're getting. Romance novels are famously rigid in structure (although there is a steady evolution through their history).

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Brenda Clough
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This should amuse, and also help with the reading:
the family tree of all the characters in Cotillion. You may have to select the title of the novel at the left, and then click 'load'. The parent site, www.georgette-heyer.com is full of useful stuff.

[code fix]

[ 11. April 2017, 13:09: Message edited by: jedijudy ]

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Doone
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Thank you, Brenda - a great site!
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Celtic Knotweed
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
I am convinced that people who read their first Heyer have a different perception than those who know what they're getting.

For the Regency ones, certainly. My first Heyer romance was These Old Shades, which is somewhat different to the rest [Big Grin] (I think the one closest to it in style is The Masqueraders, or Powder and Patch). Will be trying to read Cotillion, but first I have to go to the parental abode and raid Mum's bookcases (at least, I think it's at her house...)

My first Heyer was actually My Lord John as a holiday book for a school trip aged 7... much more my usual historical area of reading.

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Brenda Clough
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My first Heyer was The Corinthian, which I can see in retrospect was not her best novel by any means. Nevertheless, it was so clearly itself, an unassuming finger on an inlet of a bay in a vast huge salty ocean, that I immediately went and binge-read every Heyer Regency I could get my hands on. This took about three weeks (I live in a populous area, and I have library cards to every library system within fifty miles). Then I had a sort of literary upchucking, and went and wrote a short story about a Regency maiden meeting an alien.

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Huia
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Woo Hoo! Just browsing through the newly added ebooks in our library system and Cotillion was available. I've read a few books by Georgette Heyer, but not this one, so I'm in.

Weatherwise coming weekend looks to be a great one for curling up with a book, unless we are flooded, in which case all my plans will be seriously disrupted.

Huia

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ArachnidinElmet
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Have just discovered that years ago MotherinElmet decided to try a Georgette Heyer as she had never read one before and, coincidentally, it was Cotillion. I'll see if she has comments when we get to discussing the book.

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Huia
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
(I live in a populous area, and I have library cards to every library system within fifty miles).

I missed this. I am deeply envious.

[Waterworks] I am still waiting for our Central Library to be rebuilt since it was damaged in the 2011 quake. [Waterworks]

The City Council are saying it will be finished next year, but I'm not holding my breath.

Huia

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Brenda Clough
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It is not so important to live near a big library now that there is Inter Library Loan. In theory I can pull books from libraries all up and down the eastern seaboard. And ebooks are very easy to borrow indeed.

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Jane R
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I'm in (I'd have been here before, but suddenly decided a few days after Ash Wednesday to give up Ship of Fools for Lent).

I really can't remember the first Heyer I read - it was so long ago.

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Brenda Clough
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One of the perennial side tracks that Heyer fans adore (and that we could digress into, since we are all still reading, right?) is, why haven't these charming books been made into movies or BBC series? There are so many, there could be a TV miniseries every year, four or six episodes to each novel, and we'd all be happy and diverted for thirty or forty years.
Not to mention the bucketloads of money the producers would rake in. There would be a powerful incentive (as with other fan favorite books, like the Outlander books) to hew tightly to the beloved text, but this cannot be a problem. England is stuffed full of period manors to be hired to use as sets. You could recycle the costumes, sets, horse carriages, bonnets. And the Heyer estate would, surely, get new editions of all the books out with TV pictures on the cover, more money rolling in.
Such a win-win all around, why hasn't it happened?

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Doone
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
One of the perennial side tracks that Heyer fans adore (and that we could digress into, since we are all still reading, right?) is, why haven't these charming books been made into movies or BBC series? There are so many, there could be a TV miniseries every year, four or six episodes to each novel, and we'd all be happy and diverted for thirty or forty years.
Not to mention the bucketloads of money the producers would rake in. There would be a powerful incentive (as with other fan favorite books, like the Outlander books) to hew tightly to the beloved text, but this cannot be a problem. England is stuffed full of period manors to be hired to use as sets. You could recycle the costumes, sets, horse carriages, bonnets. And the Heyer estate would, surely, get new editions of all the books out with TV pictures on the cover, more money rolling in.
Such a win-win all around, why hasn't it happened?

[Overused]
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Jane R
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I gather from this website that there was a bad adaptation of The Reluctant Widow (not one of her best efforts) in 1950, which was a complete failure and discouraged Heyer from ever trying again. Presumably her estate are still being cautious about authorising any more adaptations, but there are rumours of a film version of The Grand Sophy - found on the same site, so I've no idea how accurate/likely they are.

Heyer died in 1974 so her works are very much still in copyright, whereas Austen (and Gaskell, Dickens etc) is well out of copyright and considered fair game for any film or TV companies wishing to get full value from their Regency costumes.

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Brenda Clough
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I can't think that her literary estate would be shy about raking in truckloads of cash. I am therefore forced to conclude that Heyer herself set a high bar in her instructions to the executors.

I have heard of the Grand Sophy film, but so many of these projects die in production. Haven't heard anything about a -release-. It is possible that if it is not a travesty, and if it is successful, we'll see more.

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Penny S
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I have been lent as a cheerup treat by my neighbour the film of Austen's "Lady Susan" trading under the name of "Love and Friendship". After watching the opening parts and listening to the very much not mature Austen dialogue, I realised that I was merging it with what I have read of "Cotillion" so far. Not as difficult as it woud be with mature Austen.
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Brenda Clough
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A case could be made that all Heyer is Austen fanfic. You read all of Austen's too-few novels, and you are jonesing for more. What to do? Heyer stepped up to meet that need.
And from Heyer sprang the entire genre of romance novels, a major industry today. In the US it is calculated that half of all fiction sold today -- every other book -- is a romance novel. There are women (it is always women) who read a romance novel every day, 365 of them a year, and no! These cannot be re-reads. They have to be new, fresh romance novels. Bookstores love these ladies (they usually gather together in groups and pass shopping-bags full of paperback novels around, to lessen the cost).

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
I have been lent as a cheerup treat by my neighbour the film of Austen's "Lady Susan" trading under the name of "Love and Friendship". After watching the opening parts and listening to the very much not mature Austen dialogue...

'Love and Freindship' was a juvenile work by Austen. 'Lady Susan' is a mature novel. They are both brief, and I have a book containing both.

'Love and Freindship' is hilarious. She had all that talent and no idea of where to stop. My favorite sentence is, "She opened the desk drawer and gracefully purloined several banknotes"

Moo

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Brenda Clough
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Gosh, it's April 20 already. How are we doing with reading? This book is not exactly War & Peace, much faster.

To get us going, here is the incomparable Sherwood Smith discussing Heyer and her role in creating the entire genre of romance ficiton.

And here, her comparison of Heyer with Jane Austen, and the entire phenomenom of the Silver Fork novel.

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Ferdzy
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It's interesting that Jeffrey Farnol gets such passing mention only. If Georgette Heyer is the mother of the Regency romance, then I would say he was the father, or maybe a grandfather since I really think her early books were much influenced by his.

He was active, I believe, about 20 years earlier than she was. He wrote what you might call adventure-romances. They were much more from the male point of view and tended to feature heros who needed to establish their masculinity usually by running away from home after some romantic disappointment and apprenticing to a blacksmith or becoming a pirate. As one does. They are definitely a bit dated but still surprisingly readable, and some are available through Project Gutenberg.

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Brenda Clough
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They sound fascinating, but they clearly don't fit the romance template. Which is astonishingly rigid.
Romance novels always have some female points of view (you will note that Cotillion shifts between Kitty's and Freddy's viewpoint).
The central driver of the plot is always emotional/romantic in nature. (This is why some of Heyer's works are not romances -- they are mysteries or thrillers, when the plot revolves around the mysterious inheritance or somebody murdering someone.)
And, crucially, a romance novel always ends positively, on an up note. No death and destruction or members of Danish royalty littering the stage are permitted. The protagonists are always happy and usually getting married. This is so core to the genre that it is part of the legal definition.

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Jane R
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Yes, the definition of the modern mass-market romance is very rigid; but the term 'romance' goes all the way back to medieval verse and prose, and maybe even further. For example, some people have argued that The Wonders Beyond Thule is a romance. The only evidence we have for this is a summary of the plot in one of Plotius's works, but that hasn't stopped them speculating.

I think you could argue quite convincingly that Jane Austen's works are all romances in the modern sense. Female points of view? Check. Happy ending? Check. Focus on emotional/romantic themes? Check (her heroines all manage to achieve marriage for love, despite the difficulties they encounter).

Many Austen scholars get very indignant when this is suggested, but I suspect this is more because of genre snobbery than because Austen's works don't fit the definition.
[Devil]

[edited to add] And you could also argue that some of Heyer's works that are marketed as romances don't quite fit the definition either. The Quiet Gentleman, for example.

[ 20. April 2017, 16:31: Message edited by: Jane R ]

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Brenda Clough
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Oh, that is an old argument. We have argued that in fact all fiction is fantasy, by definition. All written material divides into either fantasy or fact, fiction or nonfiction. Then fantasy divides into realistic or non, historical or current, and so forth.
Romance is indeed an ancient genre. But romance novels in the modern understanding were, to a great extent, founded by Heyer. (Just as modern fantasy is thanks to Tolkien, and detective fiction is the house that Arthur Conan Doyle built.)
Real romance fans can distinguish an infinity of subdivisions in their genre. With Heyer we are safely in the middle of Regency romance, which is its own little subgenrelet and still very popular indeed -- there are dozens of Regency romances published every month. But there is contemporary romance, historical romance, Western romance, gay/lesbian/etc. romance, and (my particular bugaboo) time travel romance, in which people travel either forward or backwards in time to get it on with hunky Vikings/Highlanders/knights/etc. It is an almost unimaginably huge field, sinking its tentacles into almost all the other genres.

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venbede
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Pride and Prejudice is a romance in the same league as Barbara Cartland in the same way The Brothers Karamanzov is a whodunnnit in the same league as Agatha Christie.

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Jane R
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I daresay, but here we go with snobbery in a different guise... Good Literature verses Potboilers. And where do you draw the line there?

Take P G Wodehouse as an example (who doesn't qualify as a romantic novelist, though romantic novelists sometimes feature in his work). He was a good (some might say great) writer. But he himself admitted that he always wrote basically the same story (Boy Meets Girl). And he was definitely a commercial writer - that's why he wrote so many short stories, because at the time he was writing there was a big market for them. That's why Dickens' novels are so long, because they were serialised and he got paid by the yard. How much of an author's voice is due to innate genius (or lack thereof) and how much to the format the publishing industry forces them into?

Actually (sorry Brenda, this is a complete tangent) this whole issue makes me think of this essay by Diana Wynne Jones (sniff! sob!) on the differences between fiction for adults and fiction for children.

[ 20. April 2017, 20:18: Message edited by: Jane R ]

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Brenda Clough
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(sigh) What a loss DWJ was to the field. She should have lived forever, and written a book a year.

Heyer herself had no delusions about her literary quality. She knew she was writing formulaic fiction that gave the reader exactly what was expected and no more. It annoyed her, but was too lucrative for her to stop writing it. (She supported the entire family by her pen for many years; I believe her husband had a sports supply shop.) It frosted her that the one work she really poured her research and artistry into, Lord John, never became very popular. It was the Regency romances that were the consistent best-sellers.

She has even written of her formula. There are two primary Heyer heroes -- the dark sardonic one, prickly and difficult, and the very nice handsome one that is more open about his affections. (Freddy is clearly of this second category.) When she started a book she would pick one.

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Jane R
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The thing I really like about Cotillion, and the reason why it's my favourite of all her books, is that she ostensibly has two heroes for most of the book: Jack, the Attractive Bad Boy, and Freddy, the Nice Guy. I mean Freddy is obviously the hero, but for most of the book you think that Kitty is going to end up with Jack (or at least, I did when I first read it) and sit there cursing her for being stupid, because it's obvious that once Jack has what he wants he will only be nice to her when it suits him. Whereas Freddy will treat her like a queen, even if he ain't a French gabster and doesn't make a parade of his feelings.
Posts: 3589 | From: Jorvik | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Brenda Clough
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What I enjoyed about Cotillion was the theme that money isn't enough. (The only variant in the Heyer Regencies is in theme. The form demands that much of the plot and character is standard.)
The moral of this book is, You have to know how to spend that money wisely. Freddy's sister who keeps on buying expensive but unsuitable garments is the superficial example, but the deeper practitioner is Kitty herself. She has to decide who to spend her matrimonial status (and the attendant dowry) on. The people who know how to invest wisely (Freddy, Freddy's father) are admirable, and the people who spend foolishly are deplored.

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Brenda Clough
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Reading the first bit:

Heyer begins this novel in a relatively unusual way (at least from the modern point of view). Although Kitty and her fate are clearly the focus of all her male kindred's fretting, she herself doesn't appear in the first chapter at all. Freddy doesn't make his well-dressed and point-de-vice entrance until Chapter 3. Authors these days are sternly instructed to get the main characters on stage ASAP, in the first paragraph or even sentence if possible.

There is a cunning authorial hand at work here, of course. All the apparently irrelevant family conflicts that take up Chapter 1 (Dolph's situation, Hugh Rattray's repellent qualities, Fish's supine nature) all become crucially important plot turning points later on. But, to the casual view, they are not where the main story is.

So, did you (especially those of you for whom this work is new) find it to be a slow start?

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Doone
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No, I just found it intriguing and also an astute reflection of the time, i.e. men discussing a woman's future without her being there and of how little choice or freedom she really had (drat, i have just remembered that photo of Trump and all the men making decisions about women's reproductive rights [Waterworks] ).
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Jane R
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The first time I read it, it took me several chapters to get all the great-nephews sorted out (and I couldn't understand why George was there in chapter 1 either).

I deduce from the character of Hugh Rattray that Heyer did NOT like Mansfield Park.

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Curiosity killed ...

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I first read Cotillion after I'd read a number of other Heyer's books and recognised some repeating themes, the threats to Dolph are far more threatening in Cousin Kate for example and the nicknaming of Hero Wantage as Kitten in Friday's Child.

I was equally irritated by the thought that Kitty would eventually get together with Jack throughout Cotillion the first time I read it and the final scene was very satisfying.

Heyer does have more than two heroes - the dark saturine brooding sporting hero recurs - which is why as a reader you believe Jack will marry Kitty, but so do blond gentler heroes (Reluctant Widow, False Colours, The Unknown Ajax). The point-device heroes such as Freddy are more uncommon.

I can't remember when I first read Heyer, but I had read my way through the local children's library by the time I was 9 or 10, and definitely read my first Agatha Christie at 7. I suspect I was handed a Heyer to stop me finding inappropriate books to read - I definitely read most of the Elizabeth Goudge books around then and a lot of Sayers, Conan Doyle, Maigret and a lot more.

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Brenda Clough
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Oh, I was the despair of librarians too. Perpetually picking up books that made them wince.

Notice that although all the social and financial power lay in male hands, Heyer does contrive to make Kitty an active participant in her own fate. She does not sit there waiting for somebody to come and rescue her. She runs away to the nearby inn, where she runs into Freddy. (This happens a lot in Heyer, the heroine running into the hero as a result of being disobedient.)

Did you feel a sneaky feeling that Kitty is not very grateful to Uncle Matthew? Admittedly he seems horribly unpleasant to live with. But OTOH she was an orphan; if he had not taken her in she would probably have perished.

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Doone
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Yes, I agree that Kitty makes for a spirited heroine. Mm, her relationship with Uncle Matthew must have been a tricky one, not least because she would have been aware that her life, otherwise, would have been grim. By his own standards and the mores of the time, it could be argued that he was being very fair to her under the circumstances. I certainly don't get the impression she was at all 'crushed' or afraid of him.
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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Reading the first bit:

(snipped)

Authors these days are sternly instructed to get the main characters on stage ASAP, in the first paragraph or even sentence if possible.

(and snipped again!)

While accepting that the Romantic Novel as a genre is incredibly fixed - the ideal candidate for one of the novel-writing machines in 1984 - I do get cross with 'experts' who make this sort of demand of authors in less static genres.

Not long ago every literary agent could recognise the efforts of a graduate of the University of East Anglia's creative writing classes, as they followed Malcolm Bradbury's alleged advice to put an obscene, vulgar or abusive expression somewhere on the first page of everything they wrote. Didn't make their books any better, or more likely to sell!

Of course the reader needs to get to know the hero or heroine reasonably quickly in order to develop the appropriate sympathy for him or her. But remember how long it is in Spielberg's epic before we actually meet Private Ryan - before then we've been carefully introduced to a whole troop of other soldiers, none of whom survives the first five minutes of the film!

Returning to the book in question, I think the delay just demonstrates Heyer's justified confidence in handling her material.

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Jane R
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Uncle Matthew is a great character. On the one hand he's a miser who hates spending money on anything unrelated to his own comfort, but on the other he takes Kitty into his household for no better reason than that he loved her mother.

Also he sounds like someone whose bark is worse than his bite - Miss Fishguard is terrified of being left on her own with him but ends up with an offer of marriage; Kitty is given two hundred and fifty pounds for her clothes in London (not enough, according to Freddy, but a vast sum from Uncle Matthew's point of view) and Freddy claims to be terrified of him but acquits himself well during the interview at the beginning of the book and ends by planning to manipulate Uncle Matthew into helping with Dolph's elopement.

I suspect Uncle Matthew is based on a real person. He sounds real.

[eta] Kitty doesn't seem to be particularly grateful to Uncle Matthew... but it does sound as if she's fond of him, just as she might be if he really was her grandfather.

[ 24. April 2017, 13:11: Message edited by: Jane R ]

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Brenda Clough
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OTOH it is clearly a surprise to Kitty when Uncle Matthew announces that if she refuses every single cousin on offer he plans to leave his fortune to a Foundling Hospital. She is not allowed to marry outside the family, and if she fell in love with someone entirely out of the picture as we see it, well, tough -- she won't get a dime.

He is a downy old bird, however (as Freddy would say), and this may well have been a tactical ploy. I also think Heyer hints that Matthew suffered not only romantic reversals, but major health issues that Kitty very properly knows little of. It cannot improve your temper, to be in chronic pain, and the medical arts at that period were primitive. The only anodyne on offer was opiates, which he clearly is refusing to take.

I am struck by how Heyer is careful to give every character agency and their own agenda. Each and every person (except the servants) has a goal, which often conflicts with everyone else's goal, and they're all manipulating to their own ends. Everybody suspects everybody else of this, too, to a greater or lesser degree of toleration. It's only social comedy because Heyer makes it so; if the plot revolved around the Lannister inheritance rather than Kitty's wardrobe the intense competition would be as blood-soaked as any cable TV drama.

Oh, and speaking of toleration, one of my favorite characters in this work is Freddy's dad Lord Legerwood. What a great parent!

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Brenda Clough
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quote:
Originally posted by andras:
[
[/qb]

Not long ago every literary agent could recognise the efforts of a graduate of the University of East Anglia's creative writing classes, as they followed Malcolm Bradbury's alleged advice to put an obscene, vulgar or abusive expression somewhere on the first page of everything they wrote. Didn't make their books any better, or more likely to sell!
[/QB][/QUOTE]


You horrify me. Geez louise, what an annoying and unhelpful bit of advice! Someone is running around on FB with a link to an article about Toxic Writing Mentors; if I can find the link I'll post it.

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Jane R
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Brenda:
quote:
OTOH it is clearly a surprise to Kitty when Uncle Matthew announces that if she refuses every single cousin on offer he plans to leave his fortune to a Foundling Hospital. She is not allowed to marry outside the family, and if she fell in love with someone entirely out of the picture as we see it, well, tough -- she won't get a dime.

He is a downy old bird, however (as Freddy would say), and this may well have been a tactical ploy.

Perhaps she didn't think he would really leave her penniless when it came to the point. He clearly wants her to marry Jack (his favourite nephew) and this scheme of his is a ploy to force Jack's hand, but I'm not sure he would have thought of it if Kitty hadn't had a crush on Jack already. He gives her some money to go off and try her own scheme for ensnaring Jack. At the end of the book she doesn't seem to be at all worried about what he will say (or do) when she breaks the news that she really does want to marry Freddy after all.

I suspect he's a romantic at heart (even though he wishes to marry Miss Fishguard for reasons of economy) and is trying to help Kitty to the marriage that (he thinks) she wants. Which is as far as the most indulgent parent alive would be willing to go, in that social context.

Of course, he might just be tired of her nagging him to let her go to London.

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Trudy Scrumptious

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Just checking in here to report that I ended up NOT reading Cotillion in time for the discussion. I'm in the midst of a major re-read of a favourite fantasy author's series in preparation for the release of a new book, and I'd thought I'd hop back and forth between those books and others (including Cotillion), but once I got into it I just decided I wanted to stay immersed in that single book-world without any distractions. I do still want to read Cotillion at some point, so I'm not reading through this thread, in hopes of avoiding spoilers!
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