The Mystery of Clare Darcy

For the past year I have been interspersing my regular reading with a taste of Georgette Heyer – a delightful romp through her Regency romances – not quite done yet [gad! There are so Many! – not to mention the Mysteries and the Historicals…], and I fear as I look back that I am getting them all confused – I must learn to take better notes! – But I have taken a break for a bit, and in looking around for other such books to get my “Regency fix” [or is it the “romance”?!], I have discovered Clare Darcy – or at least discovered her books, as there seems to be cloak of complete mystery about the author.  Even the know-it-all Internet brings up little evidence:

1.  A Wikipedia entry  that only lists her books and repeats the biography given on all the novels:  “an American novelist from Ohio” 

2.  The Books Themselves:  “…her recent Regency tales have all been acclaimed as the truest successors to those of Georgette Heyer.  It is hard not to believe that Miss Darcy was born and raised in the best Society of that day – rather than in the Ohio of our own time.”   All copyright notices state either the publisher “Walker and Company” or “Clare Darcy”

3.  Rave Reviews:  “The latest addition to the author’s piquant, literate romances of life among the ton in Regency England celebrates one of Darcy’s spunkiest heroines yet” [Publisher’s Weekly on Eugenia] and “An enchanting Regency novel…which makes one rejoice in finding what could have been taken for a new Georgette Heyer novel”  [Library Journal on Victoire]

4.  A Blog Post by the Regency author Lesley-Anne McLeod  dated September 16, 2008: Ms. McLeod raises the same questions I have: Who was she?  Where is she?  Was she a “she” or a “he”?  Is Clare Darcy a penname? [it must be!], Did she write other books?  she is obviously versed in Heyer, but original and knowledgeable enough to put the reader into a living, breathing Regency world.  Ms. McLeod asks for any information, and a reader commented: “I would like to point out in the front of my book it states that ‘this is the last of the novels discovered after Clare Darcy’s death’.  It was first published in 1982.” – this last title is Caroline and Julia.  [I have the Signet paperback and it makes no such mention, so this must be in the hardcover edition; but the author note in my copy says “Miss Darcy was very much at home in her special world, Regency England” and the previous books note that “she is very much at home…” [well, at least that answers ‘where she is’]

 [and BTW, on another post, Lesley Ann lists her top dozen Regency reads:  Clare Darcy’s Lydia sits in great company at number 11; Persuasion is 6, but the list is in no particular order]

 5.  At Good Ton there is a list of all her works with character names and short summaries

6.  There are two reviews at An Evening at Almack’s:  one of Lydia and one of Victoire

7.  And finally at Fantastic Fiction, there is a list of titles with several images of book covers, but nothing else

 So, scanty information!  I’ll share some thoughts and pen a few “rapid reviews” over my next few posts [don’t want to give too much away!] – I begin with the titles of her fourteen published works [thankfully, more manageable than Heyer!] – all published by Walker, and in paperback by Signet, other various reprints, no longer in print but readily available from used booksellers.  You can also search Amazon and read a few customer reviews.

 Here’s the list: 

  • Georgina [1971]
  • Cecily: Or a Young Lady of Quality [1972)]
  • Lydia: Or Love in Town [1973]
  • Victoire [1974]
  • Lady Pamela [1975]
  • Allegra [1976]
  • Elyza [1976]
  • Regina [1976]
  • Cressida [1977]
  • Eugenia [1977]
  • Gwendolen [1979]
  • Rolande [1979]
  • Letty [1980]
  • Caroline and Julia [1982]

******************************* 

 

So far I have read eight of the fourteen in my continuing efforts to flunk my regular bookgroup – and now, as with my Heyer immersion, I am getting all the plot lines confused, relying on notes to keep them fresh in my mind, and now taking a much needed break [not to mention that I am increasingly frustrated with my husband for not wanting to dress in superfine blue waistcoats and a cravat in the Mathematical style, his “dark locks”  in the Stanhope Crop, and must desist in those efforts for family harmony…]

I cannot compare Darcy to Heyer – she falls short; everyone does, just as anyone trying to imitate Jane Austen, fails miserably despite best efforts.  Heyer is incomparable in plot, characterization, and laugh-out-loud humor – I first read Faro’s Daughter and at every turn of the page I yelled at myself for not Reading Her Before Now –  so I will not compare them – read Clare Darcy for herself – here too we find great plots, characters [some that jump off the page], sparkling dialogue, and almost as much humor as Heyer – there is at least one classic scene in each novel that sends you into peels, and any of the books will certainly cure you of a “fit of the dismals”!   

Some Regency Romance conventions:

 The Romance Writers of America site defines the “Romance Genre” thusly – it must comprise these two elements:   

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel. 

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

 A “Regency Romance” must have these and be set for the most part in Regency England.  And what else? – these seem to be the recurring conventions , what shows up in each tale, what we expect from page one to the end [I confess to NOT being a reader of romances, so bear with me as I try to piece all this together]

1.  The Regency World of Town and Country

real settings in England, either in London and during the London Season, or in a Country house; Ireland figures here and there, and one heroine is AMERICAN from New Orleans [and thus fashioned appropriately in all the latest French fashions]; Waterloo is also prominent:  we see settings such as Vauxhall Gardens; the Covent Garden Theatres, complete with the acting greats Kean, Kemble, Siddons; the boxing saloons and gambling houses; Almack’s and its Patronesses; circulating libraries; Tattersalls and horses [“ a bang-up set of blood and bones”] and carriages [chaises and hackney coaches and fast-driven curricles and gigs] and coaching inns for traveling escapades, complete with races, mishaps and crashes; Restorative Pork Jelly makes an appearance, as does even the Prince Regent himself.

 2.  A world of Regency fashion:– where male and female dress is described in full, vivid, colorful detail, ones attention to their dress delineating their character – there is indeed an abundance of the color “puce” – the “why” of this I will persue further… 

3.  Regency language:  Miss Darcy either kept lengthy notes while reading her Heyer or she had her own “Regency Lexicon” close by – each novel is replete with Regency cant, adding to the authenticity and the humor: you can read my post on Frederica  where all I do is compile a list of Heyer’s terms –  so here I list some of Darcy’s, in no particular order [and laughing at my frustrated spell-checker’s efforts!] – you can refer to the online Regency Lexicon if you need a definition!:   

outside of enough; flummery; fustian; fall into the ropes; rake-shame; faradiddle; light-skirts; roundaboutations [my very favorite!]; Banbury Tales and Cheltenham Tragedies; bumblebroth; miff-maff; flying up into the boughs; cloth-headed; moonlings; Top of the Trees, Lady of Quality; the ton; shatter-brained; bird-witted; gudgeon; on dits and tattle-boxes; put-downs and cuts and quizzing glasses;  those requisite vapours and dismals; don’t like it above half; rag-mannered; the high fidgets; cutting a wheedle; coming to cuffs; etc.  – you get the idea – we are in Heyeresque territory here…and feel quite at home.

4.  The Heroine:  she will be independent, feisty and high-spirited; a Lady of Quality but unconventional in her behaviors, setting the tattle-boxes wagging their tongues and the Hero intrigued; sometimes wealthy in her own right, but usually in need of some assistance, either for herself or a family member and thus searching for work, rank, money, an introduction into Society, etc; always beautiful, not always a “traditional” beauty, but can be dark, or titian / chestnut or blond; usually tall and slim, but can be petite [Elyza]; will have numerous gentleman sitting at her feet, interested in all manner of coupling arrangements; knows all the dances, even the WALTZ; adept at male-dominated activities as riding, hunting, fishing, carriage driving; seems to be most adept at getting into scrapes – enter the Hero; always calls the Hero “abominable” or “wretch” and is always “crossing swords” with him [that’s how we know he is The Hero… or as Lady St. Abbs says in Lady Pamela:

You mark my words… when a woman comes to dagger-drawin’ with a man every time she meets him, there’s mischief in it! [p.126]

5.  The Hero:  usually wealthy, either by birthright or inheritance from a distant relative; always has some grand name like Lord Dalven, or Sir Derek Herington, Lord Wrexam, Viscount Northover, Cleve Redmayne [Cleve??!], the Marquis of Tarn, or Robert Ranleigh; he will be handsome but not perfectly so [compare to Lord Harlbury in Lydia, first name “Shafto”, reason enough to rule him out as Hero, but he is also “a very worthy young man – and the most beautiful creature I have ever set eyes on – and an earl – and fabulously rich-“ – but alas! NOT our Hero]; OUR Hero is handsome but this is usually coupled with a sardonic, cynical look, a darkening brow; mostly dark locks, occasionally fair, with grey or black eyes; dressed like a dandy in the fashion of the moment, but detached enough from his own appearance to be attractive not foppish, with only the occasional grab for his snuff box – he wears a well-fitting superfine blue coat, starched neckcloths, he is ALWAYS broad-shouldered and powerfully built; he calls the heroine all sorts of charming endearments:  my girl, a chit, a vixen, hoyden, infant, brat [these can grate on my 21st century feminist leanings, but I shake it off in an effort to get into the spirit of it all…]; he is calm and rational and in control in the face of any hysteria, tribulation or catastrophe, his behavior bordering on the arrogant [those feminist sensibilities having trouble yet again…]; often languid with a “drawl” in speaking; a sense of humor, but has a “dangerous look” when pushed to the limit; is an accomplished boxer and knocks adversaries to the ground in one blow; and of course is an experienced whip.  In short, the perfect man for us all… except for that horrible gossip-feeding reputation as… a Rake…

 

6.  Other Characters:  often a sibling of the heroine in need of Help, can be a bit “bird-witted”; the Other Men, hanging about the Heroine, often Mama’s boys, dandies, or wimps; those gossipy Matrons of the ton, and the Mothers with marriageable daughters a la Lady Catherine de Bourgh; a coterie of landladies, butlers, cooks, maids, grooms and tigers, each with their own personality that propel the plot, add the humor, and give the main characters someone to sound off to, play off of…

7.  Like in Heyer, everything is revealed in the Eyes of the Hero – the gleam; the odd light; the intense warmth; the laughing eyes; the eyes that are alight; the hard grey eyes strangely softening… etc…

 8.  The Consummate Ending: the thickened voice of the hero; the melting heroine weak in the knees suddenly unable to look The Hero in the face; the “ruthless” nearly crushing embraces; the “violent” kisses… I could go on but won’t – you must read each ending…

 9. And Austen? – well of course, all these Heroes are made of Darcy’s [as in Fitzwilliam] cloth, so Austen is everywhere really – but in Lady Pamela there is this wonderful reference to Sir Charles Grandison by The Hero: 

In love with him! No, no – you mean you made up your mind to have him when you were a schoolroom chit and hadn’t any more idea of what you wanted in a man than what you read in novels.  And I must say Babcoke [another name to surely alert us to his I-am-not-the-hero status] could do Sir Charles Grandison very well if he had the least idea of what it was all about and didn’t fall asleep in the middle of it.  [p. 120]

Aah! The Hero has actually READ Sir Charles Grandison! 

And like Austen in her Letters where she freely used Capital Letters, there is a penchant in Lady Pamela for the same: it adds to the humor in the dialogue, such as “I will Get to the Bottom of This”.

A quick summary – but lest you think that all the stories are the same, be not afraid of treading into Clare Darcy’s land – each story, like most romance novels, begins on page one and by page two you have figured out who is the Heroine and who will be Her Hero, and I suppose you could turn to the last few pages and get into all the Ending Embraces and Kisses and call it a day – but don’t do that – each story brings unique characters, fun plot lines, all that Regency chatter, the lovely fashions described, the Heroine’s adventures amidst the Society constraints on her Behavior, the Hero’s awakening to being a “marrying man” after all, and the Heroine realizing that she really has had a passion for this “abominable wretch” quite from the start – we knew it all along, but don’t pass up the ride… 

Join me for several reviews, spaced over the next few days…. 

[Posted by Deb]