Cotillion: Georgette Heyer book club no. 19

(33 Posts)
LeonieDeSainteVire Wed 06-Mar-13 23:15:32

I had no recollection of this book at all which means I can't have rated it highly reading it in my younger years. So I reread it and was amazed to find it quite brilliant. If you prefer the more adventure/sleuth style novels it's not going to be for you but if you prefer the comedy of manners where nothing much happens but it happens with style then this is one of the best IMO.

Like The Foundling this is a bit of a departure from GH's usual romances. Jack, who is handsome, stylish, excellent sportsman, has all the ladies at his feet and therefore should be the hero, isn't. In fact he's a bit of a shit. Freddy, kind, foppish, diffident, in the style of many of GH's best friends or younger brothers actually turns out to be the hero and get the girl - mainly I think because he's nice but above all he's competent - definitely the kind who can find a hack when it's raining!

Most of the book is really about Freddy's transformation from slow witted, nice-but-dim character into, well, husband material and about Kitty's recognising his good qualities as she falls out of love with Jack. But I don't think Freddy was ever that dim. We know he's not 'bookish' (although he went to Cambridge - I guess the entry requirements were different then!) but he's kind, well mannered and well liked, I just think he's been living a very easy and idle life and never had any chance or need to show what he can do. Once he has Kitty in his life he has to step up to the mark and does so - to the surprise of his father which leads to one of my favourite lines:
...I ain't such a sapskull as you think!'
'I have always known you could not be, my dear boy.'

This is one of the really comic books and the supporting cast all play their part but Freddy is inherently a comic character, his bewilderment at The Fish's poetry quotations and his horror at being dragged around the tourist sights of London are particularly good. It is significant I think that Kitty mostly agrees with him in the end about the sights and doesn't mind that he doesn't understand the poetic references - I think it indicates that really she is as frivolous as he is at heart, just bought up differently. The Fish, what little we see of her, is horrific and funny at the same time, Uncle Matthew is just horrific! Lord Legerwood is excellent, clearly a Heyer hero from an earlier setting - reminds me of Justin in some ways.

The Dolph and Hannah romance is rather sad in every way and I am not sure it adds to the book much other than as a plot device. Camille and Olivia are irritating and entertaining equally but I feel as relieved as Freddy when he finally packs them off.

One bit of plot which I think gets lost is the suggestion that Jack and Meg's relationship is closer than is suitable, but after the masquerade that just kind of fizzles out with no indication of what was really going on.

Finally, the ending, which is perfect I think! Freddy's words at the end are just so lovely and sum up what a nice chap he is and how they are going to be happy together because he will always work to make her happy.
'What I mean is, like you to have everything you want. Wished it was me, and not Jack, that's all.'

I'll stop now because I could go on forever. Sorry! What do you think?

Final thoughts on Cotillion before I think of something insightful to say about the Toll Gate. Perhaps the four figures in this dance are the four cousins (Dolphin, Jack, Feddy, Hugh) who are supposed to be jockeying for Kitty's hand (and fortune)?

mackerella Fri 22-Mar-13 09:12:19

Oh, I see (have also just had a more focused Google): chicken hazard is just another name for English hazard, which is played against an opponent rather than against the house (which is French hazard). I guess the opponents here are Kitty and Jack, then.

Right, I really will stop picking over the (chicken) carcase of this one and try to think of something profound to dart about The Toll-Gate (am on train journey, hence all of this idle speculation) grin.

mackerella Fri 22-Mar-13 09:04:20

Actually, I've just thought about it again, and my last sentence is clearly rubbish: Kitty and Freddy fall into the right relationship (with each other) by accident rather than design, and Jack (who is the one holding his nerve while Kitty pretends not to care for him) actually loses his gamble. So I have no idea why GH thought that Chicken Hazard would be a good title for this book confused. I think it's definitely for the best that she didn't use it!

mackerella Fri 22-Mar-13 09:01:06

How interesting, I'd also assumed that hazard was a card game. I'm not sure that the game in Cotillion is really bring played for chicken (i.e. paltry - or, ahem, poultry) stakes - as you say, Isabella, it's a huge gamble for Kitty, but also for the others, whether they are weighing Mr Penicuik's fortune or their own future happiness in the balance. In fact, Leonie's interpretation of "chicken" would work better here, as it has the connotations of "he who dares wins": the person who holds their nerve the best will prevail.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Belgium Fri 22-Mar-13 08:17:36

A more focussed Google tells me that it's a dice game, rather than a card game, which I previously thought. The significance being that Kitty is making a huge gamble I guess, but I like Cotillion as a name even though it would perhaps suit Bath Tangle better.

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 22-Mar-13 08:09:56

I assume the same meaning as you Mackerella unless it's a play on the game of 'chicken' which would work as its a reference to who can maintain the bluff the longest, but I doubt the phrase was common currency then and think the gambling ref more likely.

mackerella Thu 21-Mar-13 23:46:42

Just tried googling and got page after page of results about meat safety and environmental health inspections confused

mackerella Thu 21-Mar-13 23:43:35

Chicken Hazard??? I am so pleased that she rethought that one. I don't even know what it means - maybe a game of hazard played for chicken stakes? Not sure how that's relevant, though...?

thewhistler Thu 21-Mar-13 22:06:25

Mackerella, yes I think it is Jack and Meg.

Originally I thought it was Freddie, Jack, Hugh and Dolph as in the first scene, but Camillle usurps Hugh's place.

thewhistler Thu 21-Mar-13 22:00:47

I confess I disagree with Horry on one level, I think this is a tightly plotted book. I can't see why fans of Friday's child are not equally fond of this one, save that this is darker. (Yes, ok, that is a good reason.) It has a silly young man and a silly young girl who both develop, some amusing vignettes, some light hearted characters, and a nice flush hit at the end.

Freddie is much nicer than Sherry. I agree that there are no equivalents to Gil, save for Lord Legerwood, which is a sad loss, but we do have Jack and Dolph. Jack is so much the hero/antihero, GH is teasing on one level and on another warning. Dolph is sad, and might have been left as such but has a most touching happy ending.

I have now reread it several times to try to get to grips with it. For me, although it is still not one of my faves, it is interesting for two reasons.

One, the heroine actually develops. Sophie doesn't, I doubt Judith will, Mary and Ancilla are too perfect already to do so, I am never convinced about Hero.

And the second is that, whether we like it or not, it does deal in the social realities of life at that point. Sophia is prepared to sell herself, Olivia will be forced. Jack is only prepared to contemplate marriage with Kitty on the basis that she may come into a fortune and is too innocent to understand , at any rate at the beginning, the implications of his behaviour. GH is showing with no amusement the flip side of the coin of Miles Calverleigh etc. We had a little of that in Friday's Child, but the maid was a cardboard cut out. So was Leaky Peg in Arabella.

There are also some very funny moments. My favourite is the tongue tied Freddy getting Olivia to explain herself and picking up her reticule, but that is pretty much equalled by the Lord Legerwood moments. I also like Kitty's saving of Meg, and the point when they think of Freddie's view of Lochinvar. And "Hannah come too, both get into cupboard."

The problem for me is that I still don't like Freddie enough even to spell his name consistently. His lack of intellect drives me nuts. Yes, I know he is astute but it doesn't quite compensate. And his friends and family don't equal Sherry's. Although Hugh is pretty good.

I quite like Kitty but prefer her clothes. I don't like Meg. Olivia is wet. Camille is too cynical to be even very amusing. The Fish subplot is ok, with the obvious Henry Vlll hint, and the gushing poetry. But it isn't so funny as the appearance of Nemesis , came across him at Eton, in Friday's Child.

So I do enjoy it, it is a GH, but although well plotted it feels like a conventional dance and only mildly diverting, not the mad careering we are used to.

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 21-Mar-13 21:24:27

I'm impressed! I have wondered why 'Cotillion' but I didn't get any further. I am glad we have these threads.

Apparently it was originally titled 'Quadrille' - which I think is a similar dance, and then 'Chicken Hazard' which I don't think would have worked!

No, it's a good point.

I think the idea is that Mr Penicuik thinks he is choreographing the dancers, but they pair off wrong and take different steps.

mackerella Thu 21-Mar-13 19:24:04

Yes to starting The Toll-Gate - I'm about 50 pages from the end and some of it is better than I remember.

Just a quick point about Cotillion before we finish this thread, though - I've been wondering why the title? Almost all of the other titles are descriptive of the heroines, either directly (Arabella, Frederica) or indirectly (Charity Girl, April Lady, The Reluctant Widow, etc.) and the rest either describe the hero (Sylvester, The Nonesuch) or the key subject (A Convenient Marriage, An Infamous Army ... even The Toll-Gate). But Cotillion bucks this trend slightly, in that it's not (literally) about dancing! I'm reluctant to think that GH chose the title at random just for its air of Regencyness, so I presume that it somehow reflects the novel thematically or even structurally.

Wiki says that the cotillion was 'a type of patterned social dance that originated in France in the 18th century. It was originally made up of four couples in a square formation, the forerunner of the quadrille [...] The cotillion, of repeated "figures" interspersed with "changes" of different figures to different music, was one of many contredanses where the gathered participants were able to introduce themselves and to flirt with other dancers through the exchange of partners within the formation network of the dance.' I know (from GH novels, inter alia!) that the figures making up the cotillion were complicated and required dedicated learning. It also seems to have been an elegant, social dance (in contrast with the more rustic country dances and racy waltzes that are also mentioned), so seems peculiarly suitable as the central metaphor in a romantic comedy of manners.

With that in mind, I've been trying to find the four couples who 'dance' through this novel. Kitty and Freddy are obviously one, as are Olivia and Camille and (presumably) Dolph and Hannah. I assume that Mr Penicuik and Fish get together too late and too marginally to count, so could it be Jack and Meg who form the fourth (almost) couple?! The trouble with this interpretation is that not much partner-swapping goes on: Jack nearly gets Olivia, and he also thinks that he has Kitty in the bag (just as she intends to marry him at the start), but I don't think there's really enough 'dancing' to justify the title.

<massively overthinks things>

I am very ready for the UTTERLY BRILLIANT Toll Gate. Shall I start?

Takver Thu 21-Mar-13 17:49:46

I haven't posted on any of these threads, because although I love GH, somehow I find it hard to make pertinent comments; they're too much my comfort reads for analysis.

But, I definitely agree with you that Cotillion is one of the best, and Freddie one of the most pleasing heros.

Only one thought going right back to your OP: "The Dolph and Hannah romance is rather sad in every way and I am not sure it adds to the book much other than as a plot device."

I've always read it as a concious echo of Charlotte / Mr Collins in P&P, but rewritten as light comedy rather than tragedy. My feeling is that Hannah will have a pretty happy life in the countryside in Ireland, with Dolph occupied with his horses (rather than very much on the scene as Mr Collins is).

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 21-Mar-13 17:41:44

Sorry, I started this and went away, assuming it would take on a life of its own (because it's such a good book) but it hasn't. Which just goes to show that though we all describe ourselves as GH fans there is a huge variety in what we actually like within her work. I wonder at the end if there will be any we all agree on as being superb?

Well, I stand by my original points, (although i think YorkshireTeaDrinker put it better and more succinctly!) it's an excellent book and has gone up to my top 5-6 Heyers now. And yes, it definitely shows us more of the perils that lie beneath the surface for women in this time, I find that element very unsettling.

I have to add that I don't think really that Fish will threaten Kitty (or Jack's) inheritance. I can't help thinking that marriage will be purely for convenience! GH definitely could have done a sequel for this one, focusing on the Legerwoods and their family, maybe a murder mystery in a country house type - think she missed a trick there.

I have been reading the Jennifer Kloester biography, I'm only half way but one thing I find very interesting is how she describes GH's opinions of her own works, the ones she rated compared to those she thought indifferent. She seems to have thought highly of Regency Buck for instance which I think no one here thought very much of. I can't wait for her opinions on some of the later books.

Any further thoughts or is it time for The Tollgate <<groans>>

thewhistler Mon 18-Mar-13 01:03:04

Just bumping. Not a fave as I don't find Freddy attractive but am quite fond of it. Will post more when recovered from awful weekend.

D-d-demolition? As in, you don't love it?! These few books are polarising, aren't they.

MooncupGoddess Fri 15-Mar-13 22:14:16

On the contrary, mackerella, we were struck dumb in admiration for your incisive analysis. In addition to the sexual peril theme, there is a strong emphasis on women's monetary value, isn't there - Kitty is only of interest to most of her suitors because of her anticipated inheritance, whereas Olivia's worth comes purely from her beauty, which her mother hopes to convert into cold hard cash.

Meanwhile I am preparing my demolition of The Toll-Gate.

don't ask me - I've been reading The Toll Gate, which beats Cotillion into a cocked hat!

Honestly, Cotillion is like a first draft. Yes there are good bits but it doesn't coalesce. It needs a lot of work.

sarahtigh Fri 15-Mar-13 21:23:05

I was going to comment but have not finished re reading yet but I do love Lord Legerwood,

Freddy is seen as a good decent man by everyone but not a threat, no husbands guard their wives while freddy is about unlike Jack, but I like the way GH plays with Freddy's reputation as nice but dim and the fact that he is more astute than generally given credit for, has plenty of social & elope skills

Was thinking if we were in early 19th century when marriage was really the only option which of the GH heros would we choose the dashing Vidal, Damarel etc or the solid husband material like Adam, Giles, Waldo and freddy

mackerella Fri 15-Mar-13 20:41:15

Oh dear, I logged on after going on holiday for 5 days, only to find that I'd killed the thread with my ill-considered ramblings blushsad

Someone else come and post something sensible, please!

mackerella Sat 09-Mar-13 15:36:00

Hello all, lots of excellent points have been made so far and I think I agree with nearly all of them! I'm still re-reading so will probably come back and add more when I've finished. The thing that's struck me most forcibly on this reading is how explicitly GH conveys the sense of sexual peril that threatens all the women of marriageable age - even Fish! The most obvious example is Olivia, who is being virtually prostituted by her Abbess of a mother - I love the bit where Kitty says how many admirers Olivia has:

"Olivia coloured and averted her face. 'Don't - pray! Gentlemen do sometimes admire me, but - but they do not offer to marry me. Situated as I am - the manners of my cousins - so very free! - I have met with a want of propriety in - in some whom I believed to be so very gentlemanly!'
"'I know what you mean, I daresay,' said Kitty, wisely, but in blissful ignorance of Miss Broughty's meaning."

Kitty's innocence is quite endearing but it does mean that she is equally blind to the threats to her own reputation - it is only because Freddy is explicitly looking after her that she escapes with her virtue and name intact. The slightly depressing message that I got from this novel is that women need to be looked after by a husband, or fiance, or brother or mother in order to preserve them from sexual threats - and even the breath of scandal is enough to diminish their value on the marriage market. Even Lady Maria has her father guarding her honour (and her fortune) against unscrupulous adventurers. Meg thinks that the is sophisticated enough to look after herself because she can gossip about the latest crim cons with the best of them, but she's also perilously close to ruining herself with Jack. YorkshireTeaDrinker's point about her pregnancy protecting her from the worst effects of a scandalous affair is a good one, and made me think about Horry's suggestion that she is "implausibly pregnant, simply to get Buckhaven out of the way and leave her there" - actually, I wonder if Buckhaven made damn sure that she was pregnant before he left for China, as a sort of long-distance chastity belt for his wife?!

All the stuff about how Olivia's virtue was under siege felt rather dark to me, and was a striking contrast to the way this theme has been portrayed in previous novels. Belinda and her awful mother are shown as rather comic in The Foundling, and there are endless throwaway references to the heroes' sowing their wild oats among Paphians in the muslin company. But it all stops being rather jolly and amusing in this novel, when we actually see how Olivia (who is portrayed as sympathetic, even though a bit wet and over-sensible) is in danger of ruining her life, either through marriage to a rich old goat, or (if that fails) by turning into a high-class call-girl.

Actually, I found the emphasis on how women needed to be aware of - and use to their advantage - their sexual capital rather depressing, too. Even Fish's marriage is shown as a desperate act to secure her future once Kitty has left. Again this is in contrast to the similar marriage in ^Charity Girl^: the housekeeper there is a grabby social climber rather than the slightly pathetic figure that Fish cuts.

Sorry, that is all rather long and downbeat for what is, after all, a frothy romantic comedy! I do think that the comic elements are glorious in this novel, it's just that I was also struck for the first time by the rather darker undercurrents that lie beneath.

I really enjoyed re-reading Cotillion. It isn't one of my regular re-reads, so I couldn't remember much of the detail. And there is so much detail. Agree with Previous comments regarding the many sub pots and how they lend themselves to further follow up.

I love the way GH has subverted the traditional romance plot (something she does in lots of her novels) and made the obvious romantic lead (Jack) distinctly unheroic. He is a rake and a philanderer, and in Cotillion we see what the consequences could be for those women he is toying with. Meg is saved from a potentially damaging liaison by both her pregnancy, and the vigilance of Freddy. I can't remember the quote exactly, but at one point Freddy is talking to some (Lord Ledgerwood?) about Meg and Jack's relationship and says some thing like there is no need to worry about any 'brats through the the side door' because of Meg's intersection condition, plus he [Freddy] is keeping an eye on her. Olivia, is saved from the even more potentially disastrous consequences of a liaison with Jack because of her friendship with Kitty and, consequently, Freddy's practical intervention.

Freddy is the antithesis of Jack's aggressive and potentially destructive masculinity. He is sexually ambiguous ("not a marrying man"), being apparently uninterested in women - "had never been know to indulge in the mildest flirtation" - and fastidious about dress and decoration and an arbiter of good taste. He is not perceived as a threat by other men "Nor was the most jealous husband suspicious of him". But it becomes apparent throughout the novel that he is neither as effete, stupid or pacific as he is initially perceived to be.

In the end, Freddy is the hero, he floors the villain, gets the girl and thwarts Jack's designs on all three women he is attempting to engage with (flirtation with Meg, carte Blanche to Olivia, marriage and consequent acquisition of assets and person from Kitty). He provides a practical resolution to the Dolphin / Hannah and Camile / Olivia sub plots; finally acts on a growing anger towards Jack by knocking him over, and proves that he is actually a marrying man after all, by proposing to Kitty and 'ruthlessly' ruining her bonnet so he can kiss her.

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