The Toll Gate - Georgette Heyer Book Club 20(43 Posts)
I love this. I think it is the first book that successfully combines a mystery with a romance - possibly because neither is particularly complicated so the total amount of plot is proportionate to the length of the book. I love the love story; I enjoy the minor characters; I like the resolution of the mystery at the end.
And I like the Heyer of it.
For example, in contrast to the typical descriptions of heroes by conventional standards, we get:
A big race, the Staples. [The Earl] was himself a tall man, but narrow-shouldered, and inclined to stoop. John, of course, was a giant. [...] Lady Caroline could only be described as massive.
And when John's mother and sister are discussing him, which happens in how many Heyers?! we get:
"I think he is odiously provoking, ma'am!"
"Very true, my dear: all men are odiously provoking."
It's hard not to love John. He is a typical Heyer hero, self-confident but witty and kind, and fun.
"Lord, has Bow St been asking questions about me at Horse Guards? I shall never hear the end of it!"
"I don't know about that, but by what I can make out, nothing you done wouldn't surprise the gentleman which supplied the information," said Stogumber dryly.
When Babs appears later on he backs up this view of "Crazy Jack", being stoically unsurprised by the barmy decisions and privations with which he is obliged to go along.
He obeys the summons to honour his betrothal, yet commenting that it is not how he would do it - and he will be proved right!
But John has a darker side. He strangles Coate and is open with his friends about having done so. "Yes, I killed Coate, and without compunction." Everyone knows he did it but it was so ... right that nobody speaks against him.
Nell, too, is a typical heroine. She is capable and independent, yet constrained by her position, society in general, and her desperate desire to feel small and protected - which only John can manage, and does so naturally and effortlessly. She has been the de facto squire for so long.
Their romance is not typical. John "received his leveller at last" as soon as he sets eyes on her, and she is scarcely slower. Their love declaration comes in the first half and suffers no dwindling or argument.
Ben is fun. Heyer does good boys. His fear is realistic; his reassurance no less so. There is a nice bit where he enumerates every single strange vehicle to pass the gate in the last year to refute that it is dull and provincial
He is intrepid, like a small boy, and enjoys silly things like taking off John's boots, like a little boy.
He is terrified of The Parish, and rightly so. We hear passing mentions of the Sheffield foundries and coal pits. This contrasts strongly with Nell's upbringing, with real parents (for a while), siblings, grandfather, money, and devoted servants as replacement parents. We rejoice when Chirk and Rose decide to adopt him because we know that he will be happy, and we have been reminded about his alternatives.
It is a shame that the major dustup happens off stage. I think it would have been hard to write, but it keeps the vast majority of the book from John's perspective. We know more of Nell than that would suggest, but it could have been a little more balanced.
Moral questions are interesting here - Chirk saves Stogumber and gets the reward in return even though Stogumber guesses what he is. Their interaction is glorious in general. But Chirk again kills unapologetically - Henry, for John, in exchange for the reward which changes his life.
I love that Sir Peter sends for a special licence, not a will change. Fantastic management.
Now, I gather that some of you were not looking forward to this. I'd love to hear your justification...
I think primarily I don't like it because it's an adventure story/mystery, not a romance or a social comedy. I don't read Heyer for dead bodies and sleuthing (although of course I know she wrote those too) and I don't like the grimness, the dead bodies, the real fear that Ben experiences, that Henry does and that Nell possibly doesn't but we do on her behalf. The whole seedy, dirty, immoral world of real crooks is here (even if mostly by implication) and I don't like it.
I like things a bit fluffier!
Apparently she was originally taking the book on a different path which is why we have the opening scene introducing the whole family who then disappear and are never seen again. I think some editing was needed there as it does feel like she started one book then wrote another.
Finally, the whole height thing, I have thought about this a lot and I think it's one of the things that irritates me. I don't know why, maybe because GH just bangs on about it, a lot, maybe it's because I am very short and clearly have ishoos! When I thought some more I realise I do have a bit of a penchant for some of the shorter heroes, Freddy, Gilly etc
Have contributed now to the Cotillion thread.
I'm quite fond if this one because I love Nell and know exactly the desire to rest on a competent partner, even if I am v short!. I like John too. His low boredom threshold is something I completely understand.
But it is quite scary. Coate is a really very nasty piece of work who will enjoy sadistically torturing Nell if married to her. He is the nastiest of the Heyer crooks.
I.do quite enjoy the combination of romance and thriller.
But I am ashamed to say that the real reason I like it is that I come from about 6 miles from where it is set. And it rings true. So I read it when I am homesick.
I love this one as it was the first Heyer I ever read! Borrowed it from the library, and then worked my way through every GH they had.
It's too close to my bedtime for analysis, but I'll be back tomorrow with my thoughts.
The Toll-Gate has its charms; I love the sense of place and landscape, and the sovereign plot is very clever.
But structurally I find it really unsatisfactory. As Leonie says, the first scene feels dull and irrelevant (according to the JAH biography GH meant to go back and rework it, but never did); the first part of the book would work much better if it opened with John on the road.
The love story has no development: they just meet each other, are immediately smitten and get married halfway through the book, following which Nell almost disappears from the story. Neither Nell nor John does much for me as a character - they're both lacking in nuance and individuality. Henry is convincing but otherwise I find most of the minor characters rather two-dimensional (cheery friend, Bow Street Runner, dying patriarch etc).
The finale is probably the best piece of suspense writing GH ever managed, and works magnificently on that level. And I am still haunted by the image of the decomposing toll-keeper in the cavern. There is a convincing nastiness to it which we see again only in Cousin Kate, which also features untimely death. But it doesn't redeem the book for me.
I think it's a good book - probably the only wholly successful Regency romance/mystery hybrid that Heyer wrote, and IMO even the "left-over" scene at the beginning adds something by giving a contrast between John's normal life and the Toll Gate, showing what he's running away from.
But like Leonie, it's not what I read Heyer for, so it will never be among my favourites (the only more thrillerish one I actually love is Unknown Ajax because I can't resist the humour and because I feel about the Romney Marsh like some of you do about wherever this one's set - Derbyshire is it?).
Interestingly, I think this is the only real love at first sight plot except for Spanish Bride, where it was imposed on her by the source material. Why do we think this is? I rather like it in this one and it certainly solves a lot of functional plot purposes, but I wouldn't want to see it repeated.
I agree about the first scene being a good contrast - perhaps showing how out of place John is in his own family, but ripe for love.
Love at first sight doesn't make good books, I think. That said, Nell Cardross fell in love immediately, didn't she, before April Lady even starts. Ditto Horatia with Rule (though admittedly not him with her).
I think that love at first sight fits Jack's character, it seems like the only way he would fall in love. So whilst the plot does require instant attraction, it is character driven as well. But I feel like I don't know Nell well enough to judge in her case. She is a bit of a pivot around which events turn, rather than being a well developed character.
the other problem is that the squire Peter Stornaway has actually left Nell in this predicament by losing all his money and mortgaging his estate, he does say at one point she could have had dowry but though he cared for her it was not enough to really look out for her or curb his habits his servants have to do this though granted he is now bedridden; he was not always so
So although she appears to be fond of him she does not seem to blame him for her lack of money, having to sell her mothers pearls or be a baliff for the estate; that is not Henry's fault though he may of also reduced estate by debts
I quite like the instant falling in love and the trust Nell places in John
Ben though 13 is right to be very scared about being an orphan cast on the parish as that would not end well
Belatedly returning to the thread (do we really know have nine posts worth of stuff to say about this one?) I think the Squire is a major reason why this is not one of my favourites. He's a sympathetic character drawn in some detail, and his situation, and Nell's, is just too realistic and too grim - it's not what I read Heyer for.
I guess I need to sprint through Bath Tangle pronto, which will be no hardship - it had the distinction of being the only Heyer for which I actually shelled out ready cash for a new copy (until my elderly copy of Cotillion spontaneously disassembled itself in the middle of a Northern Line carriage at rush hour, half way through last month's re-read).
"Do we really only have nine posts' worth of things to say"
I think the Squire is so glad John appears on the scene as he is very belatedly leaving really guilty about how badly off he is leaving Nell and that it is his fault as he obviously had money and gambled wasted. spent it all, even if Nell's father/ brother had lived they would have still needed to do an awful lot of contriving to "pulll out of the river tick"
Yes I think it is a shame we have so little to say
not enough sex in it obviously but will be glad to start Bath Tangle.
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Wrong thread? Or is there a Heyer connection?
I must say, of all the threads to put that on, a lighthearted discussion of a sixty year old book set in the 1810's is a little peculiar.
An attack on MN in connection with something that has absolutely nothing to do with this thread Horry. Rather surreal.
N'yaaah. I was hoping it would be something more salacious
I lost this thread - it may be symptomatic of the dislike I feel for this book! And when I come back there's a deleted post and I missed it!
But I agree with LadyIsabella, 'too grim' for a GH would sum this one up for me.
So Bath Tangle next, another one of my not favourites! When do we start?
ooh! so glad I found this!
It was certainly grittier than other GH books. But none the worse for that. I have always been very engaged in their romance.
I reaaalllyy dislaike Bath Tangle.
I am a bit "meh" about Toll Gate and can't add much to what has already been said. I think GH works best when she can be humorous - and there isn't much scope for humour here. Apart from the odd little touches of Jack's friend's horror at the conditions in the Toll house and some of Ben's best bits, its darker at the heart. Also - I find her funniest when she is commenting on the ton and the foibles of polite society. Because this book is outside of that world, she doesn't have the scope for an eye to foolishness the way she does in Cotillion.
The marriage scene is touching but I find it harder to buy the Love-At-First sight plot line. I prefer it when we see the development of the central relationship.
Oh, I really love Bath Tangle.I love the fact she really struggles with her desires against her duty. And never in pious way. And adore Miles Calverleigh. A Lady of Quality is pretty much the same book.
And Bath Tangle is full of humour!
But there are bits of The Toll Gate that are touching and moving in ways that other books aren't, maybe because if the grimness. Nell describing her grandfather's death, for example, and the marriage scene.
Whereas I find the constant arguments of the Bath books too much to cope with.
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