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 .

Well done! Good and long.

Place marking without reading as I am not far enough through and I don't remember it well and don't want spoilers.

See you soon... grin

thewhistler Wed 20-Feb-13 23:04:54

Ok, neither good, nor long, but,

The hero, as we recognise him immediately, starts off by being bitingly rude and funny to the stock awful dowager, but after that his wit fades and we don't see anything of it until the final scene when he is entranced by his affianced bride declaring war, when he calls her his absurd robin.

He has obviously been devastated by his mother's desertion and the shame that goes with it, and finds his similarity to her inconvenient to say the least.

But those interesting sidelights are never developed. So he starts off as a person and becomes pasteboard. He doesn't have anything to fight against, unlike his successor Adam, save being murdered ( I know...) so there is no sense of achievement either. We don't get feeling for him as an officer, either, unlike Adam.the characterisation is thin and inconsistent.

Drusilla, dreadful name, is a better bred slightly more intelligent Jenny. Her statement at the outset about the length of the sock is obviously supposed to be funny, but for me it fails. I do like her statement about why the Mrs Morville and Southey put their feet down about the Susqehanna expedition, as indeed Mrs S did, and I think the entrance to her mind is better than the coy equivalent in Arabella. A remarkable woman perhaps, like his aunt. But fundamentally boring, and pretty humourless.

I find the servants' badinage tedious, and Martin likewise, who will eventually turn into Richmond.

I think she can't decide whether Mr Clowne is a good egg or Mr Collins, his speech indicates the latter but he is presented more favourably in the beginning, once again poorly thought through characterization. ( she really doesn't get clergymen, even early 19c ones, save for patience's and Arabella's fathers.)

Theo is a slightly more developed version of Bernard.

The plotting has all the longueurs of a boring country house visit. in that, it is successful as Stanyon is undoubtedly a boring place save for the hunting fraternity. Pace is not a word I associate with this novel. But I feel she too was bored.

And I get bored too. Not quite so bored and irritated as with some of the others, and this is after all on the GH scale, which is more testing than most, but it is not the most gripping, through plot, character nor humour.

One interesting insight I forgot to mention - Wikipedia says "In 1950, Heyer began working on what she called "the magnum opus of my latter years", a medieval trilogy intended to cover the House of Lancaster between 1393 and 1435. She estimated that she would need five years to complete the works. Her impatient readers continually clamored for new books; to satisfy them and her tax liabilities, Heyer interrupted herself to write Regency romances. She only completed volume one of the series, My Lord John , which was published posthumously"

The dates would suggest that TQG would be the first of the Regency romances that she wrote under sufferance for the cash when she'd rather be doing something else. And I think that shows.

MooncupGoddess Thu 21-Feb-13 21:33:13

That's interesting, Tolliver. Sounds very plausible. Poor GH... despite several attempts, I don't think I ever got beyond p. 15 of My Lord John.

TQG has several good bits - especially the opening, with the Dowager and the ghastly epergne, and the jokes about the Godwin set. But as others have said it just never coheres and the characters are two-dimensional at best. It's perfectly readable, but enormously forgettable.

thewhistler Thu 21-Feb-13 23:52:58

Yes, the epergne is good.

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 25-Feb-13 08:24:01

Yes I think I'll agree with everyone here. A note on my front inside cover says '10p' which I think gets the pricing for this about right! I certainly am not adding it to my 'rediscovered joys of GH' pile.

My main problem lies with the 'mystery' plot - I just don't think it hangs together. We are clearly shown Martin as the baddie as a red herring so we know to look elsewhere for the real culprit but Theo? It just doesn't work for me and the ending is a bit unsatisfactory too, no sense of dramatic closure just a quiet fizzling out.

The love story isn't much either, I don't get much sense of either side really falling in love, none of the repressed tension we had with Charles in TGS, as has been said there just isn't enough character development to make the love plot believable.

Other characters, the Morvilles are great and Ulverston is a recognisable character but Marianne seems to have had a switch midway, starting off as a beautiful flirt and ending as Patience Chartley.

However, the phrase that has started to grate most on me in rereading these books is the constant use of the heroine having a 'gurgle of laughter' which is driving me batty, such a silly phrase, and I don't think she uses it here - and if she does please don't point it out as its a real plus point for the book!

I wonder if the book could be reworked to make the Dowager the villain? That would be a better ending.

I really struggled with this. And I have a truly shallow reason.

All the characters have stupid names. She is about to start reusing names (Patience, Phoebe, etc) but here she is obviously a bit annoyed and a bit exasperated and says "ah bugger it they can be Gervase and Drusilla and you can all lump it."

I can't imagine a sexy Gervase. I just can't. And I can't work out how you pronounce Ger as a diminutive of it. But calling him St Erth is stooopid too because that was bound to be pronounced non-phonetically in real life.

And Lucy for the stereotypical suave Regency buck? He would in previous novels have been the hero (grumble grumble, the focus is on the wrong couple here, and need only have been a short story, grumble grumble). But Lucy is a girly name FFS.

The epergne, and in particular Drusilla's managing of it by convincing both the Dowager and the Earl that they have got their own way, is a rare highlight. I also like the Runner's being dumped in the middle of nowhere.

I can't see Theo happy in Jamaica. A very patronising offer.

The novel is stultifying. The mystery isn't clever enough; the romance is too bloody obvious too (as soon as we are told how well born Drusilla is it's obvious there will be no material objection, so we are just waiting for them to notice each other).

Martin is a bit like Nicky from Reluctant Widow, but a couple of years older and with the Chip. It's the same reckless, sportsmad boyish vigour. I'm jumping forward to compare him to ?Torquil? in Cousin Kate who is a far better developed resentful bad egg. A few more hints in that direction would have been a better red herring.

More later; real life intervening! angry

Cross post - yes, much more interesting and much more realistic!

thewhistler Mon 25-Feb-13 16:48:23

Yes agree.

The disposal.of Theo is imv highly believable. In my family the neerdoweels were sent out there as a dumping point. Provided that Theo survived and didn
't succumb early on to malaria, meningitis etc, he would have made it profitable until the abolition of slavery.

I keep being irritated by the Austen bits. Marianne, in her name, romantic views in contrast to Drusilla/ Elinor and even playing spillikins with the badly behaved children. How much can you borrow from sense and sensibility? The Caribbean estate from Mansfield park. Fgs.

LeonieDeSainteVire Tue 26-Feb-13 08:02:43

I agree with most of the points about names. Drusilla was a St Trinians character wasn't she? And aso a baddie in Buffy, not that GH could have known that! But that's what I think of when I hear the names.

And the Marianne/Jane Austen reference is very irritating, there are other names! Especially keeping the surname similar too.

Almost you wonder whether that was a placeholder name that she didn't get round to changing.

thewhistler Wed 27-Feb-13 21:18:41

Gervase is surely the same name really as Jarvis in Daddy Long Legs. I've assumed you pronounce it Jer.

Yes, dashwood and bolderwood too similar.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 28-Feb-13 09:05:58

Jane Aiken Hodge also detects the after-effects of an Austen binge in this one - the dreadful Dowager is a combination of Catherine de Burgh(sp?) and the appalling aunt in Mansfield Park.

I like Marianne and Ulverstone, and I like Theo, although his plots are ludicrously implausible. Love Drusilla's parents, although Heyer's politics are very obvious in the "revolutionary socialism is all very well, but any mother would actually love to catch an Earl for her daughter if she could" denouement.

Like everyone else I'm not convinced by the romance. It suffers in the same way as the Talisman Ring (which has a hugely similar plot) from the fact that the hero and heroine don't confide in each other. It makes me long for The Unknown Ajax, which is her third attempt at the thrillerish "hero returns to claim inheritance" plot, and by far the most successful.

I too thought that the dowager is heavily influenced by Lady Catherine. TQG is not one of my favourites, like others have said, it reworks plots that have been used elsewhere. But even a jobbing, somewhat pedestrian Heyer is still Heyer and therefore head and shoulders above much of the rubbish, tagged as regency romance, that is peddled at the moment.

I like Drusilla and I like the fact that she is not romantic and not a beauty. I think both the protagonists in the central romance are too reserved to allow the reader to become engaged in their story. However, like many GH stories, this one does leave me wanting to know more. Gervase and Drusilla look set to be a very successful partnership and I would love to see how they handle evicting the Dowager from Stanyon. I can see them touring Europe on their honeymoon and Gervase showing her the sights of battle and his near death experiences and Drusilla being sympathetic but pragmatic. I like to think they would both continue to be reserved with the rest of the world, but increasingly confiding in one another.

I suppose what all the above implies is that I think they are a much more interesting couple than the typical hero and heroine (read the Viscount and Marianne) and consequently I want to know the detail of their happy ever after, as it is bound to be different and more complex than more obvious love stories.

BTW, discovered this thread whilst googling 'The Grand Sophy' (which is one of my favourite Heyers). I knew there were Heyer fans on Mumsnet, but didn't know about the book club. Thrilled to have found another excuse to re-read my GH collection. smile

HorryDrelincourt Thu 28-Feb-13 12:41:36

Welcome YorkshireTeaDrinker to your spiritual home grin wink

I absolutely agree that as little as we like TQG it is still "head and shoulders above" the bulk of Regency romance, both for romance and Regency detail.

For example, there is a nice bit where St Erth realises Drusilla and not the Dowager is organising the Big Do, because she is talking about all the tiny details she has been arranging. That level of detail, casually chucked in so it doesn't feel like a history lesson, is why I come back time and time again.

The last non-Heyer, non-Austen/Bronte Regency I read had a heroine eat blueberry pancakes and orange juice for breakfast. I was offended by the lack of attention to detail and swore off trash corsets!

When are we due to start Cotillion? Does anyone have a schedule to hand? I think we started this thread a bit late, so it might be soon.

Thank you for the welcome Horry, I think I have found my MN quiche!

I also read a dreadful regency romance where the heroine had orange juice for breakfast (don't remember pancakes though) recently. Usually I avoid, but since getting my kindle I have been tempted by free / cheap trash. It just not worth it, cos every offence against period detail vexes me enormously.

Has anyone found another writer of regency / 18th C novels who is even half way as good as GH? One of the reasons I love GH is cos her books are a light, easy read, but good! I have been reading some Pride and Prejudice variations lately, but even the tolerable ones tend to contains errors and Americanisms that make me wince.

And my quest for more GH has let me into the world of fan fiction, which has been a bit of an eye opener!shock

HorryDrelincourt Thu 28-Feb-13 17:58:07

We normally just start when we are ready tbh. And since this one is forgettable wink I daresay that will be soon.

That said, I remember not liking Cotillion if it's Kitty and Freddie, and I have a very busy real life at the moment, so I might skip it and jump back in when we get to the good ones in a few weeks (Toll Gate, etc) where GH has got her mojo back.

You don't like Cotillion?

You don't like Cotillion ???


MooncupGoddess Thu 28-Feb-13 18:14:08

Oh, I like Cotillion much better than The Toll-Gate! It's interesting to see how everyone's tastes differ. But certainly we are approaching GH's great triumphs: Frederica, Venetia, Civil Contract, The Unknown Ajax, etc.

I would argue that the romance in The Talisman Ring is much more convincing than in TQG... there is a real sense of Tristram relaxing his uptight ways in reaction to Sarah and her sense of humour, whereas Drusilla and Gervase barely develop at all. But I realise I am in a minority in my affection for TTR.

MooncupGoddess Thu 28-Feb-13 18:14:30

Tolliver said it better than me grin

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 28-Feb-13 22:12:28

Horry go back and reread Cotillion - it is excellent! And that's an order!

I think I prefer TTR to both this and Unknown Ajax which has always irritated me slightly.

In general though the comedy of manners plots win over the sleuth ones every time as far as I'm concerned, and the Toll Gate I really dislike.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 28-Feb-13 22:19:09

I'm seconding Leonie. Horry has to read Cotillion either to come back and tell us why it's crap and we're all wrong to like it, or to admit her Damascene conversion to the cause of rightness.'Twill give the thread added impetus.

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


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


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 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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