Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a novel by Georgette Heyer disappointed me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the delight I’m accustomed to when I pick up one of this author’s novels.

The Corinthian follows the adventures and inadvertent courtship of Sir Richard Wyndham and Penelope (Pen) Creed.

Sir Richard is a Corinthian—in the Regency period this label is given to a gentleman whose main concern is to always be dressed in the most up-to-date, expensive fashion, with cravat intricately tied, hair styled to perfection in a way difficult to mimic, and to be well-built so the fashion suits him (generally requiring some sort of manly exercise, like boxing in the correct club, while pretending no actual effort.) In fact, the effort to appear effortless is important. He has to properly accessorize (ie. a quizzing glass that he uses to great effect). He must have a wonderful hand with horses, owning the best, and winning at all races he undertakes in his fashionable conveyance. And he must gamble in the best clubs, and win or lose great sums with nonchalance. He is in society, but bored by it. Everything except playing the part bores him. He is a cynic and master of the witty set down.

Richard is all of this and much admired for it. (And this was one of my difficulties with the story. Richard seemed shallow and uninteresting.) However, he is approaching thirty and is not married. He’s never even shown any interest in a female, and his sister and mother are getting impatient. Of course, he needs to settle down and beget an heir. It’s time for him to propose to Melissa Brandon, a pretty woman with the proper family name, who has been waiting for him for years. Their families have a long acquaintance and it’s been more or less accepted that they will eventually marry. Richard is the only one unaware of how settled the issue seems to be.

Richard is anti-marriage because he believes all females of his acquaintance are interested in his money and name, not in him. Still, he dutifully pays a call on Melissa (whose family is deep in arrears with an alcoholic father and two wastrel brothers) only to be informed, by her, that his money is the only thing she cares about. It’s her responsibility to provide for her family. He can continue to live as he does, so long as she gets a hold of his purse.

He does not offer for her, but plods away in a funk and gets drunk.

Fortunately, as he is stumbling home late at night from his club, he comes across a youth escaping from a high window of a home. Richard helps the youth and discovers a girl in boy’s clothes. This is Pen Creed. She is a wealthy heiress, just turned seventeen, who is being bullied into marrying her cousin. She doesn’t like the cousin and is far too independent-minded to be bullied by her aunt. So, she is running away to her childhood home to reconnect with her old friend Piers. Long ago, they said they would marry when the time was right. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him in five years, but she considers the time to now be right.

Aghast, amused, and drunk, Richard decides he must escort her as a protector. They’ll keep Pen dressed up as a boy. Pen has a lively imagination and works up a story of their relationship. And they should travel by public conveyance to throw her aunt off the trail.

Many adventures ensue. The plot involves thievery, trickery, Bow Street runners, a murder, alarmed and misinformed family members—everything is thrown into the mix.

Richard is a complete gentleman the whole time, able to handle anything thrown into their path. Pen is a complete innocent, embroiling them into absurd difficulties by her naive faith in her plans and in Richard. She just doesn’t see bad in the world and has no idea that she has placed herself and Richard in a compromising situation.

The novel should have been more fun than it was. The elements of a typical Heyer novel were all there. Maybe that was the problem: it seemed phoned in. The plot was a little too complicated yet predictable, Richard was a bit too much of a "character"; his personality was swamped by the "Corinthian" role. And Pen was too naive and freshly fun to take seriously. Richard’s patronizing attitude also wore a bit thin.

So, if I had to make a list of Heyer books to read, this would be low on the list, but reading a novel by Heyer is never a bad way to spend the afternoon.