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“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

October 22, 2017 – 1:30 pm | 0 views

The moment when the dashing, exceedingly well-dressed, but annoyingly remote Earl of Worth declares “The game is up!” is the moment I finally understood fully that the reason I hadn’t liked him much throughout the rest of the novel is that he’s both the romantic lead and a detective hero–part Regency rake and part Sherlock Holmes.

I had realized before that point (which is very near the end of the novel) that a mystery plot–or at any rate a “someone’s up to no good” plot–was unfolding alongside the romance plot, and that Worth had an instrumental part in it. It’s also not that subtle who he suspects and why: I haven’t read any of Heyer’s actual mysteries, but I hope they are more, well, mysterious! But here it’s the central relationship between the hero and the heroine, Lord Worth’s ward Judith Taverner, that is the real impetus for the novel, not clever clues, red herrings, or other detective devices.

The problem is that a detective plot does by its nature require a fair amount of withholding, both from the reader and from other characters, and the potential problems of this approach to a romantic hero are compounded in Regency Buck by Worth’s individual character. From the beginning of the novel, he is arrogant and controlling, and one of the first things he does early in his acquaintance with Judith is kiss her, against all rules of propriety and, much more important, completely against her will:

Miss Taverner’s hands clenched into two admirable fists, but she controlled an unladylike impulse, and kept them in her lap. She was both shaken and enraged by the kiss, and hardly knew where to look.

Considering that one of the pivotal scenes later in is one in which she is sexually harassed and at risk of much worse from another man who is depicted as very much the villain of that moment, it’s uncomfortable, to say the least, that the eventual hero himself doesn’t show much more respect for her. Then there’s this little speech of his:

‘Do not look daggers at me: I am wholly impervious to displays of that kind. Your tantrums may do very well at home, but they arouse in me nothing more than a desire to beat you soundly. And that, Miss Taverner, if ever I do marry you, is precisely what I shall do.’

If he clearly renounced this intention later on, maybe we could write it off as an unfortunate fit of temper on his part, but not only is he cool (as always) when he says it, but given the opportunity to apologize, instead he doubles down — and this is once they are in fact engaged:

‘I am as disagreeable as you are,’ [Miss Taverner says]. ‘You would like to beat me. You told me you would once, and I believe you meant it!’

‘If I only said it once I am astonished at my own forbearance. I have wanted to beat you at least a dozen times, and came very near doing it once … But I still think you adorable.’

Judith is not in fact particularly “adorable”: she’s feisty even for a Heyer heroine, strong-willed and independent. She’s an excellent driver, preferring to hold the reins herself (clearly symbolic!). She even takes snuff! But because Worth keeps her in the dark about what is really unfolding around her, she is put in a position of relative weakness. He even exploits her vulnerability, “allowing” her to be carried off by the villain as part of Worth’s great scheme for making the case against him.

There are definitely charming aspects of their relationship. Their verbal sparring is often fun, though I didn’t often find it flat out funny, which was a disappointment: usually Heyer makes me laugh more. Overall, in fact, I’d say Regency Buck is one of the darker Heyers I’ve read, with more anger, violence, and threat, including, again, the overt sexual threats against Judith. It also had more, or at least more conspicuous, “period” detail in the form of both literary allusions and references to or parts played by actual people, including Byron, “Monk” Lewis, and the famous dandy Beau Brummell:

The exigencies of his toilet occupied several hours; he had been known to spend as many as two on the nice arrangement of his clothes, to which, however, he gave not another thought once he had left his dressing-room. Unlike most of the dandies he was never seen to cast an anxious glance at a mirror, to adjust his cravat, nor to smooth wrinkles from his coat. When he left his room he was, and knew himself to be, a finished work of art, perfect in every detail from his beautifully laundered linen to his highly polished boots.

We even meet the Prince Regent himself, who is in some sense the eponymous hero of all “Regency” romances. He is a bit in decline by the time of the novel, but “there were still some traces to be found of the Prince Florizel who had captivated the world thirty-odd years before.”

But to get back to Lord Worth, he is in some ways a typical alpha hero. I was hoping his desire to dominate would be blown away by the end of the novel, but Judith is no Mary Challoner. For the reasons I’ve given, I didn’t find him a very satisfactory romance character, and I don’t think Regency Buck is likely to become a favorite of mine.  But Worth is a pretty good detective, at least if you like the Sherlock Holmes “I’m much smarter than you and have everything well in hand” kind. The scene in which he finally confronts the villain is a classic “reveal” scene: Worth goes back over everything that has happened and explains what he knew or suspected and how he found it all out. As I said, the case is not particularly subtle, but Judith at least is wholly taken aback by his revelations, and then reassured by his Holmes-like promise that “there will be no scandal.” I just wish that he’d also promised there would be no beatings.

“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

October 22, 2017 – 1:30 pm | 0 views
“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

The moment when the dashing, exceedingly well-dressed, but annoyingly remote Earl of Worth declares “The game is up!” is the moment I finally understood fully that the reason I hadn’t liked him much throughout the rest of the novel is that he’s both the romantic lead and a detective hero–part Regency rake and part Sherlock Holmes. […]

This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

October 19, 2017 – 7:38 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

In both of my classes this week we are focusing on young women making mistakes. It’s interesting for me (and I hope also for the students who are in both classes) to compare the very different ways their novels approach their rather different errors. Both of them do wrong things for right reasons. Jane Eyre, […]

This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

October 19, 2017 – 7:38 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Erring Women

In both of my classes this week we are focusing on young women making mistakes. It’s interesting for me (and I hope also for the students who are in both classes) to compare the very different ways their novels approach their rather different errors. Both of them do wrong things for right reasons. Jane Eyre, […]

Education and Failure: Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers

October 15, 2017 – 6:20 pm | 0 views
Education and Failure: Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers

“To understand the stories of the seven lost students who are the subjects of this book,” Tanya Talaga begins her devastating, angry, and thought-provoking book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City, you must understand Thunder Bay’s past, how the seeds of division, of acrimony and distaste, of a lack of […]

This Week In My Classes: Politics and Moral Complicity

October 12, 2017 – 6:18 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Politics and Moral Complicity

The 2016 U. S. election has given some books I regularly teach new resonance–and not in a good way. In March 2016, Hard  Times was indeed “for these times,” with Mr. Bounderby running for President: He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. […]

Happy Thanksgiving!

October 9, 2017 – 9:45 am | 0 views
Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving today. If you aren’t Canadian (or even if you are) and you’ve never understood why we celebrate Thanksgiving (“isn’t that an American thing?”), here’s a really informative post by Andrea Eidinger at “Unwritten Histories” on just that topic. I was industrious last week and returned two sets of assignments, plus with today off, […]

“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

September 30, 2017 – 7:44 pm | 0 views
“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

One of the strange things about teaching is that you can never know what your effect will be on others; can never know, if you have something to teach, who your real students will be, the ones who will take what you have to give and make it their own . . . can never […]

“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

September 30, 2017 – 7:44 pm | 0 views
“The Lesson Will Live”: Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey

One of the strange things about teaching is that you can never know what your effect will be on others; can never know, if you have something to teach, who your real students will be, the ones who will take what you have to give and make it their own . . . can never […]

This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

September 27, 2017 – 2:19 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

The first couple of weeks of the new term are always deceptive: you anticipate them with so much anxiety after the slower pace of summer work, but then for a while, though the logistics are a bit hectic and there are more day-to-day deadlines, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then the first significant assignments […]

This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

September 27, 2017 – 2:19 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

The first couple of weeks of the new term are always deceptive: you anticipate them with so much anxiety after the slower pace of summer work, but then for a while, though the logistics are a bit hectic and there are more day-to-day deadlines, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then the first significant assignments […]

This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

September 21, 2017 – 6:40 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

I’ve put off writing this post, hoping that I’d get some bright idea about what to say in it. Is it possible that I’ve been reporting on my weekly class business for too long? Everything I have to say seems like something I’ve said before. Actually, that in itself might be worth considering, because I […]

This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

September 21, 2017 – 6:40 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Blather, Rinse, Repeat

I’ve put off writing this post, hoping that I’d get some bright idea about what to say in it. Is it possible that I’ve been reporting on my weekly class business for too long? Everything I have to say seems like something I’ve said before. Actually, that in itself might be worth considering, because I […]

This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

September 14, 2017 – 6:36 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

We’re one week into the fall term and I’m starting to feel that I’ve got my sea legs back. Every new term seems a bit herky-jerky at first, but before long it smooths out, or at least becomes routine again. In Close Reading, where my initial goal is to foster a habit of paying close […]

This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

September 14, 2017 – 6:36 pm | 0 views
This Week In My Classes: Every Word Counts

We’re one week into the fall term and I’m starting to feel that I’ve got my sea legs back. Every new term seems a bit herky-jerky at first, but before long it smooths out, or at least becomes routine again. In Close Reading, where my initial goal is to foster a habit of paying close […]

Burning Down the House: Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

September 9, 2017 – 3:07 pm | 0 views
Burning Down the House: Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

On the very first page of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Elena Richardson’s house burns down. Everyone, including Elena, immediately and rightly identifies her renegade youngest daughter Izzy as the arsonist, but it’s not until three hundred pages later that we learn why she did it–that to her it was not act of destruction, but […]

This Week In My Classes: (Bad) First Impressions

September 6, 2017 – 4:10 pm | 1 views
This Week In My Classes: (Bad) First Impressions

Or maybe not. I hope not. I don’t mean that my students in the classes that started up today made a bad impression on me–far from it, in fact, as they seemed pretty attentive and ready to go, which is impressive considering the circumstances of my first class meeting this morning, at least. But their […]

Summer Reading, 2017 Edition

September 3, 2017 – 10:37 am | 0 views
Summer Reading, 2017 Edition

There was an undeniable nip in the air when I went on my run this morning–the overnight forecast even included the ominous words “risk of frost.” Though we are sure to have some more warm weather as September unfolds, it will be nice fall weather: the season is definitely changing. The other sure sign of […]

“My Own Way”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes

August 27, 2017 – 5:20 pm | 0 views
“My Own Way”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes

“Say you won’t leave us, Lolly.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” “But Lolly, what you want is absurd.” “It’s only my own way, Henry.” In many ways, Lolly Willowes is a familiar book. Like Villette or The Odd Women or The Crowded Street, it is the story of a woman whose life does not conform to the expected […]

“My Own Way”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes

August 27, 2017 – 5:20 pm | 0 views
“My Own Way”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes

“Say you won’t leave us, Lolly.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” “But Lolly, what you want is absurd.” “It’s only my own way, Henry.” In many ways, Lolly Willowes is a familiar book. Like Villette or The Odd Women or The Crowded Street, it is the story of a woman whose life does not conform to the expected […]

“On the Sea”: The Optician of Lampedusa

August 21, 2017 – 7:30 pm | 0 views
“On the Sea”: The Optician of Lampedusa

I was on the sea that day. And I don’t rule out that it could be me on the sea again tomorrow. There will be another time, another boat. There will be more hands, more bodies thrashing, more voices begging. Every time I am on the sea now I’m searching for them, scouring, breathless. The […]

Recent Reading: Tana French, The Trespasser

August 18, 2017 – 1:30 pm | 0 views
Recent Reading: Tana French, The Trespasser

As usual, the unusual stretch of radio silence here means that I have been writing: the good news is a proposal I sent in some months ago was unexpectedly accepted last week, but the challenge was they wanted it by today and I hadn’t really thought about it once the initial proposal had gone unanswered […]

Interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

August 8, 2017 – 4:12 pm | 0 views
Interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

In his introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Forsyte Saga, Geoffrey Harvey explains that we owe the saga in its completed form to Galsworthy’s goddaughter, Dorothy Ivens. The Man of Property had been published in 1906 but Galsworthy’s attention had moved on. Then in 1918, he published Indian Summer of a Forsyte as part of […]

Interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

August 8, 2017 – 4:12 pm | 0 views
Interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte

In his introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Forsyte Saga, Geoffrey Harvey explains that we owe the saga in its completed form to Galsworthy’s goddaughter, Dorothy Ivens. The Man of Property had been published in 1906 but Galsworthy’s attention had moved on. Then in 1918, he published Indian Summer of a Forsyte as part of […]

“Bitter Waters”: John Galsworthy, The Man of Property

August 7, 2017 – 9:45 am | 0 views
“Bitter Waters”: John Galsworthy, The Man of Property

Nothing in this world is more sure to upset a Forsyte than the discovery that something on which he has stipulated to spend a certain sum has cost more. And this is reasonable, for upon the accuracy of his estimates the whole policy of his life is ordered. If he cannot rely on the definite […]

“Bitter Waters”: John Galsworthy, The Man of Property

August 7, 2017 – 9:45 am | 0 views
“Bitter Waters”: John Galsworthy, The Man of Property

Nothing in this world is more sure to upset a Forsyte than the discovery that something on which he has stipulated to spend a certain sum has cost more. And this is reasonable, for upon the accuracy of his estimates the whole policy of his life is ordered. If he cannot rely on the definite […]

These Girls: Jane Gardam, The Flight of the Maidens

August 4, 2017 – 7:07 pm | 0 views
These Girls: Jane Gardam, The Flight of the Maidens

“She’s not all right,” said the grave-digger. “She is clearly not all right. But then I don’t know who is. Our Het’s not. They never had any fun, any of these girls. Never, since the war, and they were only kids before it started. They don’t know where they are.” Jane Gardam’s The Flight of the […]

These Girls: Jane Gardam, The Flight of the Maidens

August 4, 2017 – 7:07 pm | 0 views
These Girls: Jane Gardam, The Flight of the Maidens

“She’s not all right,” said the grave-digger. “She is clearly not all right. But then I don’t know who is. Our Het’s not. They never had any fun, any of these girls. Never, since the war, and they were only kids before it started. They don’t know where they are.” Jane Gardam’s The Flight of the […]

“My Missing Her”: Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

August 1, 2017 – 6:11 pm | 0 views
“My Missing Her”: Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much […]

“The Man In These Pages”: Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

July 30, 2017 – 6:53 pm | 0 views
“The Man In These Pages”: Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

Gradually, as my bruised forehead healed, and as I absorbed my own words, I developed a growing sympathy for the man in these pages, the intelligence operative of doubtful intelligence. Was he a fool or too smart for his own good? Had he chosen the right side or the wrong side of history? And were […]

“The Man In These Pages”: Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

July 30, 2017 – 6:53 pm | 0 views
“The Man In These Pages”: Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

Gradually, as my bruised forehead healed, and as I absorbed my own words, I developed a growing sympathy for the man in these pages, the intelligence operative of doubtful intelligence. Was he a fool or too smart for his own good? Had he chosen the right side or the wrong side of history? And were […]