Monday, June 7, 2010

The Young Bluestockings discuss Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Well, how did you like it?

I thought this book would be perfect for discussion on Nineteenteen for a couple of reasons.

  • The heroine, Kitty Charing, is one of Heyer’s ingenue heroines, very young but certainly not lacking in spunk. She’s never been to London, so we get to view the city and the Season through her eyes. We get a mini-course on the amusements of fashionable London—Almack’s, the Egyptian Hall in Bullock’s Museum, the Elgin Marbles (didn’t you love the bit in Chapter 11 where Freddy complains about them to his father?)—and not-so-fashionable London—shopping at Grafton House and public masquerade balls at the Opera House and Pantheon.

  • We get a look at the manners and etiquette around courtship and marriage of the time (a word of warning here—though Heyer frequently uses the device, engagement announcements were NOT published in the newspapers—only marriages were.)

  • We get bad boys of a couple of different stripes in Jack and Camille, and of course the difference between true gentlemen and not-so-true ones in Jack and Freddy.
Ah, Freddy. Some Heyer aficionados have speculated that Heyer was poking fun at herself and her previous books by having the unpromising Freddy as her romantic lead in this book…but I'm not so sure. To me Freddy is a representation of how love can transform a person: he goes from being rather foolish and dim-witted, if gentlemanly, at the beginning, and ends up being the one to solve, gently and with a minimum of fuss, all the tangles Kitty has wrought upon her friends’ (and her own) affairs. Freddy’s father Lord Legerwood is a fascinated witness to the changes Freddy goes through, saying to Kitty, “I like Freddy’s engagement very well, you know. It has done him a great deal of good.” When Freddy tells Kitty at the end of the book, “…Thought you was in love with him [Jack]. Don’t mind telling you it was as much as I could do to keep a still tongue in my head when he asked you to marry him. What I mean is, like you to have everything you want. Wished it was me, and not Jack, that’s all,” it’s terribly romantic, despite Freddy’s characteristically telegraph-like delivery. After Freddy’s not very prepossessing first appearance in Chapter 3, Heyer begins almost immediately after his and Kitty’s engagement to drop clues that he may be hero material after all: first we see even his self-important cousin Lord Biddenden follows his lead in fashion...then we see his kind heart as he cleverly figures out how to bankroll Kitty’s wardrobe without embarrassing her…then we see how well-liked he is in society because of his perfect manners and deportment…and onward through the book until, at the end, he truly is a hero. I think he’s probably one of Heyer’s best-drawn romantic leads.

And what wonderful characters—clueless Meg and her terrible color sense (oh, the lilac gown!), the ravishing but equally clueless Olivia and her awful mother, the sardonic but kindly Lord Legerwood. I especially enjoyed the few scenes between Lord Legerwood and Freddy, showing Lord L.’s growing respect for his firstborn.

The book does have flaws. Poor Dolph got a little monotonous, though of course that was the point…I think it might have been nice to somehow show how living quietly in the country with his horses made him much better able to function coherently, to contrast with his confusion in town. And not to cross too far into applying today’s sensibilities to the past, but at times I couldn’t help squirming a little at how a character with intellectual challenges was depicted…except that the fact he could live a happy, productive life in the right atmosphere was an important plot point. The pacing was a little slow at first—the beginning chapters set at Arnside House rather dragged, I thought, though Mr. Penicuik and Miss Fishguard were both delightfully awful in their own ways. But the action picked up once it moved to London, and simmered pretty nicely after that.

On the whole, Cotillion is one of my top five Heyers, along with The Grand Sophy, Frederica, The Unknown Ajax, and Arabella. How about you? Did you find any of the Regency references or vocabulary confusing, or was it on the whole pretty readable? If this was your first Heyer, do you think you'll read more?

Discussion is now open!


Melanie said...

This was the first book I've read by this author, and I enjoyed it!

I was really confused with the first chapter. I couldn't get all the Lords straight and had no idea who anybody was.

I liked Freddy well enough. He sort of reminded me of Mr. Sparkler from Little Dorrit. I kept waiting for him to burst out and say, "She's a dueced fine girl with no begod nonsense about her!"

In the middle of the book, I think I liked Jack a little more, though. Loved the sarcasm.

This definitely won't be the last book I'll read of Heyer's! I've already got an audiobook of Venetia read by Richard Armitage (squee!) lined up and ready.

Marissa Doyle said...

So glad you liked it, Melanie! Your audiobook of Venetia sounds wonderful--when you've listened to it, let us know if you recommend it.

Tricia Tighe said...

I checked out the book from the library, but didn't have time to read it. I'll get to it in a couple of days and come back and comment. It looks really fun!

Sarah O. said...

I do love this novel. Freddy is adorable. The boy becomes a man! I have always preferred Heyer's decisive, grown-up female characters better than her ingenues, so I'm not quite so appreciative of Kitty's character, but she is still okay in her way.

When I started reading Heyer I did find some of her vocabulary hard to decipher, but it's become quite natural to me now. My friends rather regret that, I am sure, as they are all quite determined not not to let me use "gutfoundered," "puddinghouse," or "bamming" in my conversations with them.

Marissa Doyle said...

Agree with you on the Heyer heroine type, Sarah--give me Sophy any day! In a way, Kitty was almost a background figure here because there were so many other strong characters competing for attention.

And we use Regency slang all the time..."in a charity with" is one of my favorites.

Rachel said...


Unfortunately, I got 80 pages into the novel and just couldn't make myself go any farther.

Just my opinion, but I think the Regency 'slang' bogged down the plot. I wanted to throw Freddy out a window somewhere.

I'm glad to read your review and find out that he did, indeed, change his ways and wasn't so flippant in the end.

Marissa Doyle said...

Oh dear. I'm sorry Cotillion didn't work for you, Rachel. Was it the actual vocabulary, or Freddy's speech patterns, that you disliked?

Regina Scott said...

Several things struck me about this book. One was that when Heyer was writing, many romantic heroes were just like Jack--arrogant, a bit of a bully, so very sure of himself it's painful. So, making Freddie the hero must have been quite an innovation for her day! Like Marissa, I enjoyed how he evolved through the book, and how Heyer hinted at his heroic potential.

The other thing that interested me as a writer was Heyer's writing style--charming, witty, fun to be sure. But the length of those paragraphs! I wondered what a publisher would say today if she handed them the manuscript for Cotillion. :-)

More from me on Friday. Let's here from some more of you, please!

Regina Scott said...

Let's HEAR from more of you. Sheesh! Too early in the morning for me!

Rachel said...

I think it was more of the speech patterns than anything else. I could follow the conversations, but it just seemed like too much slang.

QNPoohBear said...

I read this book quite some time ago and forgot to grab it from the library to refresh my memory. It's not one of my favorites. I prefer her older heroine stories the best. (Venetia and Frederica are my favorites).

I do remember that I loved Freddy's speech patterns and Regency slang. The period details really make or break a novel for me.

More from me this weekend when I can get at the book again.

ChaChaneen said...

Hi Ladies!
I lurved this book! It's my third book I've read by Heyer and so far the best and now I see why it is the so beloved by her fans.

I agree it did start off a bit slow but after the 4th chapter, it picked up the pace and kept going. I felt Heyer really takes the time to set up the characters and scenes, so later when the plot really gets moving, your not lost mentally. I also enjoyed the regency era speech pattern in Cotillion as opposed to the 2 previous books we've done here. It just didn't seem as hard to read and get into.

Freddy and Kitty - I lurved the courtship once Freddy finally gave in and matured!!! It had all the romance I was looking for this time around! Great choice ladies!

Bethany said...

I really enjoyed the book
but I have read many books sence I read that one (about 5 or 6)
so the details are muddled.
freddy's speach was a little distacting
but not much.

QNPoohBear said...

I stayed up too late rereading Cotillion. I can see how the slang might be difficult for first time Regency readers but I thought it captured Freddy's personality perfectly. I'm still not in love with this book. Kitty is a little too young and flighty for me. I can see her continuing to cause all kinds of problems and Freddy having to bail her out. Though, I think Freddy had the potential to think and take charge all along, he had just never been given the opportunity or had to.

Those who liked this book might like Friday's Child. One of Anthony's friends is very much like Freddy and Hero is constantly getting into scrapes.

Marissa Doyle said...

I agree that Kitty is kind of the weak link in this story character-wise...she's almost more a walking macguffin than a character. :) But characters like Freddy, Olivia & Camille, and Meg make up the difference for me. :)

But this brings up a thought. When I was a kid I LOVED books that scattered in words and phrases in foreign languages, because I loved trying to puzzle them out and always felt like I was getting a bonus by learning something...but I wonder if my tolerance for unfamiliar terms is much higher than most readers'...? Thoughts?

QNPoohBear said...

Young Bluestockings: I just read The Agency Book 1: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
If you liked Mairelon the Magician but had trouble with the period language, check out A Spy in the House. A full review will be on my blog soon.

Marissa Doyle said...

Post us a link when it's up, QNPoohBear. Sounds interesting!

Tricia Tighe said...

I finally finished Cotillion today--spent most of the afternoon chuckling through it. By the end I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

Great fun! I agree with many of the comments here about the slow beginning and Freddy maturing as the story went on. To answer your question about foreign phrases--normally they don't bother me, but I thought Camille went a bit overboard with the French. Although it did make for funny dialogue when Freddy was telling him to elope with Olivia.

At times this book reminded me of the screwball comedy movies of the 1930s.

Marissa Doyle said...

Screwball comedies--I think you're on to something, Tricia. That's a great comparison.

QNPoohBear said...

I saw The Grand Sophy was recently rereleased in paperback. Tricia, I think you would like that one. It's the most screwball comedy of Heyer's Regecnies.

Young Bluestockings who enjoyed Mairelon the Magician and Bloody Jack might like the new trilogy The Agency. My review appears on my blog