Cotillion

Catherine Charing has a difficult decision to make. Her guardian, the irascible Mr Penicuik, will make her his heir, but only if she marries one of his nephews. The good-natured but dim-witted Lord Dolphinton asks for her hand immediately, against his own will. The priggish rector Hugh begrudgingly offers as well. Lord Biddenden is already married, and his brother Claud is with his regiment in France. The fashionable dandy Freddy Standen says that he “ain’t in the petticoat line,” so he’s not going to ask. And the handsome rogue Jack Westruther, whom Kitty claims to hate more than all the potential suitors put together, is nowhere to be found.

Kitty is less concerned about her eventual marriage than her desire to get out of her guardian’s house and kick up her heels in London for a while. But the controlling cheapskate Mr Penicuik won’t hear a word of it, so Kitty decides to hoax him by pretending to be engaged to Freddy and going to London with him to be presented to his family. Against his better judgment, Freddy goes along with the scheme, and hijinks ensue.

This is only the second novel I’ve read by Georgette Heyer (the first was A Civil Contract), and what a fun read it was! Heyer’s characters, both the central and minor ones, are wonderfully developed, and the story is so amusing. And the romance wasn’t as entirely predictable as I thought it might be. For the first half of the book or so, I waffled between two possible directions in which the story might go. In the end, I was immensely satisfied and not particularly surprised at the outcome.

I’ve often seen Heyer compared with Jane Austen. Heyer’s romances are frequently set in Austen’s era, and she shares Austen’s skill at revealing character through observation. But beyond that, their styles are quite different, and I think readers would be unlikely to mistake one for the other. Heyer’s characters talk a lot of “flash,” using exclamations and slang to a degree that would be out-of-place in an Austen novel. See, for example, this conversation between Freddy and Kitty about Kitty’s governess, Miss Fishguard:

‘Can’t make the woman out at all, myself. Know what she said to me this morning? Asked me if I’d slept well, and when I told her that it beat me how anyone could sleep at all, with a dashed lot of cockerels crowing their heads off, she said that rural sounds exhilarate the spirit, and do something or other to languid nature.’

‘Cowper,’ said Kitty, in a depressed tone. ‘”Restore the tone of languid nature.”‘

‘Well, it’s a bag of moonshine!’ said Freddy. ‘What’s more, I always thought so! Often hear of fellows ruralizing—going into the country on a repairing lease, y’know—but I never could see that it did ’em a particle of good. Well, if they’re kept awake the better part of the night by a lot of cockerels, stands to reason it couldn’t! It’s my belief, Kit, the woman’s touched in her upper works.’

‘No, she is merely addicted to poetry,’ explained Kitty.

‘Well, that just shows you!’ said Mr Standen reasonably.

To say that Heyer isn’t Austen is not to insult Heyer, because she’s very good in her own way. But I do want to mention it because I think the frequent comparison might give potential Heyer readers the wrong impression.

This is a fun, light read, with some moving moments and pleasing insights into human nature. I was especially taken by Lord Dolphinton’s story, which could have gone so wrong but whose resolution seemed so right for the period. It was interesting, too, to see characters who care so much about social convention and respectability recognize that there are times when defying convention is the best course for everyone (even if that defiance is really a way to protect one’s own respectability in the long term).

I enjoyed this very much and look forward to reading more Heyer. If you have a favorite you’d like to suggest, please share in the comments!

Cotillion was Jenny’s first Heyer novel, and she also enjoyed it. Check out her review.

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28 Responses to Cotillion

  1. Mystica says:

    I liked thie one specially the contrasts between the various suitors!

  2. Marg says:

    I really liked These Old Shades followed by The Devil’s Cub. Actually I rate them the other way around with The Devil’s Cub being my favourite but that is the order I would read them in!

  3. Lisa says:

    This is one of my favorites as well. I think your comparison (contrast) with Austen is perfect. Anyone expecting another Pride & Prejudice will be disappointed, but on the other hand anyone (like my sister) classing her with say Barbara Cartland might be pleasantly surprised (if I could convince her to read one). I’d recommend The Talisman Ring (a Georgian mystery), The Quiet Gentleman, or The Unknown Ajax.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve seen that “if you like Austen” recommendation a lot, and I think it’s bound to leave some people disappointed. And thank for the additional recs! I’ve especially intrigued at the idea of a Georgian mystery.

  4. aartichapati says:

    I LOVE this book! I would say it’s my favorite Heyer. I just think Freddie is such a sweetheart, and I love the scenes between him and his father- especially when his father says that he has “unsuspected depths.” It was lovely and so sweet!

    Similar to Cotillion in terms of humor and hijinks is Friday’s Child, I think. But I think Heyer’s most romantic work is Black Sheep. Venetia is also quite romantic and is many people’s favorite (though not mine) because Venetia herself is such an amazingly strong heroine for the time. The only historical book I’ve read by Heyer and really hated is Regency Buck.

    • Teresa says:

      Freddy is great, and I loved his father, who seemed to know what was going on from the start.

      Venetia is one I’ve had on my list to read for a while, so I’ll keep it in mind for sure. Same with Black Sheep. I thought Civil Contract was wonderfully romantic, but not at all in the usual way.

  5. Oh, Freddy! He is far and away my favourite Heyer hero and watching him gain the respect of others as the novel goes on never fails to bring a smile to my face. As for what else to read by Heyer, The Grand Sophy ties A Civil Contract as my favourite of her books (though the two are wildly different) and I also love Sylvester.

  6. Jenny says:

    I’m loving all the recommendations here! I have really enjoyed both Heyers I’ve read but never seem to know where else to go with her. We should read another one together, Teresa.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s great to see so many choices (but also a little daunting). We should look for another one to read. Sylvester and Venetia were on my list already, but I’d also be interested in trying one that isn’t a Regency novel.

  7. Helen says:

    I haven’t read many of Heyer’s books (she’s still quite a new discovery for me) but so far my favourite has been The Masqueraders. I also enjoyed Cousin Kate, though that one is a gothic novel and maybe not what you would expect from Heyer!

  8. Jenners says:

    I have yet to read a Heyer novel but you’re encouraging me to try one. I like my dialogue with a little more zip to it than Austen gave me!!! : )

  9. I am struggling to remember if I’ve read Cotillion so the obvious course is to read it [again]. Heyers are such a pleasure! The ones which have stuck in my mind are The Reluctant Widow, Sylvester and These Old Shades. Oh now I want to have a big Heyer binge… [bibliolathas]

  10. Belle says:

    In my ignorance I used to scoff at Georgette Heyer as a ‘romance writer.’ That is until I read about her in a book by Michael Dirda. He, book page editor of the Washington Post, adores our Miss Heyer. I discovered quite by accident at the blow-out sale when Border’s bookstores closed, that she had written nine mysteries. I now own six of the nine and have read two. The others are waiting patiently in my Amazon bookcart for me to purchase.

    Her books are delightful. So funny and the mystery plots (“Oh, there is a body in the library!”-type) are top notch. The two I have read are Envious Casca and No Wind of Blame.

    I am crazy about the editions published by Sourcebooks Landmark. The size (5 x 7) is perfect for reading in bed and the cover artwork is fantastic.

    • Teresa says:

      Michael Dirda is one of the reasons I finally decided to read Heyer. His write-up in Classics for Pleasure convinced me that she deserved my attention. And then I started to see other bloggers whose taste I trust praising her, which made me more eager to try her.

  11. Nicola says:

    Still haven’t dipped my toe in with Heyer yet. I think I’ll start with this one as it sounds like fun. I’m also interested in the new biography of Heyer that was published last year.

    • Teresa says:

      Cotillion is fun and probably a good one to start with. I love reading about authors’ lives too, but usually only after I’ve read lots of their work, so I’m a ways away from wanting to read a biography.

  12. Kristen M. says:

    This is one I actually haven’t read so I’ll have to get it soon! I loved The Nonesuch and really liked Sylvester. I also really liked Simon the Coldheart, one of her historical fiction novels. LibraryThing says I’ve read 15 of her books so far and, though her mysteries are a bit formulaic, I have yet to dislike any of her works.

  13. sakura says:

    I really want to read this one just because I like the sound of the title. I think I read some Heyer while at school (I can’t remember much) but haven’t in the last 15 years or so. Since you enjoyed it so much, I think it means I should!

    • Teresa says:

      I didn’t quite get the meaning of the title because there’s no actual Cotillion in the book. But I read somewhere online that it refers to multiple couples dancing together, and part of the zany hijinks involve multiple couples trying to be together.

      • sakura says:

        Ah I see…going off topic here but a character in the Malazan books by Steven Erikson changed from being called Dancer to Cotillion when he became a god. Makes sense now. Funny how one thing can lead to another:) Thanks!

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