Listen to this episode here.
Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.
SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today.
ALISON: I know everyone else says that Heyer is greatly influenced by Austen, but I think she’s more influenced by Shakespeare. And, I mean, if you just think of ‘Much Ado’, there is a strong female character, right there aren’t they?
JANE: I don’t know that I’m that influenced by Heyer overtly, but probably at a subliminal level, I’m influenced as a reader. You know, I’m always looking for that experience, I suppose. Probably the Mark I’s [are] my preferred experience.
ALISON: There’s only one person who could have played Avon. He’s not with us any more. So, you see him walking along; he’s got high red heels and silk and lace… jewels. There’s only one person and that person is David Bowie.
SARA-MAE: Welcome to our third Heyer Today book club session. This week we’ll be exploring one of my favourite Heyer novels and I’m so excited about it.
Yes, darlings, it’s ‘Faro’s Daughter’. And my dear friend Geraldine Minuk-Elliot will be chatting to me all the way from Vancouver, Canada.
She, like all our converts, is a Heyer virgin, people! She’s also a teacher and copywriter, as well as a published poet who’s very active on social media. She has her own company, Meerkat Communications, but she’s currently working full time as an Instructional Designer. We’ve known each other since we both went to the University of Cape Town, which was many, many moons ago now and she’s still one of my favourite people. I’m so excited to hear what she thinks about ‘Faro’s Daughter’.
Remember, if you haven’t read the book there will be spoilers so I beg you to go and pour over our reading list on Fablegazers.com. This journey will be so much more fun if you know what we’re talking about. Plus, I want to know if you’re a convert too – tweet us at @fable_gazers to let us know what you think of the book.
But first, in Heyer’s life, war was on the horizon. Money was still tight. Richard had just gone back to boarding school, but let’s hear more from Beth.
BETH: In February 1932 Adolf Hitler is just an Austrian immigrant who has been awarded German citizenship. Amelia Earhart is making waves with her solo flights, and by September, Gandhi is on his famous hunger strike. In London, Piccadilly Circus is lit up by electricity for the very first time. And the BBC begins experimental TV broadcasts. For Georgette Heyer, the years between the publication of ‘Devil’s Cub’ in 1932 and ‘Faro’s Daughter’ in 1941 are shaded by two historic clouds: the Great Depression and the Second World War. Georgette is just in her 30s, and the period begins with a more personal life-changing event – the birth of their son Richard.
On the very same day – 12 February 1932 – she also marks the birth of her parallel career – as a writer of detective fiction – with the publication of ‘Footsteps in the
Dark’, her first thriller.
She is perhaps encouraged by the commercial success of the genre at that time, especially works by master trio Allingham, Sayers, and Christie. In her usual business-like fashion, Georgette decides that she will henceforth produce one romance and one thriller each year. This will be no mean feat, as allegedly, until the late 1940s, she continues to write all her novels in by hand, sometimes using an 18th century quill!
Georgette, Ronald and Richard are living in the Sussex countryside. As befitting their station, they have live-in maids. This may be in line with the times, but it could be a contributing factor to the financial difficulties that continued to haunt Georgette – alongside paying for renovations to their Blackthorns residence, servants, a nanny for Richard, and a typist to deal with her manuscripts. There were also medical bills when she or other family members, including her Mother-in-law, became unwell. Nevertheless, it seems to have been a happy time for the couple, and it was very productive for Georgette. In their 5 years in Sussex, from mid to end of 1930s, she would write 12 books.
Between the two world wars, Georgette also reaches fans worldwide through serialisation of her novels in Women’s Journal and other popular magazines. While Georgette has a prickly relationship with Women’s Journal editor, Dorothy Sutherland, there is no doubt that the wide circulation helps Georgette reach more readers, and Sutherland’s serialisation of Regency Buck did revitalise an old title. Georgette was in good company too. Other magazine-published women in the mid-1930s include Edna Ferber, Daphne du Maurier, Vera Brittain, Rebecca West, Agatha Christie, and Georgette’s good friends, Carola Oman and Joanna Cannan.
Ronald and Georgette start to work more closely together; while Ronald has
swapped a gruelling career in mining to run a sporting goods shop, at home he also contributes plot ideas for the thrillers. He checks facts and proofreads for errors. Her work in detective fiction is favourably reviewed, even garnering praise from Dorothy L Sayers, the Thriller Queen herself.
While working in the country, Georgette commutes regularly to London to see her agent LP Moore. They sometimes meet at the Empress Club in the heart of posh Mayfair for lunch, where she also gets to know a number of London-based writers [or her ‘fellow inkies’ as she called them]. They include Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Always on the lookout for financial betterment, Georgette sets up a limited company to administer rights to her novels. In 1935, she severs ties with Longman and signs with Hodder & Stoughton for four new ‘modern’ novels. She also signed a new contract with Heinemann for her historical romances. This guaranteed publication of her next seven works. It must have felt like a comfortable safety net, at the same time, it increased the pressure to deliver. There were constant financial stresses, scrabbling to sell short stories, and gain advances to release securities provided by her mother-in-law for loans and overdrafts to pay for living expenses.
Georgette was also frustrated by Heinemann; she hated their compositors changing her idiosyncratic spelling, and especially their habit of sending her a bill for excessive proof changes to ‘correct’ their mistakes. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before she succumbed to a nervous breakdown. Her doctor helpfully ordering her not to write anything until she was better!
Georgette decides it is time she curb her usual habit of writing all through the night; she sets her limit at 5.30am. Death in the Stocks is published in America by Doubleday Doran, her first US publisher in a decade. Two years later, the detective story is also dramatised for the stage but it runs for only 3 nights in New York.
At this time, Alexander Frere-Reeves, Director at Heinemann, becomes an ally and mentor. Disrupted temporarily when their offices are evacuated in September 1938, at the outset of what Georgette called ‘this ghastly European situation’.
Frere-Reeves is right up Georgette’s street. Fatherly connections are rife. He was
smart, Cambridge-educated, he liked golf and cricket, he had even been an editor at Granta. He also lived in the exclusive Albany apartments on Piccadilly in London. They often lunch together at the Heinemann offices or exclusive London restaurants, like Escargot.
NARRATOR: Georgette and Frere have met at the Savoy, and they’re discussing Faro’s Daughter.
GEORGETTE: Faro’s Daughter? My latest work of genius? Naturally, it’s a very fine work, and immensely entertaining, absorbing, witty, scintillating and erudite. Well, what I mean is, it will be when I get around to writing it.
FRERE: Have you even started it?
GEORGETTE [LAUGHS]: No, I haven’t, since you must know. Though what it’s got to do with you –
FRERE: Oh not much at all…just the small matter of binding the book, selling it, and all with an author who refuses to do any publicity, though the hordes are begging for a cosy tea for two, or a photographic spread of the great novelist at work.
GEORGETTE: Heaven forfend.
FRERE: More champagne?
[Sounds of wine being poured]
GEORGETTE: Don’t let’s argue about that! Let me SPEAK! Badgering me like this. Pestering me for the thing. Not giving me a moment’s peace. And just look at that set of somnambulists down at Kingswood! Do I ever get a letter from any one of them, asking me about my new book, and wanting to know when they can start advertising it? Oh, dear me, no! And why on earth should you instantly assume that you won’t get the book in time to publish it this autumn, I entirely fail to understand.
FRERE [chuckling]: I merely said if you needed a bit of extra time, what with all this war upset and Ronald away every night with the Home Guard, you might very well take some time off.
GEORGETTE: Nothing I have said could possibly have given you the impression I need more time, so why you must needs get in such a temper about it. Do calm yourself!
FRERE [SMILINGLY]: I’m terribly sorry, I’ve the devil of a temper, Pat’s forever fleeing before me because of my notorious rages. But do continue.
GEORGETTE: All I ever said was that from one cause or another…
FRERE: More wine?
GEORGETTE: No! Shut up! I am not going to explain what the causes were. Don’t be such a fool! Can’t you realise that if I were feeling inventive, I should be writing the book, instead of sitting here in this lovely restaurant, talking to you?’
FRERE: Yes, dear. Do have another duck wing, it’s frightfully good. No, be serious for a moment. How’s ‘Faro’s Daughter’ coming along?
GEORGETTE: Well, the schoolgirls won’t like Max Ravenscar being a mere commoner, but I’m so fed up with writing a lot of wash about improbable Dukes and Earls. He’s fabulously rich, however, but he dresses all anyhow, and hasn’t got a quizzing glass, or any graceful habits.
FRERE: Sounds like another hit to me!
BETH: Georgette starts to spend more time in London. Ronald has decided to sell the lease on the sports shop and become a barrister. While he studies in London’s Inner Temple for the next four years, it once again falls to Georgette to be the main breadwinner.
The events of September 1939 will, of course, take their toll on Georgette and her family. Both her brothers enlist in the Army. And, just like Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, Ronald is an active member of the Home Guard [his eyesight problems saved him from being called up and prevented his attempts to join the Navy]. Unfortunately, Ronald’s brother Leslie, is not so lucky and he is killed on the battle fields in Belgium.
Georgette suffers from a string of health problems, no doubt stress induced, as the realities of war-time rationing set in, including the very real work-related worry about paper rationing. To add to the chaos, Frere-Reeves cuts back his time at Heinemann to take up a part-time post in Public Relations for the war effort.
Desperate for funds, in July 1940, Georgette sells outright the copyright for 3 of
her biggest selling novels, ‘These Old Shades’, ‘Devil’s Cub’ and ‘Regency Buck’, outright to Heinemann for a mere £750. The contract includes a hefty percentage in film rights for all 3 novels as well.To make extra cash Georgette also starts to take work for Frere-Reeves as a manuscript reader. To economise, Georgette decides to give up the Blackthorns residence and move to central London. But the 57 consecutive nights of bombing during the Blitz puts paid to that plan. They move instead to Brighton where they have a lovely view of the ocean, but there will be no walks on the beach: it has been mined and covered in barbed wire to stop an enemy invasion.
In May 1941 the Blitz finally ends: 43,000 civilians are dead, 20 million books burned, and 1 million homes destroyed, including the home of Virginia Woolf, who just two months earlier had moved to the country and decided to end her life.
LP Moore’s office is also damaged. His move to Buckinghamshire marks a rift in their relationship. Georgette depends more and more on Frere-Reeves for professional support, she prefers his office location in central London where the publishing action is. She would even go so far as to rent chambers in his longstanding residence; finally relocating, close to London’s publishing heart, in the prestigious Albany apartments. It helped that the location on Piccadilly had a historic literary pedigree and was walking distance to her beloved Fortnum’s and the London Library.
You can find out more about this fascinating London address in our blog!
And so, like many of her readers, Georgette survives the Blitz, the bombing, and the bleakness by escaping into her safe world of Regency romance.
SARA-MAE: Now on to our interview with Geraldine. As I mentioned, she’s never read a Heyer. This sad state of affairs had to be remedied tout de suite.
SARA-MAE: This is your very first taste of Georgette Heyer, and what were your preconceptions about about her? If you had any.
GERALDINE: You know, I didn’t actually have any, really, in terms of knowing much about her or anything like that. And you know, I’d always sort of thought of it as a Regency period but didn’t really realise it was post-Regency, so I hadn’t read writing in this in the setting but not the actual time. And yeah, I really enjoyed it. When I started reading it, the first few pages, I initially thought of kind of bad historical kind of Mills and Boon, Harlequin romance novel but as soon as you start noticing the details in the setting and, obviously, the quality of the writing and when you get more into the the wit of it within the first few pages, I sort of realised that, you know, there’s definitely a rich story. Definitely kept me reading; I went through it in a day. So, yeah, I really enjoyed it. Like, it definitely made me want to grab some of the other ones and read them as well.
SARA-MAE: This is what I like to hear. Looks like it might be leading to a three out of four ratio for my converts list. Yes! But I mustn’t get ahead of myself.
GERALDINE: So I’m actually staying in a place called Galiano Island, which is about an hour’s ferry away from the mainland, close to Vancouver, in Canada. And so they have this fantastic bookstore on the island and it’s a tiny island…its like 1000 people. So, I went there and I thought, well, you know, I don’t think the chances are great that they’re going to have a collection. And I asked the woman who owns it, and she was like, “that’s so weird! A few weeks ago, someone literally came in with an entire collection of [Heyer] books and I have them somewhere,” and she went off… and we went investigating in the second hand room, and there was pretty much the entire book list there on the shelf. They’re all signed by someone called E. Gordon for the princely sum of $2. I did actually buy another one. And then I think I’m gonna go and make them an offer they can’t refuse.
SARA-MAE: You’re gonna murder them. You’re gonna murder them and their whole family. Right? Yeah, of course. I mean, that makes sense. Yes.
GERALDINE: Yep. I’m only gonna remove the Georgette Heyer books.
SARA-MAE: Which will confuse the police. It will be the perfect crime because they’ll be like, “they didn’t take money from the cash register! There is nothing missing except this like a space where there was obviously once a pile of books.”
GERALDINE: Well, I mean, there’s one police officer on the island. So, you know, we can stump him like he’s never been stumped before.
SARA-MAE: The next 30 years until he retires, it’ll be the case that haunted him. [The one] he could never solve. He’ll be like, “there is no MOTIVE!”
SARA-MAE: But you know what the worst part will be? He’ll suspect every person, all the people that he’s grown up with, that he’s formed relationships with. I’m sure everyone on the island are close… his best friends. He’ll look them in the eye and he’ll be like, was it you?
GERALDINE: Every time he goes around to someone’s house for dinner, he’ll be scouring the bookshelves.
SARA-MAE: One day, he’ll go to the house of E. Gordon and they’ll be like, “You know, it was so weird. A week after I gave my collection of Georgette Heyers the book shop owner was brutally murdered. I mean, I don’t know if that’s a coincidence?” And he’ll just be like, “Nooooo!!”
GERALDINE: This would actually be a very good plot for a GH novel, I think.
SARA-MAE: No, well, she did actually do thrillers as well. Set in the 20s and 30s.
SARA-MAE: We get back on track. I asked Geraldine to tell us about the book.
GERALDINE: So, it’s Faro’s Daughter. And essentially the plot is, there’s a cash-strapped lady of ill-repute [Deb], who runs a gaming house.
SARA-MAE: She isn’t like a ‘prosi’ or anything like that. Although the whole crux of the plot kind of hinges on the hero believing that she’s this woman of loose morals.
GERALDINE: Exactly. She and her aunt run gaming tables, and it’s almost like a gentlemen’s club, but out of their house, which is part of the issue around the ill-repute. She’s essentially falsely accused of being a gold digger when she’s courted by young Lord Mablethorpe, Adrian. And so the the novel starts with Adrian’s mother freaking out about this impending potential match. Enter Max Ravenscar, which is probably one of the best names ever. As soon as you introduce that, that was like “Yes! This is gonna be good!” So, Max Ravenscar is Lord Mablethorpe’s cousin. And so then the rest of the book is about his attempts to break up this possible match. And there’s attempted bribery and gambling and kidnap and misunderstandings and… it’s a slim volume and yet, there’s actually a lot of action and there’s a lot of cinematic quality.
SARA-MAE: The classic Jane Austen movie is always predicated on the tension between the hero and the heroine. And often it’s a character flaw in either one of them that prevents them from being together like in Pride and Prejudice, you know, she’s prejudiced against him. And in this case, Ravensclaw, [laughs] is… what’s his name?
GERALDINE: Ravenscar (laughs). The Harry Potter version of the book.
SARA-MAE: Fan fiction, yeah, I think he’d be a bit of a Slytherin.
And then [Heyer] calls him pretty much ‘Mr. Ravenscar’ throughout the novel, which is interesting, whereas, you know, she calls the female heroine, Deb. He’s very prejudiced against her and, on her part, as soon as she discovers that he basically insults her by trying to bribe her to not marry his young cousin. He sees her as this paltry, loose morals kind of a person who’s going to just jump at the chance to take this money. And instead of (as one would think the logical thing would be) just to say to him, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong idea, I don’t intend to marry him,” because she doesn’t intend to marry the young guy, does she?
GERALDINE: No, not at all.
SARA-MAE: It’s a very interesting thing throughout the whole book, she’s actually very strapped for cash, her aunt is; they have these hilarious conversations with loads of detail, listing all the things and how much they cost, you know, to run this gaming house. The bloody green peas!
GERALDINE: I made a note of the £70 for green peas. And that is a recurring theme with the aunt. That’s something I really enjoyed about the plot. I think that perhaps this is some of that advantage of writing in a different era. She takes the plot in a direction that you just wouldn’t assume. But yeah, definitely shades of Pride and Prejudice. Max is even described as being a proud, disagreeable man, which is pretty much Darcy.
SARA-MAE: Yes. [He] doesn’t come off well to begin with.
GERALDINE: Not at all.
SARA-MAE: I mean, she actually describes him as quite a skinflint. He is very rich, but yet he wears these quite plain clothes, never throws parties. It’s like a matter of disgruntlement to his sister-in-law that…he refuses to hold these big parties and be a bit more ostentatious. And she resents having to ask him to help but feels like he’s the only one who can extricate her son from this arrangement. But it is interesting… in that first encounter where he takes Deb with him on a ride to basically bribe her, and he in his very arrogant way is like, “she’s definitely going to take the money”. He’s decided, “It’s £10,000, no more. That’s it.” It’s a great scene, because instead of saying the logical thing: “Listen, I don’t have any intention of marrying this young guy. He’s too young, it’s calf love,” she makes the choice to pretend to be the harlot and the doxy that he believes she is. And she’s actually incredibly proud. She decides, if he thinks she’s this kind of person she’s gonna be even worse than that.
SARA-MAE: Just to punish him. There’s a big theme about her wanting to teach him a lesson.
GERALDINE: You know, I think he likes her despite his objections to her marrying Adrian. He starts to like her because she isn’t what he’s used to. And, you know, there’s that element of — in a similar way to Pride and Prejudice — where you realise that Darcy likes Elizabeth partly because she does refuse him when he offers. Despite every fibre of his being [being against it], he makes an offer. There’s the same interesting tension between Deb and Max because she isn’t what he is assumed. And I think that’s a big underlying theme too, assumptions and pre- judgements and that prejudice. And then on the flip side, she’s so surprised, because she’s so used to having men fawning over her because she’s so beautiful.
SARA-MAE: And also quite gross kind of men, because she’s always in the context of this gaming house where she’s used to men sort of leering at her, and so I think she sees something in him that isn’t the same. He doesn’t look at her the same way as these other guys do. So that intrigues her initially, but then of course, he messes that up by insulting her to her core.
GERALDINE: Yeah [laughs]
SARA-MAE: And I think it’s true what you’re saying. He, on his part, is intrigued because she doesn’t ever do what he expects her to do. And that appeals to him. But, having said that, unlike Darcy, he isn’t gradually and very steadily warming to her. It’s like he really doesn’t Iike her in the beginning, he really thinks that she is this completely unscrupulous person. Because she’s been around these gaming houses and these people, she knows exactly how to play the role of this… the type of person he thinks she is.
GERALDINE: My favourite scene is at the Ridotto. So basically, once Max has attempted to pay her off so that she doesn’t marry Adrian, and she’s done the opposite of what he assumed… he accuses her basically of being a vulgar woman and all of this. So she rises to the challenge and decides that she’s going to go…
GERALDINE: …Full on. Give them what they expect.
SARA-MAE: How does she do it?
GERALDINE: She finally accepted an invitation from Adrian to go out in public with him to the Ridotto, which I assume is some form of show.
SARA-MAE: Because previously, she’d refused because she didn’t want to mess up his reputation. She’s constantly being very protective of this Adrian guy who’s like this young, very sweet but quite weak character. You know from the start she would just crush him if they ever had a real relationship.
SARA-MAE: But he’s so infatuated. He doesn’t see that in the beginning.
GERALDINE: And then again, it’s a very interesting part of her character that she could very easily, essentially have slept with him and got stuff out of him; she hasn’t done that. She’s very protective of people as well. She’s been fobbing Adrian off. She finally actually says to him that she will agree to marry him. So he’s now told his family and this is their first public outing together. And so she decides, well, if Max has accused her of being a jade…
SARA-MAE: A wench.
GERALDINE: …And they all assume she’s this vulgar woman, and they’ve all got these preconceived ideas of what she’s going to be like, she decides to go fully outrageous. She has a grass green and white striped gown that she puts on. Then she goes and buys huge amounts of red ribbons and puts those on the dress. And then she find a hats with ribbons and three enormous ostrich feathers, which is hilarious in itself because it’s like, this is the height of vulgarity.
SARA-MAE: She powders her hair as well, which is a very old-fashioned practice. And it ages her. It makes her…and she puts makeup on, doesn’t she? And like a patch on her cheek?
GERALDINE: Yeah. And all these things that she never wears, you know, basically she’s like, well, if they’re pigeon-holing me, then I’m going to play up to the stereotype. So, “What is the most vulgar thing I could possibly do?” And then on top of that, she asked Lucius Kennett… who’s another very interesting character, and I want to talk about him as well… her sort of right hand man/friend, that’s known her since she was a kid, best friend of her father, etc.
SARA-MAE: Who was a gambler.
GERALDINE: She says to Lucius, “Well, you know, my aunt is always saying that you hang out with vulgar widows.” Which is fabulous! Basically she’s like, “Do you know any vulgar widows that you could rustle up for an event?” He very willingly obliges [both laugh] and brings this vulgar widow who is loud…
[Background noises of indistinct conversational buzz and loud laughing]
GERALDINE: It’s such a great scene, you know, they arrive and Adrian’s mortified.
SARA-MAE: I felt so bad for him.
GERALDINE: She writes her characters very well, because she gives you a little bit of Adrian’s point of view. I mean, you don’t really get that much…but, then at this point, you sort of hear him and he’s kind of wishing that she had worn her hair in, you know, the normal way.
SARA-MAE: I like the way she differentiates between the men and the women. Adrian doesn’t know anything about women’s fashion, and so he doesn’t really notice that she’s dressed vulgarly, but he kind of notices that she’s dressed differently to usual and he’s a bit confused by [it].
GERALDINE: Like, “What the hell is happening to you?!” [laughs]
SARA-MAE: But [Deb and Lucius] have planned it to the last detail. Lucius is sort of like the devil on Deb’s shoulder.
GERALDINE: Yeah, yeah.
SARA-MAE: ‘Cos he just enables her in all her quite crazy schemes. When you think about how much she stands to lose in society by enraging Max! And one of the things he’s organised is that their table is just opposite where Max and his family are coming to hang out at this ridotto. And sure enough, they arrive and they see them.
SARA-MAE: And she goes over to meet Adrian’s mother and it… doesn’t go well. I mean, again, she plays it’s so perfectly, like this horrible, simpering classless person.
GERALDINE: Mmmm hmm.
SARA-MAE: Everything that she says is just so calculated to make a very aristocratic woman…
SARA-MAE: …Cringe and just think, “What is my son getting into?” You know?
GERALDINE: So Max is sort of around, he’s seen what’s going on a little bit and it says, “When she made her entrance, in the correct manner, Mr. Ravenscar left the booth. He would try a fall with her himself before very long and enjoy doing it, but it was no part of his plan to join his aunt in whatever schemes she might have in mind for the discomfiture of the minx. He returned to the box a few minutes before Adrian led Arabella back to it.”
Arabella is Max’s youngest sister. “One glance at the two ladies was enough to assure him that it was not Miss Grantham,” (Deb), “who had suffered discomfiture. Lady Mablethorpe was looking crushed, and the glance she cast up at her nephew was one of pathetic entreaty.
She had sustained the most shattering half hour of her life. She had subjected Miss Grantham to a catechism which had been intended to show that young woman how very far she stood from Adrian, and how very uncomfortable she would feel in Polite Society. It had apparently failed in this laudable object. Miss Grantham had replied with the greatest readiness and the most appalling frankness to all the searching questions put to her. She had remained throughout wholly oblivious of the most patent disapproval. She had been voluble, expansive and shockingly vulgar, had confessed to a passion for all forms of gaming, described in quite imaginary detail the events of several horse races she said she had attended and expressed a desire to set up a select Faro bank in Brook Street. She had also ogled several bucks who had strolled past the box, and had claimed intimate acquaintance with three of the most notorious rakes in town. Her Ladyship felt herself to be passing through a nightmare and hailed the return of her nephew with heartfelt relief. Miss Grantham assured him that she and Lady Mablethorpe were now the greatest of friends.”
GERALDINE: It is just so wonderful. I mean, it’s just all those things, that by this stage, we’ve learned that Deb is [not]. She’s nothing like this.
GERALDINE: And so it’s even better. Lady Mabletherpe thinks she’s going to cut down this pretentious, vulgar woman.
SARA-MAE: What is Deb like? She’s actually the total opposite of what they think she is. Her upbringing was having a father who was in the army, she and her brother (he’s a very weak, lily-livered type of a guy), until their mother died and then the father palmed them off to their lovely, but somewhat silly, aunt. Again, it reminds you of a lot of those mothers like Mrs. Bennett and…
GERALDINE: Hmm, she’s very Mrs. Bennett, yeah.
SARA-MAE: …But she’s very lovable and sweet and she’s done her best. Even though her best is fairly misguided, you know, starting a gambling house and then letting her niece become involved in it, you know. Deb has got this incredible spirit from somewhere. She’s got her very own honour code, which if you think about it in that time, and considering what she was up against [is amazing]; her reputation being tarnished… she will always be seen as this girl [who’s] been working at these gaming tables, which in that time would have been completely infra dig.
GERALDINE: She is described as a female elbow shaker, which I thought was great.
SARA-MAE: That must have been really unusual, particularly for someone who, actually she’s quite innocent in some ways. I mean, she’s experienced in the sense of knowing what goes on but she’s never been loose with her morals and in fact, she actually has these really strong ideas about what she can and can’t do. And it’s totally beyond her to ever think of taking advantage. And it would have been considered, in those days, a smart move by her to grab this young guy and marry him. Instead of which, she sees it as taking total advantage of his sweetness.
GERALDINE: There’s these different men… like there’s Ormskirk, who’s sort of this disgusting man who has been married three times and clearly is just hanging around with the hopes, that…I mean, he outright says to Max pretty much that he has no interest in marrying her.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, he wants to inveigle her into a clandestine affair, and he’s actually bought some of her own debts and the mortgage to their house [to blackmail her with]. He’s like one of the most evil characters that Heyer has. But yet actually, he doesn’t end up really being a big player.
SARA-MAE: Which I actually thought might have been a bit wasted because he was such a good baddie.
GERALDINE: Yeah, there was potential to expand on that. Deb’s playing this whole character for Max, playing what he thinks she is. And then she accidentally lets out that she detests Ormskirk, and Max is totally surprised, which again shows he just doesn’t get her. And it’s just his prejudice, in the way because he’s ready enough to believe all these terrible things about her.
SARA-MAE: The first time he sees her she’s in the gaming house and she’s got Adrian on one side and Ormskirk, this horrible roue [on the other], and he notes that she’s handling deftly these two very different lovers and managing not to offend either one of them. And kind of every time Ormskirk makes a barb at Adrian she deflects it with a laugh. She neutralises the situation. He admires the fact that she’s obviously smart. And I think that’s the kind of thing that engages him from the beginning. The reason why the tension and the chemistry crackles between them the whole way through. I think it. would be great in a film; despite the fact that he thinks she’s a terrible person, she’s kind of got him on his metal. You get the impression, for the first time in years, someone is standing up to him and actually proving to be a challenge.
SARA-MAE: She’s weirdly feminist in the sense of she’s doing a man’s job. She’s doing it to help her Aunt out. She’s fiercely independent as well. I mean, she could have married Adrian and her whole life would have been sorted out.
SARA-MAE: She would have been able to be comfortable and live the life that many people would have considered to be like, ideal in those days, but she doesn’t. She never considers it for a second.
GERALDINE: Yeah. And there’s definitely some really interesting themes throughout, because it shows how, there’s very much a huge theme of class and socio-economic difference, but it really shows how class affects the different views of women of the time. I mean, there’s a great quote; we found that we find out kind of through the story that Ravenscar’s youngest sister, she’s actually a bit of a slut…
SARA-MAE: We’re not slut shaming Arabella, but she’s certainly a minx who loves to flirt. Here’s the quote Geraldine was referring to: “To be sure, it was unfortunate that Arabella should be such a flirt. But what in another damsel would have been a shocking fault was, in such a notable heiress, a mere whimsicality of youth.”
GERALDINE: …And I think that just completely lays out the difference between Deb, who is not of a higher class, and who is essentially doing this gaming stuff because of financial concerns, versus Arabella, who carries on and sneaks out of the house and has all these assignations. And later on in the book there’s a very interesting plot turn with her and Lucius. It plays up how even though Deb is seen as a gold-digger, after title and money, the wealthier families are looking to solve their financial issues, or get better standing in society, by marrying off their daughters to whoever they can. [Yet] it’s a problem if Deb’s trying to do that with Adrian.
SARA-MAE: Geraldine’s pointing out the hypocrisy the book poses. The rules are different for Deb, than for Arabella.
GERALDINE: Another plot thread is she essentially rescues a young girl.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, she doesn’t even think about it. She’s instantly determined to save this this young girl from the clutches of another roue who her mother is trying to force her to marry. They meet her at the ridotto we were talking about. And she’s in tears and Deb decides she’s going to take her in hand. And not only that, she almost instantly decides that she’s going to put Adrian and this young thing together. Because she sums them up and sees that they would be a good match. She brings out the protectiveness in Adrian that he couldn’t really have with Deb because she’s such a strong character. It’s so selfless if you think about it.
SARA-MAE: I mean, she’s really…they keep joking about having to go to the debtor’s prison, because the aunt’s got all these debts for all the green peas. Don’t know how many bloody green peas they seem to eat but…? [both laugh] And candlestick stubs and….
SARA-MAE: Phoebe Laxton, who is the girl that they rescue, is a typical romantic heroine of those times. She’s very soft and a little bit silly and a bit dim, but she’s kind of…she just looks at Adrian like he’s her saviour. Whereas, Deb is the opposite. She’s strong, she’s kind, but she [has] short shrift [for] people who aren’t smart. And then you have Arabella who is Max’s sister. We were talking about her being a minx… she actually manages to outmanoeuvre Lucius Kennet! Who is, by all accounts, a very savvy man of the world, who manages to help Deb engineer all manner of ill-conceived plans. His redeeming characteristic is that he is loyal to Deb. You have the sense that he does love her/was very fond of her. Arabella totally runs rings around him. They described this interaction where she’s behaving demurely. But then she sort of intimates to him that yes, she will be walking in the park. And he’s going, “Oh, well, it’ll be incredible. If I happen to see you.” Then she’s like, “Oh, yes. And I have a very discreet maid.” And you sort of think to yourself, “Is Heyer kind of implying that…?” How much is she messing around with these guys?? Because she also has Deb’s brother on her string. He doesn’t really help Deb, but is part of quite a funny scene where Ravenscar decides that he’s going to get hold of the mortgage too and the bill of debt that Ormskirk has, so he engineers a meeting with Ormskirk, and he uses Ormskirk’s ego against him and he manages to beat him and defeat him at cards. He defeats a few people in the book at cards, but Ormskirk in particular, and says, “Well, instead of paying me you can give me the debt and the mortgage”, which he then uses to threaten Deb and he basically says, “I’ve got these now and if you want them back, give up your claim to Adrian’s hand.” So she hatches this ridiculous plan.
GERALDINE: There is a lot of gambling that goes on, in a metaphorical sense, I guess, and a literal sense. But the man the innocent Phoebe Laxton is going to be married off to, that Deb rescues her from, has been in carriage races with Max before and lost, and so at a certain point they set up an astronomical bet on another race and so what Deb decides to do is kidnap Ravenscar the night before the race, so that he can’t participate and he’ll lose £25,000 on the race because the odds are so high against them, etc.
SARA-MAE: And that’s probably like £250,000 in today’s money.
GERALDINE: Even though Ravenscar is described as basically the richest man in England, you know, it would be a significant chunk of money, which then puts in perspective, the fact that he offers Deb £20,000 to leave Adrian alone at a certain point.
SARA-MAE: I never thought about this before but Geraldine’s right. Clearly he considers £20,000 a fairly paltry amount to pay for Deb’s acquiescence. Less than he’s willing to risk on a carriage race.
GERALDINE: Deb arranges between Lucius and Wantage—Silas Wantage is essentially the bouncer at the gaming house —to kidnap Max the night before. So her plan is to hold him so that he misses the race and he’s forced to hand over the debts and the bills and the mortgage so that she can extricate herself from his claws. And so…
SARA-MAE: Her ‘Ravensclaws’ [laughs]
GERALDINE: Her Ravensclaws [laughs]. So there’s another hilarious scene that I really enjoyed. Silas Wantage is an ex-boxer, as soon as he first meets Ravenscar, he’s praising him for his potential fighting skills. And we find out that Max has actually trained with some famous boxer. There’s a scene where basically, Lucius writes a note on behalf of Deb, which she is actually quite reluctant to…
SARA-MAE: He writes several notes on her behalf and she only knows about one. But in the other notes, [written by Lucius] she’s like, begging Max to come and meet him and being very…Deb would never be so underhand in the way that she approaches things. But then again, she does look away. She just says “Get on with it, Lucius.”
SARA-MAE: And, you know, what was she expecting him to do?
GERALDINE: You know, there’s a funny part…
So Lucius Kennet is essentially saying, “Well you know, how on earth did you expect me to kidnap him without luring him somewhere under false pretences?” You know, it’s like…!
SARA-MAE: There’s a lot of funny discrepancies in her honour code. She thinks it’s totally disgusting that he lured him to the park, but she reckons there’s nothing wrong at all with her kidnapping Max because of the way he’s been treating her and her family. It kind of endears you to her because she’s so passionate.
GERALDINE: So you know, they lure him to a park, bop him on the head and then bundle him back to the house. But what’s really funny is that Wantage is very excited that he’ll get a chance to match himself against Max because he feels that he would be a worthy boxing opponent. He’s totally outraged because Lucius just bops Max on the head with a cudgel.
SARA-MAE: While Max is busy [with Wantage].
GERALDINE: He feels that’s very unsportsmanlike. But again, you know, it’s probably ok later on to kidnap him.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, he moans about that incessantly and this is one of the things she does so brilliantly: All of these characters, even the small ones, they completely come to life. They lock [Max] in the cellar of the house. And you know, there’s so many funny things that happen just in the sense of, she arrives and she can’t help herself from being like, “Oh, are you comfortable there?” And he’s kind of like, “No.” He still think she’s a baggage, but this is when he starts to see that she’s actually an honourable person, because instead of being totally disgusted, even more angry with her, in a weird way, he admires her for what she’s done. And the way that she’s determined to get one over on him to the point where her whey-faced brother, he discovers that she’s done this thing and his first instinct is to wrestle the key away from his sister, Deb. And he goes downstairs and he’s saying to Max, “I’m so sorry”, because he wants to marry [Max’s] sister. Which he has absolutely no chance of doing because Arabella is a complete little minx who has just been toying with him. So basically, instead of allowing Kit to set him free, Ravenscar’s like…
GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s a great line where he’s like “Your sister’s worth a dozen of you and she’s a jade!”
SARA-MAE: And then he even tells him to go out and lock the door. Poor Kit! You get the feeling you are supposed to think he is a lily-livered ponce for doing this, you know, for not being loyal to his sister, or supporting her. Not only that, Ravenscar keeps saying, like, “I would have respected you more if you came down here and punched me in the face.” He says, “You know I insulted your sister, right?” Then, of course, it’s all these encounters that he has with her which I think would make great cinema.
[Extract from audiobook]
She lost very little time in making her way down to the basement again, carrying this time one of the bedroom candles set out on a table at the foot of the backstairs, and guarding its frail flame from the draughts in the passage with her cupped hand. Mr Ravenscar looked at her with a flickering smile as she entered his prison, and rose from his chair. ‘Well, Miss Grantham? What now?’ She shut the door, and stood with her back to it. ‘Why did you refuse to let my brother release you?’ ‘Because I would not be so beholden to him! He has not an ounce of spirit in him.’ She sighed, but shook her head. ‘I know, but the poor boy found himself in a sad quandary. He is a little spoilt.’ ‘He wants kicking,’ said Mr Ravenscar, ‘and he will get it if he comes serenading my sister!’ ‘I don’t think she has the least idea of marrying him,’ said Miss Grantham reflectively. ‘What do you know of the matter?’ ‘Nothing!’ she said hastily. ‘Adrian has told me a little about her, that is all. But I am not here to talk of your sister or of Kit either. Have you thought better of your rash words, sir?’ ‘If you mean, do I intend to give you back those bills, no!’ ‘You need not think I shall let you go, just because you would not permit Kit to set you free!’ she said in a scolding voice. ‘I thought you were not here to talk of your brother? You may forget that incident.’ She looked at him rather helplessly. ‘You were to have dined with Mr Crewe to-night. It will be all over town by tomorrow that you have disappeared. Already Sir James Filey is letting fall the most odious hints! He is upstairs now.’ ‘Let him hint!’ said Ravenscar indifferently. ‘If you do not race to-morrow, what excuse can you make that will not make you appear ridiculous?’ ‘I have no idea. Have you any suggestion to offer me?’ ‘No, I have not,’ she said crossly. ‘You think I do not mean to keep my word, but I do!’ ‘I hope you mean to bring me a pillow for the night.’ ‘I don’t. I hope you will be excessively uncomfortable!’ snapped Miss Grantham. ‘If I dared, I would let you starve to death here!’ ‘Oh, don’t you dare?’ he asked. ‘I had thought there was no limit to your daring–or your effrontery!’ ‘I have a very good mind to let Silas come down and bring you to reason!’ she threatened. ‘By all means, if you imagine it would answer.’ ‘I will allow you half an hour to make up your mind once and for all,’ she said, steeling herself. ‘If you are still obstinate, you will be sorry!’ ‘That remains to be seen. I may be sorry, but you will not get your bills, my girl, I promise you.’ ‘It will be quite your own fault if you catch a cold down here,’ she said. ‘And I daresay you will, for it may be damp for anything I know!’ ‘I have an excellent constitution. If you mean to leave me now, do me the favour of allowing me to keep the candle!’ ‘Why should you want a candle!’ she asked suspiciously. ‘To frighten away the rats,’ he replied. She cast an involuntary glance round the cellar. ‘Good God, are there rats here?’ she said nervously. ‘Of course there are–dozens of ’em!’ ‘How horrible!’ she shuddered. ‘I will leave you the candle, but do not think by that that I shall relent!’
GERALDINE: The whole kidnapping sequence once he’s in the basement is just hilarious because in the meantime…
GERALDINE: …Upstairs you’ve got Filey, who is supposed to be… Max is supposed to be racing against him – he shows up at the gaming house.
SARA-MAE: And coincidently he’s the guy that they’ve rescued the young Phoebe Laxton from. He’s basically a horrible old roue as well.
GERALDINE: You’ve got Filey, he shows up. Kind of everybody’s going ‘what’s happened to Ravenscar?’ ‘he’s disappeared the night before the race’ and you know ‘has he backed out?’ So this is going on and then Lady Bellingham, Deb’s aunt, has discovered that Ravenscar’s in the basement so she’s freaking out. It’s a very farcical scene where you know, you’re upstairs, you know, you’ve got the gaming and Lady Bellingham is trying to keep it together. And then Kit’s storming around.
SARA-MAE: It is just funny how Ravenscar’s completely prepared to play by Deb’s rules.
SARA-MAE: In fact, he respects that and then of course, he burns himself doesn’t he, like to escape? Yeah, her good nature actually allows him to do that because she feels sorry for him. He claims that he’s scared of the rats and says, “Can you leave the candle down here.” And she’s untied his legs, which, you know, she’s not very good at being a jailer.
SARA-MAE: But it’s kind of endearing.
GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s some great descriptions of her character where her aunt sees her flashing eyes and goes, “Oh, god, you’re in one of your moods again.” And you kind of see that she’s quite an impetuous person as well, because then Ravenscar manages to basically burn his way out of his ropes.
SARA-MAE: And he actually hurts his hands quite badly. I love all their interactions. They just crackle. The way she’s just fed up with him, he’s freed himself so she kind of has to let him go. But she sort of says, “Okay, well, let me bandage you up.” But you know, she’s just so stroppy with him and he keeps calling her ‘baggage’ and all this kind of thing and but you can tell that the tide has turned instead of him kind of genuinely hating her something is changing for him, and he respects her now.
GERALDINE: She keeps overturning his expectations. And every time she does that he kind of falls a bit more in love with her, you know, so there’s all these great things… but she sets up Max’s character well, and that we see right from the beginning, there’s a lot of comments on how he’s dressed.
SARA-MAE: ‘Heyeroes’ always represent the creme de la creme, but they’re bored with that. So when this unconventional woman comes along, she actually brings a bit of a fresh air into their lives, it kind of makes their pulses quicken.
GERALDINE: Well, I think more in the sense that he kind of goes against his familial expectations. He doesn’t play the part of the rich man, you know, the ‘Lord of the Manor’ idea. So he’s finally free and then he’s kind of surprised because Deb wants to bandage him up and she does that. And then they sneak him back in the front door. Then there’s another scene with Wantage, where basically [Max] punches Wantage’s lights out and Wantage is all respectful of that.
SARA-MAE: (Laughs) The reason she helps him is because when it comes right down to it she can’t go through with messing up his race. It’s like she’s too much of a gambler. In the end, she just can’t bear the thought that he might not make this race. And so that’s one of the reasons why she helps him.
GERALDINE: And then of course, Lady Bellingham is…
SARA-MAE: [Laughs] I mean, you feel for this poor woman because Deb’s plans… they literally make no sense. This poor aunt. She’s supposed to be quite silly and frivolous, and she’s not really sure where all the money’s going, but she just knows it’s slipping through her fingers, you do feel sorry for her because all she keeps hearing are these crazy plans.
GERALDINE: There’s a scene where Deb’s kind of relating the conversation that she had with Ravenscar in the carriage ride, where he offers her money to drop the relationship with Adrian. And there’s sort of this funny interplay where, initially she’s horrified that he only first offered £5000 and then by the time Deb’s told her that he rose his bribe offer to £20,000…
SARA-MAE: After she’d goaded him and goaded him by pretending to be a harpy.
GERALDINE: Yeah, and Lady Bellingham was just totally confused. And she’s like, “I don’t understand because you said you’re not going to marry Adrian, but then you told him you are.” And then she’s kind of getting all hopeful because she wants the £20,000 pounds because they’re in debt. And so there’s this interesting tension in that Lady Bellingham is totally ridiculous but then at the same time, she is very sweet and very caring… but there’s a little bit of a mercenary edge again.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, well, you don’t intend to marry the guy anyway, so why don’t
you take the 20 grand and get us out of our problems? But Deb is far too proud for that. And you wonder if it’s like, because she’s attracted to him? Like, if she didn’t care about him, would she really be so inclined to play these games? They really challenge each other that way.
GERALDINE: There’s one scene, nearer the end, you know, where Max is furious, and then he keeps checking the post and there’s a comment from the observations of one of the valets or servants or something that, “If he didn’t know better, he’d think that Max was in love.” And then at another point, Lucius accuses Deb of being in love with Max and she’s like, “I can’t stand the guy!” Yeah, there’s hints being dropped from some of the other characters.
SARA-MAE: They clearly feel more for each other. She’s really is masterful in this book and constantly making sure that both of them completely misunderstand the other’s point of view. Like in the end, she convinces Adrian to elope with Phoebe Laxton because Lord Filey… they think [he’s] seen this girl they’re hiding in her aunt’s house, and this poor aunt just has to put up with all this shit. Basically, she’s just like, “oh, by the way, aunt, I’m hiding this young girl ‘soz’ ‘lol.
GERALDINE: “Don’t mind her”.
SARA-MAE: The girl is, like, looking out the window longingly waiting for Adrian, who… they’ve both fallen head over heels in love with each other. By the way, there’s a hilarious scene where Deb just cannot help herself…
GERALDINE: Oh, that is such a great scene.
SARA-MAE: …When they finally nerve themselves up… because they both feel terrible about betraying Deb by falling in love… And she just cannot help herself. She has to pretend that her heart is broken and the dialogue in that scene…!
GERALDINE: Again, you know, sort of playing up to what people assume the quote unquote ‘right reaction’ would be to something.
SARA-MAE: She says, [quoting from book] “You promised me marriage and now you mean to cast me off for Another.” [Both laugh] “I never thought I should live to be so slighted. How was ever any defenceless female, so deceived?” And of course these two young people are just like destroyed. And then he notices that she’s laughing through it and they’re all relieved and then she helps them to escape to Wales, where they’re going to like meet up with Phoebe’s aunt who is going to give permission for the wedding and all that kind of thing. But of course, there’s a misunderstanding.
SARA-MAE: Just to explain, Ravenscar sent her bills, which he won from Ormskirk, to Deb with no explanation as to why. This, of course, infuriates her and she sends them straight back, which understandably gives her aunt palpitations. He then returns them torn into pieces, checkmating her. So, in a sense, things are sorted between them, although not to Deb’s satisfaction, as her pride is still smarting from the numerous insults Max has levelled at her. Helping Adrian and Phoebe is a welcome distraction as she plays chaperone and rides along with the rather wet young girl in the carriage. Back to the misunderstanding…
SARA-MAE: Ravenscar hears that his cousin [Adrian] has eloped with Miss Grantham.
SARA-MAE: That’s Deb.
SARA-MAE: And then there’s this classic scene where they meet up immediately after she’s returned. All he’s heard is his cousin telling him “I’ve got married.” Yeah. And he’s like, actually distraught, at this point. He’s fallen in love with her and he’s so angry with himself because he’s like, “This doxy and she’s been playing me.” And he’s so mad at her again. This is another time when her pride stands in the way ‘cos at first, she doesn’t get it. Why so angry? She’s like, well, “I knew you’d be a bit upset” because she thinks he’s talking about Phoebe.
SARA-MAE: “But you know, you’ll see it’ll work out, it’s all for the best.”
SARA-MAE: And then he just comes out with, “You’re worse than I thought you were” and all of this abuse that he’s hurling at her again. She realises that he’s got the wrong end of the stick and instead of going “No, no, dude…”
SARA-MAE: “…It’s all good. It was Phoebe. Not me.” She again plays the role that he’s assigned her to punish him. She just says, “Well, what of it? I told you I was gonna marry him” because she’s too proud. She’s like, well, if you’re gonna think about me in this way, then you don’t deserve to know the truth.
GERALDINE: And then he says, “You know, I thought I had learned to love you, ma’am.”
SARA-MAE: He’s saying you could have had so much more if you just played your cards a bit more cleverly, you were clever but you weren’t clever enough to catch an even bigger fish, which was ME. I was gonna offer for you, and now…
GERALDINE: He’s just, “I count myself fortunate to have escaped so narrowly from the toils of a harpy.” I mean, she’s just in an absolute rage, and she just says, “Marry you? I would rather die in the worst agony you can conceive. Don’t dare dare to enter this house again. I wish I may never see you again as long as I live!” And then he sort of storms off and she’s totally astounded.
SARA-MAE: Her whole thing with him is that he’s always willing to believe the worst of her. And I think that for her this is what hurts and that’s why she gets so upset and refuses to resolve the situation.
GERALDINE: She realises that at certain points, even though she’s kind of playing this part, there are moments where she does accidentally let her real intentions slip. And then that that’s where Max gets confused, she’s sort of so hurt and so upset that he could even believe this to be true. You’re kind of thinking, “Well, what else is he going to expect? You know, the whole time you’ve been playing this line that you’re gonna marry…?”
SARA-MAE: There’s been a slight miscommunication, you could clear that very easily but instead… did you find that satisfying, the way that they resolve it?
GERALDINE: You know, I think it has shades of Sense and Sensibility where the Dashwoods get the, right near the end, the message that Mrs. Ferrers sends her regards, basically, and they think Edward’s married, but he’s not and he shows up and then everything’s resolved. You sort of expect that to be what happens and then it’s kind of like, “Okay, well, she tells him she doesn’t want to ever see him again and he storms off.” So then you’re kind of like, well, “How is this gonna get resolved because there’s only a few more pages left?” Basically, Arabella, who he’s kind of realised has been having some form of…
SARA-MAE: Dalliance, yeah, with Lucius. We find this out because [Lucius] sends Deb a message and he sends it to her largely to put her fears to rest about him essentially messing with this young girl. It’s kind of saying, “No harm will come to her. You can get your revenge on Ravenscar and we can get some money out of blackmailing the family”, [as in, they’ll give him money] to go away.
GERALDINE: So ostensibly, he’s trying something with Arabella to sort of essentially… I guess he would then maybe take her away and so at the end, Lucius… his plans are foiled.
SARA-MAE: By the little minx herself.
GERALDINE: So what it does though, is it’s a plot device…
SARA-MAE: Deb immediately rushes over to Max even though she’s just had this catastrophic meeting with him.
GERALDINE: As soon as she gets this letter from Lucius saying that he’s going to mess with Arabella and get their money she freaks out and and races to Max who’s totally confused because he assumes she’s just going to come and scream at him again. And then she sort of realises that, you know, in her rage she’s basically said to Lucius, “I hate Max. So much that I don’t care what happens to him.” So Lucius has kind of taken this to heart and is gonna go and destroy the guy. Obviously, Deb, even though she’s filled with rage against him…
SARA-MAE: Actually all along she’s been in love with him and she can’t bear for him to be hurt or for Arabella to [be hurt] through her own doing.
SARA-MAE: So she’d rather actually swallow her pride. It just kind of resolves itself because he just basically takes her in his arms and he’s like, “Arabella is fine. My darling.” And he’s just suddenly instead of calling a doxie and harpy is now calling her ‘My darling’.
GERALDINE: Yeah, exactly.
SARA-MAE: Kissing her roughly. But she’s not putting up much of a fight, which is quite amusing.
SARA-MAE: And I think in the aftermath of so much passion, it’s quite a sweet way for them to get together. He sees that she’s been willing to come and and help him save the sister. And she on her part sees the error of her ways in the sense of her actions led to something that could have been potentially quite dangerous.
GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s these kind of constant battles between proprietary behaviour and the loose morals versus doing things properly. And so, even you know, when she helps Adrian and Phoebe get married, they don’t elope. Adrian gets a special licence. They go to Phoebe’s aunt’s house to do it properly, you know, so there’s all these, sort of…
SARA-MAE: By the book rules. Yeah.
GERALDINE: Then we’ve got Arabella being a little bit minxy herself and then realising that maybe her behaviour is a little bit dangerous, and she should act a little bit more properly. And I found it interesting that the younger men are fairly useless. Adrian only really comes into his own once he had to protect Phoebe. There’s a part where you really see him growing up.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, she’s actually really engineered that by putting these two people together. It is interesting how they do talk very explicitly about that. And it does speak to her being a really good judge of character. Heyer actually talks about how she actually bullies him a bit on purpose.
GERALDINE: Yeah, yeah.
SARA-MAE: Shows Deb to be kind of manipulating a certain male stereotype and man’s need to be seen as the ‘protector’ and the strong one.
GERALDINE: Which clearly Deb doesn’t need.
SARA-MAE: Although there’s a moment when her brother’s saying: “Miss Laxton could do with a good protector” and she sort of says silently to herself, well, all women kind of long for a protector.
SARA-MAE: I don’t think Ravenscar ever masters her though. You know, they talked all the way through… they kind of tot up when she’s won a point and he’s won a point.
I think it’s pretty even between them.
GERALDINE: The book is ‘Faro’s Daughter’; there’s the element of gambling. There is that one-upmanship and upping the ante. At the end she says, [quotes book] “Do but consider what your relatives would say.” “I have not the slightest interest in anything they may say.”
“You cannot marry a wench out of a gaming house.” (That’s something that he’s called her) and he says, “I shall marry a wench out of gaming house with as much pomp and ceremony as I can contrive.”
SARA-MAE: Which is amazing when you consider that he’s come around full circle from saying at the beginning of the book, where he was absolutely disgusted…
SARA-MAE: …By the idea of his cousin marrying this girl from a gaming house. And now he’s saying he wants to shout it from the rooftops.
GERALDINE: Yeah, again, you know, just when you think that she’s losing a bit of her fire, she says, and “Of course you have to let me set up a Faro Bank of my own.”
SARA-MAE: She can’t help herself. In this instance, in this book, particularly because of her fire… the way she just constantly challenges him and constantly has so much agency and power in the book… I feel like they definitely are on equal footing. There’s no sense that it’s this powerful guy kind of sweeping in to save a poor defenceless female.
GERALDINE: There’s a sense that she’s still feisty enough to keep him on his toes, and she’s raised all possible objections against herself, which is also interesting.
SARA-MAE: You do feel that she does need someone on a par with her to curb her more crazy excesses.
To sum up, do you think that this would make a good film and who do you think would be good to star?
GERALDINE: I mean, there’s certainly a hell of a lot of action. Much of the shenanigans would be fairly unrealistic, but at the same time, I think that the characters are so rich, it does have a very cinematic quality, much like Austen, you know, there are universal themes.
GERALDINE: Greed, marriage, sex, intrigue, pride. I was really mulling over who I would have play Max and Deb. I was actually thinking of someone like Oscar Isaac as Max.
SARA-MAE: You don’t think Cumberbatch or someone like that? Because it’s so British.
GERALDINE: You know, I was thinking about him… he was another choice. I think he could do the imperious thing quite well.
SARA-MAE: Tom Hiddleston?
GERALDINE: He was another option as well. You know, you need someone quite physically imposing, not in necessarily an overt way. I pictured him as quite swarthy. For Deb. I mean, she’s quite a tough one because she’s not super young.
SARA-MAE: Well, that was quite funny because she’s like 25, which I consider to be very young. Talking of ‘Star Wars’ what about Daisy Ridley?
GERALDINE: Daisy Ridley reminds me of Kiera Knightley, which to me didn’t really wash, you know, for example, in the adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. But I was thinking actually of someone like Christina Hendricks; she’s got that kind of good comedic streak. And I was really struggling to think about someone to play Adrian because he sort of needs to be somewhat foppish. Funnily enough, I kept thinking of either Jack Whitehall, or Thomas Sangster, who plays the younger boy in ‘Love Actually’. In terms of the cinematic possibilities, I think he could do a lot with that setting of the gaming house. Most of the action takes place in the house, and I think you could have some fun casting some of the villainous characters and somebody like Lucius Kennet. You know, when I first was starting to read it, like in my mind, I sort of pictured him as like the gay best friend, but…
GERALDINE: It’s surprising because in his letter near the end there, I mean, he sort of says to her that there’s only one woman he’d marry and thats Deb. He’s described as being very good looking and then Arabella kind of finds him intriguing. You know, when you sometimes read a book, and there’s characters that you’d really love to read their book, he was definitely…
SARA-MAE: One of those.
GERALDINE: There’s those things that you kind of wish Austen was able to say, which she couldn’t because the period she was writing in. And so just a little bit of distance in terms of era when [Heyer] was writing these, I feel like it gives her a little bit more leeway. Overall, at the beginning, when I read the first page, I was like, “Mmmm,” interesting sort of historical romance kind of thing. And then as soon as the wit kicks in, and you get that it’s a lot more layered than you first realise. You can see that Heyer has some of her own obsessions, I guess. Like she does spend quite a lot of time describing the clothing. And it’s a big way that she kind of sets up the different characters. And obviously, I mean, the pivotal…
SARA-MAE: She uses it as a tool to kind of make you understand something about the characters.
GERALDINE: It also creates an interesting counterpoint to some of Austen’s works, because thinking about it, I could definitely feel shades of some of the different characters and I mean, it touches on a lot of the different sort of themes of of that writing, but it does it in a very fresh, enjoyable way. I’ve read all of Austen’s books so many times… you know that feeling when you love an author and you just wish they were still alive to be able to write more books that you could read?
SARA-MAE: Yeah, exactly.
GERALDINE: You know, it felt like with reading Heyer, it’s kind of a continuation of that.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, she’s definitely her spiritual… heir?
GERALDINE: You know, I think it speaks to the fact that we’re still able to identify with some of those themes today. Even someone who’s as strong and feisty as Deb. Do they still need a man to rescue them? I think it’s an interesting question to ask. Is that still what we’ve come to expect? Well…
SARA-MAE: I definitely think that the classic western, romantic narrative structure that’s been ingrained in us is definitely along those lines, and that’s a very patriarchy-heavy perspective, the whole fairy tale thing. Kind of ‘the prince rescuing the maiden’, but I do think that she subtly turns that on its head a number of times in his book, and even at the end, it’s not like a big climactic love scene where he’s saved her from something.
SARA-MAE: She’s actually been trying to save him from something.
SARA-MAE: But yeah, even in the 1940s, when this was published, I think Deb is still quite an an anarchic character, because she has so much agency and she’s independent and a little bit wild, but in a very conscientious way, she has her own way of dealing with things and ideas about what’s right. It doesn’t matter what anyone says to, her male or female, she will have her head she will go and try and get things done.
GERALDINE: And it’s interesting because it’s a wildness that everybody outside assumes is of a sexual nature. But it’s not it’s purely that as a woman showing independence, and I think this is something that is still relevant, sadly, today, is that a woman showing independence is the immediate assumption is that she’s a jade and a cyprian, and a painted hussy
GERALDINE: Impudent strumpet.
SARA-MAE: A harpy.
GERALDINE: A scheming Hussy.
GERALDINE: In ‘Pride and Prejudice’, you have a same as sort of a situation where there’s a potential elopement and if you look at the difference with Darcy it’s a very similar age gap because I think Arabella is supposed to be about 18. And Max is supposed to be 35.
GERALDINE: Similar sort of way. There’s a bit of a more of a guardian relationship rather than just straight up brother sister. And it’s a very interesting difference and Max is kind of basically saying exactly like you mentioned, you know, like, I know this is going on,
SARA-MAE: But the difference is he trusts her better to have the judgement to not do something stupid.
SARA-MAE: I’m drawing the parallel between Darcy’s relationship with his sister Georgiana. Obviously, it’s more in keeping with the actual time period in which Austen was writing. But still, it’s one of Max’s high points as a character. He gives Arabella some solid, non judgmental advice, which ultimately helps her avoid getting caught up in Lucius Kennet’s toils. Darcy would never have been able to have such an honest conversation with his sister.
SARA-MAE: And I think that this is with Austen and Heyer writing two different time periods and that really comes into play because Darcy does rescue them.
SARA-MAE: He steps in Elizabeth can’t really do anything She doesn’t really have that much agency, she can’t really do that much to grab ahold of her future other than saying no, the only power she seems to have is the ability to refuse Darcy or Mr. Collins. Whereas Deborah is getting up to all sorts of high jinks and getting people to do what she thinks needs to be done and also refusing you know, very advantageous marriages, whereas you get the sense of Elizabeth, her situation would have been a hell of a lot more bleak if she didn’t end up being able to reconcile with Darcy.
GERALDINE: I think what I liked, and what makes it potential to adapt to it cinematically, is that each of the characters has more depth to them so that they’re not a total stereotype. Yeah, I think that’s a really valuable part of her writing. Lord Ormskirk is an interesting villain.
SARA-MAE: He’s very deeply sinister and there was a part of me that’s like, why didn’t she just conflate the two bad guys Sir James Filey and him because yeah, I was almost disappointed when Ormskirk exits the action.
SARA-MAE: Because the way she describes him as so dark to kind of imply that his three wives died at his hand in some mysterious way. And he’s killed three people in duels which is another reason why Max is concerned about Adrian getting mixed up with the love triangle with Deb and Ormskirk he is worried that he’ll goad Adrian into a duel and then murder him essentially. Which you get the sense is very real danger yeah then in the end is bested by Ravenscar quite a anticlimactically way.
GERALDINE: Yeah, it sort of fades away.
SARA-MAE: But then I suppose they needed to introduce Phoebe and so they couldn’t have Ormskirk be interested in Phoebe because he’s only interested in Deb but I think they could get around that in the movie. A lot of times they conflate characters together. I think you could still do it.
SARA-MAE: They could, maybe bring his defeat by Ravenscar earlier into in the book and then have him pick up where he left off and decide that he’s gonna marry this fresh young thing. And then they could kind of oust him I actually think that might be more satisfying. That’s the one thing that I would have liked that thread pulled through a bit more.
GERALDINE: I mean, there’s a couple of things in the book where, plot- wise, doesn’t really make sense or it’s a little bit too convenient or it sort of fizzles away a bit because some of these things that felt like a little bit like she was building up and then kind of didn’t really go anywhere. But you know, not enough that it made you think, “Oh, well, that was ridiculous” or “That didn’t really work.” You know, even Kit just sort of vanishes.
SARA-MAE: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah.
GERALDINE: Like there’s no real conclusion with him.
SARA-MAE: Okay, so to wrap up, are you now a Georgette Heyer convert?
GERALDINE: I would say that, especially as I’m plotting to return to the bookstore and take over the collection, that was left behind. It’s fun. It’s a bit challenging in terms of just the themes. So overall, I would say I’m a convert for sure.
SARA-MAE: You can thank me later. Once you’ve read all the books. I’m so jealous of you that you get to read all the books again.
GERALDINE: Thank God for this mysterious E. Gordon.
SARA-MAE: Thank you so much for chatting to me about this.
GERALDINE: It’s been absolutely fabulous. And yeah, I just really enjoyed delving into it. And, you know, it’s also nice sometimes to having come from, you know, a literary analysis background to do it again, is fun.
SARA-MAE: Yeah. And I’m just using it as an excuse to talk about one of my favourite authors, also bathed in the sort of sense of achievement of having introduced you and changed your life. You know, I feel good about that.
GERALDINE: I think we should end with “If I had my way woman of your stamp would be whipped at the cart’s tail.”
SARA-MAE: I’ll try and find a cart. I’ll get on that.
GERALDINE MINUK-ELLIOT: Excellent.
SARA-MAE: Next week, we’ll be interviewing Sunday Times best-selling author, Harriet Evans – she’ll be revealing her top 10 Heyers, so look out for that. The week after we’ll be exploring Arabella for our book club episode. Why not buy the audio version from Naxos audio books.com and join in the conversation?
You’d have to be cork-brained to miss out on the next instalment of Heyer Today.
Thanks for tuning in this week, we hope you enjoyed it.
This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn, and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. For more visit: facebook.com/auralitysounds
The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, ‘Chapter I’, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears’ tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.
You can find Message to Bears here: messagetobears.com
Tom’s music here: tomchadd.bandcamp.com
And Emma’s website is: emmagatrill.com
Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.
Remember to rate, review and subscribe. I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.
This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott gave excellent foot rubs and production assistance. Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits and he did a marvellous job.
Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.
Naxos audiobooks kindly allowed us to use an extract from the book, beautifully read by Laura Paton.
The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by me and Tom Chadd.
Our fantastic voice talent includes Sarah Golding and John Grayson – I’ll be
putting info about them in the show notes.
Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.
Remember to rate, review and subscribe…I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.
Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.