Book Review ~ ‘Eugenia’ by Clare Darcy

Eugenia
by Clare Darcy
Walker and Company 1977, Signet 1978
[and other various reprints]

 She had never thought a great deal about being in love before, not being romantically inclined and having read very few of the novels over which other young ladies at Miss Bascom’s had shed luxurious tears; but obviously, she thought, it was quite as uncomfortable a matter as those marbled volumes depicted it as being.                                                                                                          [Eugenia, p. 231]    

Clare Darcy’s Eugenia is a bit of a different confection than the usual Regency Romance.  The Heroine is still the smart, feisty, quick-thinking, in this case tomboy-like young lady, and Our Hero is as expected, tall, dark and handsome, strong and muscular; but there are only rare moments of sword-crossing, none of the “they started off hating each other”  – indeed, this Hero and Heroine are only occasionally found interacting on the page together, and barely ever alone – but it is quite charming all the same…  and thankfully largely lacking the incessant “infant-brat-chit” talk!

We begin in Bath in May of 1811, and Miss Eugenia Liddiard, an orphan since her father’s death three years ago and schooled at the Miss Bascom’s Select Academy for Young Ladies, is finally returning “home” to the Essex seat of her cousin / guardian Lord Chandross.  Lady Chandross, “not a proper guardian”, is to chaperon Eugenia in her first London Season, the goal to marry her off as soon as possible so she, Lady C, may return to to her own dalliances unencumbered.  Eugenia wants none of this – she is practical and not romantic and has definitely made up her mind to propose marriage to her childhood friend Tom Rowntree, brother of her best friend Muffet, so she will no longer be a burdensome project, be able to settle on land adjacent to her former home Coverts in Kent [her “place of belonging” and now in the care of a hands-off elderly clergyman cousin], and to be free to just be, taking no orders from anyone.  

Fortunately for all, characters and readers alike, the traveling chaise bearing Eugenia and her abigail is forestalled at the less than fashionable Kings Head Inn due to a raging storm and washed-out roads, and Eugenia, “who liked new experiences of any sort”, serendipitously runs into her cousin “Gerry” at the Inn, and the adventure begins.  By page nine we have met our Hero, have a full understanding of the the Heroine’s character, beauty, love of adventure, and quite wild imagination with a penchant for concocting very tall tales when the occasion calls for it.  

For “Gerry” is not Eugenia’s wild and reckless cousin Gerry at all, but the dead-ringer “Richard” [to wit, Jane Austen may not approve but he makes a fine Hero just the same!].  Richard is yet another cousin [isn’t is striking How Many Cousins there are in these Regency novels?!], also forestalled at the Inn and suffering from the lingering effects of a fever – and alas! he collapses in a dead faint in the Inn’s coffeehouse, Eugenia comes to the rescue and discovers the truth of his identity – he is the “by-blow” of her long-dead uncle Charles, thus not the true legitimate male heir to Coverts because he has only hearsay evidence, no written proof, of his parent’s marriage. Orphaned shortly after birth and raised by a clergyman in Ireland, Richard has returned to England to prove his birthright; Eugenia schemes for him to pass himself off as his look-alike cousin and come to her guardian’s estate to recuperate, offering her help to search the ecclesiastical records for the hoped-for marriage registry.  

 But, as all best-laid plans must indeed go awry or we wouldn’t have a tale to tell, real cousin Gerry is being sought by the Bow Street Runners for Highway Robbery and Murder – Richard must go into hiding until Gerry can be captured or he risks the gallows…

… so… her wondrous and fertile imagination madly at work, Eugenia sets up a new plan [she calls it “acting, not lying” ] – with much disguise, masquerading, outrageous fabrications to family and friends, and many a character entering her play – her old nurse Nan and her old groom Haggart to whom she confides Richard’s secrets; Lady Brassbororough [!], Lady B, the former “scarlet woman” famous for her stage past and various liaisons among the the rich of the ton, now a rather large woman covered in emeralds and diamonds, with a pug named Wellington who bites on command, with a resource of ready swears to send any man staggering into a corner, and who thankfully, in the end, saves the day.  

I’ll tell no more – but Miss Darcy, like Heyer before her in False Colours, gives us an almost gentle tale of mistaken identity, complete with Regency cant, French sayings, and an abundance of Regency references [Stulz the tailor, the 1697 play “The Deceiver Deceived“, Hessian soup, Fanchon, ices at Gunter’s  [though it is misnamed Gunther’s – her mistake or a typo?] are just a few examples … there are a good many more with the fun of looking them up!]; the two bumbling Bow Street Runners, Baker and Cartwright [perfect name for a TV show!]; dance requests and marriage proposals from all the wrong people; the “highest kick of fashion” described; the settings of Town and Country knowingly depicted; the ever-present cadre of servants, who keep “up a dignified pretence, for the sake of [their] positions, of being deaf and blind as well as quite uninterested” [p. 242]; the requisite pistols and grown men brawling; a charming and defiant Heroine who unromantic as she believes herself to be discovers “the joy of knowing love” and the pain of not having it returned; and finally The Hero, more Fitzwilliam Darcy-like  – aloof and composed with a quiet, impenetrable reserve and decisive manner – and thankfully knows how to perform the proper Embraces and Crushing Kisses when so called upon.  

 Lady Chandross, “with her usual air of fashionable indifference“, sums it all up nicely with “so it seems that everything has turned out for the best in the end, quite in the manner of one of those dull little comedies where everyone reforms or is suitably paired off just before the curtain falls”  [p. 224] – Miss Darcy may laugh so at her own little creation, but so do we, and again, though this is not Heyer, it is great fun – put it on your summer reading list!  

3 1/2 full inkwells out of 5  

[Posted by Deb]  

Book Review ~ ‘Georgina’ by Clare Darcy

 

Georgina, by Clare Darcy. 
NY:  Walker and Company, 1971;
NY:  Dell, 1977 [and other reprints]

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The opening scene finds us in a house on Great Pulteney Street in Bath, where a rejected marriage proposal has all the Power family at odds – we quickly see that Miss Georgina Power is not going to be forced into an arranged marriage with one Mr. Smallwoods, despite his prospective title and comfortable fortune – and to avoid the inevitable resulting gossip, she is quickly shipped off to Ireland to visit her father’s cousin, the widowed Arabella Quinlevan, who has her own plans for Georgina to marry her son Brandon.  They reside at The Place of the Oaks, a fine estate, slowing running to seed since the death of the owner, Georgina’s uncle, whose daughter Nuala had recently died and the estate rather than going to the next rightful heir, our Heroine Georgina, fell to Nuala’s “odious adventurer” rake of a husband, Mr. Shannon. [phew! sufficiently confused?] 

Now Mr. Shannon has all the qualities of the Regency Rake – but he has no place in this closed Society, as he is the “natural son” of the Scottish Lord Cartan, and this, coupled with his arrogant air and lack of proper manners and a bad reputation fueled by the gossip-mongers, sets the entire cast of characters off to a rousingly bad start when Shannon returns to The Place unannounced, asserts his rights as owner and expects the Quinlevans to vacate immediately.  

He walked into the book-room with Brandon.  Her concept of arrogance was immediately strengthened by the sight of a tall figure, carried with distinction and set off to careless advantage in a well-fitting drab coat, buckskins, and top boots, and a harsh-featured face with cool grey eyes. [p. 33]

 Georgina labels him a “rag-mannered basket-scrambler” [p.36] and the sparks begin, that ever-present in a Regency Romance “crossing of swords”.  Shannon IS an arrogant, cold-hearted Hero. They both are hot-tempered, she “devilishly obstinate” and persistent, with a sharp and honest tongue, displaying all manner of improper behaviors for a Lady; he showing no emotion, no feelings, but seemingly a hardened rake who had married Nuala for her fortune. But Georgina begins to see that in his fine management of the estate, the respect the servants and tenants show him, his growing friendship with Brandon, his protectiveness of her [like all Regency Heroes, he does have a penchant for showing up exactly when the Heroine has landed in the suds!], that perhaps the neighborhood’s opinion is not so justified after all – her efforts to defend him bring on the tattle-boxes and the damage is done. 

True to this genre, the conventional escapades begin, Georgina in numerous scrapes, masquerades, marriage proposals in abundance – some for love, some for her fortune – balls, midnight runaways, the machinations of a few nasty and jealous Matrons, and like Heyer before her, Miss Darcy’s strong, silent, Hero does indeed have feelings – all conveyed in his Eyes:  “the glad incredulous welcome in his eyes” changing to “an indifferent sardonic coolness”, “the contempt she read in those eyes”, “a look of such bleak unhappiness in those grey eyes”, “those hard grey eyes, strangely softening”, etc…, otherwise we would be at a loss…!

Georgina was Clare Darcy’s first book, though I did not read it first, and I recollect that I thought it more serious than anything Heyer had certainly ever written – truth be told, it lacks that expected humor and even Darcy’s own hand at it improves in her later works.  I wonder perhaps that she was not sure where her Regency era talents would take her in this first book.  There is a certain gravity to the narrative -we have a dark Hero, a mystery in his past about his marriage and the death of his wife, rejected by a Society that seems more mean-spirited than funny, and a Heroine who fights the fortune-focused, behavior-constraining society she lives in, breaking almost every Rule in the Book to clarify what she instinctively knows about this man.  Thankfully, her young cohort Brandon, whose mother is set to have him betrothed to Georgina, is the salvation here – the bookish, Byron-like figure [with the required limp] is quite adorable and amusing, bringing much-needed levity. 

I liked this book very much – and while we again know from the first moment that the name of Mr. Shannon is introduced on the page, where it is all headed, it was great fun.  And one must like a book where the proposing Hero says: “Nay, I’m no hand at speeches!” – even Jane Austen’s Mr. Knightley would approve!

 4/5 full inkwells

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]

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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]