The Quiet Gentleman: Georgette Heyer Book Club no. 18

(50 Posts)

It's no secret that I hadn't been looking forward to reading this one. I'd last read it in my school library twenty-something years ago and had a clearer recollection of the cover of that particular edition than of any of the characters contained within. I did remember that it was one of Heyer's attempts to combine the mystery and Regency romance genres, which IMO are rarely successful (and where they are it's generally because she neglects the mystery element).

It's fair to say that it's still never going to be one of my favourites. For one thing, the central romance is largely neglected in favour of the mystery -- we rub along for nearly eighteen chapters before the idea that Drusilla is in love with Gervase (and has, apparently, been so since his "first smile") is sprung upon us, and then Gervase suddenly arrives at the reciprocal conclusion just in time to tie up the end of the plot. The two characters are also not immediately engaging; Drusilla is intelligent but doesn't express this through either bookishness or wit but rather through stolid common sense, while Gervase is a little bland and insubstantially-drawn. We don't even get much insight into their thoughts and feelings to make them more interesting. Nor is the mystery element sufficiently engaging to make up for these faults; we are presented with one suspect so obvious we know from the off that he can't possibly be guilty, which leaves only one other person with the opportunity and means to have made all the murder attempts.

And yet, and yet... I am glad to have re-read this and particularly to have done so as part of a chronological scheme of reading. I'd vaguely assumed that this was one of the early, still-learning-her-craft, Heyers and was surprised to realise that it came sandwiched mid-career between The Grand Sophy and Cotillion , two of my favourites. Seeing it in that context some of the features of TQG are cast in a new light. Heyer is playing around, at this stage in her writing career, with the conventional ideas of hero and heroine; in TGS we have the managing Sophy (and, as we discussed last thread, we see very little of her interior monologue or her feelings about Charles Rivenhall) while in Cotillion Jack Westruther, who in some of her earlier books would have been the hero, fills quite a different role and the diffident Freddy takes centre-stage. Seen as part of this progression, Drusilla and Gervase are part of Heyer exploring and playing about with her chosen form -- not her most successful experiments, but evidence that she wasn't content just to rest on her laurels. I also appreciated for the first time that she's introducing here some of the ideas that she would develop much more successfully eight years later in The Unknown Ajax - the heir to a title back from war and settling into the prickly bosom of a hostile family.

For its own sake, as well, TQG rewards a re-read. I found myself enjoying the characterisation of Martin and the developing relationship between the brothers (far better realised than the equivalent relationship between the romantic leads), and I liked the Bolderwoods and the Morvilles (would have liked to see rather more of them, in fact). Also, the mystery element doesn't involve any necklaces or other items of jewelry, and that has to be a point in its favour. I'm still unlikely to be hurtling towards a third read any time soon except when you lot all make brilliant points and I have to go back and appreciate them properly .

HorryDrelincourt Thu 28-Feb-13 22:24:31

You are all FOOLS and I will PROVE YOU WRONG.

I heart Captain Jack. The Toll-Gate feels like a Famous Five book.

Cotillion is the only GH that got on my nerves. But for you deluded fools delightful lot, of course I will. Eventually.

HorryDrelincourt Thu 28-Feb-13 22:25:46

But Civil Contract is one of my top top faves see DS1's full name, ahem so can't wait.

MooncupGoddess Thu 28-Feb-13 22:33:17

Is he called Giles Jonathan, Horry?

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 28-Feb-13 22:40:01

But the Toll Gate has an actual dead body in which is wrong in a GH romance confused and a bit vile too.

However, inspired by another thread I have been googling the very wonderful Weald and Downland Museum where they have a genuine Toll Cottage - and it's tiny! Jack must have been very cramped smile

HorryDrelincourt Thu 28-Feb-13 22:52:32

LOL, not Giles Jonathan. That would be immensely cool a step too far, particularly given my surname.

thewhistler Thu 28-Feb-13 22:58:25

Horry,

I used to dislike Cotillion a lot, couldn't bear Freddy. But re read it under the influence of a friend and a glass of wine and found myself laughing a lot.

Though I still want Freddy's father to be the hero. I heart him.

I wouldn't object violently to reading a mysteriously lost Heyer about Freddy's parents, certainly.

Cotillion was on my list of slightly GHs. However, inspired by this thread, I am re-reading, and really rather like Freddy.

thewhistler Fri 01-Mar-13 10:21:23

Horry, now of course wondering if you are called Deveril, Devereux, Devere...or Chawleigh/Chawley.

HorryDrelincourt Fri 01-Mar-13 15:53:40

It's just J- so Giles Jonathan J- would be a bit Kardashians grin

LadyDamerel Fri 01-Mar-13 21:28:39

I've started Cotillion 3 times and not yet managed to get past Ch. 2 so I'm with Horry on that one. I don't know what it is that puts me off, the way ?Freddy?, one of the heroes anyway, speaks annoys me immensely. I'll give it another go but I'm not making any promises! I am itching to get to Frederica, Black Sheep, Venetia, Sylvester, etc though. Nearly all her best ones are still to come, imo.

I struggle with TQG for all the reasons above/below! It doesn't work as a mystery OR a romance and the character development just isn't there in the way it is in her later novels.

mackerella Fri 01-Mar-13 21:29:38

Hello all, I've been lurking on the last couple of threads but haven't got round to actually adding anything. I don't really have anything to say about TQG except to agree with everyone else that it's definitely not one of Heyer's best attempts. Will certainly be on the next thread, though, as I think Cotillion is one of the best novels and am a bit shock that anyone doesn't think so!

mackerella Fri 01-Mar-13 21:48:21

Reading your comments on this thread (i didn't bother to reread TQG) has made me ponder how much GH's novels are about fraternity - whether actual brothers or just close male friends. She's very good at teasing out the nuances in this - leaving aside the rather lame mystery plot, the relationships between Martin, Theo and Gervase feel very convincing, as do those with all the other younger brothers she portrays. Then there's Gideon and Gully, Sherry's set and so on. I don't think this is something that many romantic novelists are good at (and I read somewhere that there is no conversation that is wholly between men depicted anywhere in Jane Austen's novels, although that might be more to do with the narrative POV than because she was unwilling/unable to show how men behave when there are no women around), so it's impressed me in GH. Interesting that I can't think of many close sister/female friendships in the novels - the heroines seem to be shown mainly in relation to the heroes or else in domestic settings (with social rather than intimate relationships). I can't decide if this shows GH's social/literary conservatism (being bound by the constraints of the romantic novel and its expectations) or whether it's just realistic (in that women would have had more domestic obligations and fewer opportunities to pursue free friendships as men did).

Sorry, more off-topic rambling, I'm afraid! And I'm sure you're all going to prove me wrong now by citing lots of counter-examples that I haven't thought of...

HorryDrelincourt Fri 01-Mar-13 21:51:08

Ooh that is interesting. My first thought was Sale but he is very close to his cousins.

And you're right, men in literature aren't often allowed friends.

MooncupGoddess Fri 01-Mar-13 23:17:13

Good point. Most of the heroes have a sidekick, or a group of chums, whereas the heroines are much more alone in the world.

GH of course had two brothers, and a son, and clearly had a massive soft spot for youthful males. There are so many charming boys and youths, from Edmund aged six in Sylvester to Hubert, Nicky, Jessamy etc, but hardly any girls at all. Even the babies and small children who appear (like Giles Jonathan, and Harry and Jack in TQG) are much more likely to be male. Amabel in The Grand Sophy is, I think, the only female under the age of sixteen to play any role at all, and only then whimpering on her sickbed.

She does show women supporting each other (e.g. Drusilla is very kind to Marianne) and there are some female friendships (e.g. Phoebe becomes friends with the ghastly Ianthe and Sylvester's cousin Georgy), but it's unusual. Black Sheep is strong in its portrayal of women's relationships - Abigail and Fanny are very close, and Abby is also good friends with Mrs Grayling. But these are very much exceptions, and in any case get much less space on the page than all the men joshing or competing with each other. TQG is a particularly striking example, with Gervase's relationships with Martin, Theo and Ulverston much more convincing and complex than his undeveloped romance with Drusilla.

I wonder if this is partly the result of the type of underlying patriarchal attitudes that make it so hard to find a film that passes the Bechdel Test - that is, women seen in terms of their relationship to men rather than for themselves - and partly (and I think it was you who pointed this out in an earlier thread, mackerella?) because the heroines are, on the whole, much more alone in the world, and have to make their own way without a backdrop of friendly supporters.

MooncupGoddess Fri 01-Mar-13 23:19:12

Aargh - my first and last lines are virtually identical! Must go to bed.

thewhistler Fri 01-Mar-13 23:34:05

Interesting.

Frederica and Charis as sisters, prob the most drawn out and the most affectionate, as Arabella's sister doesn't count. Mary and Sophia in opposition,

Good brother sister cousin relationships in The Nonesuch, also in Regency Buck. I love Venetia's views of the Aspergers Aubrey and the thick older brother.

Agree you don't see the pov between men in Austen, but the brothers Knightley approach it and there is friendship between Bingley and Darcy, it is just that ghastly Caroline always gets in the way when they are about to talk about Jane and Lizzie.

much younger daughters are usually painful in GH. Amabel is touching and the younger children adore Charles, but Phoebe's younger half sister is a tell tale and there is the awful one with an onion in Arabella.

Sorry to dot around, on phone with gin.

There's Serena and Fanny in Bath Tangle -- in fact, quite a lot of relationships between women in ^Bath Tangle^; that might be something to draw out when we get to that one.

Most of the girls with actual non-related friends have paid friends though - thinking of eg Phoebe Marlow and Miss Beccles. It isn't equal or symmetrical.

The friendships that might be genuine (eg Phoebe and Georgiana) end up being familial anyway.

But if the girls were brought up and educated at home, they wouldn't have had lots of opportunity to form friendships in the same way as their public school and Oxbridge brothers, perhaps. You have a couple of friends very locally (eg Tiffany and Patience) but not much choice.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Belgium Sat 02-Mar-13 00:28:27

The female friendships, though sometime warm and genuine, are almost always unequal. We have endless scenes of the heroine thinking "I love DSis (or whoever) dearly but she doesn't really understand the way I think", or scenes of misunderstood jokes. Abigail and her sister, or Serena and her stepmother are classic examples, and you can hardly imagine Sophie confiding in Cecelia or Frederica in Charis.

The female relationships are there to contrast with the true understanding that will exist only between our heroine and the hero. It's a bit crap frankly, although it isn't wildly dissimilar to the situation in Austen - Elinor and Elisabeth love their sisters but there is always a reserve between them because of the heroines' superior minds/characters.

LeonieDeSainteVire Sun 03-Mar-13 23:00:55

I think that as Mooncup says, the lack of female friendships can be put down to GHs own life in a very male dominated world; father, two brothers, husband, son and all of whom she had to take on a supporting role for in on way or another. If you don't yourself experience close female relationships then it may seem unnessecary to include them in your novels except when they are important to the plot.

LadyD I hope you are trying again with Cotillion as I do agree the first few chapters are a litte weak - but it does pick up! I have just reread it and it is so good!

thewhistler Mon 04-Mar-13 19:30:30

But she did, didn't she, with Carola Oman, wasn't it? As in Julia Trevelyan Oman?

IIRC, anyway, long time since I read the Aiken Hodge.

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 04-Mar-13 23:05:15

Oh yes she undoubtedly did have female friends but I think her world was still male dominated. I think she possibly just had mre experience of men and this comes out in the books.

When do we start Cotillion?

I am only halfway through (and not converted wink ) so can't start it.

LeonieDeSainteVire Wed 06-Mar-13 23:18:18

Right I have started a thread for Cotillion because I couldn't wait any longer!

Warning - for any who haven't read it, thread contains spoilers smile

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