Georgette Heyer had a bit of a formula for many of her Regency novels – the established man in his mid-30s, often a fashionable dandy, and the younger woman he somehow becomes responsible for, and against all odds and all possible personality conflicts, they come together and all ends well. Indeed, quite funny along the way, and filled with period details of such accuracy, the reader wonders how Heyer wrote these in the early 20th century and was not herself a “Lady of Quality” in early 19th century England!
So I began Regency Buck thinking I may have already read it – had to indeed check my list to be sure! – but a few pages in, I knew that, though it all seemed familiar enough, Heyer had succeeded yet again in setting a scene and telling a tale peopled with well-drawn characters [really, who can resist a character with the name of Mrs. Scattergood?], abounding in witty repartee, bringing the Regency period to life, and this time with a bit of a mystery thrown in for good measure.
The wealthy Judith Taverner, a feisty, independent almost-of-age beauty and her brother Peregrine, a year younger and the inheritor of a large estate, are on the way to London to settle in town after the death of their father to meet their unknown guardian, the Fifth Earl of Worth, and expecting one of their father’s gout-ridden comrades are shocked to discover Lord Worth to be a young handsome man of fashion and great friend to a select group of higher ups in London society . Due to a previous encounter with him involving a hair-raising road accident and for Judith a less than appropriate embarrassing kiss, the young Taverners take an instant dislike to their guardian and he in turn makes it quite clear that he is not amused by suddenly having two wards foisted upon him.
Here is Judith as we first see her~
She was a fine young woman, rather above the average height, and had been used for the past four years to hearing herself proclaimed a remarkably handsome girl. She could not, however, admire her own beauty, which was of a type she was inclined to despise. She had rather had black hair; she thought the fairness of her gold curls insipid. Happily, her brows and lashes were dark, and her eyes which were startlingly blue (in the manner of a wax doll, she once scornfully told her brother) had a directness and a fire which gave a great deal of character to her face. At first glance one might write her down a mere Dresden china miss, but a second glance would inevitably discover the intelligence in her eyes, and the decided air of resolution in the curve of her mouth.
And here is Lord Worth as first seen by Miss Taverner ~
From the first moment of setting eyes on him she knew that she disliked him…He was the epitome of a man of fashion. His beaver hat was set over black locks carefully brushed into a semblance of disorder; his cravat of starched muslin supported his chin in a series of beautiful folds; his driving-coat of drab cloth bore no less than fifteen capes, and a double row of silver buttons. Miss Taverner had to own him a very handsome creature, but found no difficulty in detesting the whole cast of his countenance. He had a look of self-consequence; his eyes, ironically surveying her from under weary lids, were the hardest she had ever seen, and betrayed no emotion but boredom. His nose was too straight for her taste. His mouth was very well-formed, firm but thin-lipped. She thought it sneered….. His driving had been magnificent; there must be unsuspected strength in those elegantly gloved hands holding the reins in such seeming carelessness, but in the name of God why must he put on an air of dandified affectation?
And thus we are introduced. Heyer serves up her usual mix of shenanigans, the endless clashing of wills, and the historically accurate Regency social life so well portrayed, such as this detailed description of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, that you, the reader are instantly transported ~
At first site it was all a blaze of red and gold, but after her [Miss Taverner] first gasp of astonishment she was able to take a clearer view of the whole, and to see that she was standing, not in some fantastic dream-palace, but in a square apartment with rectangular recesses at each end, fitted up in a style of Oriental splendour. The square part was surmounted by a cornice ornamented with shield-work, and supported by reticulated columns, shimmering with gold-leaf. Above this was an octagon gallery formed by a series of elliptical arches, and pierced by windows of the same shape. A convex cove rose over this, topped by leaf ornaments in gold and chocolate; and above this was the central dome, lined with scale-work of glittering green and gold. In the middle of it a vast foliated decoration was placed, from whose calyx depended an enormous luster of cut-glass in the shape of a pagoda. To this was attached by chains a lamp made to resemble a huge water-lily, coloured crimson and gold and white. Four gilded dragons clung to the under-side of the lamp, and below them hung a smaller glass water-lily… still more dragons writhed above the window draperies, which were of blue and crimson satin and yellow silk. The floor was covered by a gigantic Axminster carpet where golden suns, stars, serpents, and dragons ran riot on a pale blue background; and the sofas and chairs were upholstered in yellow and dove-coloured satin….
We are treated to various episodes of cock-fighting, boxing, horse racing, and carriage rides of all sorts; fashion displays of the first quality; and gatherings with the real life characters of Beau Brummell and the Prince Regent himself! and with further references to Byron’s poetry and Austen’s Sense & Sensibility! we are truly comforted by the authenticity of the times.
But danger lurks – the Taverner’s wealth make them both targets in their new London environment and Heyer juxtaposes the humor of the avaricious suitors for Judith’s hand [to include nearly every eligible young man within striking distance and a few skin-crawling efforts [to this reader!] by the over-zealous Prince Regent!] – all this set against the apparent attempts to murder Peregrine – who would most benefit from his death? – his own sister? a long-lost on-the-skids cousin who begins to fall in love with Judith? or their guardian’s brother Charles, the second son in the military with no money of his own who becomes immediately smitten with his brother’s comely and wealthy ward? or indeed, Lord Worth himself, with his expensive tastes and a penchant for gambling and horse-racing?
And who of the lot will capture the heart of the lovely Judith? and can she withstand her guardian’s efforts to keep her in line according to HIS rules of a lady’s behavior for the very long year before her 21st birthday? Worth is insufferable and rude and nearly cruel on one too many occasions to keep this reader from cringing a bit with my feminist sensibilities on high alert… but Heyer, as expected, brings it all to a fine conclusion, all in fun and with a satisfying end where all are accorded their just dues, a great ride! … definitely add this gem of a read to your TBR pile!
4 full inkwells [out of 5]
Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks, 2008 [originally published in 1935]
[also available in the UK from Arrow Books, 2004]
For further reading, see my review of Faro’s Daughter, which appends reading lists, etc. about Heyer.