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Bath Tangle: Georgette Heyer Book Club 21

(32 Posts)
mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 15:25:32

This is really not one of my favourite Heyers - in fact, until I re-read it, I had confused it from memory with Black Sheep - and I'm afraid that this recent re-reading hasn't done much to change my mind!

There are some good bits: I love the duo of Mrs Floore and Ned Goring (the latter very similar to all those quiet-but-competent secretaries who appear in other novels). There is some real insight into characters and motivation in places, perhaps an indication of the more mature novels (Venetia, A Civil Contract) that are to come. And I actually (to my surprise) found the relationship between Fanny and Hector quite charming.

But... I just find all the sparring and ranting and flashing eyes and heaving bosoms a bit tiresome. It's like a cross between Much Ado and Mills & Boon, and (for me) lapses into romantic novel cliche too easily despite GH's often-excellent writing. It ended up feeling very claustrophobic, perhaps because it's one of the most domestic of Heyer's novels: there is a very restricted cast of characters, little variety in settings, and no portrayal at all of wider society. (I realise that this is partly because Serena and Fanny are in mourning and wouldn't be jauntering off to balls and rout parties all the time, but I do think the novel suffers from this close domestic focus.)

I have problems with some of the characters, too. As I started reading, Serena reminded me strongly of Emma Woodhouse in her smugness, overt snobbery and unshakeable conviction that she was always right. Heyer does put in a few references to how well she gets on with the lower orders on the estate (always an attempt to show that someone is a good egg really grin) but they don't feel very convincing this time. When Rotherham's engagement is first announced, Serena's reaction reminded me of Emma's jealousy of Harriet Smith and how it "darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr Knightley must marry noone but herself!" What Serena wants, she generally gets. She then sort-of redeems herself by being all noble and self-sacrificing and agreeing to marry Hector just so Rotherham can marry Emily, but even here she comes across as quite selfish in her total disregard for what Emily really wants. I find the emphasis on Serena's bodily strength and vitality a bit wearing, too: for me, she combines the worst bits of Judith (contrary behaviour to spite her guardian) and Sophy (bumptiousness and masterful behaviour) without their redeeming charms.

If you can't already tell, I don't find her one of the more sympathetic heroines, but I'd be really interested to hear another point of view here!

Rotherham doesn't really do it for me, I'm afraid but I'm more of a Hugo Darracott or Alverstoke girl myself. His masterfulness made me bridle (although he does seem to suggest that he and Serena would enjoy a sort of companionship of equals at the end) and I got very cross at his proposing to Emily simply to spite Serena (he says something to Fanny about how at least she and Hector would never make mistakes from pique, I think). Throughout, he and Serena behave as if they are the only real people and everyone else doesn't quite exist fully or have feelings, and I found that infuriating.

And Emily is just feeble and I ended up feeling very sorry for how she is manipulated by all of the other characters without having any say of her own: her mother and Serena (and even Mrs Floore) try to manipulate her into marrying Rotherham, Rotherham tries (successfully) to manipulate her into jilting him, and even Gerard manipulates her into eloping with him against her will. Yes, she's a bit of a wet-goose, but I think she deserves better.

So... anyone actually like this novel, and can show me why I should reconsider my negative opinion? grin

OP’s posts: |
HorryIsUpduffed Sat 20-Apr-13 16:17:57

Very good introduction! Marking place so I can find it easily when I am by a pc not a phone...

Bilbobagginstummy Sat 20-Apr-13 16:25:15

Oh I like this one!

Particularly Serena when she has got herself tangled up with Hector and the dawning realisation that she wants rotherham - and probably always did - just when he is unavailable. Bit of a cliche as a plot, but I find its presentation here quite moving and realistic.

Hector is just annoying. And Fanny, come to that. I wouldn't like to spend much time with Rotherham on a bad day, but on a good day, yes. At least one wouldn't be bored!

My copy is packed away so can't say much about the minor characters, but I do looooove Mrs Floore and the way she speaks. I think her protectiveness of Emily is very lovely - and she does care. Emily's mother is a brilliant caricature too, of a Certain Kind of Lady.

MooncupGoddess Sat 20-Apr-13 16:40:30

Good intro. Following on from the Austen comment, I always think that Mrs Floore is modelled on Mrs Jennings in Sense and Sensibility - large, vulgar and warm hearted.

I am not a great fan of Bath Tangle for similar reasons to mackerella. Serena and particularly Rotherham are just not very nice. Rotherham's bullying of Emily - he throws grand dinners just to discomfort her in the hope she will summon up the nerve to break the engagement - is just vile, and he's pretty horrid to his wet ward too. Serena is always stropping around throwing childish tantrums (though GH does depict her grief for her father very convincingly).

I find this one of the most sexually charged novels - the difference between Serena's feelings for Hector and for Rotherham is obviously to some extent physical - and it made me think about how relationships developed in the days when women absolutely could not have sex before marriage, and the risks involved.

deleted203 Sat 20-Apr-13 20:42:30

mackarella that was a fabulous introduction! It pretty much summed up everything I felt about the book. Serena and Rotherham are both fairly unpleasant characters. They are both so arrogant you could see why their egos would constantly clash. Anyone think they would have had a successful marriage? Or would they have continued arguing and being too stubborn to back down? I could see it being a bit of a match made in hell, to be honest.

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 20-Apr-13 20:48:58

Serena's behaviour is partly because she thinks she is already written off - there's a bit where Grandmama is asking what will happen if Emily jilts Ivo and Serena makes very clear she only got away with it by being sufficiently well-born and that even she is still suffering for doing so.

mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 22:17:33

Have come back to this thread to take my mind off the Nigella chocolate and orange cake that is currently in the oven, and I'm pleased to see some replies already!

MooncupGoddess, it's interesting that you find this novel sexually charged. Do you think it is because Serena and Rotherham spend so much time arguing with each other? After all, this sort of conflict has long been seen (in literature) as a proxy for sexual tension: the rather clunkingly obvious trope that sparks in a relationship = fireworks in the bedroom. But this makes me think: do characters in romantic novels ever have this sort of passionate relationship and not end up together (i.e. do they just dislike each other grin)? And is there any way to show sexual attraction other than through this sort of verbal sparring? Because I find it a bit sixth-form sometimes!

Good point about the risks involved in marrying an "untested" man, too. You'd want to be fairly sure that the spark was there, or else resign yourself to a marriage of duty and (at best) comfortable companionship and be prepared to turn a blind eye to your husband's infidelities. In fact, isn't that pretty much what A Civil Contract is about?

So how would you know that someone is The One for you? Obviously, you might be struck by love at first sight, like Nell and Crazy Jack. Or you might look for a marriage of true minds and trust that sexual compatibility will follow (like Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy). Or you might just do the sensible thing (like Charlotte Lucas - sorry to keep bringing Austen references in). Heyer seems pretty adamant that Emily is wrong to consider marrying Rotherham just for his position, even though that was actually quite a shrewd move on her part, but it's less clear what is the right thing to do and lucky for all her heroines that they don't have to choose between status and love because all of the men that they fall in love with conveniently happen to be loaded and well-born as well.

OP’s posts: |
HorryIsUpduffed Sat 20-Apr-13 22:26:31

I don't think Heyer is saying it would be the wrong thing for Emily to do, it is only the wrong thing for Rotherham to do - as he realises instantly.

The Rules are lucky. The Cardrosses are lucky. The Lyntons are lucky. The social niceties of the time, which prevented many if not most couples from actually getting to know each other before marriage, must have left a lot of people unhappy. But then their expectations were different - they didn't expect to find their soul mate, just a convenient bedfellow and provider/protector or fertile womb.

We see plenty of women who know it is their duty to be married off and be a chatelaine/mother. We see plenty of men who know it is their duty to take a bride to provide a clear heir for their wealth/title. Each of them is blindsided by the idea of falling in love with their spouse.

When I'm in a hormonal philosophical mood I find the love stories quite depressing for just that reason.

joanofarchitrave Sat 20-Apr-13 22:43:45

I love Bath Tangle, though it's not a book that really stands up to deconstruction... I always skip all the bits with Gerald the heir and most of Emily, who are both unbearable. And it must be one of Heyer's most heredity-obsessed plots, with Emily going to end up with the honest tradesman because her grandmother's lineage means her blood isn't good enough to marry up. I have a real soft spot for Lady Laleham who is a really steely character, and would have liked her to achieve Emily's marriage to Rotherham, followed by Rotherham having an intermittent affair with Serena at all those months-long 'visits' to the great houses - Serena having dumped Hector and made a marriage of convenience to an extremely senior duke shortly before he popped his clogs, leaving her not only fabulously rich but also a dangerous widow, while sending an annual Christmas card (at most) to Hector and Fanny. Then Emily would have died in childbirth following her third baby in two years, Rotherham would have proposed and Serena would basically have said 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' and kept her own estates, dying an eccentric millionairess in her 90s, still remembered in the long grassy ride known as 'Lady Serena's Gallop' to this day.

joanofarchitrave Sat 20-Apr-13 22:45:38

What I do love, and think has a whiff of the authentic, is the sense of claustrophobia in the novel and the fix that Serena is in as an ageing spinster, and that Fanny is in as an inexperienced widow.

MooncupGoddess Sun 21-Apr-13 00:00:00

I love your alternative ending, joan, and agree about the realistic depiction of Serena and Fanny's situation. The portrait of Fanny - a pretty, kind but not very bright girl forced into a marriage with an ageing peer which was barely a marriage at all - is beautifully done.

Yes, I think that Serena and Ivo's bickery relationship (which I too find teeth-grittingly irritating) is very much meant to reflect unacknowledged mutual attraction. In fact Serena is presented as in need of a good seeing-to throughout- hence all the emphasis on her physicality, love of riding, striding around her small and confining dwelling (a metaphor for her life, surely, etc). Much though I loathe the 'woman in need of masterful man' trope, it's here in spades, driven home even further by Serena's distaste for Hector's drippy adoration and tendency to describe her as a goddess. The parallel is Judith and Worth, though I like Judith despite her hair-tossing moments - she's more unsure of herself than Serena and so easier to identify with. In both cases of course the heroine is the unwilling ward of the hero and there's a power struggle going on.

I'm always intrigued by the references to political dinners etc in Bath Tangle - unusual in GH where most of the characters are utterly apolitical. I wish we could see one in action, rather than just hearing them mentioned off stage. Partly I guess they are a way of explaining Serena's ambitions and natural habitat, and hence reinforcing the dullness of her daily life compared to what she's used to.

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 22-Apr-13 12:17:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DuchessOfAvon Mon 22-Apr-13 16:54:00

Well, off the top of my head, we do have Frederica's struggles to make ends meet & Kate's predicament in Cousin Kate to look forward to. You may be right.

MrsFrederickWentworth Wed 24-Apr-13 22:30:17

Political dinners, the one before Sophie's ball.

I can see why it is supposed to be Beatrice and Benedick but they rip up at each other too much and Rotherham is a bully. He bullies Gerard.

Yes I too find Fanny and Hector touching and I do enjoy Mrs Floore calling Emily Emma and Lady Laleham Sukey. And the acute claustrophobia, the irritation with the incompetent and inserting cousin all ring true.

It's just neither witty nor really amusing. Serena telling off the two teenagers is
very unpleasant.

I think all the couples will end up as happy as they deserve and I don't care! It's a " so what" novel with bad behaviour.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 25-Apr-13 09:06:58

Late coming to this thread, because although I have many thoughts, they don't hang together coherently, so I'm just going to have to give up and babble.

I must be the only one who really likes this one. I think all the characters have real depth. I adore Hector and Fanny's melodramatic renunciations (and the fact that Serena completely misses it). I think they're subtly very funny. Which is the book where Heyer plays the same situation outright for laughs? The heroine does clock and does a hilarious "I AM BETRAYED! shock grin " scene to wind them up.

The beginning scene in particular shows all the signs of an Austen binge, which is a good thing.

Gerald and Emily are both appalling, but they're meant to be so. I like the fact that Emily doesn't get married off at the end, but allowed to grow up a bit, but I am creeped out by the implication that Ned is going to watch her mature and then claim her when she's ready (shades of Buffy's notorious cookie dough metaphor). I like Ned, but such a plan would never allow her to grow up on her own terms - she'd be infantilised in her husband's eyes forever (like Emma Wodehouse).

Serena is great I think; flawed but well rounded, and good hearted. Her behaviour towards Emily is appalling, but she's so blinded by her own love for Rotherham that she genuinely feels that she's doing Emily a huge favour (as well as doing right by him). And the political side is great - you can see them as a fantastically successful married couple once they've irrevocably united against the world, and Rotherham, unlike Worth, genuinely doesn't give a damn about how much Serena might scandalise society.

My only big problem is Rotherham's behaviour towards Emily. Not for the proposal, but deliberately scaring her with sexual advances is just awful, unforgivable behaviour. And his utter contempt for Emily's willingness to marry a loathsome man for the sake of a title may be justified, but it doesn't make me like him. There's a running theme of the extremity of privilege in this book, and how both Serena and Ivo have let it blind them to the realities of lesser mortals' lives, but instead of learning any sort of lesson, (like Emma Woodhouse or Darcy) they simply pair up and live happily ever after, which is admirably realistic and un-novelettish. How awful would it be if Serena and Ivo vowed to reform their ways at the end?

DuchessOfAvon Thu 25-Apr-13 14:38:47

Its Faro's Daughter when Deb Grantham winds up Pheobe and Julian.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 25-Apr-13 14:57:00

Oh of course it is, thanks Duchess.

DuchessOfAvon Thu 25-Apr-13 15:19:24

Sorry - real life interrupted.

I wonder whether Serena & Rotherham might be a bit more true to life? As much as we can ever make that judgement but that high-handed expectation born of privilege and the rude dismissal of lesser mortal's concerns may well be a more true picture of aristocracy at that time. Or at least when it is unleavened by the romance of the Avon/Saint-Vire feud, for example.

I suspect that Serena will turn into one of those over-powering Dowager Duchesses in her old age - Minerva out of Cousin Kate probably - where Duty and Family Honour are paramount and the following generations are regarded mewling ingrates for wanting to follow their own wishes and desires.

MooncupGoddess Thu 25-Apr-13 15:24:08

I think you're entirely right, Duchess... a brutal illustration of how the fantasy world of most GH novels is so much more delightful than the probable reality.

(PS Adrian not Julian <GH pedant>)

MrsFrederickWentworth Thu 25-Apr-13 19:37:45

(Mooncup, was just going to make same comment, GH pedantry club).

Inheriting, not inserting, cousin. Sorry, can only ever MN on phone.

I think my problem is that I can see why I should like it, I used to quite a lot, but as I get older I dislike these rows more.

DuchessOfAvon Thu 25-Apr-13 23:24:34


Mixing up my lovely young men. Julian is The Nonesuch.

<smacks self with copy of Debretts>

HorryIsUpduffed Mon 29-Apr-13 13:28:01


Very cheeky ask.


YorkshireTeaDrinker Tue 30-Apr-13 09:19:15

This is also not one of my favourites. I find Serena and Rotherham pretty unlikable and I hate the way Emily is bullied by Rotherham. However, I can see that their marriage would be a success. In fact, the story of Serena and Rotherham after their marriage is probably a more interesting one than the tangle with other, more insipid characters, beforehand.

Theirs is a marriage of equals. Serena has ambition, and will have a political role to play. I can see her offspring being a bit of a hindrance (but they will have lovely Aunt Fanny coming to visit on occasion to make up for the maternal neglect), but married to Rotherham, Serena will have th e public life she evidently needs. Is Serena going to be GH's first WOHM?

poorchurchmouse Wed 01-May-13 19:01:51

I've very belatedly found this book club - so glad it's here as I've been relying on GH for comfort reads for about 20 years. But I've come in at the wrong place as I really don't like Bath Tangle.I think Ivo is too much of a bully and a thug, and the bickering goes beyond Beatrice and Benedick into teenage absurdity.

On the other hand, I don't like Serena either, so it's probaby best that they end up together rather than making two other people miserable.

I do like Mrs Floore, though. And Fanny: she may be a bit of a drip, but she's quite a realistic depiction of how awful it must have been to be the child-bride of a much older man, knowing you were expected to provide the heir, and then not to have succeeded - don't she and Serena touch on that disappointment at one point?

MrsFrederickWentworth Thu 02-May-13 23:20:05

Poor, yes they do. I think towards the beginning. And Serena thinks she was treated badly, and Hector realises how unhappy she must have been as well as how dutiful to accept his offer.

You can see how awful a time Phoebe would have had in Faro's daughter had not Adrian and Deb rescued her.

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