Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
When grumpy Mr Penicuik announces that he intends to leave his fortune to whichever of his great nephews marries his ward, Kitty, there is a variety of reactions. Not that all of them are present when the announcement is made, and Kitty herself is not best pleased. The proposition behind Georgette Heyer’s 1953 Regency novel is not jealousy, but of a confusion leading from Kitty’s seemingly quixotic decision to become engaged to Freddy Standen, who has no need for a generous inheritance, and who has no particular desire to get married. Kitty’s wish to get to London is behind some of her odd behaviour, and she learns a lot in this gentle good natured comedy. A fascinating insight into society life, it introduces characters that care deeply about various things, including spending money on fashionable clothes, people who are not quite acceptable, and thwarted romances. Heyer’s ability to handle several strands of stories and propel them forward is shown to advantage in this classic novel, and as usual her research into the small details of Regency life is impeccable. Kitty and Freddy are two lovely characters who are easily sidetracked, while Meg, Freddy’s sister, is a delightful, generous and daft helper. This is an enjoyable and fascinating novel which gives an insight into Regency life.
At the beginning of the novel Mr Penicuik manages to summon three of his great nephews, Lord Biddenden who is already married, the Reverend Hugh,his brother, and Lord Dolphinton. The latter is a character who struggles with conversation and is a consistently drawn person with special needs. He struggles to understand the situation around him, and is obviously very dominated by his mother. When the older man informs them of his decision, they are shocked at his contrivance, and Hugh at least tries to explain his feelings to her. Kitty is composed, but reveals little, except to reassure Dolph that she will not marry him. There are some nephews who did not turn up, including the rather notorious Jack, and the next scene is set in a local public house, where Freddy Standen turns up, unaware of his great uncle’s plan. Kitty discovers him there, and suggests a strategy that will resolve the situation, and satisfy her greatest wish, to visit London for a month. Freddy is at first unconvinced, but agrees to the plan and joins her to announce it. It does not take long for Kitty and Freddy to set off for London, where they meet a mixed reception.
I found Freedy to be a lovely character, who struggles to cope with the situation, but is essentially always concerned for others, or at least what they wear. The scenes where he takes Kitty to some of the sights in London is very funny, especially his reaction to the Elgin Marbles. I think Heyer enjoys writing about the acquiring of fashionable clothes, especially Meg’s extravagance, and the subtle differences in style. Freddy has strong views on appearances, and is shown to be the arbiter of taste as well as an expert dancer and safe gentleman for women to know. Kitty is a kind hearted muddler with her own agenda, but tries to be considerate to all. The plot of this book is not as dramatic as some novels of the time, but the characters and setting are very strong. Those familiar with Heyer’s novels will appreciate the subtle humour of this book, and I found it a most enjoyable read.
Goergette Heyer is one of the authors I have rediscovered during this strange year, and it has been a good rediscovery! They are the perfect distraction and are generally safe reads with very few really serious events. According to https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/georgette-heyer/ there are twenty eight regency novels – so I still have a few to go!